With just four days remaining until the beginning of the 2011 season, the Braves’ 25-man Opening Day roster is set. Just in time, too, as the season begins in less than a week with the team opening up on the road against the Nationals in DC on Thursday, March 31.
First, it was confirmed by the Braves this past Thursday that Brandon Beachy will be the team’s 5th starter. LHP Mike Minor was subsequently optioned to Triple A Gwinnett. Minor certainly pitched well, throwing 10 official spring innings over 3 appearances (2 starts) while giving up just 1 ER. But he had some difficulties over the last week or two with control of curveball, so the team decided to give him more time to work in the pitch at Gwinnett. Beachy also pitched extremely well, surrendering 2 ER over 16 official spring innings spread out over 4 appearances (3 starts). His 4.0 K/BB rate was also impressive. While it would have been nice to have a lefty in the starting rotation, I think the team made the right decision. The Braves invested a significant amount of money in Mike Minor after picking him 7th overall in 2009, so there’s problem with allowing him enough time to fully develop his pitches and further refine his game. Plus, we may end up seeing Mike Minor in Atlanta very soon if Jair Jurrjens is not able to return from his sore right side in time for his turn in the rotation in early April.
Earlier today it was released that minor league veteran Matt Young earned the final back-up OF position while Brandon Hicks was named to the final back-up IF spot. It was also confirmed that Brooks Conrad will keep his spot on the team (given his .216/.259/.333 spring line, was it even up in the air?). That means the Braves bench will be Young (OF/2B), Hicks (SS/3B), Conrad (2B/3B), Eric Hinske (1B/LF) and David Ross (C). That looks to be a pretty good blend of offensive and defensive flexibility. Hicks brings a solid glove and fills the needed back-up SS role while Young brings some speed that the team doesn’t currently have. I highlighted the benefits Young would bring to the Braves last October following the team’s exit from the playoffs. With him picking up the back-up OF spot, the Braves placed Joe Mather on waivers. If he’s not claimed, he’ll likely be sent to Gwinnett. I think this decision makes sense, as Mather flat out could not hit this spring and Young’s ability to play 2B means that the defensively-liable Conrad can focus on his role as a clutch pinch-hitter.
The move that surely caused much rejoice amongst Braves Country was the decision to release Scott Proctor to make way for Christhian Martinez to be named to the last bullpen spot. Proctor was definitely a good guy, but he pitched poorly in the minors last year, pitched poorly for the Braves in the majors last year and again pitched poorly. Atlanta just had too many promising arms for him to earn the spot. Martinez pitched well in his appearances in Atlanta last season and put up solid numbers this spring. Perhaps most importantly (for me anyways), is that Martinez provides the team with a long relief option. None of the other relievers have that type of experience. So the 2011 ‘pen will be Martinez (RHP), Craig Kimbrel (RHP), Jonny Venters (LHP), Peter Moylan (RHP), Eric O’Flaherty (LHP), Scott Linebrink (RHP) and George Sherrill (LHP). If they pitch up to their potential, the bullpen should be a strength of the team this season.