Atlanta manager Brian Snitker expects to approach key pinch-hit situations with renewed confidence this season as he looks at the Braves’ newly bolstered bench.
More depth was added on Tuesday when the Braves finalized a $1 million, one-year contract with third baseman Jake Lamb that is not guaranteed. The signing adds another veteran bat to an already deep competition for bench spots in spring training.
Lamb, a 2017 All-Star with the Arizona Diamondbacks, was with the Braves for their first full-squad workout and will compete for a bench spot. He could provide insurance for Austin Riley, who is expected to start at third base, but he was signed for his left-handed bat as a pinch-hitter.
Snitker hopes Lamb can produce off the bench the way Matt Joyce in 2019 and Eric Hinske from 2010-12 were effective with their left-handed swings.
“You get late in a game and you need a double-switch, he can be a very valuable asset much like Matt Joyce did a couple years ago,” Snitker said Tuesday. “He can be a left-handed bullet on the bench.”
Snitker hopes to find bench depth from a group that includes the 30-year-old Lamb, Pablo Sandoval, Ehire Adrianza and Jason Kipnis. General manager Alex Anthopoulos signed the veteran infielders to compete for bench spots with Johan Camargo and others in spring training.
“I think it’s really good because there’s been a lot of springs where we were looking for guys,” Snitker said. “… I think Alex has done a good job of bringing in quality guys who have had success, guys who can fill those roles like that. You talk to them and they’re all eager to do it. They’re excited about being in here.”
There are only a few roster spots open for competition. Rookie Cristian Pache will compete with Ender Inciarte for the starting job in center field. Alex Jackson and William Contreras are the top candidates to be the backup catcher behind starter Travis d'Arnaud.
Otherwise, the battles for bench spots among the veteran infielders could be the Braves’ most interesting competitions of the spring.
“It’s a good group,” Snitker said. “All the guys so far we’ve brought in are guys who have had success in the major leagues. That’s exactly what you’re looking for with guys in sort of new roles in their career. That serves them well to have had that experience and been everyday players. I think it’s a good group that we’ll evaluate and choose from.”
Snitker said the team did not intentionally search for experience with Lamb, Sandoval and others behind Riley at third base.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with the position,” Snitker said. “I just think it was the players available at the time.”
Also, outfielder Phillip Ervin was claimed off waivers from the Chicago Cubs on Monday.
The left-handed hitting Lamb struggled in the abbreviated 2020 season, when he hit a combined .193 in 31 games with Arizona and Oakland. He finished better, however, hitting .267 with three homers in 13 games after signing with the A’s.
“The reports are really good,” Snitker said. “I think that’s one of the reasons we signed him was because I know analytically and talking with Alex they really liked some changes he made offensively. He looks great.”
Lamb hit 30 homers with 30 doubles and 105 RBIs in 2017 with Arizona. He hit 29 homers in 2016 but has not reached double figures in homers in any other season. He has a .239 career batting average in seven seasons.
Atlanta designated left-hander Phil Pfeifer for assignment to clear a spot for Lamb on the 40-man roster.