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Braves’ search for bench depth likely to continue throughout the spring

Will Johan Camargo be a piece of the puzzle in 2021?

MLB: Atlanta Braves-Workouts Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest question marks remaining for the Atlanta Braves is what their bench will look like for the upcoming 2021 season. The team has been very active over the last couple of weeks adding multiple options to their Spring Training roster. This will likely be a fluid situation with the Braves keeping an eye on the waiver wire for opportunities to further improve.

Below are the players that are currently in camp and seemingly in a competition to land a spot on the bench for the Opening Day roster. Also, keep in mind that the Braves will have to decide whether to carry a four or five man bench, but with no DH, they will likely need the extra bench options.

Backup Catcher

I already covered this in the catching overview but one of the interesting decisions of the spring will be at catcher where the Braves are looking for someone to back up starter Travis d’Arnaud. Atlanta has yet to add a veteran option so it appears that the best two options would be Alex Jackson or William Conteras, who both saw limited action in 2020. Contreras is the more exciting option, but has yet to log an plate appearance at Triple-A. My thinking is that he will start there with Jackson serving as the major league backup provided that another option isn’t brought in.

Jackson has made great strides as a pitch framer. He has big time power but also a lot of swing and miss in his game. Whoever ends up as the backup will not be as relied on for a timeshare as much as we have seen in the recent seasons from the Braves. d’Arnaud is expected to receive the lionshare of playing time so it may be interesting to see how Jackson performs.

Backup Outfielder

We have covered the competition between Ender Inciarte and Cristian Pache at length over the last couple of weeks. For now, we will assume that Inciarte is penciled in at one of the bench spots.

Abraham Almonte, Phillip Ervin and Guillermo Heredia are all currently on the 40-man roster. Almonte spent last season with the Padres and is on a non-guaranteed contract. He has appeared in 376 career games with a career line of .237/.298/.370. The Braves claimed Ervin off of waivers from the Cubs as camp was starting. He struggled in a limited sample between two teams in 2020 but has a career line of .277/.352/.459 with a 113 wRC+ against left-handed pitching, though a lot of that is xwOBA overperformance. Atlanta claimed Heredia off of waivers from the Mets just over a week ago. He’s been a below-average hitter in his career but is capable of playing all three outfield positions. He also has one option remaining so he could be sent to Triple-A to serve as depth.

Infield options

It has been a swift fall for Johan Camargo following his breakout campaign of 2018. Camargo ran away with the third base job that season and hit .272/.349/.457 with 19 home runs. In 133 games and 375 plate appearances since, he has hit .222/.267/.378 with 11 home runs. He comes to camp with a non-guaranteed salary. His versatility remains valuable, but he needs to show some progress at the plate. Camargo hit lefties legitimately well a while ago, but hasn’t done so lately; if he can at least do that again, he can justify his roster spot.

Another name that was added to the mix recently is infielder Jake Lamb. Lamb launched 29 home runs in 2016 and 30 more in 2017 with the Diamondbacks before falling off a cliff, in large part due to injury. He has played in just 165 games combined over the last three seasons and split the 2020 season between Arizona and Oakland. Lamb showed some signs of life after joining the Athletics and the Braves will be hoping there is enough left to serve as a left-handed bench option with some power that is capable of playing on the corner infield. Lamb is on the 40-man roster but is also on a non-guaranteed deal so he will need to perform to secure his spot.

The Braves also have three veteran options who are in camp as non-roster invitees. Pablo Sandoval appeared in one game for the Braves in 2020 but was part of their postseason roster. His chances may have been hurt by the signing of Lamb, but he will be in camp and looking to show that there is something left.

Jason Kipnis spent the 2020 season with the Cubs where he hit .237/.341/.404 in 135 plate appearances. In an interesting quirk of the shortened season, Kipnis’ walk rate jumped to a career-best 13.3 percent but his strikeout rate ballooned to 30.4 percent, which was also a career high. He has largely been a second baseman over the last couple of seasons but does have some outfield experience in his career.

Ehire Adrianza spent the last four seasons with the Minnesota Twins. He is a light-hitting middle infielder who saw action as a backup at third base, shortstop and second base. He has an 82 wRC+ for his career but his defensive versatility could bring some value. Other than Camargo, he is the only player among this group that could play shortstop at a reasonable level.

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