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2008-positional-preview-bench-part-2 | February | 2008 Articles

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2008 Positional Preview: Bench Part 2

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We took a look at possible backup catchers and outfielders last time, which brings us to our final installment of the positional previews. I'll be breaking down the candidates for backup infield spots. This is a group that was led by Scott Thorman and Chris Woodward last year, so you know how high the bar is set for this season's utility men (That was a joke for all those who didn't pick up on that small bit of sarcasm). Omar Infante 2007 Stats: .271/.307/.355 at Detroit (166 AB) Pros: Infante is a utility man in every sense of the term. The 26-year is an infielder by trade, however he also has the ability to play all three outfield positions. While playing for Detroit last year, the only two defensive positions Infante did not see time at were catcher and first base. He is also quite the solid hitter as far as utility men go. Infante doesn't hit for a high average or have much power, but he's decent in every area of his offensive game. Cons: Defensively, he's average overall but is a sub-par defender at short, where he'll probably be asked to play a significant amount. Also, Infante has had two full years where he's batted right around .220 so while the odds are he's going to hit in the .260-.270 range, there is still that possibility. Injury is another concern, albeit a minor one. Infante broke his left hand and is expected to be out until the final week of March. He should be ready by opening day but will miss almost the entirety of spring training. Overall: Infante is the strong utility man that Atlanta severely lacked last season. He can play all over the diamond and should be a valuable pinch hitter who can spell Kelly Johnson against tough left-handers. He'll take on the role that Chris Woodward had last year, hopefully with much better results. He's really the only lock of any of the backup candidates. Brent Lillibridge 2007 Stats: .275/.355/.387 at Mississippi (204 AB), .287/.331/.436 at Richmond (321 AB) Pros: There's a pretty long list here, the first of which being that he has more potential than Atlanta's current starting shortstop. Other than that, he's the best defensive infielder that has a shot to make the roster (other than Mark Teixeira) with very good range, instincts, and a plus arm that should make him valuable with the glove all around the infield. At the plate, he has pretty good pop in his bat, can get on base, and has the speed and instincts to be a big running threat once he is on. Cons: His swing is too long, which drives up his strikeout totals, limits him in terms of average, and could make for a rough adjustment period to the majors. He is also the only candidate who has no major league experience. Overall: I think Lillibridge has a pretty good shot at being Atlanta's starting shortstop by the end of this season, but that talent is going to work against his chances at making the opening day roster. Just like Brandon Jones, it makes much more sense for the Braves to give Lillibridge regular at-bats in the minors than to have him sit on the bench in Atlanta. I think we'll see quite a bit of him in 2008, just not to start the season. Brayan Pena 2007 Stats: .212/.212/.303 at Atlanta (33 AB), .301/.341/.423 at Richmond (345 AB) Pros: Despite a lackluster couple of weeks with Atlanta last season, Pena has an impressive bat. The Cuban defector combines good contact skills with gap power and decent plate discipline. He's generally a doubles hitter but can knock a couple out of the park as well. For a very stocky guy, Pena also has decent speed on the basepaths. Though he didn't see much time as Brian McCann's backup last year due to poor defense behind the plate, Pena would make a very good emergency catcher if he is kept on as a utility man. Cons: There's really not too much to complain about here. From what I've heard, Pena is merely serviceable at first and in the outfield. He also got a couple games at third but the guy I talked to didn't see him play there. Anything else is really nitpicking. He may not have the raw power that Bobby generally likes in at least one of his guys off the bench but that doesn't seem like a big issue to me. Overall: Brayan and Scott Thorman are competing for the same spot and neither have any options left. That means it's probably going to come down to who does better in spring training. Right now, I'd put my money on Pena. He's a lot more consistent and Thorman definitely outlined his negatives in his 300 at-bats with the Braves last year. Martin Prado 2007 Stats: .316/.374/.420 at Richmond (395 AB) , .288/.323/.339 at Atlanta (59 AB) Pros: Prado's offensive ability is fairly similar to that of Brayan Pena. He should hit for a pretty high average with good plate discipline and while he lacks a lot of homerun power, Prado also has good gap power and collects a lot of doubles. His glove is another big strength. While his range isn't anything more than average for second and is below average for short, he has very good hands and doesn't make many mistakes. Cons: As I said, it's really a stretch for him to play short so he's pretty much limited to second and third defensively. Just like Pena, anything more here would really just be nitpicking. For a utility man, he just doesn't have many weaknesses. Overall: Prado should grow into a very impressive utility man in the future. He might have a chance to start down the road but with Kelly Johnson at second, it won't be in Atlanta. If he gets a roster spot to start the season --- and he probably will --- there is a good chance that he could pass Infante as Atlanta's top utility infielder by the end of the season. Scott Thorman 2007 Stats: .216/.258/.394 at Atlanta (287 AB) Pros: Thorman has absolutely incredible raw power. When the big Canadian firstbaseman gets a hold of a pitch, he can send it a very long way. He is also decent defensively at first and in left and hustles more than just about any player I've ever seen. Cons: His approach at the plate really doesn't allow him to consistently use that power in games. He showed very poor pitch selection and plate discipline last year and his all-out uppercut swing makes for a very low contact rate, which leads to a poor average and a lot of strikeouts. Overall: Thorman is out of options and competing for a spot with Brayan Pena, who is in the same boat. The 26-year old is already at a disadvantage because of his showing last year so he's probably going to have to outhit Pena this spring to keep his spot on the roster. I really like him as a guy and the way he plays the game but unless he drastically changes his swing, I think he's headed down the same road as Russell Branyan.
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