2021 Atlanta Braves: Evaluating the Opening Day Bench

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As the 2021 Atlanta Braves season opener on April 1 looms closer, The Braves have whittled down the roster and announced enough upcoming moves that we have a clear image of the bench they will bring into the 2021 season.

While the starting rotation and bullpen had some question marks to be filled, the 2021 Atlanta Braves’ biggest question mark to start the season was always the bench. The past few seasons, the Braves have enjoyed bench production from the likes of Lane Adams, Matt Adams, Adam Duvall, Matt Joyce, fan-favorite Charlie “Clutch” Culberson, and others. But this Spring Training was different from years past because the Braves brought in a good bit of veteran talent to compete for bench spots, allowing prospects to continue to get everyday playing time in the minor leagues.

Names like Jake Lamb, Jason Kipnis, Abraham Almonte, and others were given a myriad of different deals with a Spring Training invitation to compete for roster spots. But on Saturday, March 27, the 2021 Atlanta Braves front office broke the news of which players will fill out the bench on Opening Day:

2021 Atlanta Braves: Pablo Sandoval

The Kung Fu Panda was brought on towards the end of the 2020 season and even made the 2020 postseason roster. Best known for his time as part of 2010, 2012, and 2014 World Series Champion Giants, where he won the 2012 World Series MVP, Sandoval has had minimal success signing with the Red Sox in 2015.

With the March 27 announcement that the 2021 Atlanta Braves have released infielder Jason Kipnis and Jake Lamb, it seems that Sandoval has done enough in Spring to win the roster spot. It can be difficult to know how much faith to put into Spring Training stats, but the Braves apparently felt that Sandoval’s .979 OPS over 37 plate appearances was real enough to take him over Lamb’s .626 OPS across 36 plate appearances and Kipnis’s .670 OPS across 29 plate appearances.

While it is to be seen whether Panda will stay on the roster for the entire 162, it’s worth noting that the Braves have announced Johan Camargo will start 2021 at the alternate site, making Pablo Sandoval the de facto backup third basemen.

Ehire Adrianza

Ehire Adrianza is a name many Braves fans probably won’t know, but the 2021 Atlanta Braves hope he can continue his Spring Training production and become a fan favorite. Adrianza is a utility man who has played every infield position in MLB except catcher and both corner outfield spots, which is essential for the Braves whose former utility man in Johan Camargo, as previously mentioned, will not start the season in Atlanta.

Adrianza had without question the most eye-popping numbers in Spring Training. With a slash line of .429/.524/.743 to create a gaudy OPS of 1.267, while walking six times and only striking out five times, the Braves hope to have found a utility man they can plug-and-play in different spots to give starters days off and still have a productive bat.

Whether Adrianza will live up to the self-created hype of Spring Training is yet to be seen, but he certainly does seem capable of filling the utility man roster spot that the more successful teams seem to have filled every year.

Alex Jackson

2021 will be the first time since 2016 that Tyler Flowers will not serve on the Braves catching staff in some capacity. With Travis d’Arnaud entering the final year of his contract and coming off a Silver Slugger season in 2020, the big question was who will be the backup to d’Arnaud?

Well, it seems as though that question has been answered with the Braves announcement that catching prospect William Contreras will start the season at the alternate training site. Jackson has appeared in only 9 Major League games in his career across the past two seasons, but it seems now Jackson will be given the opportunity to be a regular backup catcher.

Jackson has been touted as a serviceable catcher defensively since joining the Braves organization in 2017, but the big question is whether his bat can hold up against big-league pitching. There’s no doubt that he has raw power and will impress the heck out of anyone during batting practice, but his in-game plate appearances this season will determine his role with the organization going forward.

Ender Inciarte

Inciarte may be one of the most contentious players over the past few years of any player on the Braves. After a 3 WAR season in 2016, the Braves signed Inciarte to a five-year, $30.5M deal. In 2017 and 2018, Inciarte certainly lived up to that contract, but 2019 saw his defensive prowess take a turn for the worse which greatly diminished his value. Now with Acuña and Ozuna established in the outfield and prospect Cristian Pache getting his chance to claim centerfield as his own, Inciarte has been relegated to bench duties.

Many had questioned whether Inciarte would be traded to get rid of his salary, but giving away prospects just to dump a year’s worth of salary didn’t seem worth it to the Braves, who will now carry Inciarte as a sort of the fourth outfielder. I imagine the Braves will use Inciarte very sparingly as a pinch-hit option and most of his playing time will come as a defensive replacement for Ozuna in left field when Snitker feels the lead is comfortable enough to switch out Ozuna’s bat for Inciarte’s defense.

It’s possible Pache will not hit like the Braves want him to, and Inciarte starts getting more starts and playing time, but if Inciarte becomes the starting centerfield while still only contributing middling production, the 2021 Atlanta Braves will have a bigger issue to address than who to carry as a bench outfielder.

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Garrett Allen is a recent college graduate from Valdosta State University and is now pursuing a Masters of Science in Strategic Sports Analytics at the California University of Pennsylvania. Born and raised in Georgia, he is an avid Braves fan and has a particular interest in prospect development.