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Griff says...Braves Depth/Bench a Key Factor

Perhaps somewhat lost in all the offseason blog discussions is the fact that the Braves have developed perhaps the best team depth and versatility of any team in baseball. I will give Wren some credit for that. How important is it and what can it mean to the overall performance this year?

Of course the 25 man final roster is yet to be determined in a few spots. Most likely Cox will carry 12 pitchers. I see those as being our five starters, Wagner, Saito, Moylan, O’Flaherty, Medlen, probably Chavez and the increasing likelihood that Scott Proctor may be ready in time. In spite of so-so prior numbers a few years ago and recent injuries, Cox seems to like him. Perhaps Proctor may not quite be ready but as soon as he is he will likely be added due to his experience and favorable outlook. Outside chances can be given to Luis Valdez and Mike Dunn and Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel is probably the closer of the future and could benefit by being around Wagner all year.

Then we have our two catchers, 7 other position starters (including Heyward), Infante, Hinske, Cabrera and a remaining spot to be contended for. At this point that is probably between Hernandez, Conrad and Thurston. Hernandez is a good defensive player but mainly only plays short and struggled offensively. Conrad is a good offensive player and switch-hitter and can play second, third and short. His versatility and scrappiness would be a good addition. An outside shot might be Joe Thurston who can play infield and outfield. Whoever stands out in ST will land that job.

Last year our bench players were mainly Infante and Prado, Norton, Hernandez, and Conrad somewhat. Of course Infante was hurt and eventually Prado started. No doubt Infante and Prado were two of the best bench players in baseball with their position and versatility and offensive ability. Norton bombed and Conrad showed flashes of offense and was solid defensively. I really wish Conrad would have been given more opportunities last year as I think he has real potential and a gritty style that everyone likes. I like Conrad to make the team because of his switch-hitting ability to pinch-hit, power and versatility to back up the infielders.

This year we have even better versatility, some power, a little more speed, and experience. Infante can play second, short, third and the corner outfield spots. He has a great bat and I believe projects as an ongoing 300 hitter like Prado. He could be starting on some teams. There is no loss of talent or performance when he plays. He can spell Escobar at short when needed as well as Prado when Prado plays first, or even Chipper. Hinske adds power, a left-handed pinch hit bat, Championship experience, and can back up Glaus and Chipper as needed. It’s a mystery why he never achieved his potential after being AL Rookie of the Year I think in 2002. He may have some plus offense left if given an opportunity to fill in more often. Cabrera plays all outfield spots and switch-hits. He is a pretty good offensive player, has a little power, some speed, and is a plus defender. He will likely platoon with Diaz and provide a significant total package upgrade in left field over last year. Our position player bench, versatility and depth is really impressive this year.

Not only that, we have much more depth in our bullpen as well. Wagner, Saito and even Moylan can close as needed. All three have very different styles and skills. One is right-handed, one left-handed and one throws from down under, inducing ground balls so there can be situational flexibility as well. O’Flaherty is a lefty specialist who looked very good last year. Medlen has a great changeup which makes him even tougher on lefties than righties and he could do long relief if needed or even spot starting. Chavez is a sleeper upgrade with a good fastball and much improved changeup. He was also tough on lefties. We will be in much better position for the Phils lefties this year with the combo of Wagner, Medlen, O’Flaherty and Chavez. Last year Gonzalez had some good moments against them also but he tended to be wild and unpredictable. Proctor, when he finally is added, has previous setup experience and it seems Cox is very high on him.

So overall, our bullpen, versatility, bench offense and defense, are all substantially improved. Not mentioned often enough is the great job Ross does when filling in at catcher. He could perform even better if given more opportunities as well. I’d like to see him catch a little more often against lefties and teams with speed to give McCann more rest. Ross has a killer throw to second.

The reason our bench is critical is simply because of our great vulnerability this year – health. We need depth to fill in for potential injuries and to provide key players rest once in awhile. We are now in position to give that to our three key offensive players - Chipper, McCann and Glaus and also be prepared due to any of the typical nagging injuries that make each lose 20-40 games a year. In the bullpen, much more situational tactics can be used than last year. Our pinch-hitting gives us choices for power and lefty hitting as needed.

Every team has unanticipated injuries every year. The Braves are in better position to deal with that this year than any year I can recall, except if the injury is to a starting pitcher. Then we will have to scramble probably with Medlen and maybe calling up someone from the minors.

I haven’t seen any stats that measure bench and versatility contributions but when there is no noticeable drop-off when a bench player is in the lineup, my guess is the overall value of our bench is worth several more wins during the year. Every win is critical in a tough, competitive division. The Braves bench and versatility could be the bonus factor to help us get to the playoffs again.

My next blog will be on Thursday. The topic will be about Jordan Schafer. Griff says…later.

4 comments:

  1. Having depth is such a huge necessity in the National League you have to like what the Braves have done in this respect. Also don't forget that if you have depth you have more options to make trades as necessary.

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  2. No doubt about your trade point. I believe something will happen by the mid season deadline this year or even later. If McLouth struggles, Schafer does well, Cabrera does well, or various combinations, it could trigger a move somewhere.

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  3. I have been a Braves fan here in Idaho since 1960. As a kid I watched the Boise Braves farm team (Tony Cloninger, Bob Uecker and others.) Thanks for the great posts! You are very knowledgable and I agree with 95%.
    Here's my lineup!
    1. Escobar 2.Prado 3.Chipper 4.Glaus 5.Heyward 6.McCann 7.Diaz 8.Mclouth

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  4. Two posts from Braves fans in remote states. That's pretty cool. I love seeing that. Appreciate the support. I don't see Escobar leading off anymore though. Maybe until last year. But now he is too valuable as a clutch run producer and has moved his hitting more toward power and less toward contact. I see him at 290 this year with 20-25 home runs. And maybe if Heyward has a great first half showing some power he might move up higher in the order. But it will be hard to knock McCann out of the 5 spot and McLouth needs to hit higher if he is going to hit 20 homers. Also McLouth doesn't have the patience to hit in the 8 spot but Heyward actually does. I see Heyward 8.

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