Spring Training Stock Watch:
The Atlanta Braves currently have a 7-4-1 record this spring and appear to be rounding into shape for Opening Day. Chipper is back at third, Uggla is in town and Freddie and Jason are providing plenty of excitement.
Here are some of the guys who have improved or hurt their chances of breaking camp with Atlanta.
Nate McLouth — After a dismal season in 2010 (I would write the full stat line but why point out any more than he hit under .200 and was sent to the minors at one point), McLouth looks to be the weakest member of the Braves lineup. However, he has shown signs this spring that he may be playing more like he was still in Pittsburgh.
In 15 at-bats, he has more hits (seven) than he did all of last spring (six) and is getting on base at a .636 rate. With a home run and stolen base as well, McLouth is showing that he may still be a key part of the lineup as the Braves look to challenge the Phillies in the NL East.
Freddie Freeman — Freeman has had the first base job since the end of last season, but it’s reassuring to see the young slugger hitting his way through the Grapefruit League. With a .458 batting average (that includes three doubles) Freeman has proven everyone right so far and left no doubt about who should be starting at first base.
Ed Lucas — Lucas came into camp with an outside shot to snatch a utility role on the Braves bench, and has increased his chances greatly with a strong performance this spring. With seven hits in just 16 at-bats, Lucas has shown he may add value on offense while being a Swiss army knife on the bench.
Lucas can play all four infield positions and has experience at all three outfield spots (although he isn’t exceptionally gifted at any position) and has worked his way into a battle with Diory Hernandez and Brandon Hicks for one of the final bench spots.
Brandon Beachy — After his breakout season last year, Beachy was on everyone’s radar, but most people figured Mike Minor would run away with the fifth spot in the starting rotation. While Minor has been good (1.80 ERA), Beachy has been the more impressive hurler thus far.
Although his ERA is twice Minor’s Beachy has struck out seven batters while walking none in five innings, showing continued command and the ability to keep batters off base. As Beachy and Minor get stretched out and pitch more than a couple innings per start, the battle should heat up.
Who Should Get the Last Bullpen Spot
Christian Martinez — The forgotten man in last year’s bullpen, Martinez has pitched well this spring and could land himself the long reliever role. Third on the team with 5.2 innings pitched to date, Martinez hasn’t allowed a run while striking out six and walking just one.
If he can continue to pound the strike zone and keep runners off base (just three total have reached so far), Martinez could be there for the Braves when a started falters early in the game.
Jordan Schafer — Due to Nate McLouth's struggles, Schafer has been given seemingly every opportunity to win the fourth outfielder job despite his bad performances since his wrist injury in 2009.
While McLouth has been stellar this spring, Schafer is hitting just .214 in 28 at-bats (although he has stolen a pair of bases) and has walked only once. The Braves obviously think Schafer can still live up to the high expectations once placed upon him, but it’s looking like he will have to begin 2011 in the minors trying to find his swing.
Joe Mather — Mather had about an even shot of winning a bench role on this year’s team, but has been outplayed thus far by some other fringe roster candidates. He has just three hits in 19 at-bats and has made an error in the field.
Earlier this spring he was compared to Jayson Werth (for his size, not his hitting ability, but still) but he hasn’t come anywhere close to producing like Werth in spring training.
Brooks Conrad — The hits keep coming for Conrad. After some critical errors in the NLDS, Conrad came into 2011 looking for a fresh start on the Braves bench. However, he has struggled this spring and might not get that chance.
He already made an error in the field, but that’s to be expected. What wasn’t expected are his struggles at the plate, where he has just two hits in 16 at-bats and has whiffed five times. If he can’t be an above average offensive bench player, the Braves would be wise to leave him in the minors.
Scott Proctor — Last year Proctor was supposed to finish his rehab and join Atlanta to give them a veteran presence in the bullpen. Things didn’t go according to plan, as Proctor struggled in the minors and the majors with the Braves.
However, he got a new contract with the hope that he could fill a bullpen spot with some quality innings. His struggles have continued this spring, as proctor has a 6.75 ERA and has walked four batters in four innings thus far.
Old Relievers — This group consists of the Braves veterans in the pen: Peter Moylan, Scott Linebrink and George Sherril. All three have struggled early in spring training but are essentially guaranteed a spot on the roster.
Sherril is coming off a terrible year and Linebrink and Moylan weren’t as good in 2010 as previous years, so hopefully they are just shaking off some rust. If not, the Braves young relievers Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters are sure to be worked early and often should they be the only reliable options in the pen.