As the Atlanta Braves prepare to kick off their Spring Training games this afternoon, we will familiarize ourselves with the 26 non-roster invitees looking to make a name for themselves over the next 6 weeks. There is a large mixture of players here between prospects, fringe major leaguers looking for a path back to the bigs and decorated veterans trying to fight their way on to the roster. For simplification, if the player is a current prospect, I will include their Braves Journal prospect ranking next to their names. Let’s get to know the Atlanta Braves Non-roster Invitees!
Braves Non-Roster Invitees: Pitchers
RHP Ian Anderson (#31 on top 100/#3 on Braves Journal’s List): The Braves consensus top pitching prospect. All eyes will be on Anderson when he’s on the field. Many expect him in Atlanta by mid-season and he projects as a 2/3 starter with ace upside. Something to watch will be his changeup, if he worked this offseason to turn it into a legit weapon, he’s going to be VERY good. Get ready for this kid!
LHP Thomas Burrows : His command is the biggest concern, but he has the stuff to make it as a reliever in the bigs and he has a shot to show what he’s made of here. He had a stellar 2018 and killed it in the Arizona Fall League, but then took a step back in 2019 even though he made it up to AAA. 2020 will be a huge year for Burrows future with the Braves.
RHP Félix Hernández: The “decorated veteran” I referred to in the introduction, the Braves took a lottery ticket on King Félix. It’s encouraging that he has stated he’s healthy for the first time in the past 2-3 years, but he’s been bad for longer than that. It’s not encouraging that he also said he has no plans to change. Maybe the Braves can convince him to do something different. If not, it’s hard to see him making the roster, but he has a good shot at the 4th or 5th starter role if he’s decent.
RHP Kurt Hoekstra (Made Ryan’s Just Missed List): A former two-way player, the Braves didn’t want Hoekstra hitting anymore in 2019. Hitting aside, he pitched really well jumping from A all the way to AAA. As he is already 27-years old, Hoekstra could carve out a bullpen role for himself.
RHP Connor Johnstone: Bouncing between the rotation and bullpen, Johnstone had a mediocre 2019. He pitched better in the Arizona Fall League, but it’s hard to see him even close to making the roster. He probably gets a full season in AAA that will make or break his Braves career.
LHP Kyle Muller (#6 on Braves Journal’s list): Muller is my personal favorite Braves prospect. He had a great year in AA and is ready to take the next step in Gwinnett. He has an amazing work ethic and visited driveline baseball 2 years in a row now, adding a lot of velocity last offseason. Who knows what they helped this monster add this time around! It will be very interesting to see how he fares this Spring against major league hitters.
LHP Chris Nunn: Another lottery ticket that I think will head to AAA, he works hard and has some filthy stuff. Just take a look at this video for all you need to know about Nunn.
RHP Ben Rowen: Rowen is 31-years old and has made the majors twice (2014 and 2016), giving up 9 runs in 11.2 innings pitched. I don’t see him making the roster over any of the young guns or Tomlin.
LHP Chris Rusin: A 33-year old journeyman with a 4.62 ERA in 465.2 career innings. I think with the Tomlin signing his shot at making the roster is all but gone, but him being a lefty certainly helps his case if Newcomb is in the rotation.
RHP Josh Tomlin: It looks like the Braves brought Tomlin back for the same mop-up role he was in last year. I’d be slightly surprised if he didn’t make the roster, but it would likely mean one of the young guys stepped up to the plate or AA didn’t want to remove anyone from the 40-man.
Braves non-Roster Invitee: Infielders
1B Yonder Alonso: After an all-star 2017 where he hit 28 homers, followed by 28 in 2018, Alonso wound up hitting below the Mendoza line in 2019. If the Braves think he has his old swing back I could see him as a bench bat, but he won’t offer much flexibility in the field other than filling in for Freddie once every week or two.
1B Bryce Ball (#16 on Braves Journal’s list): 6’6, 235 lb Bryce Ball can smash baseballs. You’re going to hear a lot about this kid over the next six weeks. He won’t make the roster, but as a 24th rounder out of college last year he certainly impressed with 17 homers in just 62 games. He’s still only 21 and has room to grow. Keep an eye on him this Spring.
