4 takeaways from the start of the Atlanta Braves spring training schedule
The first few games of spring training are supposed to be just about getting guys acclimated and for the most part, that is what we saw out of the Atlanta Braves over the weekend. While we did see a surprising number of lineup regulars in the first game, the second game was decidedly the opposite and everyone was still feeling things out. There are new rules to get used to along with the usual "get back into the swing of things" rust that are going to be present for at least a week.
While we can only hope that we don't see another debacle like at the end of the Braves' first game, at the end of the day, it was just a couple of spring training games so we don't want to draw too many conclusions. However, there are some things we can take away from the games from over the week.
The bullpen competition appears to be fierce
We are certain to see the real contenders settle to the top of the heap in the coming weeks, but man do the Braves seem to be loaded with bullpen options. While a couple of guys didn't have the best start to their springs (Jesse Chavez, Victor Vodnik, and Seth Elledge come to mind), there were also a ton of guys that impressed. Dylan Lee, Yacksel Rios, and Michael Tonkin all looked good from the group of guys that are already on the 40 man roster.
On top of that, we had some big time performances from some non-roster invites as well with Danny Young, Brian Moran, Yacksel Rios, and especially Dylan Dodd showing out. Dodd may have looked the best out of the bunch, but he has also been developed as a starter so he likely isn't a bullpen option right out of the gate (although he has experience there). The rest, though, did well for themselves over the first weekend of spring, so this is could come down to the wire with players without minor league options left having a slight edge in all likelihood.
The lineup appears to be mostly healthy
The most important thing in spring training is to just get guys used to the speed of games actually being played and stay healthy in the process. The Braves were in a weirder spot than most in that they have some guys that were banged up last season that had to take measures this offseason to get right.
Fortunately, all of that seems to be on the right track. Ozzie Albies DHed on Saturday as the Braves manage his recover from a minor offseason shoulder surgery. It sounds like we will see him manning second base very soon which keeps him on track for being back to normal by Opening Day. Ronald Acuna Jr. looks like his normal self as he continues to crush balls in BP and clearly was looking to run in his first spring game.
Games are going to be much faster
Again, I'm not going to relitigate the new rules nonsense from the Braves' first game because 1) too much has been made of it already and 2) it is spring training so everyone is still figuring things out and getting into the new rhythm of the game.
One thing is clear, though, is that games are going to go by much faster going forward. Despite constant bullpen changes and a fair bit of action, the Braves-Red Sox games took two hours and 39 minutes. For the Braves' demolition at the hands of the Yankees, it took only two hours and 16 minutes. Big league regular season games will still be a bit slower just because of TV, etc. than these games, but the average MLB game took three hours and 11 minutes. The pace as been brisk and while it will take some getting used to, the overall experience has been positive.
Still no clear answers for the fifth spot in the rotation or left field
Neither left field nor the fifth spot in the rotation were ever going to be won or lost in the opening weekend of games. However, we didn't exactly gain any data points that were uniquely exciting either. Bryce Elder struggled mightily at the very beginning of his start against the Yankees before settling down. Kolby Allard had an okay, if unexciting first appearance of the spring. Dylan Dodd was fantastic, but he isn't on the 40 man roster and again, he may not get the nod right out of spring as a result. Plus, we haven't even seen Ian Anderson or Mike Soroka in a game setting yet.
Left field is more of the same. Eddie Rosario didn't look bad as he reached on a couple of errors, but nothing really stood out, either. Eli White may have made things even more complicated as he had a good game against Boston and Sam Hilliard was the only Brave to record a hit (a single) against the Yankees, but he was promptly caught stealing.
Both competitions are going to come down to the wire from the looks of things.