Was Martin Prado the Key to the Justin Upton Deal and the Future of Baseball?
That was certainly Justin Upton, who will now pair with his brother in the Braves' outfield. Prado is long past prospect status, and his inclusion in the trade—essentially an upgrade over Chris Johnson—surprised many.
But Prado may end up being the key to the trade, not because he has the grit that Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson are looking for, but because he is immensely versatile.
Prado has been a solid third baseman as well as a solid corner outfielder. He's played second base over 200 games and has positive defensive ratings. He could be a very good defensive first baseman, though his bat is a little light for the position.
Essentially, Prado does it all, save pitch and catch.
Prado's versatility is seen by some as a weakness. "Why doesn't he establish himself?" many around the game have grumbled. To me, he is a roster expander. His versatility essentially gives a manager an extra man (or two) on the roster, plus in-game flexibility.
Joe Sheehan agrees, as he told me in an interview, "Prado's versatility has value in-game, allowing his manager to hit for, or double-switch out, just about anyone at any time," said the writer from Sports Illustrated. "More importantly, he can be used to cover short-term injuries at a number of spots without requiring a roster move."
While Tony La Russa's innovations in bullpen usage have taken an infuriating hold on managerial practices, one of his earlier experiments never took. La Russa used Tony Phillips as a super-utility man, but when Phillips went to the Tigers, he shifted more to the outfield. This is likely due to some slowing as he aged, though Phillips was still playing baseball (and fighting) as recently as 2011.
More recent examples of the super-utility player include Chone Figgins and Ryan Freel, but there have been many examples of this throughout the years. The type tends to be an athletic fielder with a league-average bat.
The versatility is what differentiates them, allowing the player to either get to the major leagues or hold that position over a similar player with less versatility.
No team is currently trying to actively develop this kind of player. I spoke off the record with one NL executive recently, and he expressed concerns about complicating development, adding injury risk and confusing players.
Baseball players notably are creatures of habit. Knowing where they are going to play, where they are going to bat and even something as crazy as a pregame meal routine are comforts to some players.
We'll have to see if Kirk Gibson thinks Prado is gritty enough, and whether playing multiple positions will add enough grit to the Diamondbacks roster to use him in that manner.
We may have to wait a while to see another player like this, unless some team agrees with me and tries to take some of their fringe talent and push them up the defensive spectrum.
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