Spring Training Report- Non-Roster Invitees, Position Players
The Atlanta Braves’ pitchers and catchers have reported to Lake Buena Vista, FL, and have begun their Spring Training workouts. With additions like Ryan Doumit (via trade from Minnesota) and the return of Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky from season-ending injuries, the Braves will have plenty of battles on the positional front.
In addition to the 19 players on the 40-man roster, 11 non-roster invitees will head to the Wide World of Sports Complex. Catchers Steven Lerud, Matt Kennelly, Jose Yepez and Braeden Schlehuber, infielders Mat Gamel, Phil Gosselin, Tyler Greene, Mark Hamilton, Tommy La Stella and Edward Salcedo and outfielder Matt Lipka, are among the invitees that will get a taste of the big leagues during the Grapefruit League season.
With the departure of Brian McCann to the New York Yankees, the Braves will rely on Evan Gattis, Gerald Laird, Christian Bethancourt and Doumit to take care of most of the catching responsibilities. However, the four non-roster invites will be itching to get to the major leagues. Lerud is the only backstop with big league experience. The former Philadelphia Phillies’ receiver has played in nine Major League games, recording two hits in 15 at-bats. Last season, he made six appearances for Philadelphia during the month of June. The left-handed hitting Lerud provides depth and will be a welcome addition to the Braves organization, but may start the season in Triple-A Gwinnett.
Former G-Braves’ Kennelly and Yepez return to the Disney complex for the third straight season. Last season, Kennelly made five appearances for the G-Braves before being released and signing with the Cincinnati Reds organization, while Yepez spent the entire season with Gwinnett, splitting time with Matt Pagnozzi behind the dish. Yepez finished his second season with the G-Braves hitting .219 (42-for-192) with 25 RBI.
Schlehuber will enter camp as the least experienced backstop on the roster. The fourth round pick in the 2008 First Year Player Draft by the Braves out of the College of Southern Nevada has been with the Braves for six years. Last season, he reached Double-A for the first time in his career, batting .199 (35-for-176) in 54 games for the M-Braves. Schlehuber, Kennelly and Yepez will likely end up somewhere in the Braves system.
While the catchers are short on experience, the rest of the crew is slightly more touted and has big league experience. Infielders Gamel, Greene and Hamilton were once revered as the best prospects in their respective organizations. Gamel was rated the No.3 prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers system according to Baseball America in 2010, but injuries have slowed him down. The corner infielder has missed the last two seasons with knee injuries, but has logged 106 games at the big league level. A career .300-minor league hitter, Gamel has posted a .229 (55-for-240) batting average with six homers and 29 RBI in his Major League career.
He will be joined by former St. Louis Cardinals’ farmhands Greene and Hamilton. Greene, the former first round pick (30th overall) in the 2005 draft out of Georgia Tech, has bounced around since being traded by the Cardinals in 2012. However, the slick-fielder provides depth in the infield and has the athleticism to play the outfield. Last season, he split the year between Triple-A Charlotte and Chicago (AL) before finishing the season with Gwinnett. His former teammate Hamilton spent the whole season with Triple-A Pawtucket in 2013, hitting .261 (74-for-283) with 12 homers and 57 RBI. The three players will compete for one of the available bench spots, but will likely start the season with Gwinnett.
Finally, the last four players in big league camp come with minimal experience but are thought of highly by the Braves organization. Gosselin started the 2013 season in Double-A Mississippi, moved up to Triple-A before his contract was purchased by Atlanta on August 16. He played in four games, hitting .333 (2-for-6) with Atlanta, but was removed from the 40-man roster during the offseason. He has the versatility to play all infield positions and has played left field. He will likely start the season with Triple-A Gwinnett, where that versatility will be utilized.
Gosselin’s prospects as a second baseman has been overshadowed by the emergence of fellow two-bagger La Stella. The former Coastal Carolina star has developed quite a following the last two seasons, carrying a .327 (277-for-286) batting average across three different levels in 241 minor league contests. His showing in the Arizona Fall League (.290 BA, 6 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 10 RBI) has some believing he is ready for the big stage. He will compete for a spot on the 25-man roster, but may start the season with Gwinnett.
Another blue-chip prospect that may join Gwinnett will be Salcedo. The former shortstop has found a new home at third base. He has a combination power and speed, clubbing 44 homers and swiping 80 bags in four minor league seasons. After signing the largest international contract in Braves history (1.6 mil), Salcedo has moved rapidly through the system. Aggressive promotion at the lower levels has forced him to learn on the spot and play above his age. However, at 22 years of age, Salcedo has tools and the work ethic to have a breakout 2014.
Like Salcedo, Lipka was a former shortstop, but since being drafted as a supplemental first rounder out of McKinney, TX in 2010, he has moved to the outfield. Lipka is the only non-roster outfielder attending big league camp. Last season, he played in 137 games for the Lynchburg HillCats, batting .251 (132-for-525) with 29 doubles and 37 steals. His unique athleticism and speed will be utilized at Double-A Mississippi, where he will likely start the 2014 campaign.
The Braves have depth across the board and have viable non-roster candidates that can contribute in 2014. With minimal open spots at the big league level, Triple-A Gwinnett will also benefit from the depth in the organization as they will boast a quality roster, which will feature Major League experience, as well as highly-touted prospects.