Well, that’s eleven pitchers, only eight of whom (the four starters, plus Smoltz, Wright, Alfonseca, and Cunnane) are sure to make the team. Assuming they all do, Kevin Gryboski would make 12, but he has injuries and is unlikely to be available to start the season, if he ever is. Similarly, Paul Byrd would be in the rotation, but isn’t expected (by the team — I don’t think he’ll ever pitch) until May or June. So they’re out for that badly-needed 12th pitcher role. God forbid that the Braves should get into a 14-inning game and run out of pitchers. With all the possibilities, this is going to be a looooonnnngggg post. (All spring numbers are through yesterday, March 15.)
Andy Pratt has a shot at the fifth starter spot or to beat out Bong for a lefty relief role. He’s pitched well so far in spring training. He’s another guy who’s basically considered a finesse pitcher but has some interesting strikeout numbers — more than one an inning in AAA last year. His minor league ERAs generally aren’t as good as Bong’s, but when Bong was struggling in the majors Pratt was putting up a solid 3.40 ERA at a level Bong still hasn’t handled. I think one of the two young lefties will make the squad, and if Pratt finishes spring with a better ERA than Bong it will likely be he. The only way both would make it is if one wins the fifth spot in the rotation, but that seems unlikely to me.
CJ Nitkowski is another lefty, but with major league experience — eight years with a total ERA of 5.33, alternating between starting and relieving, mostly with the Tigers. Best known for his website, which these days is mostly about religion but used to be about baseball. I don’t see how he could make the squad, but Bobby gets some odd ideas about relievers occasionally and if Nitkowski has a nice run or gets some ground balls, he could luck out. Hey, it worked for Chris Hammond.
Look, a righthander! Chuck Smith was a journeyman minor leaguer (beginning with the Astros, then the ChiSox, then Taiwan and the Northern League, then the Rangers) who got a callup to the Marlins in 2000 and had a terrific run, starting 19 games with a 3.23 ERA (138 ERA+). But he didn’t follow up and had a slightly substandard 2001, a 4.70 ERA. I don’t think most pitchers would have lost their jobs for that, but Smith (a) was already 31 years old, (b) was in an organization loaded with pitching prospects, and (c) got hurt. Smith rehabbed in 2002 on the Rockies’ dime, and pitched pretty well for Greenville and Richmond last year in limited duty. He’s 34 now, and time is running out, but if he’s healthy he can help a team. He hasn’t relieved much even on the minor league level. So far this spring, he’s been hittable but hasn’t given up a run while striking out five in five innings.
Jose Capellan hasn’t pitched above the Sally League yet, but got some attention in the offseason when he had fastballs clocked at 100 MPH. Combined with the Braves’ past willingness to rapidly promote pitchers, especially in relief roles, he had a shot at a job in spring. He hasn’t pitched very well though, while several candidates have. It’s probably Myrtle Beach for him… Bubba Nelson is a more advanced minor leaguer, probably the Braves’ best pitching prospect, in the short term, anyway, with Wainwright gone. He has a 3.60 ERA but hasn’t struck anyone out yet. Of course, this is limited duty, but a hot prospect should have some strikeouts by now… I don’t know much about Roman Colon. (For instance, I keep calling him “Ramon”.) His stats are those of a control righty, not nearly as many strikeouts as you’d like but some good ERAs in the minors.
I’m sure there are other candidates. And heck, maybe they’ll pick someone up late, as they have twice in recent years.