Top Prospects: Christian Bethancourt, C, Braves

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Braves general manager Frank Wren will likely spend the next week scouring the trade market in search of relief pitchers. But the makeup of his club's potential Opening Day roster became a little clearer when five members of the 40-man roster were optioned on Thursday morning.

Right-handed pitchers Luis Vasquez and Juan Jaime, catcher Christian Bethancourt and outfielder Todd Cunningham were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett. Slick-fielding shortstop Elmer Reyes was optioned to Double-A Mississippi.

"The first 10 days [of the exhibition season] is for everybody to have fun," Wren said. "The next 10 days is to get the big boys stretched out, and the last 10 days is for the men."

While Bethancourt was not projected to be a part of the Opening Day roster, the highly-regarded prospect could make his way to Atlanta if Evan Gattis' offensive production is adversely affected in a starting role.

Bethancourt's strong arm has allowed him to stand as one of the game's top catching prospects. But scouts have continued to question his work ethic behind the plate and his offensive potential.

"He'll let us know when he is ready," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "There is no timetable for him. He could be here next month or he could be here next week. When he's ready, he'll let us know."

Vasquez and Jaime were the only members of this optioned quintet who seemingly had legitimate aspirations to be on the Opening Day roster. But the two hard-throwing right-handed relievers sealed their fate during Wednesday's game against the Yankees.

Jaime walked four of the five batters he faced, and Vasquez continued to show the rust that developed when he was sidelined during the early weeks of Spring Training because of a strained right lat muscle.

But as he surrendered a hit and issued two walks in his one-inning stint against the Yankees, Vasquez provided indication he is moving in the right direction. The fastball he produces with his sidearm delivery touches 95 mph. If he harnesses his command and continues producing similar velocity, he could eventually end up in Atlanta's bullpen.

Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter and Anthony Varvaro currently stand as the only relievers who are seemingly guaranteed an Opening Day roster spot. Cory Gearrin's presence on the 40-man roster should aid his cause to get one of the remaining spots.

Left-hander Ryan Buchter and right-hander Gus Schlosser stand as the two other most likely candidates to get one of the final spots in this 'pen, which could consist of eight relievers as the Braves go through their first eight to 10 games using a four-man starting rotation. But Wren will continue to look at external options via potential trades or waiver wire deals.

Santana successfully navigates spring debut

ATL@NYM: Santana debuts with two strong frames

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- During his first week with the Braves, Ervin Santana has assumed the appearance of a man who is not fazed by too many things. This approach could prove to be beneficial as he spends the next few weeks patiently awaiting his regular-season debut.

Eight days after signing a one-year, $14.1 million contract, Santana made his first start for the Braves in Thursday afternoon's game against the Mets at Tradition Field. A leadoff bunt led to the only run the veteran hurler surrendered over the two innings he completed in a calm, cool and impressive manner.

One National League scout said Santana's fastball maxed out at 95 mph and touched 94 multiple times. That's pretty impressive considering this was his first start since he ended the 2013 season with the 3.24 ERA he compiled over 32 starts with the Royals.

"The first outing in the National League, it was very good," Santana said. "I'm very happy with my performance today."

Although Santana was able to build his arm strength while completing bullpen sessions during his final weeks as a free agent, he might not have focused on the pitcher-fielding drills that might have better prepared him for the bunt single Eric Young Jr. notched to begin the bottom of the first inning.

Ruben Tejada followed with a single that put runners on the corners and set the stage for David Wright to score Young with a sacrifice fly to right field. The first inning concluded with Curtis Granderson producing a sharp grounder that resulted in a double play that was started and completed by first baseman Ernesto Mejia.

Santana then worked a perfect second that concluded when hung a slider to Travis d'Arnaud and then breathed a sigh of relief when the Mets catcher hit a fly ball to left fielder Justin Upton.

"I thought it was a good outing for him," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He hasn't pitched for a while, and he comes into camp a little bit behind. He did a nice job out there. You can tell he is a professional."

Santana will be scheduled to complete three innings when he makes his next start on Tuesday against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. The 31-year-old right-hander will then likely make what could be his final two exhibition season starts in Minor League games.

The Braves are aiming for Santana to join their starting rotation around the same time they will be forced to go to a five-man rotation near the end of the regular season's second week.

Worth noting

• Wren and Gonzalez both said there is a chance Tyler Pastornicky will be ready for the start of the regular season.

Pastornicky, who is recovering from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, is scheduled to play in his first big league game with the split-squad team that will play the Orioles in Sarasota on Friday.