In our fourth installment of the Atlanta Braves 2009 Preview, we will be looking at the corner infield positions.
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Casey Kotchman will man the "3" spot for the Atlanta Braves in 2009. Kotchman is a patient hitter at the plate, and should provide a little bit of pop from time to time.
In his first full big league season in '07, he hit .296 with a .372 on base percentage; not bad for a guy considered a No. 6 or No. 7 hitter in a lineup.
Last season, when he came to Atlanta, Kotchman had his struggles. There were already those considering him a bust.
Kotchman hit .180 in the month of August until he left to be with his ailing mother. Can you really blame him if his mind wasn't totally focused on baseball?
Yes, I may be a little biased, but the stats don't lie. When his mother started feeling better, he returned to the Braves. Kotchman hit .305 in the month of September with a .394 OBP and a .402 slugging percentage.
So, don't give up on Kotchman so easily, Braves fans. Kotchman is a Mark Grace-type hitter. He'll get you a solid average with a few home runs and can come through when he gets the opportunity with RISP.
I expect him to hit in the sixth spot in the order in front of Kelly Johnson. Kotchman should hit around .280-.290 in 2009 with between 12-17 home runs and 60 or so RBI.
Chipper Jones will, of course, be the third baseman for the Atlanta Braves in 2009. With Chipper, it all comes down to being healthy. Make no mistake about it, this lineup is built around Chipper Jones. If he can't play 140 or more games in 2009, the Braves could, even with the improved pitching, struggle again.
If Chipper can stay healthy, there's no reason you can't expect more of the same from him. His OBP has been over .400 for nine of the last 10 years. In the last three years, he has hit .341 with 77 homers and 263 RBI: not bad for an old guy prone to injury. Just imagine what the Braves will get if he can stay healthy.
Chipper is now the longest tenured player on the Atlanta Braves roster. Thus, he will be taking more of a leadership role in 2009 and has already stated that he will not stand for any of the laziness that has been present in the Braves locker room the past few years.
I expect Chipper to play in 130 to 145 games in 2009. He should have a batting average of around .310-.325 and get around 20 home runs.
If the top of the lineup can get on base in front of Chipper, there's no reason 2009 can't be his tenth 100 RBI season.
There will be plenty of options to back up both Chipper and Kotchman. Omar Infante would be a viable option at third base. He played 32 games there last season and did a decent job while committing only four errors.
Martin Prado and Greg Norton could all get some time at both during some point of 2009. Both have played third base and first base at some point in their careers.
If Jones or Kotchman were to get a day off, I would expect Prado to get the nod. He is the best defender out of the three, and Norton (being a switch hitter) and Infante (with his experience) would be better suited to situational at-bats late in games.
With Jones, Kotchman and the available options on the bench, the Braves should be in good hands, offensively and defensively, in 2009.
Neither guy will provide extreme power for the Braves in 2009, but all options will be consistent, and should be considered by opponents as threats with RISP.