NORTH PORT — It will be an added bonus for Will Smith to be able to play in front of friends and family this season.
The Braves’ new reliever grew up in Newnan, Georgia and played high school baseball less than an hour from Atlanta.
But that’s not why he he recently signed a 3-year, $40 million deal and it’s not why he’s in North Port preparing for spring training alongside the rest of his new teammates.
As he sat in the clubhouse Friday at CoolToday Park, a TV not far from his locker broadcast MLB Network coverage of the final out of the 2019 World Series. The Braves’ NL East rivals Washington Nationals celebrated again.
“I’ll do anything to get a ring,” Smith said before heading out to workouts on Friday morning.
If the Braves capture that elusive World Series title, it’s likely the talent and depth of the bullpen will play a large role.
With the addition of Smith, the team has at least five pitchers at the beginning of spring training who have recent experience closing games, an assignment often given to a team’s best reliever. Smith earned 34 saves last year as a member of the San Francisco Giants, with a 2.76 earned run average over 65 1/3 innings.
Smith added that winning is really all that matters: “I don’t really care (whether I close).”
The Braves are loaded for back end of the bullpen types.
Between Smith and veterans Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, Chris Martin and Luke Jackson, it will likely be the 34-year-old Melancon who gets first crack at the job. He finished 2019 in the Braves’ closer role, notching 11 saves over 23 appearances and posting a 3.86 ERA over 21 innings.
But that doesn’t mean manager Brian Snitker won’t use the proven Smith or Greene in that role at some point.
“To feel 100% comfortable with any of us, it’s cool,” Melancon said. “Baseball’s kind of gone that way, loading up the back end (of bullpens), which I think is smart because we are valuable.”
Melancon and Smith were teammates with the Giants before the Braves dealt for Melancon at the end of July. They each know what the other is capable of.
“Can he do that role? Of course. Can I do that role? Of course. Can (Greene) do that role? Of course. We got (Martin) too, and Jackson,” Melancon said. “We’re powerful down there that’s the end of the story. You don’t need anything else. You know to be prepared and it’s all going to fit, it’s all going to match.”
Given of the Braves bullpen depth, he doesn’t believe they’ll be strongly impacted by the new rule that a pitcher must either get three outs or finish an inning before coming out.
Smith believes all the relievers should see themselves as closers. The path to a successful bullpen, he said, was for each pitcher to look at their job as the “closer of their inning.”
Martin, in his first spring training with the Braves (he was also traded for last season), defined his job more simply.
“Go out and get people out,” he said. “I’m not real big into roles. What I can control is going out there and getting people out, that’s all I gotta focus on.”
Braves in the Top 100
The MLB Network released its annual list of the league’s top 100 players Thursday evening.
Three Braves players made the list, beginning with 22-year-old star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. at No. 12. Although five outfielders were ranked ahead of him, it’s a big jump from last year when he was rated as the game’s 35th best player.
First baseman and longtime star Freddie Freeman came in at No. 15, up from No. 17 in 2019. Rounding out the list for the Braves was young pitching star Mike Soroka. The 22-year-old cracked the list for the first time at No. 67.
See the full list at mlb.com/news/top-100-mlb-players-for-2020.