Braves to bring deeper 'pen into 2016 season

Braves to bring deeper 'pen into 2016 season

ATLANTA -- Time will tell whether David Carpenter, Alexi Ogando or Alex Torres will prove to have been solid offseason-bargain acquisitions. But by signing each of those experienced relievers to a Minor League deal, the Braves have at least enhanced their bullpen depth to a level they did not possess last season.

There will be some intrigue when at least a dozen pitchers report to Spring Training with a realistic hope to open the season in Atlanta's bullpen. That will be viewed as one of those good problems for Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who was left to rely upon many castoffs and inexperienced relievers as his bullpen posted a 4.69 ERA in 2015.

While trying to overcome injuries, the effects of trades and just the overall lack of serviceable depth in the organization, the Braves used 32 relievers (including Jonny Gomes) last season. Eight of the 18 relievers who made at least 12 appearances made their Major League debut in 2015.

As things currently stand, Arodys Vizcaino, Jim Johnson and Chris Withrow appear to be the only three near-locks to begin the season in Atlanta's bullpen. Jason Grilli will fit into that category if he makes a successful return from the ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in July.

If Shae Simmons makes a successful return from Tommy John surgery, he could add to the late-inning relief depth by May.

In addition to the Minor League deals given to Carpenter, Ogando and Torres this offseason, the Braves also acquired Jose Ramirez in a December trade with the Mariners. Ramirez is a hard-throwing right-hander who could make things interesting if he can throw strikes.

Ramirez's first Mariners K

When the Braves outrighted Brandon Cunniff to their Triple-A Gwinnett roster in December, they provided a glimpse of how their depth has changed over the past few months. Cunniff made the third-most appearances (39) by an Atlanta reliever last season. Now, he stands as a long shot to begin the upcoming season in Atlanta's bullpen.

This past summer, the Braves were forced to call upon Minor League journeymen such as Jake Brigham and Ryan Kelly, and roll the dice on veteran big league castoffs like Nick Masset, Dana Eveland and Ross Detwiler.

The Braves are hoping to not have to rush arms like Matt Marksberry, a left-handed reliever who began last season with Class A Advanced Carolina and ended up making 31 Major League appearances over the season's final two months.

Though Marksberry provided some signs of encouragement during the season's final weeks, the Braves believe that his long-term interests would be best served by spending a little more time at the Minor League level.

By signing Torres and taking a chance on Rule 5 Draft selection Evan Rutckyj, who will come to Spring Training with a chance to begin the season as Atlanta's left-handed specialist, the Braves may have the ability to give Marksberry more time to develop. 

The Braves' left-handed relief depth also includes Ian Krol, who was acquired from the Tigers in November; Andrew McKirahan, who made 27 appearances for Atlanta last season; and Brady Feigl, who could return from Tommy John surgery within the upcoming season's first two months.

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