During last year’s World Series run, the Braves found themselves mixing and matching at the back of the rotation behind Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Ian Anderson. Atlanta hasn’t done much to solidify that group this winter, leaving themselves to again count on a handful of less-proven arms at the back end.
Manager Brian Snitker told reporters (including Justin Toscano of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) over the weekend that righties Kyle Wright and Huascar Ynoa look like the favorites for the fourth and fifth spots. Ynoa always seemed to have a leg up after posting a 4.05 ERA/3.62 SIERA in 18 appearances last season. Wright, on the other hand, made just two regular season starts in the majors. The 26-year-0ld had a nice showing at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he worked 137 frames of 3.02 ERA ball. A former top five pick and highly-regarded prospect, Wright hasn’t yet had a ton of MLB success, but his minor league production and the quality of his arsenal still offer reason for Atlanta brass to believe in him as a long-term option.
The Braves are scheduled to play every day from their April 7 opener through April 20. With that heavy workload to start the year, Toscano writes the club could lean on a six-man starting staff early on. If that bears out, rookie Spencer Strider — who climbed four minor league levels last season to reach the majors in September — could assume the final spot, Toscano writes, with lefties Tucker Davidson and Kyle Muller also in that mix.
All those pitchers outside the Braves top three starters have minor league option years remaining, so any of that group could be sent back to Gwinnett throughout the season. They could also spill over into a multi-inning role out of the bullpen. Atlanta has one of the league’s strongest relief units on paper, but a key member has yet to pitch this spring.
Luke Jackson has been dealing with some forearm tightness, the team told reporters (including David O’Brien of the Athletic). The 30-year-old has been throwing on the side, so the Braves clearly aren’t concerned he’s facing a significant absence, but it’s not known whether he’ll have time to get into regular season game shape by next week. Jackson has been in the Atlanta bullpen for the past five years, but he had a particularly successful showing in 2021, pitching to a 1.98 ERA/3.75 SIERA in 63 2/3 frames.
While the Braves rotation looks much the same as it did last season, their position player shakeup was one of the stories of the offseason. Atlanta acquired Matt Olson and let Freddie Freeman walk in free agency. General manager Alex Anthopoulos and the front office were no doubt aware that decision would be a divisive one among the fanbase, and Freeman himself suggested in the immediate aftermath he was taken aback by the Olson trade. At his introductory press conference with the Dodgers, Freeman suggested Braves brass wasn’t as communicative as he’d expected they’d be throughout his stint on the open market. He also seemed to dismiss Anthopoulos’ assertion the Olson trade was the most difficult move of his executive career.
Chatting with the Journal-Constitution’s Gabriel Burns over the weekend, Freeman walked back those comments and took a brighter tone. The five-time All-Star said he chatted with the Braves baseball ops head last week and apologized for the comments he’d made at his introductory presser. “It helped to hear his side of things,” Freeman told Burns. “I won’t divulge what we talked about. But you can imagine what we talked about in three hours. It was good for us to now be good again. Now, when we see each other, we can just hug. I asked him to come to LA (for the series in April). I don’t think he was going to come to the LA series when they came out. I said, ‘Please, I want to see you and give you a hug because we did so many good things together.’”
Regardless of whether the fences are mended, the Braves and Dodgers figure to have plenty of memorable clashes over the coming seasons. The pair met in last year’s NL Championship Series, and they again look to be two of the top teams in the Senior Circuit. FanGraphs’ projections indeed forecast Los Angeles and Atlanta as the NL’s top two clubs heading into the year.