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FORT MYERS, Fla. — When attempting to predict who will fill the final spots available in Atlanta’s bullpen, it’s important to remember what Braves manager Brian Snitker said while meeting with reporters ahead of the Braves’ 4-2 loss to the Twins on Monday.
“Options are huge this time of year,” Snitker said. “Somebody might not make the team because they have an option. I tell players Cheap Atlanta Braves Jerseys all the time, ‘Until you have [no] options, you have no control.’ You’re going to look at the depth of your club.”
In other words, to maintain or create the club’s pitching depth, the Braves may choose to keep a non-roster invitee like Carl Edwards Jr. or Nate Jones, instead of starting the year with Sean Newcomb or Jacob Webb in their bullpen.
Because Newcomb and Webb both have options remaining, they can be sent to the Minors without risk of being lost to another club. As for Edwards and Jones, they both could end up in another organization if they are not placed on Atlanta’s Opening Day roster.
• Predicting Braves’ 2021 Opening Day roster
So the preference would be to continue controlling as many arms as possible for as long as possible over the course of the season.
Here are a few of the questions that will influence or determine whom the Braves choose to fill their bullpen:
Who are the near-locks for the bullpen?
Will Smith, Chris Martin, Tyler Matzek, Josh Tomlin and A.J. Minter
How many relievers will the Braves carry?
Though they don’t need a fifth starter until their sixth game, the current expectation is they will begin the season with an eight-man bullpen.
Who are the top candidates for the final three spots?
40-man roster members: Luke Jackson, Grant Dayton, Huascar Ynoa, Webb and Newcomb
Non-roster invitees: Edwards, Jones
Which of these candidates are out of options?
Jackson and Dayton.
Here is a breakdown of each of the top candidates:
The former closer was a non-tender candidate after posting a 6.84 ERA while striking out just 15.2 percent of the batters he faced last year. But the Braves kept him around, hoping he’d get back to where he was in 2019, when he produced a 33.7 percent strikeout rate. While Jackson was valuable as the club searched for more reliable high-leverage options, he also saw 25.6 percent of the fly balls he surrendered result in home runs.
Jackson has held opponents scoreless in three of his five outings this spring, and the only home run he has surrendered came in the second frame of his only multi-inning appearance. There’s a chance Atlanta will take at least one more gamble on him.