The Braves will bring several pitchers we're not as familiar with to big league camp next month. While we know there are a pretty set number of pitchers that will be in the bullpen, it's good to know the ones that could be part of the Atlanta bullpen at some point this season.
We know Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty will be the main three relievers. If healthy, you can expect Peter Moylan to be in the pen as well. Kris Medlen is healthy now, and he'll likely be a reliever since the rotation is packed. Moylan and Medlen could, in effect, replace Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill, two relievers from last year that have moved on in free agency.
Then you have Cristhian Martinez, who pitched in 46 games last year and was very effective as a middle/long reliever. Anthony Varvaro came up late in the year and had a 2.63 ERA in 18 games. He'll get a long look this spring.
Rule V draft pick Robert Fish will battle to get another spot as a lefty reliever. With Sherrill gone, the Braves may want a third lefty in the bullpen. So Fish could battle Varvaro for the last spot, unless Moylan needs more time, thereby opening up another spot.
So who else could be in the mix? The Braves will have to make a decision on Arodys Vizcaino. Do they want him back in the major league bullpen, where he made 17 appearances late last season? Or will they send him back to Triple-A Gwinnett and let him be a closer? He could tempt them with a solid month of March in Florida.
Cory Gearrin will be back. He pitched in 18 games last season and two bad performances ballooned his ERA to 7.85. The Braves must still believe in Jairo Asencio to keep him on the 40-man roster. Asencio pitched in six games last season in Atlanta. He didn't do very well, but the 27 saves in Gwinnett were evidently enough to keep him around another year.
The Braves placed Luis Avilan on the 40-man roster this winter. He was a starter and reliever in Mississippi last season, and despite the 4.57 ERA the Braves are intrigued with his potential. He'll likely be in Gwinnett in 2012, but if he does well and there's a need Avilan could be an option.
Jaye Chapman finally did enough to get the Braves' attention with a 2.50 ERA in 52 games split between Mississippi and Gwinnett last season. Chapman was a 16th round pick back in 2005, and his presence on the 40-man makes him a serious candidate for Atlanta this season. He'll likely go back to Gwinnett, but Chapman could make a positive impression with a solid spring training.
J.J. Hoover made the positive transition to the bullpen last season. The Braves have got to be curious as to how successful Hoover can be in that role. He'll likely be back in Gwinnett, but like Chapman, Hoover can make manager Fredi Gonzalez remember him with good appearances in the Grapefruit League.
Todd Redmond was placed back on the 40-man roster after another solid season in Gwinnett last year. He's a starting pitcher, but the Braves might wonder if he could help out in the bullpen.
The Braves also will bring in three pitchers signed over the winter for a look. While they may be slated for Gwinnett as well, the Braves' brass will look closely at the new pitchers.
Dusty Hughes is a 5-10, 185-pound left-hander who has spent parts of three seasons in the big leagues. He first came up with the Royals, the team that drafted him in nine years ago, in 2009. He pitched in eight games that season, and then in 2010 he had his best major league stint, pitching in 57 games with the Royals. Hughes had a 3.83 ERA and was a pretty effective middle reliever. Then last year Hughes struggled with the Twins. He had a 9.95 ERA in 15 games in the majors, but Hughes spent most of last season in Triple-A.
Adam Russell is a tall (6-8) right-hander who will turn 29 in April. Last season he pitched 36 games in the Tampa Bay bullpen and posted a 3.03 ERA. Russell allowed 31 hits in 32.2 innings, with 20 walks and 13 strikeouts. He's struggled with control in his career, as he's walked 46 in 86.2 innings. Russell's career ERA in 3.95 in 85 career games.
Right-hander Jason Rice was a six-year minor league free agent signed by the Braves. He pitched last year in Triple-A Pawtucket and had a 3.69 ERA in 44 games. He allowed 77 hits in 85.1 innings, with 42 walks and 89 strikeouts. The 5-10, 190-pounder turns 26 in May and is hoping to make his major league debut with the Braves in 2012.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on
WPLA Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, GA and WCOH Fox Sports 1400 in Newnan, GA. Shanks is a columnist for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
Bullpen will have plenty of options in March
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