On March 18, Atlanta Braves' manager, Brian Snitker was reporting stating that the Braves were either opening the season with Vaughn Grissom or Braden Shewmake as the starting SS. On March 20, both were optioned to Gwinnett and Orlando Arcia was crowned the Opening Day SS. What are the Braves doing with the roster and was Ehire Adrianza a deciding factor?
Additionally, the Braves optioned Nick Anderson and outrighted Jackson Stephens, leaving the bullpen all but set, and optioned two of the outfielders vying for the backup outfield positions.
What are the Braves doing at SS?
When Spring Training began, the SS position looked like it was a battle between Vaughn Grissom and Orlando Arcia. Arcia struggled out of the gate and many (including myself) assumed that Grissom had won the position.
But last week, Grissom suddenly stopped appearing at SS, going five straight games without appearing at SS. Mark Bowman of MLB even changed his projected starting SS to Shewmake.
After returning to the position during Monday's game and going 3-4, Grissom officially lost the role. The 22-year-old's bat certainly wasn't the issue this spring, as he slashed .371/.400/.429 in 37 PAs, but clearly, the team was still too concerned about his ability to hold down the position defensively.
Shewmake, the Braves' 2019 first-round pick, impressed with the bat was well this spring, hitting .323/.371/.452, but his past success in the minors with the bat (.259/.316/.399 last season with Gwinnett) is likely more telling of his abilities. Despite winning over Mark Bowman, the Braves ultimately optioned the 25-year-old SS as well.
This, of course, leaves Orlando Arcia as the Opening Day SS. Arcia was a lock to make the club coming to North Point, but the question was whether he'd be the backup infielder or starting SS. He only hit .240/.367/.360, but it was good enough for the former Brewers everyday SS to win the job.
Arcia winning the position also means the Braves need to add an additional infielder to the 40-man. At the moment, it looks like that man will be Ehire Adrianza, who himself might have factored into the decision to option both Grissom and Shewmake.
While Adrianza is currently on a minor league deal, his MLB service time would give him the ability to opt out if he did not make the team, as defined by Article XX(B).
While Adrianza did not offer much in terms of production last season, he did provide 0.6 fWAR in 209 PAs in 2021. He's also currently working on a degree in sports management.
The Braves, valuing depth, apparently concluded that carrying Adrianza and letting Grissom and Shewmake get reps in with Gwinnett was a better long-term strategy than letting Adrianza walk.
Another wrinkle into this decision might have been an injury concern with Grissom, as Peter Gammon reported that he had been struggling with a hernia issue.
However, Mark Bowman quickly dismissed this idea. Not only does MLBPA not approve of injury-motivated options, but Grissom played the entire game prior to being sent down.
What about the outfield?
While the SS news certainly dominated the conversation, it was only one part of the moves made. The outfield picture began to clear up as well.
Jordan Luplow and Eli White were both sent to Gwinnett, almost guaranteeing that Kevin Pillar and Sam Hilliard will take the remaining spots.
The decision wasn't all due to play. Pillar, like Adrianza, is on a minor league deal that allows him to opt out if he doesn't make the team, and Hilliard is out of options. Both Luplow and White had options remaining. While Luplow started late and only slashed .200/..294/.333 in 17 PAs, White had an incredible spring, slashing .429/.500/.893 in 32 PAs.
Pillar only slashed .176/.243/.382 in 36 PAs, but has a strong reputation with his glove, which is needed since Rosario and Ozuna are slated to get significant innings in LF.
Hilliard, on the other hand, has smoked the cover off the ball. In 40 PAs, he has hit .353/.450/.529, making him well deserving of a spot on the 26-man roster.
While, like the SS situation, these moves were made with depth in mind, it is far clearer why Pillar and Hilliard are the two starting the year with Atlanta.
What about the bullpen?
After Jackson Stephens was sent outright on Sunday, Nick Anderson was optioned in the flurry of moves on Monday. Anderson was signed this offseason on a split level contract, and with an option remaining, the Braves decided to use it.
Anderson pitched well this spring, allowing three runs on five hits and four walks in eight innings, good for a 3.38 ERA. The former Tampa Bay Ray hasn't appeared in a game since September 26, 2021, and is coming back from a UCL injury.
With the bullpen all but set, the final roster spot will likely go to Jesse Chavez, who, like Adrianza and Pillar, is on a minor league deal with an opt out, has become a fan favorite with the Braves the past two seasons and is a multi-inning option for a team full of dominant one-inning guys.
Michael Tonkin is the other reliever remaining in big league camp. He is on the 40-man and does not have an option remaining. The tall righty hasn't pitched in the bigs since 2017 and has a 7.11 ERA in 6.1 innings this spring.
So, what are the Braves doing with the roster?
Players who had options were optioned and players who add opt-outs or did not have options were retained.
Adrianza is certainly the most confusing decision, especially considering the team only played him six games last season after acquiring him at the deadline last season. However, it's important to remember the decision was made alongside their evaluation of Grissom and Shewmake, not solely in their desire to retain Adrianza.
It's also important to remember that the roster the team opens up with is very different than the roster the team finishes the season with. Tucker Davidson, Sean Newcomb, Tyler Thornburg, Manny Piña, and Alex Dickerson were all on the Braves 2022 Opening Day Roster and none of them saw action with the team after May 28.
There are 32 players left with the Braves' big league camp with just over a week left before Opening Day.