The Atlanta Braves have continued playing excellent baseball since the completion of the Dodgers series on Sunday, as the team steamrolled right through the Minnesota Twins on their way to a 4 ½ game lead in the NL East over the Nationals.
This great play, however, does not come without some difficulties; namely that the Braves have a roster full of talent but only nine positions available on the field at one time. With this shortage of spots and a plethora of players comes good, old-fashioned position battles. Let’s take a look at the positions up for grabs, the numbers of the players fighting for playing time, and who truly deserves the starting job at that position.
Players: Brian McCann & Evan Gattis
Stats: McCann .282 batting average, 11 hits, 4 HRs, & 12 RBIs in 12 games; Gattis .256 batting average, 31 hits, 10 HRs, & 27 RBIs in 37 games
Position at a Glance: This is arguably the most highly contested position battle in all of baseball, and frankly one that may be keeping manager Fredi Gonzalez up at night. On one side, there is Evan Gattis, the Rookie of the Year sensation whose battle back to play baseball and his ability to hit in almost every situation has made him a fan favorite. On the other hand, there’s Brian McCann, the hometown player who has come back very strong from the shoulder surgery that sidelined him for the first month of the season. Keeping both of these hot hands in the lineup has been quite a challenge for Gonzalez, and the scenarios in which this position battle eventually plays out seems endless.
Prediction: McCann and Gattis continue to split time up until the end of July, when McCann, 29, is traded to the Tampa Bay Rays. Gattis is chosen as the Braves’ catcher of the future, and although he does not continue to play at the Superman-esque level fans have seen so far, he definitely picks up where McCann left off.
Players: Chris Johnson & Juan Francisco
Stats: Johnson .350 batting average, 42 hits, 3 HRs, & 14 RBIs in 34 games; Francisco .260 batting average, 25 hits, 5 HRs, & 16 RBIs in 31 games
Position at a Glance: The post-Chipper Jones era on the hot corner for Atlanta has been a fun one to watch, as both Johnson and Francisco have played fairly well in their time on the field. While Francisco appears to have a little more power, Johnson is a very consistent hitter and is the kind of player you should be able to count on to bring home the crucial run when it matters the most.
Prediction: Back in January, a majority of Braves fans were worried when the team sent away Martin Prado for Justin Upton and some guy named Chris Johnson. Fast-forward to May, and the trade has proven to provide the Braves with two starters for a guy who is hitting .232 out in the desert. Francisco has not necessarily done anything wrong this season; Johnson has just done enough right to grab a stranglehold on the position, which he will maintain as the summer fades to fall.
Players: B.J. Upton & Jordan Schafer
Stats: Upton .155 batting average, 23 hits, 4 HRs, 7 RBIs, & 55 strikeouts in 42 games; Schafer .309 batting average, 21 hits, 1 HR, 5 RBIs, & 20 strikeouts in 31 games
Position at a Glance: Upton has been the Braves’ biggest disappointment in the 2013 season, as the former Tampa Bay Ray has registered the same number of strikeouts as teammates Chris Johnson and Freddie Freeman have combined and has a lower batting average than starting pitchers Julio Teheran, Tim Hudson, and Paul Maholm. Meanwhile, Schafer, the former Braves bust, has done everything right in his return to Atlanta after a stint in Houston, as shown by holding the fourth best batting average on the team.
Prediction: Despite the great play by Schafer, there are 75 million reasons why centerfield is still B.J.’s spot to lose. That being said, there is only so much room for adjustment that a team can provide for a player before they pull the plug and instead plug someone else into the lineup. Bossman Junior has shown some signs of turning things around in the last week, and I believe that he will maintain the starting spot in center for the remainder of the year with Schafer playing all over the outfield when his name is called. However, if the elder Upton is still hitting below the Mendoza Line come mid-June, expect Jordan Schafer to be in play for this starting spot.
Disagree with how these position battles will play out? Leave a comment and let your opinion be heard