-Craig Kimbrel. He's going to be the team's closer in 2011, and he could strike out 100 guys. Its going to be fun watching him pitch this season
-Jonny Venters. He'll be Kimbrel's main set up man after having a breakout rookie season in 2010. Personally, I'd bet on a regression for Venters in 2011, but I'd love nothing more for him to blow the doors off the barn like he did in 2010.
-Peter Moylan. The arb-eligible Moylan was tendered a contract this week, ensuring he'll be back with the team in 2011. He's been a dependable arm for the Braves since his breakout 2007 season. His control has been fading since his return from Tommy John surgery in 2008 though, and more regression could result in 2011 being his final year with the club.
-Eric O'Flaherty. Like Moylan, he was tendered a contract this week. His spot on the team became solid once Mike Dunn, his prime competition for the LOOGY spot, was traded to the Marlins in the Dan Uggla deal.
-Scott Linebrink. The newly acquired Linebrink is going to be the stabilizing veteran force in the bullpen, possibly there to mentor the young Braves relievers much like Billy Wagner did last season. I have my fingers crossed that him coming back to the NL and moving into a pitcher's park helps improve his overall numbers and we don't get the Linebrink that spent the last 3 years being mediocre in Chicago.
So those are the 5 that are absolutely going to make the team. The only one who possibly wouldn't would be Moylan, if he'd get traded in the spring if he's unimpressive, but I highly doubt that's going to happen. Now, there are a few guys on the 40-man that have a good shot at the final 2 slots in the pen. Time to take a look at them.
-Scott Proctor. Proctor made his return from multiple surgeries with the Braves last season, pitching at nearly every level in the organization. Quite frankly, he was pretty terrible and I'm relatively confident that he's got nothing left in his arm. Yet, the Braves gave him a spot on the 40-man and $750K guaranteed. I'm fully expecting him to come into spring training and pitch horribly and either retire or get released. At least, that's what I'm hoping. Remember, last season, I launched a personal crusade against Jesse Chavez making the final 25-man roster. He did, and pitched as horribly as I expected. Here's hoping the team doesn't make the same mistake with Proctor this year.
-Cory Gearrin. I think Gearrin is going to be given every opportunity to earn a slot in the Braves bullpen. He spent the year in Gwinnett, and pitched relatively well there: 7.39 K/9, 3.59 BB/9, 0.67 HR/9 in 80 1/3 innings, before going to the AFL where he struggled late, presumably due to fatigue after pitching in an additional 18 1/3 innings. Gearrin is a freak when it comes to ground balls, getting 2.67 balls on the ground for every 1 in the air. He could fill the Moylan role of "guy you bring in when you desperately need a double play" in the future.
-Brandon Beachy. I have no idea what the team is going to do with Beachy. He made 3 starts for the team in September, and pitched pretty well. He started his year in Mississippi as a reliever before jumping to the rotation for the end of his time in AA and his whole time with Gwinnett. So, where does the team project him at in the future? If they want him to continue to start, he could spend the year in Gwinnett fine-tuning his mechanics. If they see him as a reliever, he should be given a slot in the bullpen. Many scouts project him in the bullpen, but I don't think the Braves should give up on him as a starter until he proves he can't be successful in that role. You don't want to get into a situation like the Rangers have with Neftali Feliz, with everyone second guessing their decision to keep him in the bullpen after not giving him a shot in the rotation. Not saying Beachy is anywhere near as good as Feliz, but the point still stands.
-Jairo Asencio. The former Luis Valdez probably would have made the team last season, but the visa issues that caused him to miss the entire year put a bullet in that plan. I think he'll start the year off in Gwinnett, in order to get a feel for pitching again. I have no idea if he was staying in shape or even throwing last season. Throwing him into the majors would probably be a mistake.
-Stephen Marek. I don't know what else he has to prove. The other player acquired from the Angels in the Mark Teixeira trade in July 2008 finally stepped up last season, posting rates of 10.52 K/9, 2.84 BB/9 and 0.57 HR/9 over his season in Mississippi and Gwinnett. He didn't get called up to Atlanta in September despite being on the 40-man roster, and didn't get sent to the AFL either. He should get a shot to prove himself this spring, but there might be an issue here that we don't know about that could be causing the Braves to be wary with him.
-Cristhian Martinez. A nice little surprise for the Braves in 2010, Martinez is never going to be a dominant reliever, and is really more of a 12th guy on the staff. With players that have potential to be a lot more than that competing with him, I'd expect Martinez to spend the year in Gwinnett, with a callup possible in the event of an injury.
I'd go with Gearrin and Marek for the final 2 slots, with Proctor jettisoned to the farthest corner of the earth, Beachy starting in Gwinnett, Asencio getting back into game shape in Gwinnett, and Martinez in Gwinnett waiting for someone to get hurt so he can get called up and pitch in blowouts. I'd be very surprised (and pissed off, and disappointed) if Proctor makes the team, because his arm is held together with bubble gum and twine at this point in time. The contract given to him was stupid then, and it's stupid now. Out of everyone on the list of possibles, Marek has the best chance at being a dominant reliever. Asencio is a wild card and the most intriguing one to me. What's he going to look like after a year of being away from the game? Is he in shape? Is he still the same potentially dominating pitcher he was back in 2008 and 2009? Keep an eye on him.