Atlanta Braves: 5 key storylines going into spring training
By Eric Cole
Going into spring training in 2023, we have a good bit of certainty about the Atlanta Braves' roster both in terms of who will be on it as well as how good, at least generally, they should be. Most of the roster spots are set and any projection system you want to look at (with ZiPS being a favorite of ours) has the Braves being a very, very good baseball team in 2023.
However, that doesn't mean that spring training for the Braves doesn't have some intrigue. There are a couple of spots on the roster that are, at best, unsettled at the moment and there are some questions about some of the guys that are going to be on it. Below are some of the key storylines for the Atlanta Braves heading into spring training.
How healthy are the Braves going into the 2023 season?
While many fans will say "they have had a full offseason, of course they are healthy", but the Braves were pretty banged up at the end of 2022 and some of those injuries aren't the easiest to bounce back from. Ronald Acuna Jr. sure looks like he is in a good spot health-wise after terrorizing the Venezuelan Winter League, but it sure will be nice if he comes into spring training strong and looking like his usual self, especially in the outfield.
Ozzie Albies had a big chunk of his 2022 season taken away thanks to a broken foot followed almost immediately by a broken finger...what is he going to look like to start the season? Mike Soroka is back to trying to win a rotation spot after two separate Achilles' tears cost him the last two seasons. Kirby Yates presumably had a normal offseason after returning from injury last year, is he going to be a piece the Braves can rely on out of their bullpen? Those are just a few of the many guys to keep an eye on and, most importantly, the goal is to get through spring training without anymore injuries popping up.
Will Vaughn Grissom be able to seize the shortstop spot and quiet his doubters?
With Dansby Swanson leaving in free agency, Vaughn Grissom has been put in a pretty awkward spot and any early slip-up is going to get some fans in their feelings. We have all seen the reports that Grissom has been working with Ron Washington this offseason to make sure he can handle shortstop defensively, but a lot of this narrative is going to come down to how Grissom's bat plays especially given how good Dansby had been the last couple of years.
That is a pretty tough spot for Grissom who was pressed into service after very limited time in the minor leagues. He was electric when he was first called up, but he faded down the stretch at the plate and there are some concerns about how consistently he will impact the ball. If he struggles in spring, not only will folks start yelling about Dansby leaving again, but there will also be those that think that Orlando Arcia should get the playing time...as ill-advised as that may be.
What is going to happen with the fifth spot in the Braves' rotation?
We have talked a good bit this offseason about the competition for the Braves' fifth spot in the rotation, but its going to be one of the only real true competitions going on this spring training. It is probably fair to say that many fans are going to be rooting for Mike Soroka to emerge from the fray with the job. He is beloved by the fanbase and his upside is an uber-efficient potential Cy Young candidate, but its impossible to ignore the uncharted waters he is in coming off two Achilles surgeries.
However, there are other really interesting arms that are going to be in the running. Ian Anderson pitched his brains out in the 2021 World Series and then was so bad in 2022 that he ended up getting sent back down to the minors. Can he rebound and make the Braves give him another chance? Bryce Elder had his moments in the big leagues in 2022 after some hiccups. Then there are prospects like Jared Shuster, Roddery Munoz, Dylan Dodd, and Darius Vines that could make things interesting as well.
Will the Braves be able to get anything out of left field?
Despite a need for a stable solution, the Braves didn't sign a starting left fielder this offseason (at least so far) so they are going to have to go with their internal options. Sure, it would be nice if Eddie Rosario regained the form he showed in the 2021 postseason where he basically single-handedly beat the Dodgers, but it is hard to bet on that after what we saw last season. Marcell Ozuna, as much as many would prefer that the Braves would just move on from him, is going to get at-bats and presumably some of those at-bats are going to be in left field...can he rebuild any of his lost value?
There are also the bench types like Sam Hilliard, Jordan Luplow, and Kevin Pillar to consider here as well, but the entire group of outfielders in this section really does seem to leave something to be desired unless someone can separate themselves. That process will hopefully begin this spring.
How good will this Braves bullpen really be?
The Braves have invested pretty heavily in their bullpen in recent years and this group appears primed to be really good once again. Anchored by Raisel Iglesias and AJ Minter, it sure seems like they could be good again especially if new additions Joe Jimenez and Lucas Luetge work out.
However, bullpens are notoriously volatile and it only takes a couple of injuries for things to go sideways in a hurry. Plus, the bullpen did lose Kenley Jansen to free agency and Tyler Matzek is going to be out for the year recovering from Tommy John surgery. There is a lot of depth in the bullpen, so they should be fine, but spring training is when you see lesser known guys show out and make the club and the Braves could use another guy or two step up and make the leap.