This year in Atlanta Braves baseball has been marred by injury and a failed attempt to get anything worthwhile out of previous starting outfielders Nate McLouth and the former Atlanta Brave Jordan Schafer.
Yet one major force has presented itself to the big club in the form of a speed demon from the Dominican Republic—Jose Constanza.
Constanza came from an Indians organization that just didn't seem to want him in the bigs. Despite winning two MVP awards in the Dominican Summer League and the minors, despite being named to several All-Star teams, and despite keeping an average close to .300 the past two seasons before the Cleveland Indians let him go, Constanza never caught on with the Injuns.
Flash forward to last offseason, when the Braves signed him as a minor league free agent. He cost them little to nothing and had tremendous upside. It happened to be perfect for Jose that McLouth went down and Schafer was traded for Michael Bourn.
Jose came in when McLouth went down and started off red hot. Bourn came in with more speed. It gave manager Fredi Gonzalez two awesome tools at the top and bottom of the lineup to bookend speed and hitting ability, stimulating this lineup and bringing the Braves energy they lacked heading into the All-Star break.
I think the Braves need to treat Constanza the right way. When this season is over, they need to pay him decently. But, most importantly, I think Jose deserves the starting left field spot. This is why.
1. Jose Constanza has excellent defensive skills.
Constanza has excellent speed and a great arm, which will be helpful in patrolling the left field for the Braves. With the Braves facing a majority of righty hitters, Constanza's speed in getting to the ball coupled with his arm strength will keep runners at third and prevent runs. Constanza also has a good understanding of fielding and has excellent instincts tracking the ball.
Another trait that makes it easy for the Braves to trust him in left field: he is committed to getting the job done, even if that includes a full layout. Jose is glad to be in the bigs, flying on planes instead of riding in raggedy buses and eating fast food. He is more than willing to give what he needs to in order to stay in the bigs, including putting life and limb in jeopardy for a fly ball.
2. He can hit well.
One thing the Braves needed was a solid power hitting righty hitter. Dan Uggla finally stepped up, which made it easier for the Braves to be more comfortable with Constanza. They were talent-rich in terms of lefties, but Constanza brings a new aspect to it.
He isn't going to seek the long ball (even though he has already hit two—matching his previous season high in the minors), but rather is a pure line drive hitter who, if he hits it in the gap, has the possibility of getting a triple or even an inside the park home run.
He's got a good eye at the plate, evidenced by his .382 batting average at the time this article was written. He also gets himself on base, sporting a .414 on base percentage; that turns into run production, with Jose having already scored 13 runs in 15 games. His .545 slugging percentage is a fluke (of sorts), a product of only having 55 at bats.
Yet, he is still hitting well (check out his in-depth stats compliments of Baseball Reference) and you will see that he is hitting well above average.
3. He is a speed demon.
According to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Martin Prado was asked about his first impression of Jose Constanza. Prado could only utter one word: "Fast."
Have you seen this guy run? He looks like a blur running around the bases and it is hard to find that kind of speed.
Don Sutton, a broadcaster for the Atlanta Braves on their SportSouth network, made a comment about having Michael Bourn and Jose Constanza on base together by hoping someone would have hit a ball in a gap so he could "watch the track meet" start.
He has blazing speed, something the Braves have drastically missed over the past few years. I think back to the days when the Braves had guys like Rafael Furcal, Marcus Giles, and others who could burn it up. It's good to finally see Michael Bourn and Jose Constanza, who can rip it up on the base paths.
For example, the game on 8/14/2011 against the Chicago Cubs featured Constanza walking in the bottom of the fourth, stealing second on the next pitch, and then stealing third on a strikeout pitch to Brandon Beachy. Michael Bourn walked and stole second, putting two speed demons in scoring position. It is this brand of baseball that will benefit the Braves down the road.
In short, I honestly see a great opportunity for the Braves to save a little money and maximize what they have with Jose Constanza. Put him on a permanent basis in left field. What downside is there?