The Atlanta Braves will break camp in just about a week and appear ready for the start of the regular season. Despite a very rough start to Spring Training, the club has picked itself up in recent weeks and are coming away with victories more times than not. Opening Day 2012 is just nine days away, and here is a look at the renaming questions surrounding the Braves.
Will Frank Wren add an outfielder?
Atlanta appeared willing to head into the season with their current ensemble of outfielders, but the recent injury to Chipper Jones has prompted general manager Frank Wren to consider adding another outfield. Despite a serious desire to land an impact bat that was capable of handling all three outfield positions, Wren came away with nothing during the off-season.
Martin Prado will be the primary backup option for Chipper at the hot corner, which leaves a huge hole in left field. Neither Eric Hinske nor Matt Diaz are capable of playing on an everyday basis, which has reignited the search for a corner outfielder. The club reportedly has some interest in Johnny Damon, although those were just rumors, and they were shot down while checking in on the availability of Padres outfielder Will Venable.
With limited funds to spend and a hesitance to deal any of the club's young prospects, it seems unlikely that the Braves will add another outfield bat in the next week.
The injury to Jones has opened up a roster spot for at least the first two series of the season, if not three or four. Diaz and Hinske both figure to be locks for the 25-man roster given their contracts and track records, leaving the door open for one of two guys.
Jose Constanza provided a spark to the team last season after being called up, but quickly regressed and turned into more of a liability whenever inserted into the lineup. He has had an abysmal spring and may have played himself out of a job for numerous reasons.
The main reasons Constanza is unlikely to be with Atlanta come April 5 is the outstanding play of outfielders Luis Durango and Jordan Parraz. The former features a similar skill set to Constanza and is batting nearly .500 this spring, while the latter is more capable of handling the corner spots. Neither are legitimate prospects, but both have likely earned a spot due to their level of play and the extra vacancy given the injury to Jones.
If Frank Wren adds an outfielder to the roster, then just one of these two will make the club, with Durango likely being the favorite at this point.
Teheran vs. Delgado:
Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado are in a battle for the fifth spot in the rotation. Neither has performed particularly well in Spring Training, but most in Florida believe that Delgado has been the leader since the early going. Both are still very young and have a long way to go before being front-end starting pitchers, but this next week could determine who heads to Atlanta and who heads to Gwinnett next week.
Given the insanely high number of homers and runs that Teheran has allowed this spring, I think the club ends up going with Delgado. I probably would not get too comfortable in Gwinnett if I was Teheran, though. The Braves are going to rely heavily on him at one point or another in 2012.
Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty, Cristhian Martinez and Kris Medlen have all locked down a spot, and it is looking more and more like Cory Gearrin has as well given his stellar performance this spring. That leaves one spot up for grabs.
Jairo Asencio is the likely pick given his strong month of March and that he is out of Minor League options, but a guy like Robert Fish, Yohan Flande or Dusty Hughes could all steal the final spot given they are left-handed. None of those three have pitched very well thus far, but the club has just two lefties in the 'pen and Fredi Gonzalez may want a third to help combat the left-handed hitting sluggers in the National League.
My money is on Asencio.
Who plays shortstop?
This is the biggest remaining question for the Braves and the battle has come down to Tyler Pastornicky and Andrelton Simmons.
The club should have a pretty good idea of what they will get from Pastornicky; he has proven himself at every level of the Minors, and while he does nothing spectacularly well, he is about as solid and consistent as they come. The biggest concern with Pastornicky will be his glove and throwing arm, which have been rated right around average by most scouts.
Simmons already has the defensive tools to be a starter in Atlanta, but his bat brings some concern. He performed pretty well in High-A ball last season after being selected in the second round of the 2010 Draft, but is yet to record an at-bat at any of the higher levels. Given his lack of power and low walk rates last season, it's tough to justify giving him the spot without even looking at Pastornicky first.
The Braves could surprise and go with the defensive upgrade by choosing Simmons, but my guess is they go with Pastornicky for at least a month and then reevaluate the situation then.