3 dark horse candidates for the last spot in the Braves' Opening Day rotation

The Braves' open spot in their rotation is going to be a hot topic during spring training in 2024

Jun 25, 2023; Omaha, NE, USA; Florida Gators starting pitcher Hurston Waldrep (12) throws a pitch
Jun 25, 2023; Omaha, NE, USA; Florida Gators starting pitcher Hurston Waldrep (12) throws a pitch / Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports
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With spring training around a month away, the Atlanta Braves' 2024 roster is pretty much set. There might be some competition for a bench spot or two and there is always the potential for injuries to mess things up like last spring, but the biggest question that Atlanta needs to answer is with the open spot in their starting rotation.

As Braves beat writer wrote recently, the Braves do not have a shortage of internal pitching options. Assuming good health entering spring training, Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Charlie Morton, and Chris Sale are going into spring training as locks for the first four spots in the rotation. However, the fifth spot is very unsettled with at least eight guys having a chance at winning the opportunity for starter innings.

Here are 3 Braves pitchers who could surprise everyone and win the fifth spot in the rotation

There are certainly going to be some favorites to win the rotation competition during spring training. Bryce Elder held a spot in the rotation last year and while he gassed in the second half, he will be given every opportunity to win a spot again especially since he was an All-Star. Atlanta is also already strongly hinting that Reynaldo Lopez could start early in the season to try and preserve the minor league options of some of their other guys and no one would be surprised if AJ Smith-Shawver gets another long look.

However, this is going to be about the dark horse candidates to win a rotation spot. The Braves are notorious for thinking outside the box with their roster choices at times. Last spring, everyone thought that Vaughn Grissom was going to be the Braves starting shortstop only for Atlanta surprisingly pick Orlando Arcia which worked out quite well. With that in mind, here are three pitchers that could end up being surprise picks for the Braves' rotation in 2024.

Darius Vines

The Braves used a lot of pitchers in their rotation last year to try and cover for injuries to Max Fried, Kyle Wright, and Ian Anderson. While most of the attention was on guys like Smith-Shawver, Dylan Dodd, and others, Darius Vines made a really strong first impression in his first look at the big leagues as well when he debuted in August.

Vines has some things going for him heading into 2024. He is already on the 40 man roster which always helps and both his changeup and slider grade out very well. In five appearances last season including a pair of starts in the big leagues, Vines posted a 3.98 ERA in 20.1 innings of work. He was even better in Triple-A where he put up a 2.36 ERA over 34.1 innings pitched.

There are some problems with this plan, however. Vines' fastball is pretty borderline as a major league offering and if he isn't spot on with his command, he has a tendency to get hit really hard. Vines had a chance to make a statement this fall in the Arizona Fall League, but he struggled with a 5.51 ERA in his four starts out there. He also missed time last season with shoulder issues which is never ideal.

With Elder having a pretty similar profile, Vines has an uphill climb to make the club out of spring. However, if Elder struggles and especially if there is an injury that forces the Braves to need multiple arms, don't be surprised if the Braves give Vines a chance.