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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Outfielders: Promise And Potential, And Hopefully No Duds

It's the Braves outfielders' turn!

LF Matt Diaz - (425 PA, .313/.390/.488, 18 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 58 RBI, 35/90 BB/K, 133 OPS+)
LF Melky Cabrera - (540 PA, .274/.336/.416, 28 2B, 1 3B, 13 HR, 68 RBI, 43/59 BB/K, 99 OPS+)
CF Nate McLouth (total stats PIT and ATL) - (591 PA, .256/.352/.436, 27 2B, 2 3B, 20 HR, 70 RBI, 68/99 BB/K, 109 OPS+)
RF Jason Heyward (total stats with three teams) - (422 PA, .323/.408/.555, 25 2B, 4 3B, 17 HR, 63 RBI, 51/51 BB/K)
CF Jordan Schafer - (195 PA, .204/.313/.287, 8 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 27/63 BB/K)
UT Mitch Jones (2009 AAA Albuquerque) - (434 PA, .297/.364/.651, 26 2B, 3 3B, 35 HR, 103 RBI, 40/102 BB/K)

On the surface, the outfield spots are only half-settled. Realistically, the jobs are mostly set in stone, but a couple of players could force their way onto the Braves with strong springs.

Matt Diaz, picked up by the Braves for minor league pitcher Ricardo Rodriguez just four years ago, has flat out hit ever since he came to Atlanta. His 2009 season made up for a mostly-lost 2008 campaign; his OPS, OPS+, RBIs, homers, and stolen bases were all career-high totals. However, he will most likely remain a platoon partner for a left-handed batter. What supports that is Diaz's career OPS splits:

Career vs. RHP: .722 OPS
Career vs. LHP: .921 OPS

The most-likely platoon partner for Diaz should be the Braves' newest acquisition Melky Cabrera. After being signed to a $3.1 million one-year contract, the former Yankee outfielder is one of the first in line to get an outfield spot on the club.

Some Braves fans may argue that he doesn't deserve a spot with the club because of his weak statistics for an outfielder. For his carer, Cabrera has a .269/.331/.385 line with just 36 home runs (13 coming last year, nine in New Yankee Stadium). He's similar to Martin Prado in that he doesn't walk or strike out much (43/59 BB/K in 540 PA last year). The light slugging could prove to be a problem, but Diaz should be able to balance it out like last year.

Nate McLouth will be manning center field full-time for the Braves in the 2010 season. His splits with Pittsburgh and Atlanta were nearly identical except for slugging (.470 with the Pirates, .419 with the Braves). McLouth was knocked out of action for about a month with a left hamstring injury and felt the effects of it for a while. He should be healthy for the season and be able to return to the form that he had in his breakout 2008 season.

The most important player in the Braves' outfield mix is one who was named's top prospect last week. Jason Heyward earned that ranking with a very strong 2009 campaign, spanning three levels. The Braves have made it clear that he'll be given every chance possible to make the Braves out of spring. If so, it's also possible that he could produce right out of the gate and improve the right field position's black hole from last year.

Two wild cards to make the team are Jordan Schafer and Mitch Jones. Schafer, who started the year with the big club and hit two home runs in his major league debut, injured his wrist making a diving catch and wasn't effective since then. There is a possibility that if Cabrera underperforms and Schafer has another strong spring that Melky would be traded to make room for Schafer on the roster.

The last candidate is career minor leaguer Mitch Jones who had a monster season in Class AAA Albuquerque. He could get a utility role because he has experience in the outfield and the infield corners.

The Braves outfield last year started with such promise, went through some turmoil, but eventually stabilized. The outfielders should be able to provide much more stability throughout the 2010 season.

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