Notes on 755 Hank Aaron Dr

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

2010 Infield

So, with Spring Training just around the corner (and it's about time, too), let's look at the Braves roster for 2010.  (And maybe, just maybe, I'll get through the whole thing this year!  I am on a roll.)

The team has two apparent strengths going into 2010 - the infield, and starting pitching.  We'll get to pitching later, but I want to start with the infield.

I'm going to include catcher in the infield, because it seems silly to have a whole post just for Brian McCann.  The good news is, McCann is the best player on the team.  The bad news is, McCann is the best player on the team.  It's good, because he's still young.  It's bad, because he's a catcher, which means that he's going to miss at least 30 games a year, and he's likely to wear down as the season progresses, and he's likely to only last until he's 30 or so.  Even so, that's another five seasons, since he's only 25.  Last season he was a little below his career averages, but only a bit - and catcher offense overall must have been down, because his OPS+ was almost exactly on average at 120.  Dave Ross is the best backup catcher the team has had in years.

First base is a big question mark right now.  Troy Glaus has been signed to man the position, but he's only played six games there in his major league career.  Even more of a concern is the fact that he only played in 14 games last season.  He hit 122 home runs in the four seasons preceeding that, so if he's healthy, he could be a big help in the power department.  But that's a big if.  Eric Hinske will be backing up here, there, and everywhere, or at least everywhere there's a corner.  Hinske suffered power outages in 2007 and 2009 (6 and 8 HR, respectively), but hit 20 in 2008.

Second base belongs to Martin Prado now.  Last year was, by far, his best as a major league player.  It will be interesting to see what he does this year.  He doesn't walk much, but he also doesn't strike out much.  If he's the .300 hitter he was last year, he's an extremely valuable player.  If he sinks down to .270 or so (which I kind of expect to happen, for no good reason), he's still a good player.  (The value largely comes from his pre-arbitration contract, of course.)  Omar Infante will back up here and at shortstop, as well as sharing fifth outfielder duty with Hinske.

Yunel Escobar is probably the second best player on the team at this point.  He doesn't always concentrate enough in the field, and makes some really annoying, boneheaded baserunning mistakes.  But he's a plus defender at shortstop, and has a .375 OBP and some reasonable pop in his bat.

We can only hope that Chipper Jones returns to form in 2010.  If 2009 was the beginning of the end, the team is in big trouble.  There's no one in the organization to take over.  Certainly Chipper's power isn't what it used to be; he hit 18 HR last year, but he hasn't hit 30 since 2004.  (He did hit 29 in 2007.)  He managed to play more games last year (143) than he had since 2003, but he lost 100 points off of his 2008 batting average.  To be fair, that 2008 batting average was .364, but a .264/.388/.430 line isn't anyone's idea of a good season.  That .818 OPS was the lowest since his rookie year of 1995.  His defense also appeared to slip some.  He's 38 years old - which seems impossible, since it can't have been that long ago that he was a rookie - so it's not out of the question that he's done.  If he doesn't bounce back, the Braves will probably be in the market for a new third baseman in 2011, as he's repeatedly expressed an unwillingness to embarass himself by hanging on.

Like so much of the team, there are a number of question marks here, but overall, I think this is the strength of the team.  If too many injuries happen, though, there's not much after these guys.  Clint Sammons will be the first catcher up from Gwinnett.  Brooks Conrad is scrappy and fun to watch, but not actually that good.  Unless he got the pictures from Keith Lockhart, he's not going to get much playing time above AAA.  Joe Thurston would probably be called up if Hinske or Glaus goes on the DL.  Diory Hernandez has done well through the minors, but looked horribly overmatched in Atlanta last season.  Barbaro Canizares is already 29, so he's unlikely to develop from what he is now, which is nothing special.  If Glaus and Hinske both bomb out, we're more likely to see Freddie Freeman everyday than Canizares.

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