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Nate McLouth to Bat Third for Braves, Man Right Field in the Future?

Scott MillerCorrespondent IJune 5, 2009

ST. LOUIS - SEPTEMBER 12:  Nate McLouth  #59 of the Pittsburgh Pirates prepares to bat during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on September 12, 2005 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Cardinals won 4-3.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

I wrote yesterday that Nate McLouth was destined to be the Braves' new leadoff hitter. 

I was wrong.

Though the game was rained out, Bobby Cox's lineup against right-hander Carlos Zambrano had Kelly Johnson continuing to lead off (and he's been smoking hot lately), with Yunel Escobar batting second.

McLouth was slotted to bat third.

Longtime Braves fans might be confused by this. Isn't Chipper Jones always and forever our third hitter?

Apparently Chipper isn't as stubborn about his spot in the order as I thought.

The last time Chipper batted anywhere but third was in 2007, when he enjoyed a .419 average in 31 at-bats batting fourth.

Chipper apparently thought it was the right move as well, as he told the Associated Press.

"I talked to Bobby about it and told him I was open to whatever is best for the club," said Chipper. "I don't know if this is permanent. We'll see. If I get more RBI opportunities out of it, I'll be happy with it. I make no bones about it, I'd prefer to hit third, but I've always been willing to try to do what's best for the club."

Bobby said McLouth can hit anywhere in "the top three," so should Kelly's hot streak be followed by a cold streak (as they usually are), then McLouth could still eventually land atop the order.

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McLouth had been batting third in Pittsburgh since the middle of last season, and his power warrants a spot lower than leadoff. Sandwiched between Escobar (who bats right) and Chipper (switch-hitter), they could still avoid piling up too many lefties or righties, as batting him leadoff would also do. 

But with Kelly and Escobar swinging hot bats, it's a very logical move to give McLouth more RBI opportunities. He is, after all, now the Braves' team leader in home runs and RBI.

While the Pirates lost their top RBI man, it became apparent yesterday that they were as ready to make the deal as the Braves were. 

After the trade, they immediately called up their top prospect, center fielder Andrew McCutchen. The speedster was in the lineup leading off yesterday afternoon, scoring twice and stealing a base.

Although the Pirates signed McLouth to a modestly priced three-year extension (with a fourth year option) in Spring Training, great news for Atlanta, their center fielder of the future was always McCutchen.

Was McLouth destined to be a right fielder in Pittsburgh?

A Gold Glove winner, McLouth may actually end up a right fielder in Atlanta as well. Jordan Schafer is likely still in the Braves' plans to man center field at some point, with Jason Heyward holding down left field. 

So where does that leave Jeff Francoeur? Likely traded before the end of the 2010 season. 

Before this year, Kansas City expressed a lot of interest in the struggling youngster, so much so as to spark rumors of a deal for Zack Greinke (yes, that Zack Greinke). The Royals have continued to show interest this season, as have the Red Sox, and are likely to use Francoeur as a defensive replacement late in games.

With McLouth under contract through 2012, the Braves can afford to let Schafer and Heyward build up more experience in the minors before cementing their place in the Atlanta outfield.

Francoeur may be the odd man out.

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