What Braves sending AJ Smith-Shawver to Gwinnett to start the season really means

  • AJ Smith-Shawver has been optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett to start the season.
  • He was one of several starting pitchers vying for the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
  • Here is what this latest transaction by the Atlanta Braves probably means in the end.

AJ Smith-Shawver, Atlanta Braves
AJ Smith-Shawver, Atlanta Braves / Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/GettyImages
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No, AJ Smith-Shawver will not be the No. 5 starter for the Atlanta Braves out of spring training. On Monday morning, the Braves optioned the promising right-hander to Triple-A Gwinnett. Where things stand now, Atlanta has 39 players in camp. With guys like Hurston Waldrep being optioned down as well, it is looking like a two-man race for the No. 5 spot between Reynaldo Lopez and Bryce Elder.

To be frank, there is a decent chance both pitchers make the team out of camp. Lopez is a lock to make the Opening Day roster, given his multi-year contract with the Braves, as well as his versatility to satisfy multiple roles on the pitching staff. The most likely outcome is that Lopez will go to the bullpen while Elder tries to find himself in the first few weeks of the season after a down second-half in 2023.

The other option is that Lopez gets to man the No. 5 spot, Elder gets send down and somebody else makes the Opening Day roster out of the bullpen. Regardless, it is abundantly clear what the Braves want to do. They want other potential starting pitcher candidates to get adjusted to pitching every fifth day down in Gwinnett, just in case the opportunity ever arises for when it is time to be called up.

I think the real question is if there is enough time for Smith-Shawver to be given a real shot this year.

Atlanta is expected to do big things this season, so a baptism by fire in the rotation does not cut it.

What AJ Smith-Shawver being sent down means for the Atlanta Braves

The hope is Lopez's great spring training will manifest into something positive at the start of the year in Atlanta. Ideally, he goes and becomes the long-arm guy out of the bullpen, pretty much satisfying the Collin McHugh role, who just retired this past offseason. If Lopez starts games for Atlanta, then that is bad news bears for Elder being able to reclaim his spot, as Lopez's run may only be temporary.

See, I would venture to guess that if Lopez won the No. 5 spot, then the combination of Alex Anthopoulos, Brian Snitker and Rick Kranitz will assess who is pitching the best at the minor league level between Smith-Shawver and Waldrep before calling him up. I would also suspect that they will lean on new third base coach Matt Tiuasosopo's opinion, too. He just managed down in Gwinnett.

Overall, we can derive three things to be true from Smith-Shawver's spring training demotion to Triple-A. One, he will not be making the Opening Day roster. Two, Reynaldo Lopez is not only a lock to make the team, but could do so as the No. 5 starter. And three, all the pressure is on Elder to have a strong finish to camp so that he can begin to build off the great first half he had with Atlanta in 2023.

It is time to buy Lopez stock, hold onto Smith-Shawver stock, and contimplate selling Elder stock.

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