Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker met with the media Tuesday at the Winter Meetings in Nashville and discussed the team’s offseason and the outlook heading into the spring.
The Braves began the Winter Meetings by acquiring outfielder Jarred Kelenic in a five-player trade with the Seattle Mariners. As things currently stand, it looks like Kelenic and Vaughn Grissom are slated to see the most opportunities in left field. Snitker talked about the addition of Kelenic and how he sees things playing out in left field.
“We’re going spring training just like we did last year. We got 30 games to kind of see what it looks like and where we’re going to go,” Snitker said when asked about left field. “I know I’m just excited about seeing this kid. I just talked to a few of my scouting buddies here and people that have seen him. Sounds like he’s a tooled up, really nice looking player,” he added about Kelenic.
Kelenic is a former top prospect that has so far failed to realize his potential. Snitker thinks that getting him into their program will be beneficial.
“I just know just talking to people how talented the kid is,” Snitker said. “It’ll be good for him to get in with our group, our program and what we do and how we approach things. I think it’ll be really beneficial for a young, talented player.”
Grissom has never played an inning in the outfield, but will be playing left field in winter ball in Puerto Rico this offseason.
“Yeah it’ll be interesting too,” Snitker said of Grissom. “He wants to go do that. We all know the kid can hit. So it’ll be interesting, because I think he actually starts in the next couple days. It’ll be nice to see him down there and running around the outfield.”
Prior to making that trade, Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos met with the media and declared that he wasn’t interested in trading any of the team’s young core. While there wasn’t much actual buzz around Ozzie Albies or Michael Harris, speculation had popped up from time to time in the local media. Snitker thought that it was a good thing for the players that Anthopoulos put that thought to bed.
“It’s good. I think probably it’s as much for those guys to hear that as anything,” Snitker said. “It’s a quality group of guys. That’s a pretty good core to build around and to have. So I think it’s probably more beneficial for those individual players, because it’s a business. Things happen and it was nice that Alex did that.”
Snitker was also asked about any additional moves that could happen to further strengthen the roster. He said that he thought there was always an opportunity to improve, but he is pleased with the group that they have currently.
“I think you can always probably improve or make changes that are beneficial to you,” Snitker said. “If we went to Spring Training tomorrow, I’d feel really good about who we got in tow right now. I’d feel really good about our team again. It’s a group of driven guys. I say the only thing Alex is ever guilty of is working tirelessly to make this thing better.”
Coaching Staff Update
The Braves have been fortunate to mostly hold their staff together over their six season run of playoff appearances. They got hit hard this offseason though as third base coach Ron Washington left to take the manager job with the Angels. First base coach Eric Young Sr. is also leaving to take a spot on Washington’s staff in Los Angeles. Bullpen coach Drew French is also departing to become the pitching coach for the Baltimore Orioles. The Braves haven’t yet announced any replacements and Snitker said that they are busy doing their due diligence.
“We’re in discussions. We’re kinda doing our due diligence. We don’t feel pressured to do anything,” Snitker said. “It’s just like the players that we lost. These guys were, all three of them were very beneficial in our success, but we’ve created a situation where we’re not defined by one player, one coach. We’re going to fill those voids. It’ll still continue to be really good. I told Alex, that’s the price of success. People want your people.
“I’m so happy for Drew. He’s ready for this,” Snitker said of French. “I think his time with Kranny just helped him develop more. The guy was a tireless worker, and I told Brandon [Hyde] this when they hired him. I said, you’re not going to out-prepare this guy. He’s going to be ready every single day.”
The Braves opted to pick up the $20 million option on Charlie Morton’s contract back at the start of the offseason. So far they haven’t really done much to address the rotation although they were rumored to have gone hard after Aaron Nola, but he ended up returning to Philadelphia. Snitker discussed the return of Morton and some other returners that could play a big part in 2024.
“That was good. What he’s doing is just amazing,” Snitker said of Morton. “He had one of his better years this year. It makes you feel good that you don’t have to go out and replace him, because it’s hard to find Charlie Morton out there in a trade or on the open market.”
Bryce Elder filled a big role in the rotation after injuries sidelined both Max Fried and Kyle Wright. Elder made the NL All-Star team, but slumped down the stretch while setting a new career high with 174 2⁄3 innings pitched. Snitker thinks the experience he got in 2023 will be invaluable to Elder going forward.
“I kind of talk about going from tee to green, they don’t know until they do it and make those starts,” Snitker said. “I guarantee you his preparation this winter will be different than it was the winters before, because he knows what he’s in for. I think he’s just going to continue to build on the experiences that he had last year.”
Rookie right-hander AJ Smith-Shawver made his major league debut as a 20-year old this past season. 2023 first round pick Hurston Waldrep advanced through four levels and finished the season at Triple A just two months after being drafted. Snitker is excited to get a look at both young pitchers during the spring.
It’s great. As they pitch and the more innings they get, the better they’re going to be,” Snitker said of Smith-Shawver and Waldrep. “They’re going to figure things out. I love AJ. Everything, the upside, what he brings, I’ll be excited to see Waldrep also. I have heard a lot of great things about him. I had a brief meeting with him when he signed, so it’ll be cool to see those guys in spring training.
While the Braves haven’t added a starter yet, they have been busy fortifying their bullpen. They began the offseason by re-signing both Pierce Johnson and Joe Jimenez to multi-year deals. They also added hard throwing right-hander Renaldo Lopez, although he may shift to a starter’s role. Atlanta also acquired lefty Aaron Bummer in a trade with the White Sox.
“It’s great. I talked to Pierce after the season was over. He came in and I was like, don’t be surprised if Alex doesn’t act kind of quick on you because he did such a good job,” Snitker said. “Lopez, I remember watching him. I’m really excited to get him into our system. Bummer also, talked to him. He’s ecstatic about being here. I think what we bring too, the defense, the game planning, everything that we do, I think is beneficial to a new player that we get.”
“We know how important that bullpen is over the course of the summer. I love the arms that we’ve added. I kind of feel like Joe Jimenez having a normal offseason because how he finished was really good. I think we’re going to see a six-month product out of him that’s really good also.”
The Braves will also get Tyler Matzek back after he missed all of the 2023 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
“I’m sure he can’t wait to get to spring training and get this thing going,” Snitker said of Matzek. “He loves to compete. He was around all season. In all his absence, he wasn’t absent. He was there with the guys every day, and that’s a presence that you can’t replace.”