Atlanta Braves Spring Training Mailbag: February
Spring training games are set to get started this weekend for the Atlanta Braves and, at least for the moment, they have the same questions they had when camp got started last week. We still don't know who is going to get the lion's share of playing time in the last spot in the rotation, in left field, or at shortstop. The Braves are fortunate enough to have a roster that is deep enough where the internal options for those spots don't make you wince (at least not too hard in most cases).
At the end of the day, most of those questions are going to be answered on the field (as well as by a player's contract status and whether or not they have minor league options left). However, there is still plenty to talk about with this team, so I put out a call for questions on Twitter yesterday to see what was on everyone's minds.
I am a big fan of Q&As as it allows for covering a wide range of topics in a short period of time and while I am not a fan of the comments system in general, I still want to find ways to engage with readers. Below you will find a healthy number of questions on a wide range of Braves topics and my attempts to answer them...enjoy!
Atlanta Braves Mailbag
Predictions or expectations for the prep arms that the Braves drafted in 2022?
Going to start with a minor league question as I am a sucker for talking prospects. The Braves, somewhat surprisingly, went prep heavy with their pitching class with Owen Murphy, JR Ritchie, and Cole Phillips on day one. I don't think any of them are going to move particularly fast through the minor leagues, at least to start with. My assumption is Murphy and Ritchie will start at the same level (low-A or high-A depending on how useful the Braves think having those guys go against low-A hitters flailing around is) while Phillips will probably start at rookie ball and then jump to at least low-A because he is coming off the injury.
I am a fan of all three and I think Murphy is the best of the three pitchers, although it is quite close as I had all three of them in my top five Braves prospects period. However, I will say that I think Phillips has the most upside given the quality of his fastball. I remain convinced that if he had gotten to college and stayed healthy, he would have ended up as at least a top 15 pick in the draft.
What’s your biggest concern for the Braves this season?
Honestly, it is just health. I think this Braves team is really good and really deep with high end talent on all sides of the ball. I don't think they have to have absolute studs at shortstop and left field to remain one of the best teams in the league and the projections seem to agree.
However, we are already starting to see why you want to have as many pitchers as possible around with Kyle Wright's shoulder giving him trouble and Soroka's hamstring delaying his start. The Braves have the depth to manage issues in the rotation, at least in the short term, but the same can't be said for the lineup. They have great front line guys there, but there are also guys who have battled injuries who need to stay healthy because the upper levels of the minors when it comes to position talent is...lacking.
Who throws more innings this year: Anderson or Soroka?
This is tough because there is genuine cause for pessimism for both guys for different reasons. I am going to go with Soroka because 1) my record as a diehard Soroka fan is well documented and 2) I think he is just a better pitcher that is more likely to stick as a starter. I would not fault you in any way if you convinced that he couldn't stay healthy enough to pitch, though. He has had some absolutely brutal luck in his career so far.
As for Ian, I wrote a few days ago about some fundamental issues with his pitches that makes his profile in the big leagues very hard. He is just a very low spin pitcher. Sure, a guy can make it work with really good command, but we haven't seen that on a consistent basis from Ian and that was especially true last year. It sounds like he is coming into camp looking good and potentially with another pitch (a slider), so maybe this is the year he takes a step forward.
If you had to pick one candidate for potential MVP this year, would you pick Ronald or Riley?
I love Austin Riley and I won't be stunned if he ends up being the prime MVP candidate because he is so good, but I can't in good conscience pick him over Ronnie in a vacuum. Acuna has as much, if not more, raw power as Austin while also being a threat on the basepaths and has the speed and arm to be a really good defender in right.
The trick here is that Ronald has to stay healthy and not get into a prolonged slump which could happen. However, I'll bet on his talent every time at this point and I don't think a 40/40 season is out of the question at all for him...again, if he can avoid the injured list.
With the Bally Sports bankruptcy situation what do you see the Braves and Liberty media doing moving forward? Could you see a scenario where Liberty Media creates their own network to broadcast the team or do they just try to sell to an existing major network?
This is an interesting one because the Braves being owned by a media conglomerate does give them some options, expertise, and infrastructure that other teams simply don't have. For Liberty and the Braves, I think it would just come down to overhead costs and also what the league chooses to do with this opportunity.
The latter may end up being the most important thing because Manfred has talked a big game when it comes to trying to move away from things like blackouts, etc. In the short term, I think the league would just use MLB Network's infrastructure to make sure games got broadcasted. However, I remain skeptical that the league wants to take on the responsibility for that many teams for very long, so a Braves network seems plausible to me in the medium to long-term as long as there is a streaming option. If you can't stream it, it would probably fail.
Which of the new bullpen arms are you most excited about?
I think they all have their warts, but Joe Jimenez's peripherals probably excite me the most because he misses bats and it seems like he figured something out last season. All bullpen guys are risky and volatile, but I prefer guys that strike batters out to ones that pitch to contact in most situations. Nick Anderson is another guy that has a history of being good, but is coming off of an injury so we will see how he looks. Lucas Luetge seems like a professional junkballer to me, but he gets lefties out a high clip and that is an important skill.
Which Braves sophomore has the better chance of making the All-Star team: Michael Harris or Spencer Strider?
Lord, it is the Rookie of the Year debate all over again. I am going to start with this: if both players play well and stay healthy, they will both probably by All-Stars in 2023 as both of them have more than enough talent to justify it and are popular enough to get the recognition.
However, I am actually going to give the edge to Strider here for some fairly uninteresting reasons. Strider puts up gaudy strikeout numbers which will garner attention while Harris is just going to do a lot of things well, but may be under appreciated by the masses when it comes to a popular vote that also includes names like Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto, Mookie Betts, Brandon Nimmo (barf), plus new arrival Corbin Carroll who looks like a stud. I have more confidence that Strider gets selected by the systems in place, but both are All-Star level talents.
What would Eli White or Sam Hilliard have to do with the bat before the deadline to feel comfortable letting them play LF every day?
Hitting the ball basically at all would be a good start. On a more serious note, I think the Braves' left field situation is weird. They owe real money to two guys (Ozuna and Rosario) who have really underperformed at the plate of late, but I remain skeptical that the organization would ever just...not play them. There has been a lot of talk about it being a competition based solely on merit, but I am not so sure.
With those two (and I'm adding Pillar and Luplow to the mix as well), I think it would require those guys to both hit well this spring and for both Rosario and Ozuna to be terrible at the plate to let it happen. Luplow at least can at least be a platoon bat, but the other guys may have to really show out with Pillar getting an edge as well because he is a vet and is a good defender.
Will TDA (assuming him and Murphy are healthy) be used as a trade piece towards the deadline?
I highly, highly doubt it. The Braves are firm believers in having two strong catchers on the roster to both help out the DH situation (which could be dicey again especially if Ozuna can't hit and/or stay out of jail) and to keep both guys fresh and healthy going into the postseason. TdA would get a strong return, there is no question about that, but I just don't see it happening. I'll even go as far as to say that it is far more likely that the Braves' pick up Travis' option for 2024 than it is for them to trade him.