Over seven weeks this summer, The Times will examine the Braves’ depth at each position from the big-league club in Atlanta through the minors.
June 17: Starting pitching A
June 24: Relief pitching A-
July 1: Catcher A
July 8: First base B+
July 15: Middle infield C
July 22: Third base
July 27: Outfield
Even with the addition of Dan Uggla, the Atlanta Braves had some vulnerabilities in their middle infield spots entering 2011.
Uggla, brought in to give the lineup some right-handed punch, has had defensive difficulities throughout his career. Meanwhile, shortstop Alex Gonzalez isn't a great hitter, but makes up for any shortcomings at the plate with solid glovework in the field.
But with Uggla struggling mightily in his first season in Atlanta, and Gonzalez hitting below his career numbers, those expected vulnerabilities have become full-fledged weaknesses through the team's first 92 games.
Uggla's power numbers are in line with his career norms, but his batting average is the worst in the National League among regular starters and he ranks near the bottom in most defensive categories.
And while Gonzalez remains in the upper tier of defensive shortstops in the league, his on-base percentage ranks better than only Uggla and Milwaukee's Yuniesky Betancourt in the NL.
Both players' career averages say they'll improve in the second half of the season; that may be necessary if the Braves hope to chase down the Phillies in the East.
Contract terms: 5 years/$62M, through 2015
2011 stats: .185, 15 HR, 34 RBIs, .257 OBP, .365 SLG
Career: .255, 169 HR, 499 RBIs, .340 OBP, .475 SLG in 5 1/2 seasons
Notes: Uggla may well be on the back end of his prime year, but there's nothing in his career numbers to suggest he won't bounce back from his abysmal first 90-plus games in Atlanta. The Braves, who signed Uggla to a lengthy extension prior to the season, hope he returns to form and stays there for a while.
Contract terms: 1 year/$2.75M
2011 stats: .231, 7 HR, 27 RBIs, .263 OBP, .343 SLG
Career: .247, 144 HR, 636 RBIs, .292 OBP, .398 SLG in 11 1/2 seasons
Notes: It remains unclear what the Braves plan to do at shortstop after the current season. Gonzalez, one of nine potential starters eligible for free agency this winter, is a known commodity, likely available for a reasonable price if the Braves choose to hold the line for another season until a viable homegrown option is available in the farm system.
Position: 2B, SS, 3B
2011 stats: 2 hits in 20 at-bats, 2 RBIs
Notes: Acquired to give the Braves some infield depth, especially during the absence of Martin Prado. With Prado rehabbing and Chipper Jones on the disabled list, Lugo has received some starts at third base, but is only a short-term depth solution.
Position: 2B, 3B
2011 stats: .247, 3 HR in 69 plate appearances
Notes: Conrad's ability to come through in clutch situations is uncanny, but he won't likely be considered for a starting job.
Position: SS, 3B
2011 stats: 1 hit in 22 at-bats
Notes: Hicks has shown plenty of pop in the minors, hitting 14 home runs in 55 games with Gwinnett this season, but that success has yet to translate to the big leagues.
INTO THE FUTURE
Position: SS, 2B
Notes: Last year's 1st-round draft pick has yet to produce this season in Single-A after torching the rookie league last season. The highly athletic Lipka could shift to CF.
Position: SS, 2B
Notes: Acquired in the deal that brought Alex Gonzalez to Atlanta, Pastornicky is having his best minor league season, hitting .302 in Double-A this year.
Notes: Simmons was a
2nd-round pick last year and is considered the team's best defensive prospect. He's hitting .299 at High-A this season.
Notes: Yet another 2010 draft pick (5th round), Gosselin hit .294 with two home runs last season in Single-A and sports a .287 average and 42 RBIs in High-A this year.
Current roster: C
Organizational depth: B
An optmistic grade, based on the belief that the big leaguers will improve in the season’s second half.
The organization has made a push to bolster its minor league depth in recent years, as evidenced by the fact that the Braves have selected 14 middle infielders in the last two drafts.
While those efforts have stocked the minors with potential long-term solutions, there appear to be few game-changing prospects waiting in the wings.
Pastornicky is expected to be the first called up, but whether or not he projects as an everyday player remains up for debate.