Every team goes into spring training with some "camp battles," where players have to impress the brass in order to win a job on the Opening Day roster. The Braves had exceptionally few of those battles this year, and while the fields of contenders have narrowed, it appears most of the fights will go right down to the wire. Here's what you need to know about the open spots and the guys hoping to fill them.
To give my analysis a bit of background, let me link to the world's most useless baseball evaluation webpage. Spring training stats, in my mind, are as close to meaningless as numbers get. You're talking about 45 at-bats, for the current team leader. That's worse than an insignificant sample, since guys are facing wildly varying levels of pitching competition: veterans working on new pitches, minor leaguers not even close to ready for The Show, etc. I will discuss some of the subjective things I've read about these various players in camp, but I'm not going to bother with their stats at all.
With that out of the way, I present the open slots. There was a spot open in the starting outfield when camp opened up in Orlando, but let's face it: at the rate he's going, they're going to forget the Disney part and rename the place HeywardWorld. This is a post for another time, but people who've read me know I wanted Heyward in the minors on Opening Day, but the kid has surpassed my every expectation and several experts I trust seem to think he's truly ready. Admittedly late, I'm on that bandwagon.
It's becoming increasingly clear that Heyward will play right field on Opening Day, leaving just one roster spot up for grabs on offense. With Matt Diaz covering fourth outfielder duty, Eric Hinske backing up the four corners, Omar Infante doing everything but selling hot dogs, and Melky Cabrera able to spot in center field if needed, there's a pretty obvious hole for another utility infielder, preferably one that can handle the middle infield. Diory Hernandez tried his hand at that last year, but offseason shoulder surgery will keep him on the sidelines. Freddie Freeman and Brandon Hicks are still in camp, but neither of them has played above Double-A, and they're just around to show off at this stage. That leaves us two contenders: Brooks Conrad and Joe Thurston. Conrad and Thurston actually have quite a bit in common, in that they are both Triple-A lifers who've done nothing in the majors to suggest they merit a major-league job. Conrad has some pop in his bat, and while he's "versatile" in that he'll put a glove on and stand where you tell him to, he really doesn't have a defensive position in the infield. Thurston, on the other hand, won't hit for power (if he hits at all), but he won't embarrass himself playing second or third. I'm really not a fan of either of these guys, and really wouldn't mind seeing Frank Wren get grabby on the waiver wire, but forced to choose between the two I'll take Thurston since I don't think Conrad has the "utility" to be a "utilityman."