Friday morning marked the final day of workouts before the Braves officially open Grapefruit League play for 2017. While it’s been a relatively uneventful first week and a half in Central Florida, there are a number of story lines for fans to follow over the next four weeks. Let’s take a look at some of the things we’ll be taking a close look at between now and late March…
– The fifth spot in the starting rotation has been a topic of much discussion. Coming into camp, it seemed like the job was Mike Foltynewciz’s to lose.
That still seems to be the case, but confident young starters like Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair will also be competing hard for that spot. Also, keep an eye on veteran John Danks who could make things interesting when it comes to rounding out the rotation.
– Filling out the bench will be another priority of Brian Snitker and his staff as they look for versatile defenders that can play multiple positions. As things stand on February 24th, the club doesn’t have a true backup in center field should something happen to Ender Inciarte. Look for both Jace Peterson and Chase d’Arnaud to get reps at a number of different spots to cover the void left by Sean Rodriguez’s injury.
– Another topic of note is how the bullpen will shake out. Jim Johnson will enter 2017 as the clubs closer after inking a two year extension on the final day of the 2016 season. Arodys Vizcaino and Mauricio Cabrera could also cover that role if the Braves had a situation where JJ needed a blow. There’s a chance the pen could feature a pair of southpaws in both Ian Krol and Paco Rodriguez, if he can remain healthy.
– Finally, how good can the 2017 Braves be? While it’s still too early to make a prediction on win totals in the final week of February, optimism around the complex is at an all time high. The consensus is that the way this team closed out the 2016 season, that momentum could help propel them to a season that sees them surprise some of the experts. After 67 and 68 wins over the last two years respectively, I think this club can be a .500 or better team this season. After the last two years, I think fans in this town should be excited about not only this year, but the way the team is trending in the right direction for the longterm.