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filling-that-last-bench-spot | December | 2010 Articles

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Filling That Last Bench Spot

Written by Joe Lucia on .

I realize I've been talking about the Braves bench a lot. But the thing is, that really is the only thing we can talk about. The bullpen spots will apparently be filled from within, the starting lineup and rotation appear to be set...all that's left is the bench. Let's get a quick recap first. 3 slots on the 5 man bench are filled, by David Ross, Joe Mather, and the recently re-signed Eric Hinske. Hinske and Mather play essentially the same positions, so don't be surprised if Mather spends the year in AAA. 2 slots left on the bench. One of those slots needs to be filled by a middle infielder, and that race is between Diory Hernandez and Brooks Conrad. I'd say Hernandez has the inside track on this spot due to his defense. Conrad's bat is much, much better than Hernandez's, but with his October failures still fresh in fans' minds, Fredi Gonzalez may be more inclined to go with the slick defender instead of the iron gloved boomstick.

That leaves the Braves with one spot on the bench, Its pretty obvious what the team is missing when you look at the current bench, and that is a defensive-minded outfielder that can play centerfield. If Nate McLouth struggles, the Braves are screwed. They need to have someone on the bench that can immediately step in and spell McLouth if he's having platoon split issues. Also, the team needs someone that can step in as a late game defensive replacement if the need arises. There are 2 men on the 40-man roster that could fill this slot, and one guy who's name popped up in trade rumors today that could be an interesting option.

Jordan Schafer. The Braves' former top prospect, and the team's starting center fielder for the first 2 months of 2009, hasn't been fully healthy since the first week of the 2009 season. He broke his wrist after that week, and has been dealing with problems with it ever since. Last season, Schafer spent the year all across the rainbow of Braves' minor league affiliates, and his season was a complete disaster. Over 274 at bats in Rome, Gwinnett, and Mississippi, Schafer put up a ghastly line of .201/.268/.255 with 64 strikeouts, and went 12/22 on the basepaths. That season was a far cry from the 20 year old who blew the doors off of Rome and Myrtle Beach with a line of .312/.374/.513, or the 21 year old who rebounded from an HGH suspension with Mississippi to go for a solid .269/.378/.471. He's going to be a 24 year old for most of the 2011 season, and before the Braves rush him back up to the majors, I think they should let him get his swagger back in Gwinnett and prove that the wrist is fully healthy. If his wrist is good to go, I think he'll be the starting center fielder in 2012, with McLouth's $10.65 million club option looking pretty ugly for the Braves at this point.

Matt Young. Young is a guy who's worked his way up the ladder the hard way, and the next logical step for him is the major leagues. Young spent parts of 2006 to 2009 with Mississippi, and in 2010, he finally got his shot to play the whole year in Gwinnett. I'd say the promotion was a success, as he put together a solid .300/.380/.407 line with a great 39/46 success rate on the bases, and he also walked more than he struck out for the 5th time in 6 seasons. He'll hit for a decent average, walk at a good rate, not strike out a ton, and steals bases an above average clip. Pretty much, he's the perfect fourth outfielder. He's my personal choice to get the final bench spot, because he's worked his ass off since being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2004 out of New Mexico.

Finally, one name that you may not have heard of, but who was linked to the Braves through some tweets this morning.

Lorenzo Cain. Who in the hell is Lorenzo Cain? He was drafted by Milwaukee in 2004, and his career minor league numbers look like a yo-yo's path. In 2005, his OPS was .936. It dipped to .809 in 2006 in his first year in full-season ball. 2007, his OPS dropped again in the FSL, this time to .683. Then, 2008...Cain split the year between the FSL and the Southern League, and his OPS rose to .804. 2009 was a horrible, injury-riddled year for Cain and his OPS fell to a brtual .624. 2010 was Cain's coming out party, as he spent time in AA, AAA and the majors, OPSing .834 in the minors and .763 in the majors. Cain doesn't have great power, but like Young, has above average speed and is efficient on the basepaths. Unlike Young though, Cain strikes out a lot and doesn't walk enough to help balance it out. The Brewers have interest in dealing Cain because their corner outfield spots are spoken for (Corey Hart, Ryan Braun), and center field is apparently still going to belong to Carlos Gomez, he of the fantastic defense and horrible bat skills. The Brewers need young arms, and I'd assume they'd ask for one in return for Cain if they were looking to deal him. I think someone like a Mike Minor or a Brandon Beachy is too high of a price, but that someone like Erik Cordier would be a fair return. Cain will turn 25 2 weeks into the season, so he's younger than Young and has a little more room to grow. Young would probably help the team more now, but Cain could help the team more in the future.
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