March 11, 2013 at 12:41 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
Franklin and Mark. About what you would expect from us:
OR directly download the mp3:
March 11, 2013 at 12:01 pm by Andrew Sisson under Atlanta Braves
So far, many of the competitions for jobs this spring have gone better than expected. Of course, none have been decided, or will be decided until the end of March, but we can still get a look at who may have the inside track. Competing for the backup shortstop and utility infielder job is Paul Janish, Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky. I have left out Blake DeWitt because he has only played a handful of major and minor league innings at shortstop.
Janish still has yet to play this spring, but he’s continued to rehab from off-season shoulder surgery without any setbacks. Thus far, he has reportedly taken batting practice and fielded ground balls with his return date is still up in the air. Best guesses suggest he will not be “game ready” by opening day. What we saw from Janish last season is basically who he will be, very solid defender and below average hitter. After being acquired last season, he proved to be a replacement level filler in the absence of Andrelton Simmons. At the plate, he has a career .216/.286/.291 slash and a 55 wRC+. Obviously, his glove is his strength that allows him to play up the middle and even at third as a defensive replacement, if needed. According to Cot’s, Janish will make a reasonable $725K next season.
Pena has been an interesting surprise so far this spring. Before leaving to play in the World Baseball Classic, Pena had some quality plate appearances with the Braves that carried over in his limited time team Mexico. I hesitate to post his Braves or WBC stats because the obvious small sample can be misleading, but we’ll just say he has looked good at the plate so far. For his career, he’s posted a .233/.266/.288 with a 43 wRC+ in 338 career plate appearances. Even that is still a relatively small sample, but he’s essentially been a bit worse than Janish at the plate and fairly average with the glove. One positive Pena possesses is that he’s a switch hitter, which doesn’t mean a whole lot when you’re not much of a hitter in the first place, but he will always at least have a platoon advantage. Finally, Pena is out of options, meaning if the Braves wanted to send him down to the minors, he would have to clear through waivers first.
Then there is Tyler Pastornicky. He has also been off to a hot start so far going 13-for-31 with four XBH, two of which have cleared the fence. He has done so facing an opponent quality at a Triple-A level, according to Baseball-Reference. As Mark has mentioned, even though Pastornicky has caught a lot a lot of flack from fans this past year, he’s not a terrible hitter, he’s actually the best of the bunch when he decides to swing with some authority. His major drawback as we know has been on the defensive side of the ball where he has continued to struggle this spring. The Braves have mentioned they would like to attempt to work him at multiple positions, which could suggest that more time at Triple-A is in his immediate future. Remember, he will be playing in his age 23 season, there is still time to develop and refine some of his skills that would allow him to become a more valuable asset. Getting the chance to continue to work and play everyday, instead of seeing limited action off the bench in the majors, should be advantageous for both parties in the long run.
With Janish’s return date still up in the air, I think Pena has the inside track for now. He is able to play three infield positions and has impressed enough with the bat so far. Coming up through the Yankees system, he was praised for his defense with the bat holding him back from having an everyday job. If he can continue to at least show he can be functional at the plate, I would expect him to win the backup job initially, at least until Janish returns. If Pastornicky continues to rake this spring, he may force the Braves hand, but if they really want him to be a more versatile player in the field, getting at play everyday in Gwinnett would seem to be the best bet. We can also approach the situation keeping in mind the club would want to keep a defensive replacement type player on the bench considering the defensive situations at second and third this season. A defense-first utility infielder would provide more value in the latter innings, particularly behind ground ball heavy relievers. The final kicker, again, may be the fact that Pena is out of options. Of course, it’s only the second week of March and a lot can change, but for now, that’s how I can envision the utility job playing out.