Part two of the batch is a review of our infielders.
1B – Freddie Freeman had a very solid rookie season as a 21 year-old for the majority of the season. He got off to a slow start with a line of .217/.314/.380 in April, but at times he carried the Braves, especially in a July when McCann was hurt and many bats were quiet, he put up a .362/.433/.600 line. Defensive metrics are mixed on his range at the position, but they all agree that he does a tremendous job digging throws, and his prowess with that skill will help Braves infielders tremendously around him. He’s just 22 next season, and he’s always developed more and more power the longer he stayed at a level. I would wager to say we could have a 30+ HR guy with solid receiving skills at 1B for many years to come
2B – Dan Uggla was all over the news as a major failure as he started historically slow, and then all over the news as he had one of the most powerful extended hitting streaks in the history of the game. While the final season slash line wasn’t great, Uggla provided a .296/.379/.569 slash line and was one of the few power threats in the lineup in the final month of the season, although by that point, teams were pitching round him as seen by a drastic uptick in his walk rate in that final month. While that second half slash line is a little aggressive, and the final line below expectations, a medium ground between those two would easily give the Braves one of the two or three best offensive 2B in the entire game. His defensive range isn’t stellar, and he may be in line for a position switch down the road to a corner spot, but his right hand bat should be worth the $13M per through 2015 that the Braves are paying him.
3B – Chipper Jones remained the Atlanta icon that he has earned in his 20 years in the organization. He’s struggled with staying healthy, but if the team assumes 30-50 games of Martin Prado filling in at 3B, they’d still have a well above-average production line from the third sack. Chipper showed some subtle hints of slowing down this year with a 10% walk rate, his lowest rate of his career, and over 5% lower than he’d put up in his last three years. He also struck out at a 15.6% rate, his worst rate since 2004, and nearly 2.5% higher than his career rate. Chipper put together a solid August and September while the rest of the team struggled, however. He’s due $13M in 2012 and has a club option at $7M in 2013 that could increase to as much as $13M. Whether the club retains Chipper in 2013 is anyone’s guess, or he could choose to retire on his own accord. Chipper has earned the right to make that decision when he's ready.
SS – While Alex Gonzalez may have not been pretty at the plate, he was arguably the best defensive shortstop in the NL during his time with the Braves. With young pitchers on the way, stellar defense is always the best way to increase a young pitcher’s confidence, and I’d hate to see a step back defensively from the position. The Braves will likely give prospect Tyler Pastornicky a shot at the starting job in the spring, hopefully with an excellent defensive backup with a capable bat backing him up.
In reserve – Brooks Conrad is really a one trick pony. He’s woeful on defense at any position, can’t play shortstop, and he K’s at a high rate for a pinch hitter. He’s provided that one trick – switch-hitting power from the bench – for two seasons with the Braves, but his lack of defensive ability will likely cause the Braves to let him go this year rather than offer him a 2012 contract. Brandon Hicks has excellent speed, solid infield defense, and is a solid pinch runner. He’s best suited as the last man on the bench, but without a veteran signing, he’s the primary SS backup right now. This is an area very likely to be addressed by the front office this offseason.
On the way – Pastornicky exploded onto the scene in 2011, hitting a combined .314/.359/.414 between AA and AAA. He’s not a stellar defender, but he’s solid. Pastornicky has speed to burn, and he could provide solid speed at the bottom of the lineup, even when not hitting a ton. He’s developed slight power thus far, and that will just be icing on the cake. TP’s biggest concern is the level of his defense. He may have to switch to 2B down the line, but pairing him with a solid defense-first vet like Jack Wilson would be good. Andrelton Simmons’s defense is the least of his worries. His question has always been his bat. He could step on the field right now and immediately be one of the top 5 defenders in the entire game. Simmons will go as far as his bat will take him, which has been farther than anyone thought it would as he posted a .311/.351/.408 in A+ ball. He’ll move to AA in 2012, and that will be a big test to see whether his gap power and solid contact will continue to play against advanced pitching. If he does well, he could move quickly into being the next great defensive Braves shortstop. Edward Salcedo’s name right now carries more weight than his performance. He’s shown solid tools and athleticism on the bases and at the plate, hitting solidly with power when he makes contact, and showing good speed, but that’s not translated to his defense at all so far. He was moved from SS to 3B this year, but he still received poor reviews on his defense there as well. Salcedo isn’t walking enough and strikes out plenty, but he is still only going to be 20 next season when he plays at A+ ball. Joey Terdoslavich has done nothing but hit since the Braves picked him in the 6th round in 2010. He set Carolina league records with 52 doubles, and he collected 20 homers as well in 2011 in A+ ball. The Braves will try to move him around the diamond to see if his bat will play elsewhere. He’ll be one to keep an eye on this year. Brandon Drury certainly didn’t astound anyone in rookie league ball in 2010, but while playing rookie ball in 2011, he showed a good hit tool, hitting .347. The biggest problem is only 6 walks in 278 plate appearances. He’ll be 19 in A ball this year, and the eye will be on his eye to see how it translates. Tommy La Stella was drafted in the 8th round this last June by the Braves, and he hit very solid with good strike zone control in A ball. He could profile as the 2B of the future for the Braves.