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 B-
July 27: Outfield
It’s been an amazing run for Chipper Jones, and it’s all been spent in Atlanta. He’s a sure-fire Hall of Famer, one of the best switch hitters in the history of the game and he’s not done yet.
But his illustrious career is definitely well into its twilight. The 39-year-old former phenom has flirted with retirement in the past, and his stats have been on the decline since that scorching summer of 2008, when he led the league in both batting average (.368) and on-base percentage (.483).
Since then, nagging injuries have become an even bigger hindrance to the often-nicked superstar. In the last season and a half, he’s played 172 games, hitting .262 with 18 home runs. Those numbers, without even considering his effect in the clubhouse, show he’s still got something to offer on the field. But they also show his best days may be behind him.
THE PAST AND PRESENT
Contract terms: 3 years/$42M, through 2012. Club option for 2013 with base salary of $7M and incentives based on number of games played
2011 stats: .259, 8 HRs, 46 RBIs, .340 OBP
Career: .304, 444 HR, 1537 RBIs, .403 OBP
Notes: Went on the disabled list for knee surgery just before All-Star break and is eligible to return Sunday. He may not be ready by then, as he is expected to begin a rehab stint today in Rome. While all of Jones’ numbers have dipped in recent years, the most surprising might be his on-base percentage, which is down more than 40 points from last season and 63 points from his sparkling career average of .403.
Position: OF, 3B, 2B
Contract terms: 1 years/$3.1M; eligible for arbitration; eligible for free agency after 2013 season
2011 stats: .275, 9 HRs, 36 RBIs, .322 OBP
Career: .302, 38 HR, 195 RBIs, .350 OBP
Notes: Prado’s versatility makes it difficult to project where he fits in the team’s long-term plans. He played second base until this year, when he switched to left field to make room for Dan Uggla. He’s also logged time at third base, and is currently filling in there while Jones is on the disabled list. Though a slow start has hurt his average this season, he was hitting .300 with five homers in the 33 games being sidelined for a month by a staph infection.
MINOR LEAGUE OPTIONS
In short, there aren’t many. The Braves’ upper-minor-league rosters are staffed with journeymen on the wrong side of 25 to still be considered prospects. Brandon Hicks, who has bounced back and forth between Gwinnett and Atlanta is the most notable of these.
There could, however, be a third baseman of the future on the low-A team in Rome.
Position: 3B, SS
Notes: The Braves signed the ballyhooed Domincan prospect with a $1.6 million signing bonus last year. Scouting reports often refer to his skills as “raw,” and usually make mention of his 6-foot-3, muscular frame. He’s hitting .275 with 10 home runs and 14 steals.
Current roster: B+
Organizational depth: C-
It’s tough to grade the current roster without also factoring in Jones’ career achievements, but even excluding that, this is a solid, above average position for the Braves. Much of that grade is due to Prado’s presence. He gives Atlanta a substitute who could start at the hot corner for most teams in the league.