UTIL Charlie Culberson: The most likely infielder to make the roster, I have a feeling the Braves just want to make sure he’s fine after being hit in the face. The problem, however, will be clearing space to put him on the roster. This could also hinge on Riley winning the starting job or not.
2B/SS Sean Kazmar: Kazmar is 35 and hasn’t seen the majors since 2008. Sadly, I don’t think 2020 is his year.
SS Pete Kozma: Kozma was on that Cardinals team that used their Devil magic on the Braves way back in 2012. For that reason alone, I don’t want him on the Braves, but I don’t think he has much of a shot at the roster.
UTIL Jack Lopez (NR): Lopez hit pretty well in AAA last year, but nothing special. I’d expect he heads back to Gwinnett.
1B/OF Peter O’Brien: A former Marlins foe, O’Brien hasn’t done much to stick in the majors. He’s likely going to get lost behind some of the young stars here. It’s also probably a bad sign when baseball reference has you listed as a “pinch-hitter” before a primary position.
SS Braden Shewmake (#10 on Braves Journal’s list): Shewmake is the Braves top infield prospect. The 21st overall pick in 2019, he excelled in his short season making his way to AA. He was a solid shortstop at Texas A&M, never hitting below .309 as a 3-year starter. I really like Shewmake and I’m excited to watch him this Spring before he heads to either AA or AAA.
3B Yangervis Solarte: His 4-year streak of 14+ home runs ended last season, as he didn’t hit much at all in his 28 games with the Giants. The Braves will see if they can revive his career this Spring. It’s possible he makes the roster, but I’d say only if Camargo wins the 3rd base job and Riley heads to AAA.
UTIL Riley Unroe (Made Ryan’s Just Missed List): Unroe has bounced around a bit, playing for three different organizations. He hit well in A+ and AA, but was not good in his short AAA stint near the end of the season. He should head back to Gwinnett after the Spring.
“Harris is one of those guys baseball fans love to love. A 32nd round pick in 2018 out of Missouri University, he hit the ground running playing in 53 games, carrying an OPS of .843. Still, he was 22 playing in Rookie ball and Low-A so it was worth tapering expectations. But 2019 sealed the deal that the Braves might have gotten a 32nd round steal as Harris played in A-, A+, and AA and beat the cover off the ball: .887 OPS with 14 HRs, earning himself Braves Minor League Player of the Year; A major component of Harris’s makeup is that he’s a natural leader and dedicated player. When he was drafted, he put a TON of work in revamping his swing to increase over the fence power. I think it worked. 2020 is a HUGE year for the 5’8 215 pound Harris and while his season more than likely starts at AA, I could see him getting pushed to AAA early.”
Greyson Jenista (#21 on Braves Journal’s List): I like Jenista more than most, but the same as Harris he won’t make the roster. He likely goes back to AA, but possibly with a strong Spring he earns a spot in AAA (this is probably unlikely with Waters and Pache filling two of the three outfield spots there).
Rafael Ortega: We all saw what Ortega could do last year, but I don’t think he really fits on the 2020 Braves roster. He earned a shot to prove himself, but frankly I think the spots could be given to more talented players.
Shane Robinson: Another 35 year-old, there’s just no room for Robinson on this roster. Perhaps he gets a shot on the Orioles or Marlins. His last MLB stint was in 2018 with the Yankees. He hit .143 in 25 games.
Drew Waters (#2 on Braves Journal’s list): We saved the best for last, as Waters is the best player on the list of NRIs. Since Pache is already on the 40-man roster he should get the call to the show first, but don’t sleep on Waters impressing this Spring and earning himself an early season call up. He has the talent and the swagger. Even Chipper Jones loves this kid, and that’s a high honor! I leave you with this beautiful video of Waters taking batting practice.
Thanks for reading on our Braves Non-roster Invitees! If you enjoyed this piece, make sure you’re caught up on the latest roster and payroll situation.