Braves bench rounding into form

Braves bench rounding into form

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Kelly Johnson further strengthened his bid to gain a spot on Atlanta's Opening Day roster when he homered off Clay Buchholz in the sixth inning of Friday's rain-shortened 4-2 win over the Red Sox at Champion Stadium.

"That's something he can do for the club, hit one out of the ballpark from the left side," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "So, it's going to be kind of interesting as this last [week] winds down."

As the Braves attempt to finalize their roster over the course of the next week, they would like to round out their bench with at least one player who would be capable of serving as a backup to Eric Young Jr., who will serve as the primary center fielder while Melvin Upton Jr. is sidelined until at least May with a left foot injury.

Along with having the capability of strengthening the bench with left-handed power, Johnson would also provide the Braves some versatility courtesy of his ability to play all of the infield positions and both corner outfield positions. He has strengthened his bid by recording seven hits, including two home runs, in his past 18 at-bats.

If making the assumption that Johnson will be on the roster, the top internal candidates to fill the final two available bench spots would be Zoilo Almonte and Phil Gosselin. Pedro Ciriaco has kept himself in the mix as he has batted .370 during the Grapefruit League season, but Ciriaco has traditionally produced strong offensive numbers during Spring Training and then struggled when subjected to more breaking balls during the regular season.

Almonte has certainly not overwhelmed the Braves while hitting .222 through 45 at-bats. But he has the benefit of being out of Minor League options. Thus, he cannot be sent to the Minors before first being subject to being claimed by another club off the waiver wire.

While Alberto Callaspo is targeted to serve as a backup option at second base and third base, Gosselin has the ability to handle those positions and also shortstop if necessary.

The Braves are exploring the possibility of acquiring a backup center fielder via trade. But they are also going to continue to expand their internal options like they did on Friday when they put Gosselin in center field, a position he has played consistently since being occasionally placed there during his days at the University of Virginia.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.