Braves Blog: Offensive Weaponry Nearly Set
By Martin Gandy
March 30, 2010
With one week until opening day there are very few unanswered questions on who will fill out the Braves 25-man roster. By most accounts, we pretty much know who will fill the first 22 spots on the team. The lineup is set with Nate McLouth, Martin Prado, Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus, Brian McCann, Yunel Escobar, Jason Heyward, and Matt Diaz. The offensive reserves include Melky Cabrera, David Ross, Omar Infante, and Eric Hinske. Of the 13 position players the club will carry, 12 of them are in place.
The last position player comes down to a battle that has raged all spring between Brooks Conrad and Joe Thurston. Both are limited to playing second and third base, and both have had moderate success in short major league stints. This spring they've been neck and neck with Conrad taking the early lead and Thurston coming on lately. Conrad likely still has the upper hand in this battle because he's already on the 40-man roster. The team likely won't make an announcement about who will win this spot until they head north to face the White Sox for the final two games of the spring at Turner Field. (Those games, by the way, on April 2nd and 3rd will be broadcast on SportSouth and Fox Sports South. So you can tune in and watch those roster battles happen live.)
The starting pitching staff is set with Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, and Kenshin Kawakami. The first five spots in the bullpen are are also set with Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, Peter Moylan, Eric O'Flaherty, and Kris Medlen. The last two spots are a battle between five relievers, none of whom seem to have an inside edge. Jesse Chavez is the reliever we got in exchange for Rafael Soriano, and while he had a good rookie year last year in Pittsburgh, he has struggled at times this spring, giving up runs in bunches.
Veteran Scott Proctor has also had some struggles in his return from Tommy John surgery, and it now seems as though he will be given more rehab time in the minors.
That leaves Jo-Jo Reyes, Jonny Venters, and Craig Kimbrel. We are all familiar with Reyes and his struggles as a starting pitcher the last few years, but he has done really well this spring in a relief role, and the team may be leaning towards him to fill one of those last bullpen spots. That would leave the team without an experienced emergency starter in the minors in case one of the top five guys in Atlanta goes down. So the decision on Jo-Jo may come down to how comfortable the team is turning the emergency starter role over to an unproven rookie.
Jonny Venters is a left-hander who has a good spring, and Craig Kimbrel is the top relief prospect in the Braves organization. Kimbrel had one of the top K/9 rates and one of the lowest H/9 rates in the minors last season, but he also had a lot of problems walking people, and he still has pretty much a walk per inning pitched this spring. He could use some more time in the minors, and so too could the other bullpen candidate Venters. He's mostly been a starter in his minor league career, so converting to a one-inning or one-hitter bullpen guy may be a conversion the team doesn't want him to make in the Majors.
So it seems that the bullpen spots will come down to Chavez and Reyes.
That race got a bit tighter yesterday when Frank Wren let it slip on XM Radio that Kimbrel would likely start the year in the Minors.