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The bench of the Atlanta Braves has some wild cards; it is a unit that could surprise some people this season.
The bench for Atlanta features a mix of veterans, potential and speed. Here’s a look at who to see in spot starts and pinch hitting and running roles this season:
William Contreras – C
William Contreras should win the backup catcher role. His main competitor is fellow prospect Alex Jackson, but Contreras is a much better hitter than Jackson. Contreras’ older brother, Willson Contreras, plays for the Chicago Cubs and is one of the top catchers in the league. Serving as the backup for the Braves, Contreras can learn from Travis D’Arnaud, while giving D’Arnaud a day of rest every fourth or so game.
Contreras would serve as one of the Braves’ top pitch-hitting options on off days, which would allow him to continue to see big-league pitching. Even though he may get more at-bats at Triple-A, Contreras will flourish by being around the team. Hopefully for the Braves’, he’ll be the long-term solution at the catcher position.
Jake Lamb – 3B/1B
Jake Lamb is a few years removed from being a very dangerous hitter. For the Arizona Diamondbacks, Lamb had 29 home runs in 2016 and 30 home runs the next season. He has struggled with injuries since then, but showed some promise in 2020 with the Oakland Athletics.
The Braves signed Lamb to an inexpensive, one-year deal. He projects to be the backup behind Austin Riley at third base and Freddie Freeman at first. He is competing with Pablo Sandoval for this role, but Lamb should win the job. Lamb should have the opportunity to showcase his power in plenty of pinch hit opportunities.
Johan Camargo – 3B/SS/2B
The switch-hitting utility infielder has declined in production since 2018 — his best season as a big-leaguer. Johan Camargo still offers much value off the bench. He has a strong arm and is an excellent defensive player.
His switch-hitting ability allows manager Brian Snitker to match Camargo up as a pinch hitter against any pitcher. Camargo offers some power, with 19 home runs in 2018. He is only 27 years old and should have his best baseball still ahead of him.
Ender Inciarte – CF
On the other hand, Ender Inciarte certainly has his baseball behind him. An All-Star in 2017, Inciarte was a human highlight reel during his prime for the Braves. He won three straight Gold Gloves from 2016 to 2018. Father Time, however, has seemingly caught up with Inciarte.
He dipped to a .190 batting average in 2020 and is no longer the best defensive center fielder in the Atlanta organization, with Cristian Pache passing him. Inciarte was left off of the Braves’ postseason roster last season; however, he is owed $8.7 million for 2021. It is unlikely for the Braves to eat that money and cut him.
He will mostly spend 2021 in a bench role, replacing Marcell Ozuna in the outfield late in games or pinch hitting in some situations. The Braves brought in some other backup outfielder options, including Phillip Ervin and Abraham Almonte. Inciarte will most likely beat those other guys out and make the Opening Day roster, with finances playing a role.
Ehire Adrianza – SS/2B/3B
The fifth bench spot was very much up for grabs during spring training. The Braves have the freedom to carry any position in this spot, due to Austin Riley’s flexibility to move to the outfield and act as the fifth outfielder. Jason Kipnis, Sandoval, and Ervin were all serious contenders for this role, but Ehire Adrianza has earned the spot.
Adrianza has been the Minnesota Twins’ version of Charlie Culberson for the last few seasons. A good teammate and a do-whatever-you-need-me-to-do type of guy, Adrianza is exactly who you want on your bench.
Adrianza has been on a tear throughout March, batting .429 and slugging .667, while driving in eight runs in just 28 plate appearances. Spring training numbers don’t always mean much, but when someone is fighting for a job, they can be useful. Adrianza will have to cool off eventually, but if he can carry his hot streak into April, he may help get the Braves off to a great start this season.