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Braves Mailbag: Drew Waters, position battles, Shane Greene and more

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Atlanta Braves Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to everyone that took the time to send in questions for this week’s mailbag. I couldn’t get to them all but we will do this again soon. Let’s dive right in!

If you had to trade one of the Braves pitching prospects for a player who could help the team right now, who would you trade? Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Tucker Davidson, Jasseel de la Cruz, Kyle Muller, Touki Toussaint?

Honestly, we could see any of those guys on the move at some point soon. Wright and Wilson are competing for the fifth starter spot to open the season. Toussaint has looked good in a multi-inning relief role this spring, but the Braves haven’t really indicated what his role might be in 2021. Still, none of that group has had extended success at the major league level so I am unsure of what kind of value they have.

Tucker Davidson and Kyle Muller appear to be in that next wave of Braves starters and both are likely to start at Gwinnett, but could figure into the picture at some point. Muller looks like that boom or bust prospect whose value could increase if he shows improved control when the minor league season gets underway. By default, I think he is the answer to this question.

Which team in the NL East, in your opinion, has the best chance of unseating the Braves as division champs?

I probably shouldn’t sleep on the Nationals. They have Juan Soto and Trea Turner and the top of that rotation is still scary. Still, I think the answer is probably the Mets provided that they can finally remain healthy. The addition of Lindor along with a strong pitching staff has them looking good on paper. They will also have the ability to make additions during the season thanks to Steve Cohen’s deep pockets.

I was wanting to know if or when they are going to sign back Shane Greene?

Are the Braves waiting to see how some other righty bullpen options play out before they make an offer to Shane Greene or is he off the radar?

Bringing back Greene seemed like the obvious move when the spring began, but a reunion appears to be less likely now. There has been no indication of what Greene is looking for in regards to a contract but so far, no team has been willing to pay the price.

Like Mark Melancon, there are concerns that regression could be coming for Greene, whose strikeout rate dropped to 19.3% in 2020. Additionally, his walk rate increased and his ERA outperformed his FIP by more than a run. Opponents had a .238 BABIP against him in 2019 and a .268 mark in 2020. He has done a good job suppressing hard contact but that is going to be hard to maintain given the lack of swing and miss.

Do you think that Drew Waters should be worried about the up and coming Michael Harris when thinking about a Braves outfield spot (Assuming Ronald Acuña and Cristian Pache are in right and center, respectively)?

Not at all. Drew Waters is a Top 100 prospect and is in the Top 50 of some national lists. Sure there has been a lot of questions about his approach but I also think there is some prospect fatigue setting in here as well. Waters didn’t play well at Gwinnett at the end of the 2019 season but, it was 26 games and 119 plate appearances. That came after he completely dominated the Southern League hitting .319/.366/.481 with a 144 wRC+. The lost 2020 season in the minors robbed him of a chance to quiet some of those concerns. An oblique injury this spring did the same. I feel really confident that Drew Waters is going to get a chance to prove himself in Atlanta.

Michael Harris looks like he is going to be the next big time prospect for the Braves. He has drawn rave reviews from the alternate site and from his work at Spring Training. Still, he just turned 20 years old and has played just 22 games at Low-A. Mny evaluators thought that the Braves rushed him with a late season promotion. I think Harris has the chance to be good, even really good, but he is still a long way away and needs to prove himself. By the time he does, the Braves will likely know what they have in Waters and even Cristian Pache, who needs to prove himself at the major league level. If you are Atlanta, it isn’t a problem. In fact, it is a great situation to be in.

Looking at the production of William Contreras and Alex Jackson, are the Braves considering adding a veteran backup catcher?

I think this goes right along with my answer about Shane Greene above. When camp opened, I was expecting the Braves to add a veteran catcher to the mix. It still hasn’t happened and they sound like they are comfortable letting the competition play out between Alex Jackson and William Contreras.

