The Bullpen (4 spots): The thought of Fredi Gonzalez trotting to the mound and bringing in a reliever might bring back some very bad memories for Braves fans. Last year’s bullpen was a train wreck from day one, as they understandably could not overcome the loss of Craig Kimbrel. Each spring brings new hope, and also a new batch of potentials to round out the pen. The bullpen situation is made a bit murkier with the inclusion of two Rule 5 pitchers whom we will discuss in a bit. As long as they remain healthy (and aren’t traded) Arodys Vizcaino, Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson are virtual locks to start the season anchoring the bullpen. Similar to the starting rotation, there is no shortage of options to fill out the rest of bullpen staff.
Retreads: David Carpenter is back in camp for another run with the Braves and could push for a roster spot. Alexi Ogando was a non-roster invite and appeared to regain some of his previous form late in the season with Boston Red Sox.
Tweeners: The Braves could choose to keep one or more of the pitchers who did not make the rotation in the bullpen to start the season. The leading candidates for these positions would be Williams Perez and Mike Foltynewicz. Mix in Ryan Weber, who stated a handful of games with the big club in September, and the Braves have plenty of options for long relievers.
Youngsters: Chris Withrow is a name to watch for the Braves as the exhibition season unfolds. He has a power arm and pitched very well with the Dodgers before missing all of last season with Tommy John surgery. If he proves to be healthy, he most certainly will pitch out of the bullpen at some point this season, although it remains to be seen if he can crack the 25 man lineup leaving Orlando. The Braves also like Jose Ramirez, who is out of minor league options, so he could land a spot if he performs over the next month. Ian Krol is another intriguing arm as he had some interesting righty / lefty splits over his career. He should remain in the mix for a bullpen spot late into camp.
Rule 5 Guys: Staying true to their plan of picking up high risk, high reward arms, the Bravesselected pitchers in each of the past two Rule 5 drafts. Evan Rutckyj and Daniel Winkler each have a leg up on the competition to make the club out of camp, otherwise they have to be offered back to the Yankees and Rockies respectively. It will certainly be interesting to see if Fredi Gonzalez and his staff are able to juggle their roster to keep both players.
Prediction: By my estimation there are 4 bullpen spots up for grabs after Vizcaino, Grilli and Johnson. In all likelihood this race is too early to call but I’ll go with Perez, Ogando, Krol, and Rutckyj, and Withrow coming up shortly after the season starts.