State of the Braves batters, Feb. 1
2B Kelly Johnson - The organization seems poised to hand over the second base job to Johnson, who started his career as an infielder. No one exactly knows how he'll respond after playing very little over the last two seasons. What is encouraging is that since Glenn Hubbard, former Atlanta second sacker and current first base coach, helped Marcus Giles improve his fielding, he can do the same for Johnson.
SS Edgar Renteria - Pretty dependable batter, but has the range of a statue. Mac Thomson at Braves Journal believes that Renteria's fielding is one of the prime reasons that Tim Hudson failed at pitching so badly in 2006, since he is a groundball pitcher and Renteria can only get to balls hit right at him. I'm inclined to agree with that.
3B Chipper Jones - The best third baseman with Scott Rolen and Alex Rodriguez when he's healthy, thanks to his prolific batting. One negative is that he has the range of a statue as well, giving the Braves the worst left side defense in baseball. The other negative? His feet and legs are still giving him problems. If he's on the field, he'll perform. If he's not, he needs to make sure he gets better!
CF Andruw Jones - This is most definitely Andruw's last season in Atlanta. I do believe that Andruw wants to finish his career in Atlanta, but I also think that the almighty dollar will talk louder. Alfonso Soriano makes $18 million a year thanks to his new contract. Vernon Wells makes $17 million a year thanks to his new extension. How much do you want to bet that Andruw's going to get $19-$20 million a year in his new contract? The Braves won't be able to afford that. I've enjoyed the ride, I have no qualms with him leaving if he does because that's the state of baseball today: where people rarely take what the team can give them to stay.
C Brian McCann - Who's the best catcher in the National League? This guy. In just his second year. That's freaky. He's not perfect: he is as slow as a snail on the bases and could be prone to ankle injuries again. But he projects to be a wonderful batter.
RF Jeff Francoeur - All right... calm down. Keep perspective... he is just 23. And he has 43 home runs in his short career, which is nice. But I still believe in these two things:
1. He needs to cut down on his first-pitch swings. He seems to make an uncanny amount of outs that way.
2. He needs to be develop a better batting eye so he can get a few more walks.
He does those things and he'll be a great hitter and realize his potential.
LF Matt Diaz - Unquestionably, he can hit. Credit could go to his corrective lens, but he is talented. The strange thing about him is that his fielding statistics are deceptive. He has a wonderful range factor, but in real life, he reads balls poorly. He needs to start full time; the Braves need his bat in the lineup.
1B Scott Thorman - With the trade of Adam LaRoche to Pittsburgh, Thorman is thrust into the first base slot. He is the seventh best Braves prospect, according to Baseball America, and his minor league career has been compared to that of Adam LaRoche's. But I don't think he's ready for a full-time first base job. He hasn't proven to me that he can hit consistently enough to do that.
2B/3B Willy Aybar - Obtained from the Dodgers at the trade deadline last season, Aybar was once thought of to be the next candidate for the second base job, because it was assumed that Marcus Giles would be traded. Giles did leave, but it seems that Aybar has done something to make the "supersub" tag stick on him. He's going to be a back-up for Chipper Jones at third base. He'll get some starts there once Chipper goes down with an inevitable injury.
OF/1B Craig Wilson - Signed to help boost the bench, he's going to get some playing time in left field and first base. It was said that Thorman is going to start first base by himself, but that's bogus.
OF Ryan Langerhans - This could possibly be Langerhans' last time to make good for the Braves. He's 27 and his slugging dipped from 2005. It's quite possible that he could go the way of Mark DeRosa if he doesn't improve in a platoon role with Wilson or Diaz.
C Brayan Pena - He'll most likely be the backup catcher, because he has the most major league experience out of any of the other candidates. It's that simple.
UT Chris Woodward - He's a very versatile fielder and that's the reason why he'll make the club. Beyond that, he has practically lost his ability to bat effectively.
All-around, the offense is relatively intact, and if everyone does what they're capable of, the 2007 Braves should have no trouble equaling the offensive prowess of last year's club.
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