Jackson has worked tremendously hard on his defensive skills behind the plate and is regarded as a plus pitch framer. I don’t think there are any questions about his ability to handle a staff at this point, especially in a backup role like he would see behind Travis d’Arnaud. The question for Jackson is his offense. He has excellent power but struggles to make contact. He’s received 12 at-bats this spring and has one hit. Even with his offensive struggles, he might not be that much of a drop off from Tyler Flowers whose offensive numbers also slipped in 2019-2020. Even if Jackson is not capable of providing much value by himself, the Braves may not feel particularly affected if d’Arnaud gets most of the playing time in a more traditional starter-backup arrangement rather than the timeshare/tandem the team has used over the last half-decade.

Contreras has just 60 games and 209 plate appearances at the Double-A level. He is 2-for-9 at the plate this spring. My thinking has been that he needs to see regular playing time, but there is another wrinkle to consider. The Triple-A season has been delayed for at least a month. Contreras is already on the 40-man roster. The Braves could opt to keep him at the major league level rather than send him to the alternate site for the first month. Jackson could theoretically serve as the taxi squad catcher. That scenario would give them about four extra weeks to decide which course of action is appropriate.

One other thing to keep an eye on: the Braves could still opt to bring in a veteran backstop between now and the end of the Grapefruit League season. There may be decent choices available, especially once teams begin pairing down their rosters. That is a possibility, but for now it feels like they are focused on their internal options.

Do any of Jason Kipnis, Jake Lamb and Pablo Sandoval crack the bench?

The battle for the final bench spots is going to be interesting all the way through until the end of camp. It isn’t clear whether the Braves will open the season with a four- or five-man bench. If they go with four, I think it will consist of Jackson (or Contreras), Ender Inciarte, Johan Camargo and Jake Lamb. If they carry an extra hitter, then I would give the edge to Kipnis at this point.

Phillip Ervin, Abraham Almonte and Guillermo Heredia are also in the conversation and I think Ervin is probably in the lead. It is also worth noting that Ervin, Almonte and Heredia are all on the 40-man roster currently, and only Heredia has an option remaining.

Johan Camargo and Ehire Adrianza are very similar players, and both look pretty good this spring with versatility at multiple positions, including shortstop. Because the Reds are a disaster at shortstop, could the Braves match up with them in a trade for Camargo? The Reds have some solid position players in the lower minors that are intriguing, and it would allow the Braves to free up a spot on the 40-man for Adrianza and/or Kipnis.

I don’t think either has any trade value. A team like the Reds can look at the Braves’ roster and see that it is unlikely that both Camargo and Adrianza are likely to make the team, and if they were interested, just sign whoever gets cut. Camargo’s breakout in 2018 is too far in the rearview mirror and Adrianza has a career 82 wRC+. It appears that Camargo is moving better and could be able to cover shortstop behind Dansby Swanson, which is why I have him ahead of Adrianza in my projection above.

Thoughts on the state of the bullpen at this stage?

It is definitely interesting. My thoughts entering the spring were that they needed to add another right-handed reliever to the mix. Perhaps Carl Edwards Jr. proves to be that guy. Maybe Nate Jones slots into Darren O’Day’s old role. It will be interesting to see if they give any preference to the guys that are out of options in regards to the Opening Day roster and how much rope they get once they are there.

What young player (maybe one position player & one pitcher) with little to no chance of cracking the Opening Day roster has shown the most potential/raised his stock the most during ST?

Feels like a lot of hitters could be the answer to this question. Michael Harris is obviously the big name, but guys like Bryce Ball, Braden Shewmake, Shea Langeliers and others drew praise over the first couple of weeks of camp. I’m going to go with Trey Harris though. I don’t expect him to make the Opening Day roster, but if the Braves find themselves in need of a right-handed bench bat or a corner outfielder, he could get the call. I’m convinced that the guy is going to hit and I think he would fit well in a bench role.

On the pitching side, I will go with William Woods. He turned heads with a series of workout videos during the shutdown and eventually found his way to the alternate site. The velocity is there and I want to see how he does this season.

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