With Upton in center and likely batting fourth, what will the balance of the lineup look like?Remember that Laird was signed to fill in for Ross who moved on to Boston. One might assume Laird would get the nod to start in May and June while Brian McCann rehabs, but you have to look at the deeper signals to know the following:
1 – Laird was signed as backup and will be used to backup Christian Bethancourt or possibly Evan Gattis on opening day.Minor league catcher Christian Bethancourt was recently added to the 40 man roster. While he has never played above AA, he is projected to be the Braves catcher of the future and I predict the starter on opening day. The Braves aren’t scared of rookies… they love ‘em. Do the names Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrell, and Brandon Beachy ring a bell?
This is the perfect test for Bethancourt. He can be given the starting day job with full knowledge it is a move to help in his development process. Once McCann can play, he’ll head back to Gwinnett to work on the holes which will likely be exposed by big league pitching.2 – There is still no answer for the leadoff spot.
It appears to me that Wren and Freddi are struggling to find the answer to replace Bourn. They did resign Jordan Schafer from Houston, but his 2012 stats aren’t giving me a warm and fuzzy (.211 with 27 steals in 106 games).Then there is Jose Constanza (.250 with 5 steals in 37 games), and Tyler Pasternicky (.243 with 2 steals in 76 games). Both showed moments of breaking through in 2012, but unless one of them has a tremendous spring I’m not seeing either as the first man to step to the plate in 2013.
If the leadoff man is on the roster now, it will have to be Andrelton Simmons (.289 with 1 steal in 49 games). That solo steal may give you some heartburn at first glance, but consider that he hit .299 and stole 54 bases in two minor league seasons.So if he can step up to the challenge we could be looking at a lineup that looks something like this:
SS – Simmons3B – Prado
RF – Heyward
CF - Upton
1B – Freeman
2B - Uggla
C – Bethancourt
LF – TBD
P - Medlen
3 – Who is TBD?And who will fill that last roster spot? It will likely be decided in Spring Training. Pastornicky has been playing some outfield and if he can get his attitude in check and bat working he could find his way back into the lineup.
One name to look for… Evan Gattis. This knuckle dragger is 6’4”, 230 and is carried on the roster as a catcher, but in 2012 the team saw his freakish power and decided to find a way to fast track him to the majors. So they moved him to left field. In just 74 minor league games he hit .305 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI. In the winter league he is currently hitting .278 with 8 homers and 26 RBI in 33 games, and an OBP of .333. Don’t be surprised to see him play some left field in the spring, or make the final 40 man roster which must be submitted prior to the December 5 winter meetings.Ernesto Antonio Mejia is another youngster already on the 40. Like Gattis, Mejia plays a position where the Braves are deep… first base. He has not shown any progress in transition attempts to an outfield spot. In 2012 he hit .296 with 24 dingers in Gwinnett. In winter ball he is stroking .346 with 10 long balls and 29 RBI in 33 games. Also like Gattis, Mejia is a big cat at 6’5”, 245. Both would be good to have around if the benches clear, but there ain’t room on the roster for another first baseman. Can you say trade bait?
PS - The signing of Upton is another sign that the Braves are done signing players represented by Scott Boras. His tactics have run thin with our brass. Wish the best for Bourn, but his agent will be the death of the Nationals. So in a strange circle of life kind of way, you have to pull for Boras to completely ruin our newly grown foe.