After a year in which the Braves outfield was one of the worst in the majors, Atlanta now has a plethora of options for all of the outfield spots, which could lead Frank Wren to deal at some point this season.
The Braves have 7 outfielders are major league ready, and might only be carrying four (although 5 is more likely) at the start of the season.
The options do give Frank Wren plenty of options if he wants to complete a trade to improve the organizational depth on the left side of the infield.
The Corner Starters
After acquiring starting pitchers and a backup catcher, Frank Wren got his final off-season goal accomplished with the signing of Garret Anderson. Anderson will patrol left field in 2009, and he should give the Braves a nice run producer in the middle of the lineup.
Although he won’t hit a ton of homeruns, Anderson has driven in at least 80 runs in the past four years, and should continue that trend, even if he only gets around 450 at-bats.
With a one-year contract, it is highly unlikely that Anderson will be around after 2009.
A career .296/.327/.469 hitter, Anderson is a lock to play as long as he is healthy, and should produce around a .285/15/85 line for the Braves this season.
By now, most people have heard about Francoeur’s terrible production in 2008 despite reports that he was going to find his power stroke after gaining 15 pounds of muscle. The off-season saw Frenchy undergo another transformation, as he has lost weight and changed his batting stance.
He is still only 25 years old, and still has room to figure things out before being labeled a bust. He has shown the ability to hit for average (.293 in 2007) and power (29 homeruns in 2006) while driving in runs (100+ RBI in both 2006 and 2007) and hopefully will be able to put it all together in 2009.
Expect to see numbers around .275/25/100 for 2009. Francoeur could prove to be an interesting commodity for the Braves, as if he plays well he could contend for a spot in the middle of the line-up, or bring his trade value up for Wren to move him to open spots for the many other major league ready outfielders
The Centerfield Battle
Anderson came to Atlanta following the 2007 season in a trade that sent Oscar Villareal to Houston.
Anderson can bring something to the table that the Braves have been lacking for a long time, speed. In just 40 games last season Anderson stole 10 bases while getting caught just once.
In 6 seasons in the minors, Anderson has swiped 280 bases (47 per year) while constantly hitting for a high average (.294). In his limited MLB action, Anderson has hit .315.
He doesn’t have much power, and likely would only produce 5-10 homeruns a season. However, the biggest knack on Anderson is his low on-base percentage, which was only .340 in the minors and a measly .338 last season.
Although he has tremendous speed, the low on-base percentage means he would not be ideal in the leadoff spot, and may eventually lead him to a spot on the bench as a pinch hitter and pinch runner. He is out of options, so look for Anderson to stick with the major league club at least through 2009.
Many regard Schafer as the third best prospect in the Braves organization (after Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward).
Some predicted that he would be patrolling center in Atlanta at some point during the 2008 season. Instead, Schafer was suspended 50 games for suspected use of HGH (there is no test) and quickly saw his chances of making his debut in 2008 fade away.
Upon returning, he tried to hard to produce and saw a decrease in his numbers. By the last month of the season, his numbers were back to normal, and Schafer was back on the fast track to the majors.
With a sizzling spring (.372/.413/.535 with 1 homerun and 5 stolen bases), Schafer has emerged as a great option for the centerfield job on opening day.
He has some speed, and he might be an option for leadoff hitter while his power is still developing. Look for Schafer to win the centerfield job and patrol the position in 2009 and for years to come in Atlanta.
After two years of stellar play in platoons, Diaz got the chance to start in 2008. However, a knee injury ruined his season, and even when he played he was unable to produce at the level projected.
For a time, it seemed that Diaz was again destined to be a platoon player (.328/.361/.508 career line against lefties), but the signing of Garret Anderson will likely give him a spot on the bench instead.
Diaz has shown that he can hit at the major league level (career .309 average) and has had a hot spring. He has hit a respectable .288 against righties in his career, so he could be an everyday starter somewhere.
Diaz is a great bench option, but he might have the most trade value of any outfielder on the Braves bench.
During his 2008 rookie season, Blanco struggled to hit for average (.251) while playing in 144 games. He did record a relatively high on-base percentage (.366) though.
Coming into 2009, Blanco was competing for the centerfield job, but it appears that he has fallen behind both Anderson and Schafer.
Blanco has proven that he has the ability to play in the major leagues, although he probably will never offer very much in the way of average (.274 in the minors) or power (only 19 extra base hits in 400+ at bats last year).
With playing time, Blanco will likely continue to get on base, and offer a reasonable amount of steals.
Blanco hit .400 in the World Baseball Classic, but has hit only .200 since returning to the Braves spring camp. He projects as a fourth outfielder at the major league level.
There isn’t much room for him in the Braves outfield this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the team tried to move him, as his ability to play all three outfield positions will increase his value on the trade market. Don’t be surprised if Blanco was put in a deal to acquire organizational depth on the left side of the infield.
Brandon Jones seemed to be the forgotten man in the Braves outfield after a difficult season in 2008.
Not long ago, Jones was one of the clubs top 3 prospects and looked at as a future everyday corner outfielder. There was talk of Jones spending a large amount of time in Atlanta in 2008, but that never materialized. After a slow start in spring training, Jones had a disappointing year that led many to believe that he no longer had as high of a ceiling as once believed.
However, Brandon Jones has shown in spring training that he is still capable of posting terrific numbers, and is a major league ready outfielder. So far this spring, Jones has hit .400. He is capable of producing decent power and speed numbers in the future.
Although Jones has shown that he is probably ready for the majors in 2009, it appears that the amount of outfielders will keep him in the minor leagues.
Don’t be surprised to see him in Atlanta if there is an injury, and he will likely still be around in 2010, when he possibly could play left field if Jason Heyward still needs seasoning.
Down on the Farm
Heyward is only 19, yet he had been rated as one of the baseball’s top 5 prospects by Baseball America.
In 2008 he dominated the South Atlantic League, before finishing with a brief stint in Myrtle Beach. Blessed with speed, power and the ability to hit for a good average, Heyward will eventually become a mainstay of the Atlanta outfield.
The Braves invited him to spring training this year, and he has continued to hit well, posting .316 batting average and swatting 2 homeruns. Heyward will definitely need more seasoning in 2009, and possibly in 2010, but he will be in the majors by the time he is 21.
If the Braves had traded Edgar Renteria for only Jair Jurrjens, they would have easily won that deal with the Tigers. However, the Braves also got the speedy outfielder, Gorkys Hernandez.
Although Hernandez struggled some in 2008 in his first taste of High A ball, he still has the skills to eventually patrol the outfield in Atlanta.
While his batting average dropped in 2008, he increased his walk rate, a trait that could lead him to project into a leadoff hitter in the majors. He has blazing speed, having swiped an average of over 30 bases a year in his three minor league stops.
I can’t see him making an impact in the majors until 2011 (at the earliest), but Hernandez could eventually make a huge impact in Atlanta.
While the other two prospects are highly regarded throughout baseball, Johnson is somewhat of a question mark. After dominating in 2007 (.305 batting average and 17 homeruns in 243 at bats) he saw a huge decline in batting average in 2008 (although he still showed tremendous power).
If Johnson can cut back on his strikeout rate, and bring his walk rate up, he should be able to hit in the .275 range. If Johnson can accomplish this, he could make it to the major leagues and possibly post incredible homerun totals.
He hasn’t played above low A ball so far, so Johnson is still a while away from making any impact.
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