Unlike last season where it felt like there were only one or two bullpen spots that could be won during Spring Training, the Braves have a reasonably unsettled relief corps going into the 2021 season. The core group of Will Smith, Tyler Matzek, AJ Minter, and Chris Martin are locks and there are others who might be “likely” to make the roster, but there are going to be real opportunities for guys to make the club out of Spring Training.
Below, you find some notes on the non-roster invitee relievers that the Braves are bringing into camp before the 2021 season. Before you start shouting, no, this doesn’t include Victor Arano and it isn’t because we hate him, it is because he is on the 40-man roster. Yes, that makes it more likely that he will make the team than these guys. Save your angry comments and tweets, plz and ty.
LHP Thomas Burrows - It seems like Burrows has been in the Braves’ system forever. His 2019 season was a step back to be sure and he is 26 now which is getting into the “put up or shut up” part of his career. Being a lefty doesn’t help his cause coming out of camp as the Braves’ bullpen is lefty hefty, but Burrows has shown flashes of looking like a major leaguer.
RHP Jason Creasy - Creasy is a righty arm that the Braves are familiar with dating back to him joining the organization back in 2019. The results have been middling dating back to his time with the Pirates and Diamondbacks organizations, he doesn’t miss enough bats, and he is already 28 with no major league service time.
RHP Carl Edwards Jr. - One of the more interesting NRIs on this list to be sure, Edwards Jr. was a key part of the Cubs’ bullpen before falling out of favor in 2019. He didn’t pitch much in 2020, but if the Braves can get him to recapture a good chunk of his former self, he should make the roster as a much needed righty arm with experience in big games. Edwards ran massive strikeout and walk rates both, which worked when he wasn’t giving up longballs. In 2019, he did give up longballs, and that was the end of the line. Not much changed for him pitch-wise, though, so it’s kind of a toss-up as to whether he’ll be handy or not in 2021.
RHP Daysbel Hernandez - Hernandez has always been an interesting relief prospect, but never pitching in pro ball above High-A and now being 24 has me a bit suspicious that the Braves may not be as bullish. He does miss bats, though, and if Atlanta sees some improvement in his walk rate, he could be a surprise pick
RHP Kurt Hoekstra - Converted from an infielder late in his minor league career, Hoekstra has gone from an organizational depth-type bat to a viable major league relief prospect which is a great story. He blasted his way to Gwinnett in 2019 throwing gas, including an absolutely dominant stint in Mississippi. He is 27 and only has so much time to have to figure out a lot, but it is hard not to root for him.
RHP Connor Johnstone - Other than the starting pitching prospects that don’t make the rotation, you do have to bring in a guy to be a long man out of the pen and that is what the Braves likely see as Johnstone’s ceiling. One thing I will say about Johnstone, if you need a guy on next to no notice to fly in and throw multiple innings the next day... Johnstone is your guy as he has had to do so on multiple occasions in the minors.
RHP Victor Vodnik - It is still a bit unclear as to whether or not Vodnik will get a shot as a starter in 2021 or not, although my guess is no at this point. If the Braves are ready to commit to him as a reliever, he throws almost 100 mph from the right side right now and could be a sleeper choice for the bullpen with a good camp. A roster spot in the upper minors somewhere does seem more likely, though.
RHP William Woods - Speaking of triple digit fastballs, if you are wanting to know which NRI is the most likely to blow folks away with pure stuff enough to snag a roster spot, Woods is your guy. Woods helped his own cause in the eyes of the public with videos of him hitting exciting radar gun numbers, but he also hasn’t pitched above Low-A yet. He does have a bit of starting experience, so being a multi-inning option helps his cause a bit. Again, a higher minors spot still seems more likely, but keep an eye on him.