Prior to the 2009 season, there was speculation that Martin Prado could perform well enough to replace Kelly Johnson as the Braves' starting second baseman. This speculation was based on the idea that Prado's presence could allow the Braves to trade Johnson, who had shown himself to be one of the better second basemen in the National League over the previous two seasons, to help fill other holes on the team. Well, Johnson wasn't traded, but his 2009 struggles coupled with Prado's breakout campaign, have firmly placed Prado as the Braves' new starting second baseman.
Coming off of a solid 2008 campaign as a reserve for Atlanta, Prado started the 2009 season in the same role, playing in just 12 games in the month of April, starting just 4 of those. But, like the year before, he excelled in limited time, hitting for a .350 average with a 1.035 OPS in just 23 plate appearances. Despite a precipitous dip in his numbers, dropping to a .208 average with a .653 OPS in 59 palte appearances, he garnered more playing time in May, starting 11 of the 19 games he played.
But June was the turning point of Prado's season, as he saw his numbers bounce back, hitting for a .359 average with a .921 OPS in 73 plate appearances, as he started in 16 of the 20 games he played that month. From that point on, he established himself as a regular in the Braves' lineup, starting 75 of the team's final 86 games.
One of the big questions about Prado was how he would handle playing regularly over the course of a full season, and a second half dip in his numbers show that he hasn't fully quelled those doubts. After hitting for a .330 averge along with a .889 OPS in 214 first half plate appearances, he fell to a .289 average and a .772 OPS in 289 second half plate appearances. The drop was aided by a concussion he suffered at the hands of a line drive that contributed to dizzyness and heat stroke in August, but even though his numbers dropped by huge amounts, .041 points on his average and .117 points on his OPS, his second half numbers were still good enough production out of a second baseman, and his total season numbers are very comperable to what Kelly Johnson produced out of that position for the team the previous two seasons.
The only real knock on Prado's 2009 season is that he was surprisingly bad as a third baseman. He had his lowest fielding percentage at any position at third, just .975, and in 127 plate appearances, a quarter of his season total, he hit just .231 with a woeful .590 OPS. But, the team isn't counting on him to play third, and as a second baseman he was outstanding, combining a solid .986 fielding percentage with a .331 average and a .913 OPS in 269 plate appearances.
Martin Prado certainly proved himself in 2009, coming to the plate nearly as many times as he had in his previous three Major League seasons combined and shifting fairly seamlessly from the role of a reserve to that of a starter. Since he's shown himself capable of providing equal production to former starting second baseman Kelly Johnson while only being paid the league minimum, he should allow the Braves to utilize the money they paid Johnson in 2009 on another spot on the diamond in 2010.