This player preview was written by Andrew Chin who posts here as Andy Braves Fan.
Martin Prado could be the lynchpin for the Braves success in 2010 with the bat and with the glove. On offense Prado will likely be hitting in the second spot in the lineup in front of the venerable Chipper Jones. His ability to "set the table" will be extremely important in a lineup that does not have a lot of power in the middle. On defense Prado will have to play well to shore up a questionable Braves infield. To his left stands Glaus, a new first baseman with a long injury history and little experience at his position. To his right stands Yunel, a lightning rod of a shortstop with potentially great defensive prowess and a potentially disastrous tendency to make mental mistakes.
So what will Martin need to do in order to succeed in this vital role?
On the hitting side of Prado's game, he has to avoid becoming just a "slap hitter". That is, he needs to be able to drive the ball as he isn't fast enough make a living on infield singles. His walk rate in 2009 remained consistent with his MiLB and MLB rate, a decent 7.2%, which makes his batting average a critical part of his offensive production.
Prado's success last year probably had to do with keeping his line drive percentage up around 20% as well as an increase in the number of home runs he hit per fly ball (from 2.8%-7.6%). His BABIP has consistently been higher than league average at around .330, which can only continue if he continues to hit the ball hard. Altogether, Prado showed a slight increase in power (up to a .158 ISO) from his previous years in the majors, a continued upward trend. Note that for Prado, hitting for power does not necessarily mean hitting more home runs, but getting the ball out of the infield for doubles.
MLB's Mark Bowman provided his own take on Martin's power in his latest mailbag when he mentioned Prado as a future third base candidate saying, "Based solely on the raw strength shown during batting practice, Prado has as much power as anybody on the club right now." Bobby Cox also believes in Prado's ability, and his eye for talent is undeniable. The front office felt confident enough to release Kelly Johnson. So there is plenty of hope that Prado can offensively do what the Braves need him to do.
Martin's defense measured by UZR at second base has been consistently low. For his career, he registers a -10.6. However, defensive statistics are not valuable in this case because Prado has only appeared in about 100 games at second in his MLB career. Defensive sample sizes need to be much larger to give an accurate analysis of a player's performance using defensive metrics.
Scouting reports generally tend to see Prado as an average second baseman, which is better than his numbers show. He isn't Chase Utley or Brandon Phillips out there either. There has been chatter of his future as a corner infielder where his defense is less questionable. Braves fans should hope that his glove remains adequate in 2010 seeing as Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson (63% and 58% career GB% respectively) will be counting on it.
Bottom line: Prado does not need to carry the Braves on his shoulders to have a successful season, and he probably doesn't have the ability to do so anyway. However, he plays a vital role for the 2010 Braves on both sides of the ball. If Prado doesn't get on base enough to score 70+ runs, or if his defense isn't strong enough to hold the gap, the Braves as a team may not be playing come October.
Good work by Andy on this preview of Martin Prado.