Spring Training Preview: The Bullpen

Will there be some competition for a few bullpen spots this spring?

The Braves bullpen will see some new faces as they report on Friday.

Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, who combined for 37 saves last season for the Braves, are now gone. Frank Wren, the general manager, filled those roles immediately with the signings of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito in November.

Wagner is now 38 years old, but he has 385 saves in his big league career. He's healthy now, and also happy to be a Brave.

Saito has a major league career ERA of 2.05 in 236 games. Sure, he just turned 40 on Valentine's Day, but the Braves are convinced Saito is ready to be an effective setup man for Wagner.

The main holdover from last year's staff is Peter Moylan, who pitched in 87 games last year after coming off his Tommy John surgery. Moylan has a 2.45 career ERA in his 189 major league games, and he's arguably becoming one of the most dependable setup relievers in the game.

Eric O'Flaherty will be back as a lefty setup man. He was extremely effective last season with an ERA of 3.04 in 78 games.

Those four pitchers are set, and there are two others who would have to have catastrophic springs to not make the roster. Jesse Chavez, acquired for Soriano, pitched in 73 games for the Pirates last season. And Kris Medlen impressed the Braves enough in his 37 games last year to be a front-runner for a long relief role.

If Scott Proctor can somehow show the Braves he can bounce back quickly from his Tommy John surgery, he'll get the last spot. But the Braves want him back sometime in May, so they'll likely be careful with the veteran in spring training.

If Proctor needs more time before his Atlanta debut, that will open the door for one more pitcher to win a spot on opening day. The pitchers on the 40-man who will try to compete for that job will be Manny Acosta, Luis Valdez, Mike Dunn, Stephen Marek, Lee Hyde, Juan Abreu, and Jeff Lyman.

Acosta has a 3.55 ERA in his 103 games in the big leagues. He's probably the favorite if Proctor is unable to go.

Valdez had 27 saves for Gwinnett last season, and pitched in Atlanta for three games. Dunn was acquired from the Yankees in the Javier Vazquez trade. Most believed Dunn was ready for a big league job, so he's going to get a long look after an impressive stint in the Arizona Fall League.

Marek had a tough 2009, so he needs to bounce back. Hyde is a lefty who will really be watched closely. The Braves feel Hyde is very close to being ready for an important role in a major league bullpen.

Abreu was brought over from the Royals, but he's probably headed to Mississippi or Gwinnett. And Lyman will get an initial look, but he needs more time at the upper levels of the minors.

There are a few non-roster players to keep in mind. Chris Resop is back after pitching the last season and a half in Japan. The Braves must still believe in Resop to bring him back two years after making the opening day roster in 2008.

And there is no doubt Craig Kimbrel will be on display, if not for more of the future than being able to break camp. The Braves believe Kimbrel could be a huge piece of the bullpen, but it's just a question of when he'll be ready.

Mariano Gomez is a big tall lefty who is in camp as a non-roster pitcher for the second straight year. Gomez had a 1.99 ERA in Gwinnett last year, so he deserves another look-see.

Erik Cordier and last year's first round pick Mike Minor are also in big league camp, but they just want to make an impression for the future.

The bullpen could be set, especially if Proctor shows he's ready. But with a number of older relievers, it's going to be very important for the front office to closely examine the candidates that could be called upon at some point this season.



Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly column for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.


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