Braves’ Forrest Wall is a blur on the bases, and now he’s worked to improve other skills


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NORTH PORT, Florida — He has game-changing speed, as Braves outfielder Forrest Wall displayed when he stole second base and then third immediately after entering as a pinch runner in the ninth inning of his MLB debut on July 22 at Milwaukee. Nerves be damned.

“He ain’t scared of nothing, the way he plays,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said a few days ago, recalling how Wall put himself in scoring position with the potential tying run and one out against All-Star closer Devin Williams, who had only eight other stolen bases against him all season.

Williams then struck Orlando Arcia and, two walks later, struck out Ozzie Albies to preserve the Brewers’ 4-3 win. But the Braves got a glimpse that day of what Wall could do that not many other players can.

He’s a blur on the bases, and that speed also serves him well in the outfield. Wall plays all three positions — another plus as he competes for a bench job on the Opening Day roster.

“He isn’t gonna stay around (first base) long,” Snitker said of Wall, who totaled 57 stolen bases in 66 attempts last season across Triple A and the majors. He stole five bases in six tries in 15 games for Atlanta and went 6-for-13 (.462) with two double and a homer. “I said he’s kind of like Jordan Shafer use to be — he’d steal a base when they knew he was going to.

“With Forrest, like I said, there’s no fear. I put him in there in Milwaukee and it was like, boom, boom.”

Forrest Wall’s speed is undeniable and the Braves think there’s more untapped potential in his bat. (Getty Images)

Snitker added of Wall’s first MLB season, “I liked his at-bats, I thought he handled himself very well when he came up. There’s just another young guy with a lot of talent that just needs an opportunity now.”

Wall, who turned 28 in November, is a former Colorado Rockies first-round draft pick who toiled for 8 1/2 seasons in the minors with four organizations before finally getting a chance at the major-league level last summer.

“Getting called up kind of validated that, hey, the Braves trust my ability,” Wall said last week at Braves camp, seated at his locker stall that’s next to those of Eli White and Luke Williams, two of others competing for one or possibly two backup outfield spots.

“Them giving me the opportunity, I took it as confidence to myself, and it was big for me to know that I belong here, and there’s a reason why I’m here,” Wall said. “Taking that attitude while trying to learn from the other guys around.”

Despite his impressive performance in limited MLB duty, and his .280 average with 30 extra-base hits (eight homers) in 90 games at Triple A last season, the Braves think Wall can get significantly more production from his bat. He had a modest .799 OPS with 90 strikeouts in 411 plate appearances at Gwinnett, and just a .753 OPS in more than 3,500 career minor-league PAs.

With that in mind, the Braves sent hitting coordinator Chris Antariksa and FCL rookie-ball hitting coach Stevie Wilkerson to work with Wall a few times during the winter in Palm Harbor, Florida, where he lives.

Wall is 3-for-5 with a homer, two RBIs and a stolen base in four spring games. In Monday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles, Wall’s eighth-inning homer accounted for the Braves’ lone run in a 2-1 loss. He replaced center fielder Michael Harris II in the sixth inning.

“I would just say there were some things that I didn’t know that I was doing that, were, I guess, incorrect moves,” Wall said of the adjustments he made with Braves hitting coaches during the offseason. “We were just able to clean those up. But it was kind of from the outside in. I didn’t know I was doing those things. And so it was helpful to hear from these guys. And then we were able to clean it up.

“I really worked on some different mechanics hitting-wise. To kind of just clean up how I move. And it’s been feeling pretty good.”

The best backup outfield option the Braves have is J.P. Martinez, 27, a former top Texas Rangers prospect who’s outstanding defensively — he can play all three outfield positions — and was an MiLB organization All-Star last season after hitting .297 with 14 homers, a .963 OPS and 41 stolen bases in 45 attempts, including .298/.961 in 77 games at Triple-A.

However, the Braves have indicated that Martinez might be sent to Triple-A Gwinnett to begin the season since they’d prefer he get regular at-bats instead of being on the bench and rarely playing for a Braves team that expects its starting outfield of Harris, NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. and left-field newcomer Jarred Kelenic to play virtually every day as long as they’re healthy.

If there were an injury and an outfielder was sidelined for multiple games, Martinez would be called up for that assignment.

Two of the Braves’ four bench spots will go to catcher Travis d’Arnaud and utility infielder Luis Guillorme, who hit .261 with a .675 OPS in 611 plate appearances over the past three seasons with the New York Mets. Braves general manager and president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos indicated that speed is likely to be a big determining factor for one of the two remaining spots, which obviously makes Wall a strong candidate.

Anthopoulos noted that Luke Williams also has good speed, if not the eye-popping stolen bases that Wall has produced. Williams had 34 steals in 40 attempts last season in the Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations, including four steals without getting caught in 11 MLB games with the Braves and Dodgers.

The well-traveled Williams, 27, has just a .225 average and .576 OPS in 263 PAs spread across three MLB seasons with five teams, but has something that the other bench candidates don’t: infield-outfield versatility. He’s played 15 or more big-league games at center field, left field, second base and third base, plus eight games at first base, nine at shortstop and three in right field.

Assuming the Braves go with an outfield-only player for one bench job, the last spot would presumably have to go to either Williams or David Fletcher, the former Los Angeles Angels utility infielder who’ll make $6 million this season whether he’s in Triple A or the majors (he’s not currently on the 40-man roster). Fletcher played some outfield in the past, but only one game at any level in the past five years — four innings in a 2020 game with the Angels.

In the unlikely event that the Braves were to get a pair of their infielders injured in the same game, they might be left scrambling to get through that game if they had only one backup infielder (Guillorme), though DH Marcell Ozuna could fill in at first base.

“Look, those guys likely aren’t getting a ton of at-bats, right?” Anthopoulos said of Braves bench players other than d’Arnaud. “I think (outfielder Sam) Hilliard went a month last year without getting in the game. And Charlie Culberson, I think went a month without getting in a game. That just shows good health and so on. But you need guys that are good clubhouse guys (in those jobs), who accept their role. But also, where is the scenario that they are going to get in a game? Late in the game, if you need to pinch run. You know, we’re likely not going to defensively replace anybody right now.

“And here’s the thing too, if we have somebody going on the IL, we can always call someone up (by the next game). So that’s kind of the thought, you’re just a day away from calling a guy up.”

In the meantime, Wall could be on the bench, an option for Snitker to deploy on the bases in the ninth inning of a tight game, when there’s no substitute for speed.

(Photo of Forrest Wall: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Associated Press)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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