It has been a long time since I remember an Atlanta Braves team with so much depth. Typically, particularly for a team like the Braves, without a huge NY or LA-like payroll, if a starter goes down, you’re kind of hurting at that position for a while.
In recent years, the Braves have had guys like Jack Wilson and Jose Constanza as the utility infielder and outfielder, but I would always cringe when they were in the lineup because they simply were not nearly the caliber of player as the regular. Whether filling in for Alex Gonzalez, Jason Heyward, or Martin Prado, there was a huge drop off. In the first 31 games of the 2013 season, the Braves have already had plenty of minor injuries. Obviously, McCann missed all of April, Jonny Venters and Brandon Beachy are expected back in the next month or so. Heyward and Freeman have both had stints on the DL. In the bullpen, Luis Ayala and Cristhian Martinez encountered minor injuries requiring a stay on the DL.
The replacements have done better than anyone could have predicted. Evan Gattis, filling in for McCann, is the biggest story. He has knocked seven home runs in 26 games while doing a solid job behind the plate. If he can keep that up, it would make McCann expendable. In fact, it is surely a smart business decision to trade McCann during this season and unload his salary, particularly with a 21-year old catching prospect nearly big-league ready in Christian Bethancourt.
Depth at the corners is also something the Braves do not lack. When Freeman was out, we got to see both Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco play every day and both deserve to be every day players. Neither batter walks much but Johnson is hitting over .320 and Francisco .294. Francisco can hit 25-30 home runs if he were to play every day but that’s likely not going to happen this season as he and Johnson will continue to split time at third.
Jordan Schafer’s return to Atlanta has so far been successful. He is putting the pressure on Gonzalez and B.J. Upton for more playing time. Schafer is the most traditional leadoff batter on the Braves roster as he is more of a contact/speed guy, has played great defense, and is currently batting .278. That is more than the combined batting average of B.J. Upton and Heyward. Even after Heyward returns, Schafer should and probably will get plenty of starts in center or right field, at least until the others start hitting as well as we all expect them to.
It was a tough decision to send Pastornicky down when McCann was activated yesterday and another tough decision awaits when Heyward returns from the DL. Gonzalez says he doesn’t want to think about it yet because “something else will happen.” I would guess the third catcher Gerald Laird would be the one to go, but I don’t know. It’s good to have these kind of problems. Sure, you’re going to disappoint so guys who might get to play full-time elsewhere but they wouldn’t be on a serious World Series contender. Andre is a former college baseball player and life-long Braves fan.