NORTH PORT, Fla. — Although the first baseman is different, the Braves will look quite familiar as they open up their World Series title defense with their April 7 Opening Day game against the Reds at Truist Park.
Freddie Freeman was replaced by Matt Olson, and two playoff stars, Joc Pederson and Jorge Soler, joined other clubs. But the Braves will again feature many of the same players who helped them win the World Series last year.
Since spring training was shortened after the recent lockdown, all teams would be allowed to carry 28 players (no limit on the number of pitchers) until May 2. Neither MLB nor the MLBPA has officially announced this plan.
Here’s a look at the 28 players who could break camp with the Braves this year:
STARTING PITCHERS (6)
Prediction: Charlie Morton, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright, Huascar Ynoa, TBD
Other candidates: Tucker Davidson, Kyle Muller
Johnny Cueto and Brett Anderson are among the veteran free agents who have remained unsigned. But I think the Braves will wait to see who becomes available once the other teams have established their rosters. President of Baseball Operations Alex Anthopoulos found great value when he went this route to get Anibal Sánchez ahead of the 2018 season. If nothing materializes, Davidson or Muller could find a spot.
Manager Brian Snitker said he would likely start the season with six starting pitchers or at least one pitcher who could serve as an opener. Ynoa could fulfill either of these two roles.
Prediction: Kenley Jansen, Collin McHugh, Will Smith, Tyler Matzek, AJ Minter, Luke Jackson, Darren O’Day, Spencer Strider, Sean Newcomb
Once May 2 arrives, rosters will be reduced to 26 players and teams will not be allowed to carry more than 13 pitchers. So expect the Braves to carry 14 pitchers in the opening weeks of the regular season. This could be good news for Newcomb, whose candidacy is bolstered by the fact that he is out of options. Jacob Webb might be the best choice, but he still has a Minor League option.
The somewhat surprising addition here might be Strider. The hard-throwing right-hander started last season at Low-A Augusta and finished it in the Atlanta bullpen. He struck out 39.3 percent of the 389 batters he faced across four minor league levels last year. The 23-year-old right-hander will be in the Majors at some point this year. The only question is whether the Braves want to start him there or give him more time to develop.
Prediction: Travis d’Arnaud, Manny Pina
Barring injury, the Braves will open the season with these two veteran catchers. Adding Piña out of season will give Snitker a chance to keep d’Arnaud fresh throughout the season. Both of these catchers are good play callers who possess power potential.
There might be a greater need for a left-handed bat on the bench. But with the universal designated hitter in place, there will be fewer pinch hitting appearances. Therefore, Gosselin gets the nod because of what he can provide defensively.
Olson ranked first among all American League first basemen with the 13.2 fWAR he produced from 2018-21. Riley and Gosselin are among other players who could play first base if needed.
Albies spent the last year becoming the only second baseman in franchise history to produce a season of 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. Arcia and Gosselin could play second base if needed.
Coming off a career-best 27 homer season, Swanson is gearing up to make his sixth consecutive Opening Day start as Atlanta’s shortstop. Arcia is the main backup at the two middle spots in the field.
Riley caught the eye of MVP after hitting .303 with 33 homers last year. Both Arcia and Gosselin have experience in the hot corner.
OUTDOOR FIELDS (5)
Prediction: Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario, Marcell Ozuna, Guillermo Heredia, Alex Dickerson
Ozuna appears to be best utilized as a designated hitter, but Ronald Acuña Jr. will fill that role when cleared to return to play approximately two weeks into the season. The Opening Day outfield mix could go two different ways. The Braves could use Duvall at center, Dickerson at left and Rosario at right. But to create a better defensive line, they could put Heredia in center, Duvall in left field and Rosario in right.