Atlanta Braves Positions Preview: The Outfield

Joel BarkerSenior Writer IFebruary 21, 2009

Well, at least the Atlanta Braves outfield has only one way to go after last season’s dismal offensive performance—UP!

After being spurned by Ken Griffey, Jr. in the Braves latest offseason failure it seems that Frank Wren is content to go into this season with a platoon of Brandon Jones vs. RHP, and Matt Diaz vs. LHP in left field.

Brandon Jones was decent in 41 games last year for Atlanta. He hit .267 in 116 AB’s with 1 HR, and 17 RBI. Jones also had 10 doubles and one triple last season, as well. So he definitely has some pop in his bat.

Diaz has hit LHP at a .328 clip in his career. Diaz has had a few good years in platoon roles with Atlanta. He has by all means resurrected his career in Atlanta. He also brings decent defense and a great arm to his LF position.

In center field, the picture is not quite as clear. Most insiders believe that Josh Anderson has the inside track there, but that’s far from a given.

Anderson brings speed and good defensive ability to the outfield. On offense he’s been a decent hitter, but he doesn’t take many walks. Once on the base paths he can wreak havoc.

Another speedy asset vying for the CF job is Gregor Blanco. In the first-half of ‘08 Blanco hit very well. He came up with clutch hits and hit three triples.

After the break he cooled off and hit only .243 the rest of the way. This is why he’s not the overwhelming choice in center.

One of the more intriguing options to play CF is Jordan Schafer. Schafer, who was suspended for 50 games of the 2008 season for using HGH, was the No. 1 prospect in the Braves system going into '08.

Schafer will either win the CF job out of spring or he will be sent to Triple-A Gwinnett and be one of the first prospects called up during the season. Schafer hits for power, average, and has great speed and defensive ability. It would be great to see him break camp with Atlanta.

In right field, Jeff Francoeur hopes to bounce back from a dismal season in which he hit a dreadful .239, had only 11 HR, and 71 RBI; he was also sent down to Double-A Mississippi against his will to try and re-discover his swing and swagger.

Francoeuer is the key to this unit. He should be a superstar by now. And if he emerges into that this year all is well. However, if he returns to his 2008 form he will not be a Brave in 2010. It is that important for him to regain his previous form of future star.

I personally think you can expect improvement from Francoeur this season. .285, 25 HRs, and 110 RBI is likely. If Francoeur has the “breakout” season that a few people thought would happen last year then .310, 30 HR, and 140 RBI would be possible. The Braves would love to have either of those results though.

Expect the backups to be the two that lose the CF competition; Anderson, or Blanco. It’s not completely out of the question that one of those two could end up in the platoon in LF if Brandon Jones doesn’t impress in the spring.

Greg Norton and possibly even Omar Infante will fit into that mix somehow as well. Both are considered role players and technically can play anywhere on the diamond.

Atlanta is deep in youth in the outfield. The hope is that someone will step up and win the center field job this spring, and that the LF platoon will work well with the kids. Jeff Francoeur is destined for good things this year and seems determined not to let last year happen again.

There is also still the slight possibility that GM Frank Wren could bring in a veteran for the LF platoon. Jim Edmonds, Garret Anderson, and Luis Gonzalez are all still unsigned.

There have also been rumors that Wren has talked with the Yankees about Xavier Nady, and Nick Swisher. If a trade happens involving either one of them, however, there will be no platoon.

I fully expect Atlanta to go into the season with what they have now. And what they have, if the youngsters produce like they are projected to, will be much better than last year’s futile outfield bunch.  

Tomorrow’s preview will cover the Atlanta infield.