Slugging outfielder Peter O’Brien isn’t out of the Braves’ roster mix just yet.
O’Brien keeps showing off his power. He belted a two-run shot in the fourth inning off Twins ace Jose Berrios in the Braves’ 3-2 win Wednesday. It was his fourth homer of spring, each cracking off his bat to oohs and aahs from spectators. His batting practice power has indeed translated to games.
The former top prospect is trying to fight his way back to the majors. Once a heralded young catcher, he’s appeared in only 72 games. His power has been eye-opening in that time – he’s launched 11 homers in 182 at-bats, a six percent rate – but he’s shown little else. O’Brien, who spent the past two seasons with Miami, has a career strikeout rate over 40 percent.
His spring has been par for the course, by those standards: He’s hitting .207, with four of his six hits leaving the park. He’s struck out 12 times in 29 at-bats. The 29-year-old isn’t on the 40-man roster and could open the season in Triple-A Gwinnett.
But the Braves won’t rule him keeping him as the 26th man.
“If he doesn’t make our club (he’d be a nice guy to have in Triple-A),” manager Brian Snitker said. “I don’t know how many times we’ve talked about, over the course of the year, having a right-handed bat with some power. He definitely provides that.
“We’ll see how everything plays out. (Him making the team) isn’t out of the question yet.”
Perhaps O’Brien’s skill set makes him this spring’s surprise roster addition. The Braves have a spot available on their bench, should they stick to their stated plan of only keeping one of Johan Camargo or Austin Riley on the major-league roster to begin the season.
The Braves’ bench likely will consist of Nick Markakis, Adam Duvall, Adeiny Hechavarria, whichever catcher isn’t starting (Tyler Flowers or Travis d’Arnaud) and one more spot.
Charlie Culberson is among those competing for that final spot, though the Braves could also add a player from the outside just before opening day, as they did last year with the effective Matt Joyce.
Other happenings from Wednesday:
• Max Fried’s latest tune-up was a bit messy, yet effective: He held the Twins scoreless over 4-2/3 innings despite issuing five walks.
Fried walked leadoff man Max Kepler before coaxing former teammate Josh Donaldson into a double play. He walked two in the second, facing a bases-loaded jam, but struck out Kepler to escape. He retired nine of the next 11 before his outing ended with a walk to Donaldson.
“I’d definitely say (I was effectively wild),” Fried said. “But for the most part, I was happy. I was around the zone, making some pitches just a little bit off. … I was happy to just go out there and compete, get myself into a jam and get out of it, in-game-like scenarios and getting through them. I was happy with that.”
• Donaldson met with the media before the game, revisiting his eventful offseason and departure from the Braves. The 34-year-old had exchanged texts with Freddie Freeman in the offseason, but he acknowledged he tried to keep info on his decision within his inner circle.
“We (Donaldson and Freeman) would talk and go back and forth a little bit, but for me personally, I try to keep it tight to the team that was around me, just because I didn’t want any external factors to play into the decision-making,” he said. “At the end of the day, Atlanta has a great core of young players. They have Freddie Freeman over there. They have Nick Markakis, guys who’ve been around. They’re going to be just fine with where they’re at right now, and I knew that. For me, I had to make sure I was doing what was right for my family and for myself.”
• Thursday marks a historical day for baseball. The three-batter rule will take effect, meaning any pitcher who enters a game has to face three batters or get to the end of an inning before he is replaced.
“I think (we’ll be able to get a feel for it),” Snitker said. “We’re going to have to plan it. I’m going to start thinking about it and how we do things. We might bring somebody in to have that situation and just feel it.”
• The Braves will travel to Lakeland to face their former spring-training neighbors, the Tigers, on Thursday. Right-hander Kyle Wright is set to make the start.
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