The Braves finally (FINALLY!) have some right-handed pop in their batting order. How will Fredi fix his lineup next season?
The Braves, now a little more than two months away from the start of the regular season, basically have their 25-man roster set. Other than a bench spot and maybe the final slot in the bullpen, Fredi Gonzalez can head into Spring Training with very few questions to address.
That's an enviable position for any club, let alone one that was replacing a Hall of Famer at third base and an All-Star in center field.
For years, a lefty on the mound usually meant bad things for the Braves. With the addition of the Uptons, the Braves might even welcome chances to beat up on a southpaw.
Gonzalez will have a couple of options as he constructs his lineup. Granted, this may not be the same lineup used on opening day if Brian McCann's shoulder isn't ready to go, but this seems to be the odds-on favorite as of late January.
When McCann and Uggla are batting 7th and 8th in your lineup, you're absolutely stacked. What happens if either of these guys return to their career norms in 2013?
Other than Heyward and Justin Upton, the next four spots are pretty interchangeable depending on who's hitting well and who's in a slump. It's safe to say UpWard will be 2-3 for much of the year.
The biggest concern is a lack of guys who get on-base at a great clip. If Simmons is unable to cut it at the leadoff spot, the Braves could have some trouble getting enough runners on before their seven 20+ home run threats come up.
So what happens if Simmons struggles? The best two options are probably B.J. Upton and Uggla.
Upton has a career .336 OBP, which isn't horrible. The last three seasons, though, it's been at .317. Unless his plate discipline improves under Greg Walker -- and it could -- it's tough to use Upton at the top of the order unless Simmons is totally lost.
Uggla may not be a conventional choice, but his career OBP (.343) and OBP in 2012 (.348) is solid. He also draws walks at a better rate than most (14.9 percent in '12, 11.1 percent in his career), which helps make up for his high strikeout numbers. He works the count better than most, too. Uggla may not be a likely option here, but it would make for a fun experiment.
Heyward could be a wild card here, but it seems like the Braves are pretty set on keeping his routine as consistent as possible. Moving him to the leadoff spot might work, but Fredi probably wouldn't want to risk it, especially if J-Hey is hitting well.
So who leads off?
B.J. ends up leading off the most games this year due to his mix of speed, power and improve on-base skills. Greg Walker helps recapture the discipline Upton showed earlier in his career, as he did with multiple others last season.
I'm not totally sold on Simmons as anything other than an eighth hitter right now, even if he was impressive his first few months in the big leagues.
Regardless, with the talent that will be in Braves Country next season, lineup construction probably won't matter all that much.