Handicapping the Backup Infielder Race

Evan Brunell@evanbrunellFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2009

With the news that Julio Lugo is undergoing arthroscopic surgery tomorrow, the question becomes who is going to pick up the slack. Lugo may return in time for Opening Day...He could return a few days after...Or his injury could be worse than currently thought.

Either way, the backup infield job is now officially a competition. If healthy, Jed Lowrie and Lugo are the two victors...But who could the job fall to if Lugo can't make it back in time?

Let's look at the four candidates.

NICK GREEN

Green has four years of major league service time with Atlanta, the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay and Seattle. All told, he's amassed 703 career at-bats in the bigs with slash stats of .240/.309/.347.

Clearly, he's not one who lights the world on fire, but as a "pinch-hit" backup infielder, it's a pretty good base of statistics to work with.

He primarily plays second and short but has seen time at third. He doesn't have good plate discipline nor speed and hit .233 for the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate last year, so his contact rate might be even worse than his career .240 line.

However, Green struggled through attrition and injury last year, which may have contributed to these statistics. Indeed, he's been the club's hottest hitter this spring, hitting .387/.475/.645 and clearly has to be considered the front-runner for the job.

IVAN OCHOA

Known more for his defense than his hitting, Ochoa has  a .219/.219/.313 line in spring training and has received the most at-bats of anyone. Not a good way to impress. He is, however, the youngest of all the candidates at just age 26.

He received 120 at-bats for the San Francisco Giants last year as they tried to fill their second base/shortstop vacancies with players that could field. He hit .200/.244/.267, but did experience a breakthrough minor league year.

With a .318/.399/.445 line in Triple-A, by far the best of his work since 2000's rookie ball statistics, he may just be getting started on his career.

GIL VELAZQUEZ

The club knows about Gil the most as he saw time with the Red Sox in September last year, making his major league debut at age 28. He also was on the playoff roster for a short period of time.

He cannot hit by any means but can play any position except catcher and first, which is impressive. It's his only calling card, though.

ANGEL CHAVEZ

The Globe had this to say about Chavez: "Chavez, who played for Panama's World Baseball Classic team, has shown eye-opening power hitting from the right side."

Color me intrigued. 27, he saw 19 at-bats worth of time with San Francisco in 2005 and spent last year as the Los Angeles Dodgers' Triple-A starter. He batted .292/.335/.423 and has hit well in limited time in spring training. He is a great fielder as well, which is a plus.

SO WHO IS IT?

In my mind, it comes down to two people: Nick Green and Angel Chavez. Chavez is the better fielder and has interesting power potential. Green has the more extensive resume and is on a hot streak.

The likely winner will be Green, but I think it should be Chavez. What say you?

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