As the Braves continue trimming their camp roster (which stands at 40), here’s a look at how the initial 25-man roster might look March 28 in Philadelphia:
Catchers: Tyler Flowers, Brian McCann
McCann replaces Kurt Suzuki as Flowers’ battery mate. He’s looked healthy through spring and swung the bat well. His clubhouse impact, as teammates have judged it, is off the charts. It’s questionable how much offensive output this duo will have, but their mastery of the pitchers and human influence supersedes that in importance.
Starting infield: 1B Freddie Freeman, 2B Ozzie Albies, 3B Josh Donaldson, SS Dansby Swanson
The Braves added Donaldson to an already dangerous lineup. But when healthy, he’s proved to be a plus in the field as well. The 2019 infield will feature all well-graded defenders and nice athletic ability from Albies and Swanson. Freeman remains among the game’s best snaggers at first base.
Starting outfield: LF Ronald Acuna, CF Ender Inciarte, RF Nick Markakis
If it isn’t broken, why fix it? That’s ultimately how the Braves’ outfield situation concluded, when after a winter of exploring the market, the team opted to retain Markakis. And so the team returns the same group, which can be good, bad or in between depending on how you view it. Inciarte re-establishing his bat, Markakis being more early season than late, and Acuna surging in his sophomore season will be the storylines.
Bench: Johan Camargo, Charlie Culberson, Adam Duvall, available catcher
The Braves sport a versatile bench, with Camargo and Culberson capable of playing around the infield and the corner outfield spots. Both will play a healthy chunk of games, and inevitable injuries could push their games logged even higher. Duvall has had a mediocre spring after a difficult few months with the Braves last year, but the team needs pop off the bench. They could opt to carry an additional bench bat with Mike Foltynewicz opening the season on the disabled list.
Rotation: Julio Teheran, Sean Newcomb, Kevin Gausman, Kyle Wright
Foltynewicz will miss the opening portion of the season, though he isn’t expected to remain out long. The team won’t need five starters through those early days, so the only real question is who the fourth guy will be. We’ll go with Wright, who’s had an excellent spring and should factor into the Braves’ plans all season.
Bullpen: Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter, Darren O’Day, Chad Sobotka, Dan Winkler, Jonny Venters, Sam Freeman, Jesse Biddle
Here’s where things are most interesting. The Braves say all their ailing arms sans Foltynewicz, including Minter and O’Day, will be ready for the regular season. Assuming that’s the case, Vizcaino and the aforementioned two are a solid backend. Winkler is back healthy, and it’s easy to forget how good he was through much of last season. The Braves can figure out what they have in Sobotka, who emerged late in the season. Venters, Freeman and Biddle are the team’s other lefty options. Shane Carle has options, therefore making him the odd man out for now.
And the lineup projection:
1. Ender Inciarte
2. Josh Donaldson
3. Freddie Freeman
4. Ronald Acuna
5. Nick Markakis
6. Ozzie Albies
7. Tyler Flowers/Brian McCann
8. Dansby Swanson
Despite Acuna’s public preference to remain at leadoff, the team seems more inclined to have him hit cleanup. That reinserts Inciarte at the top of the order, where he’ll be followed by the Braves’ key trio. Each of Freeman, Acuna and Donaldson is capable of warranting MVP votes when playing up to his ability.
The bottom of the group is less intimidating. Markakis and Albies, both first-half stars a season ago, need to distance themselves from second-half struggles. The Braves will hope their catchers can hover around last year’s production. Swanson played much of the season injured, and it’s obviously a crucial season for him at the plate.
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