Spring Training: Atlanta Braves Week-in-Review, March 26

White Sox right-hander Jose Quintana is one of the best pitchers in baseball. (Photo: Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports)

The Atlanta Braves and the rest of Major League Baseball enter the final week of spring training  and the Braves roster looks just about set. However, manager Brian Snitker warned that last minute changes are still possible. “Anything can happen in the next few days, too, as guys [from other teams] start doing the same thing. As guys become available, it’s not to say that things wouldn’t change Wednesday or Thursday, quite honestly. Or Friday, Saturday — right up to Monday.”

Bullpen

Locks: RH Jim Johnson, RH Arodys Vizcaino, RH Josh Collmenter

Likely: RH Jose Ramirez, LH Ian Krol, LH Eric O’Flaherty

Last Spot Candidates: LH Paco Rodriguez, RH Chaz Roe, LH Kevin Chapman

Cut: RH Blaine Boyer

Injured: RH Armando Rivero, RH Mauricio Cabrera

The big news this week was that right-hander Mauricio Cabrera is now on the shelf with elbow soreness. Cabrera informed the Braves about the pain he was experiencing after a performance Monday that saw him allow two runs, walk two, and only get two outs. With no timetable on his return, there is a possibility he may start the season on the disabled list.

On Saturday, news broke that the Braves had granted a request by Blaine Boyer for his release. The team had told Boyer that he was unlikely to make the team, and the release allows Boyer to try to catch on with another team. After some initial hardship, Boyer had pitched well the last couple weeks, and in his last outing showcased a fastball that touched 95 mph. The team did leave the door open for him to pitch in Gwinnett if he wasn’t picked up by another major league squad.

This leaves the bullpen seemingly set with Johnson and Vizcaino in the short, high-leverage rolls; Collmenter in long relief; Ramirez, Krol, and O’Flaherty in middle relief; and Roe and Rodriguez as specialists. Recent waiver-wire pick-up Kevin Chapman may make the squad at Rodriguez’s expense since he’s out of options and Rodriguez is not.

The Bench

Locks: IF Jace Peterson, C Kurt Suzuki

Last Spots Candidates: OF Emilio Bonifacio, OF Adam Walker, 3B Rio Ruiz, IF Chase d’Arnaud, 1B/OF Matt Tuiasosopo, OF Mel Rojas Jr.

Injured: OF Dustin Peterson, IF/OF Micah Johnson

Unlike the bullpen, the bench remained static this week, with the Braves looking down the barrel of a Peterson/Suzuki/Bonifacio/d’Arnaud squad. The one bright spot may be the return of Mel Rojas Jr. from the WBC where he played for the Dominican Republic. Rojas had a 270/.349/.491 slash line with a 139 wRC+ for Gwinnett last season.

Jose Quintana Rumors Circle Pointlessly

Fueled by a report by Yahoo.com’s Jeff Passan that “multiple teams, including the Atlanta Braves, have shown continued interest” in White Sox star right-hander Jose Quintana, Braves fans on social media launched another week-long round of the “should they or not?” debate.

What was overlooked is Passan’s observation later in the article:

Atlanta, for all of its interest, might not be the best fit. While the depth of their farm system is enviable, a number of evaluators do not see as many high-end prospects in the Braves’ system, and with shortstop Tim Anderson agreeing to a six-year contract extension and Moncada penciled in as a second baseman, the Braves’ best prospect, middle infielder Ozzie Albies, doesn’t have nearly the allure to Chicago as he might other teams.

Pardon me while I now stand on my proverbial soapbox.

While I can quibble about the so-called lack of high-end prospects, there is a salient point here. The White Sox have their shortstop of the future (and present) in Anderson. They have their second baseman of the future in prospect Yoan Moncada. A near-major league middle infielder like Albies does not have as much value for the White Sox.

A team that Albies does have value for? The Atlanta Braves. Six years of team control of Ozzie Albies will be very valuable, and the Braves will have a need for that value. In addition, there’s the waves of young pitchers that the Braves have bubbling though the minors now. There’s no guarantees in life or prospects, but there are several that have Jose Quintana ceilings.

I know there is a large contingent, perhaps even a majority, of Braves fans that are tired of the re-build, or never bought into it in the first place. I don’t agree with them, but I certainly don’t begrudge them their point of view. Watching a losing team for several years can be a draining experience, and hearing about all the great prospects just around the corner doesn’t really help. For those fans, the sum total of the rebuild so far has been an inconsistant Mike Foltynewicz, failed starters Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair, a glimpse of an exciting outfielder in Mallex Smith who has been traded away, and six weeks of Dansby Swanson.

Trading prospects for Jose Quintana represents a true push for wins in the present rather than hypothetical wins in the future. It’s tempting. Fans want to see a winner. Players want to play for a winner. Brian Snitker wants to manage a winner. And despite the disparaging noise coming from a segment of the fan-base, the Braves front office desperately want a winner. Quintana is a fine starting pitcher, and would instantly be the #1 on the Braves.

But trading multiple high-level prospects right now would be a mistake, especially if that prospect package is headed by Albies. The point of going through this painful rebuild is not to open a window of contention. The point is to blow open the wall and have a long period of contention. The only way that mid-market team like the Atlanta Braves will be able to to have that kind of period is to have wave after wave of home-grown reinforcements. And the only way that the Braves can be sure to have those waves is to have a lot of prospects in the pipeline at a given point. Prospects will fail. Some will get injured. Some will be major leaguers, but not have the impact that was imagined. That’s the way of baseball.

But by hoarding prospects, the Braves are gaming the system. By concentrating on high-upside and young players, the Braves are maximizing the likelihood that at least a few of these guys will become major league stars. Some prospects will be traded away, there’s no doubt. Some already have. You won’t find the names John Gant, Rob Whalen, Chris Ellis, or Max Povse on any Braves prospect list. Talented young players Mallex Smith and Shae Simmons are also gone. There will be more trades.

But the key will be the decisions on who to trade and who to keep. Albies is player with a unique, high-ceiling skillset that will be very difficult to replace. Trading high-ceiling young pitching that hasn’t reached the AA level is selling low. The Braves need to stay on course with the rebuild. The Braves need to be patient. They should continue to be opportunistic, but still play for the long-haul.

I’ll get off my soapbox now.

 

About Andy Harris 66 Articles
Andy Harris has been a baseball fan since seeing the Big Red Machine in 1978 and hardcore baseball fan since reading Bill James's Historical Baseball Abstract in 1990. Andy moved to the Atlanta area in 1991, which turned out to be a pretty good year for the local team.

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