The Braves will option infielders Vaughn Grissom and Braden Shewmake to Triple-A, reports Mark Bowman of MLB.com. Both had been in line for the Opening Day shortstop job in Atlanta, but it seems that will now go to Orlando Arcia. David O’Brien of The Athletic relays that Arcia will get the starting gig with Ehire Adrianza as the utility infielder. Adrianza is not currently on the 40-man roster. The Braves subsequently announced the moves as part of a larger batch of roster cuts, including outfielders Jordan Luplow, Eli White and right-hander Nick Anderson.
The Braves went into this offseason with a shortstop vacancy for the first time in years, as Dansby Swanson has held down that job since late 2016. Swanson reached free agency this offseason and was considered one of the “Big Four” shortstops, alongside Carlos Correa, Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts. Despite that robust class of shortstops, Atlanta seemingly had little interest in either re-signing Swanson or going after anyone else. Eventually, the offseason came and went with the club’s big move being the trade for catcher Sean Murphy, who was later extended.
It seemed the club was satisfied with its internal shortstop options, with Grissom and Arcia the favorites for the role. Grissom had made his debut last year when he was just 21 years old, largely filling in at second base for the injured Ozzie Albies. He hit well in his first 156 plate appearances, producing a batting line of .291/.353/.440 for a wRC+ of 121. However, that may have been buoyed by a red hot start, as he hit .347/.398/.558 through September 7 but just .174/.264/.196 after.
Nonetheless, it was an encouraging start for such a young player and the club seemed to be a big believer in his abilities. Though he largely played second in his MLB debut, he was a shortstop in the minors. But that didn’t mean moving back to the other side of the bag was an obvious choice, as prospect evaluators had long raised questions about his ability to stick at short. It seems the club decided it was worth pursuing regardless of those concerns, as they tasked coach Ron Washington with working on Grissom’s shortstop defense this offseason. President of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos discussed the situation in January, after Swanson had signed with the Cubs.
“I can see how the scouting community might have questions about Vaughn. I had questions about Vaughn when I first saw him,” Anthopoulos said (link via Justin Toscano of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). “And I’ve been wrong plenty of times. The difference is we have a guy in Ron Washington who’s unbelievable with this stuff. He wouldn’t just say something to say it. … And, look, we don’t know how Vaughn’s going to hit. He’s got to earn the job. Orlando Arcia can do it, too. But Wash really believes in Vaughn. We believe in Vaughn, too, but we’re going to go with who we think the expert in that area is, and I don’t know anybody better in the game than Ron.”
For most of the winter, it seemed it would be a two-horse race for the job between Grissom and Arcia, but there was a late charge from Shewmake. It was reported just yesterday that Shewmake’s hot spring was making things interesting. His prospect profile was essentially the inverse of Grissom’s, as his glovework is graded much stronger than his bat. But he hit .323/.382/.452 in spring action and seemed to give himself some momentum to take the job.
However, it now seems that neither of the youngsters will get the job, at least here at the end of spring. With Grissom and Shewmake both getting optioned today, it seems they’ve decided to go with the veteran in Arcia. Though he is more established, with 642 games of major league experience, there’s still risk with the 28-year-old. He’s coming off a fairly solid season as the club’s utility infielder, hitting .244/.316/.416 for a wRC+ of 104. However, the rest of his work at the plate is less impressive, as he had hit .242/.293/.363 coming into the year for a wRC+ of 70. He also hasn’t had a full-time shortstop gig since 2019, when defensive metrics gave him poor reviews and he was pushed into a utility role over the past three years.
This is merely a temporary move and the club could quickly call up Grissom or Shewmake early on in the season. However, it’s still a surprising result given the club’s recent history. They’ve shown a strong willingness to be aggressive with their young players, with both Grissom and Michael Harris II skipping Triple-A last year, going straight from Double-A to the bigs. The club then avoided free agents all winter, seeming to have little interest in either the marquee players or even a modest deal for someone like Elvis Andrus. It seems they’ve decided Grissom and Shewmake need more time and are now left with Arcia as their top option at short, at least for the time being.
The move could have service time implications for the younger players, as Shewmake’s clock has yet to start ticking and Grissom has a tally of 57 days. Whether either of them can reach the one-year mark this season will depend upon how long they eventually spend in the minors. It’s possible to earn a full year of service time even while spending time in the minors if a youngster finishes in the top two of Rookie of the Year balloting, but they also have to appear at least two preseason Top 100 prospect lists at Baseball America, ESPN or MLB Pipeline. Neither Grissom or Shewmake are on any of those three lists at the moment.
With Arcia securing the starting gig, Adrianza will apparently need to be added to the roster to take the backup infield job. He hit just .175/.264/.206 last year but is capable of playing any position other than catcher.
Turning to the other moves, Luplow and White were both in contention for a job backing up the starting outfield trio of Ronald Acuña Jr., Eddie Rosario and Harris. They seem to have been bumped out of that contest, at least for Opening Day. That perhaps will allow Sam Hilliard and Kevin Pillar to secure jobs on the bench. Nick Anderson was in the running for a bullpen job but will start the season in the minors.
Atlanta will need to make some roster moves in the wake of all this, but they may have already gotten a head start on that. Neither of Adrianza or Pillar are on the roster and it looks like the fifth starter job will go to one of Dylan Dodd or Jared Shuster, with neither of them being on the roster either. However, they recently opened a couple of spots when they lost Dennis Santana on waivers to the Twins and outrighted Jackson Stephens. They can also open a couple more by transferring Huascar Ynoa and Tyler Matzek to the 60-day IL, with both pitchers likely out for the season due to Tommy John surgery.