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  • Writer's pictureGrant McAuley

Atlanta Braves get busy in first Spring Training workout of 2024

Eddie Perez of the Atlanta Braves
Eddie Perez overseeing Braves catchers.

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Eager to get the 2024 season going, the Atlanta Braves held their first workout of the spring on Thursday. A flurry of baseball activity happened all across the facility as the club officially began preparations for its Grapefruit League opener on February 24 against the Tampa Bay Rays.

"This is a great time of year," Braves manager Brian Snitker said following the workout. "Most of these guys have been here. I've seen them the last few days. It's always good, a beautiful day, and like I say, this is a great time of the year every year."

Snitker's first spring training with the Braves came as a player in 1978. Back then, the club still shared a facility with the Montreal Expos in West Palm Beach, Fla. It's almost hard to believe that Snitker enters his ninth season as Atlanta skipper, a job held by his mentor, Bobby Cox, when Snitker attended his very first spring some 46 years ago.

"I can't believe I'm still here," Snitker joked. "I think about my path a lot, quite honestly, where I've been and where we're at right now. You come to appreciate things a lot."

One thing every manager appreciates is a healthy team.

Without injury clouding the picture, Snitker and his coaching staff won't find themselves preparing for the typical positional battles which carry much of intrigue this time of year. Not to say the Braves don't have any questions to answer, but this is a club that won 104 games last season, returned much of the core roster, and added pieces where needed.

One thing Atlanta will use this camp and the exhibition slate of games for is getting a good handle on what kind of depth and options are available to put together the 13-man pitching staff that will open the season. That group, as the Braves know all too well from their recent past, will change drastically over the course of the regular season.

The first draft of their roster will not be written in stone for 162 games.

"I told the guys this morning, I think we used 30 pitchers last year," Snitker said. "You end up using everybody and the depth. You have to start somewhere, which is using the games and spring training to determine who that initial 13 [pitchers] is."

The fifth starter's job may be the most notable competition. Or simply the most high profile job resembling a competition. There are a handful of arms who could see time in that role, particularly coming off a season in which the Braves were forced to use 16 different starting pitchers.

Bryce Elder, an All-Star in 2023, logged a career-high 174 2/3 innings but faded down the stretch. His ERA ballooned from 2,97 in 18 first half starts to 5.11 in his final 14 outings.

That experience taught him a very valuable lesson.

"That the season's really, really long," Elder admitted. "You always hear how long it is (as a minor leaguer) and 32 starts is a lot. I think this year, I'll be much more prepared for it."

In order to do that, Elder feels it will take more than just rest or the right throwing regimen. He will have to find a way to get results regardless of fatigue.

"No matter how physically prepared you are, I think you're going to get run down at the end of the year no matter what," Elder said. "So, that's where you've got to figure out how to get it done mentally."

Elder was not the first, nor will he be the last, young pitcher to tire in his first full season. Snitker sees that struggle as part of the process.

"The physical and mental load on these guys, you have to experience it to figure out what it is and he did," Snitker said. "You look back and what a great year he had. Big games and made an All-Star team. He should just build on that coming into camp."

The Braves signed hard-throwing Reynaldo Lopez to a 3-year, $30 million contract over the winter and are going to give him an opportunity to throw his hat in the ring for a starting spot. Lopez enjoyed success in the bullpen after struggling in rotation with the Chicago White Sox. He owns 3.01 ERA as a reliever compared to a 4.73 ERA in 97 career starts.

It is worth noting that it's been over two seasons since Lopez started a game. The Braves may just want to find out if the positive strides he made in relief could translate into something more significant. However, if Lopez stays in the bullpen, he represents a serious upgrade for a group that could be one of the best in baseball.

Among the other arms looking to make an impression on the Braves this spring are 2023 first round pick Hurston Waldrep, top pitching prospect AJ Smith-Shawver, and several minor leaguers who were called upon a year ago in Alan Winans, Darius Vines and Dylan Dodd. Atlanta will also have Huascar Ynoa and Ian Anderson returning from Tommy John surgery, giving the club even more depth for the long season.


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