Braves Expect To Find Bullpen Reinforcements In Spring
KISSIMMEE, FLA.—Thanks to a winter that bordered on hibernation given their lack of moves, the Braves opened camp with few available roster spots, most of them coming in the bullpen.
Criticized last fall for overusing relievers Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel, manager Fredi Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell have several options that should create keen competition during their stint in Florida.
In addition to the big three, the Braves' bullpen is expected to include righthanders Kris Medlen (who overcame Tommy John surgery last year) and veteran sidearmer Peter Moylan (who is recovering from shoulder and back ailments). Signed to a minor league contract, Moylan should make the roster once healthy, which leaves a handful of others vying for a couple of openings.
Righthander Arodys Vizcaino, 21, impressed during his big league debut last August and September. He moved to the bullpen midway through last season, but some members of the organization still believe he has the potential to be a frontline starter. Vizcaino went 5-5, 3.06 in 97 innings at three minor league levels last year before joining the Braves and going 1-1, 4.67 with 17 strikeouts and nine walks in 17 innings out of the bullpen. The immediate direction the Braves take with Vizcaino could be determined by the performance of others this spring.
Two others who contributed last year with Atlanta are righthanders Jairo Asencio, 27, and Cristhian Martinez. Both are out of options, and both pitched well this winter in the Dominican League. Martinez, 30, was an unheralded member of the bullpen last year while limiting big league hitters to a .197 average over 78 innings.
The Braves also want to see more from righthander Anthony Varvaro. Claimed off waivers from the Mariners prior to last season, Varvaro, 27, went 2-8, 2.90 with one save in 38 appearances with Triple-A Gwinnett in 2011 before limiting big league hitters to a .183 average in 18 outings. Varvaro has above-average stuff, much like Rule 5 pickup Robert Fish. The lefthander was drafted in December for the second time in as many years. Fish can be overpowering, but his control leaves something to be desired.
• A longshot bullpen candidate was non-roster invitee Jason Rice. The hard-throwing 25-year-old righthander spent last season at Triple-A Pawtucket in the Red Sox system prior to saving nine games and posting a 1.40 ERA in 18 outings in the Mexican Pacific League.
• Catcher Matt Kennelly put together a strong winter in the Australian Baseball League by hitting .297 with six homers in 165 at-bats for Perth. Though not projected to be a starter in the major leagues, he could develop into a solid reserve.