2008 Positional Preview: Bench Part 1
2007 Stats: .269/.363/.500 at Myrtle Beach (78 AB), .243/.304/.328 at Mississippi (296 AB), 2/3 at Atlanta
Pros: Some say that defense is the most important thing for a backup catcher. If that is true, then Sammons is your man. the 24-year old Georgia-native is widely regarded as one of the top defensive catching prospects in baseball, combing good instincts, mobility, and mechanics with a plus arm. Sammons wreaks havoc on the opponent's running game as he ranked second in he minors, catching 50% of potential base-stealers.
Cons: His bat really isn't much. He doesn't hit for much average or power and although his plate discipline isn't awful, it isn't a strength either. Basically, he is a typical back-up catcher who could at the very least provide a little bit of pop to go along with an average in the .230-.240 range. The other negative is experience. Sammons has a little more than a half-season above A-ball in his pro career.
Overall: Sammons is a catcher very much in the mold of Brian Schneider. He is pretty much exactly what you'd want in a backup with at least some knowledge of how to use a bat and excellent defense. Whether he starts the season with Atlanta is down to whether Bobby values performance or experience more for Brian McCann's backup. Either way, I think we'll see Sammons backing up McCann for the majority of the season.
2007 Stats: N/A
Pros: If Bobby Cox is looking for someone to mentor Brian McCann, Lopez is definitely the best candidate. The 37-year old backstop has 13 major league seasons under his belt (ten with Atlanta) and could be a help along McCann's development. Another thing Lopez has is familiarity. Bobby Cox is once again going to ask the backup catcher to start once every five days. Lopez has much more experience catching Tom Glavine and John Smoltz --- the two most likely to be pitching to the backup --- than does Sammons.
Cons: Did I mention that Javy is 37? Lopez has caught nearly 1500 games over the course of his major league career. That's a lot of wear and tear on his body no matter how great he is feeling coming into the season. The wear and aging has been very apparent over the past couple seasons on both sides of the ball. Never known for his defense, Lopez was pretty atrocious there in 2006. While he hit pretty well for a backup catcher with the Orioles in '06, after being dealt to the Red Sox he absolutely bombed. Even if that was just a fluke, Lopez has two more years of aging since then and has been out of baseball for an entire year. Let's just say, catchers are not like fine wines.
Overall: Lopez is a nice feel-good story, especially with Tom Glavine making his return as well. I do think he could help McCann along but at what cost? Todd Pratt was brought in for his experience but I doubt I could find any Braves fans who want him back. I think Lopez is going to be a nice guy to have around during spring training and he might even start out with the Braves based on his experience but I just can't see him lasting.
2007 Stats: .293/.368/.507 at Mississippi (365 AB), .300/.636/.453 at Richmond (170 AB), 3/19 at Atlanta
Pros: Jones offensive potential is pretty far above the rest of the candidates battling for this spot. He is the only one that is regarded as future starter and his average, power, and on base ability probably can't be matched by the other two vying for this spot. He's got a reasonably good arm and plays an above-average leftfield as well.
Cons: Defense is the big knock on Jones. While he is pretty good in left and right, Jones is limited to the corners. He just doesn't have the range or instincts to play centerfield in the majors. The big problem is that center will almost certainly be the most frequented outfield position by Atlanta's fourth outfielder in 2008. That means that carrying him as a fourth outfielder or platoon player would necessitate carrying one of the other two candidates who can handle center defensively.
Overall: Jones' talent may be his biggest roadblock to the majors. It makes more sense for him to get regular at-bats in triple-A than to sit on the bench with Atlanta if he isn't going to get significant playing time. Jones would make for a nice lefty off the bench but his hope for the majors lies in platoon role in left. If he performs well in spring training, he'll probably start the season with Atlanta. If he doesn't capitalize on the opportunity, he'll probably be sent back down. Either way, I think we'll see Jones platooning in left for a good amount of time in 2008.
2007 Stats: .273/.325/.341 at Round Rock (513 AB), .358/.413/.403 (67 AB)
Pros: Speed. Anderson is an absolute burner on the basepaths and has the baserunning ability to turn that into a lot of steals. Defense is the other thing working in his favor. He can play all three outfield spots and although his instincts aren't the best, his speed allows him to make up for most mistakes, making him an above-average defender.
Cons: At the plate, Anderson leaves a lot to be desired. He is a slap hitter in every sense of the term who strikes out too much and doesn't walk enough. All that means he's almost certainly in for a low average and combined with the small number of walks, he just won't be able to get on base enough to really make his speed a big threat.
Overall: He's a guy worth having around to use as a pinch hitter and late-inning defensive replacement but relying on him for more than a couple starts in center could be an issue (and with Kotsay, that'll probably happen). He's got a very good chance to make the team out of spring training and receive a start here and there, but if Mark Kotsay goes down for an extended amount of time, hello Mr. Schafer.
2007 Stats: .282/.369/.362 at Richmond (464 AB), .345/.445/.485 in VWL (229 AB)
Pros: Blanco's positives are similar to those of Josh Anderson: speed and defense. He has well above average speed and is very impressive in center. He's got good range, instincts, and a slightly above-average arm in center. He's also got the ability to play all three outfield positions.
Cons: While he is fast, Blanco lacks the baserunning instincts to turn that speed into steals. He managed only 23 steals in 41 attempts last year and that percentage isn't really a benefit to a team. He also isn't much of a hitter. Just like Anderson he is a slap hitter who strikes out quite a bit. He does draw a very good number of walks but doesn't make solid contact all that consistently.
Overall: Blanco is definitely the dark horse of the three. He isn't really regarded as even a decent prospect and it seems that most people don't believe he'll hold up against major league pitching. The fact that he didn't receive a September call-up last year probably speaks volumes to what the organization sees him as. I think there is an outside shot of him being a decent fourth outfielder but he'd really have to put on a show in spring training to have a shot.
This past season was not a pretty year for the Atlanta bench. The two men who were brought in to fortify Bobby Cox's reserves --- Chris Woodward and Craig Wilson --- both managed an OPS below .570. They combined with miserable performances from Scott Thorman, Ryan Langerhans, Pete Orr, and Brayan Pena among others to form a bench that can best be described as a catastrophic failure. Atlanta pinch hitters posted a .559 OPS, good for dead last in the NL and ahead of only the Royals, Rays, and Athletics in the majors. Frank Wren acted quickly to try and solve this problem, bringing in infielder Omar Infante from the Cubs. The acquisition of Infante will be supplimented by a talented group of youngsters competing for bench roles this season, meaning the outlook is much better for 2008. I'll be looking at the backup catcher and possible outfield reserves in part 1 with the infield coming in my next installment.