The Atlanta Braves are in a good position in spring training. Arguably the most interesting positions battles are for a reserve outfielder, and a 5 th starter. That would make most front offices across the sport ecstatic.
It is obvious that the Atlanta Braves want to shore up left field. In fact, only one team had worse production in terms of fWAR in the LF position than the Braves in 2022 (Rangers).
A large part of that was Eddie Rosario with his eye issue. He had a terrible overall year with a -1.1 fWAR, which was the only time in his career that he had negative value. He also had a well below average wRC+ of 61 (39 percent below league average) in 270 plate appearances.
To be fair his eye issue played a large role. He did have a streak near the end of the season where he played decent. We covered this in-depth last month before the battle heated up, so let’s take a look at one player in particular.
Shockingly to some, the Texas Rangers cut ties with Eli White when he only had just over 2 years of service time and 2 minor league options remaining. If we look at his wRC+ from last season, it was just slightly better than Rosario’s at 67. However, in 153 fewer plate appearances, White had 0.9 fWAR. That is a full 2.0 fWAR higher than Rosario.
How is this you say? Defense. The heavy focus across social media is left field, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, as a reserve outfielder, you also want versatility. What if Michael Harris II needs a breather? Sure, Ronald Acuña Jr. can cover CF in a pinch, but then that would leave RF to be covered.
White is a proven defender. As pointed out when we went in-depth last month on the LF battle, in 291.1 innings in the outfield in 2022, White had 7 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), and 4.5 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). For reference, Michael Harris had 8 DRS and 4.9 UZR in 1021.0 innings. White is better in LF than in CF having 1 DRS in 2022 in 148.1 innings up the middle, but that is above average by that metric. He also had a positive UZR of 0.7 in CF.
The same argument about versatility and defense used to be able to be said for Kevin Pillar, but during his last stint in LF (other than a 25 inning cameo in 2022), he was inferior to White with 2 DRS and -0.1 UZR in 182.2 innings. Also in 2021, in 401.2 innings in CF he had -1 DRS and 0.4 UZR.
Sam Hilliard was excellent in LF in 2022 with 11 DRS and 5.4 UZR in 377.0 innings, but was subpar in CF inn terms of DRS with -1. The point is that Eli White fits better into the defensive replacement role since he is not only an excellent defender, but can also play all three OF positions with positive value added. This could potentially give him an edge over his competition.
Spring training stats can be deceiving because of such a small sample size, but three potential reserve outfielders are battling hard thus far.
At the time of this writing, Eli White has a slash line of .294/.400/.647 which equates to an OPS of 1.047 in eight games. That OPS is 5th on the team in that span. It should also be noted that he has three walks to three strikeouts, showing possible patience.
Sam Hilliard has a slash line of .400/.400/.700 which equates to a 1.100 OPS (4th on the team) in 7 games. His one downfall is that he has zero walks, hence the batting average and OBP being the same.
Pillar has been impressive in his own right as well with a slash line of .231/.333/.692 which is an OPS of 1.025 (6th on team) in 6 games. A 1.025 OPS would make any manager happy over a long period of time, but it is slightly lower than the other two and is based heavily on the fact that two of his three hits were HRs. He has one walk to three strikeouts.
This is a good problem to have for the Atlanta Braves. We have not even mentioned Jordan Luplow yet, which we talked about last month as a potential platoon partner for Rosario and yet here are three OFers who have equally strong cases to make the roster.
Does Eli White currently have the edge as the favorite to land a roster spot?
Recent seasons show White as the most versatile defender of the bunch. This combined with close spring training offensive numbers (albeit a small sample size), he is making a strong case for himself. The deciding factor might be that White has two minor league options left, so they can send him down to AAA and keep him on the 40-man roster. They do not have that luxury with Kevin Pillar or Sam Hilliard. If the front office wants to keep one or both of these players, they will have to be on the MLB roster.
It is a close battle, but this ultimately is a great for the 2021 World Series Champion Braves.