In November, the Braves were looking at an outfield composed of Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, and B.J. Upton. The latter Upton appeared to be tabbed for a part time role after two miserable seasons. It looked like one of the most productive outfield units in the game.
Instead, Atlanta audibled from JUpton and Heyward before they could leave via free agency, and they sold high on Gattis. They’re left with the weaker Upton and an entirely new outfield for 2015.
The work of the offseason has cobbled together an odd unit. The club has three veterans of dubious value, a former prospect, and a Cuban import. Let’s get down to the details.
There’s a player missing from this picture – Dian Toscano. The recent Cuban signee isn’t in our database yet, hence his exclusion from the depth chart. According to Baseball America’s Ben Badler, Toscano is a left-handed hitter with “good bat control and strike-zone awareness.” He’s expected to play left field due to suspect arm strength, but he also has the speed for center field.
If the Braves are comfortable using him in left and center field, it will give them the opportunity to platoon Jonny Gomes and Upton. Gomes has lost some punch in recent seasons, but he continues to threaten left-handed pitchers. Even in a down season, he posted a .276/.373/.371 slash against southpaws. He’ll find his way to the bench as soon as a righty enters the game.
Zoilo Almonte makes for an interesting fifth outfielder. The switch hitter is better from the left side, so he’s another platoon candidate with Gomes. He’s entering his age 26 season. He’s demonstrated 20 home run power in the minors and can swipe a few bases when given enough playing time. His versatility should be a boon to the mix-and-match Atlanta outfield.
Upton will get another chance to shake off the rust, if only because his contract is completely unmovable. His mixture of power and speed makes him a dangerous but useful fantasy asset. Even though his batting average will hurt, there are only so many players with the ability to accrue 40 home runs plus steals (HR+SB).
An optimist might look at the weak Braves lineup and see an important role for Upton. A pessimist will notice Toscano and Almonte lurking in the periphery. Another slow start from Upton, and he might be pinch running for Gomes.
The Braves inked Nick Markakis relatively early in the offseason. It was a curious decision at the time, and it’s only more unusual now. He’s an adequate lead off hitter due to a high contact approach at the plate. After offseason neck surgery, his status for opening day is in question.
I can only assume the Braves intend to re-market him at the trade deadline when his particular skill set is highly coveted. Once he’s back on the field, he’ll provide a little stability and veteran leadership. If he misses time, Almonte and Gomes are probably the most likely to cover the position.
With apologies to the first three names on the list, they’re all perfectly adequate replacement level fodder. Constanza was outrighted off the 40-man roster this winter, so he’s the least likely to contribute.
Johnson may get a chance to earn the starting job at second base, although he’ll have to beat out three players on the 40-man roster. He’s a non-roster invitee (NRI) to spring training. If the club decides to send Jace Peterson to Triple-A, Johnson may have the opportunity to fill a super utility role.
Perez, the former Nationals prospect, is entering his age 25 season with a track record of success at Triple-A. An aggressive approach and reliance on a high BABIP may explain why he hasn’t been given a chance in the majors. His speed should allow him to help as a pinch runner and defensive replacement at the very least. In terms of fantasy profile, I’m reminded of Ender Inciarte. If he plays, he can be a useful source of stolen bases.
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