Gant remains in mix as five top prospects exit Braves camp
The Braves were intent on putting the crown jewels of their top-rated farm system on display this spring, but it was always going to be just a glimpse of the future.
Friday, they said good-bye to four of their brightest young players, with Mallex Smith optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett, while Ozzie Albies, Aaron Blair, Dansby Swanson and Lucas Sims were all moved to minor league camp.
The Braves now have 41 players in camp, with right-handed pitcher John Gant, lefty Manny Banuelos and left fielder/third baseman Hector Olivera standing as the only players remaining on FOXSportsSouth.com's composite rankings.
While Baneulos is expected to be a part of the rotation when he's available in mid-April, and Olivera will start the season in left field, Gant remains in camp vying for one of the last two spots in the rotation.
Gant, a 23-year-old native of Savannah, who is 15th on the Braves' prospect list, has looked sharp this spring. He's posted 1.59 ERA in 5 2/3 innings over three Grapefruit League appearances, including 2 2/3 scoreless Sunday against the Astros. Veteran Jhoulys Chacin is also in the race to make the starting staff, as is Mike Foltynewicz -- who like Banuelos -- isn't expected to be part of the initial rotation as both are returning from injury.
The fourth-ranked Blair was believed to also be in that mix for a rotation spot, making his exit a mild surprise. The righty, 23, had his issues, though, with an 8.00 ERA in nine innings this spring as he allowed eight runs on 11 hits, including three homers.
Sims, seventh in the rankings, posted a 16.20 ERA that was topped by yielding four runs on four hits Tuesday vs. the Tigers. For all the talk of his domination in the Arizona Fall League -- he struck out 17 with three walks in six games -- it didn't translate this spring as he fanned six with five walks.
Those pitchers could all be in line to make their MLB debuts this season given the extended look, something that seems a certainty for Atlanta's speedy outfielder Smith.
The organization's reigning Minor League Player of the Year, Smith opened the spring with a statement, finishing a single shy of the cycle and he hit two triples. He hit .346/.393/.808 in 26 at-bats over 15 games with three triples, three doubles a home run, five RBI and two steals.
Given the logjam the Braves have in their backup outfielders -- non-roster invitee Jeff Francoeur is still vying for a spot in a group that includes fellow non-starters Emilio Bonifacio, Michael Bourn, Kelly Johnson and Nick Swisher -- delaying his arrival was expected.
It remains to be seen where the Braves will stash their two top-rated position players in Albies and Swanson. The two played together for the first time on March 2, with Swanson starting and shortstop and Albies at second, though they would later switch positions.
There has been some discussion of the two, both listed as shortstops, developing together, but Atlanta brass have been non-committal on that. Swanson, the Braves' No. 1 prospect, hit .300/.323/.467 with three doubles, a triple and three RBI, while the third-ranked Albies posted a .371/.421/.486 slash line with five RBI behind a homer and a double. He also stole two bases.
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His book, 'Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,' comes out April 12, 2016.