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Who is that in Center Field!

Last year they engineered the successful switch of Kelly Johnson from left field to second base, now the Braves seem to have designs on moving Brandon Jones from left field to center field. This was a notion dismissed by many people who follow the Braves, but it looks as if the Braves may have other ideas. We get this news from a Baseball America Winter League notebook:

Braves' outfielder Brandon Jones has been playing a lot of center field in the Mexican Pacific League this winter for Navajoa...

They interviewed several scouts, with many of them not giving glowing reports of BJ's center field defense. Many of the comments were apparently like this:

"He doesn't get real good reads off the bat and his routes are just OK," said another AL scout who saw Jones in Mexico two weeks ago during his extended stint in center. "And this isn't a guy who can make up for mistakes with his speed. He might be a slightly above-average runner, but it's more speed when he's underway than having that true explosion. He's not a major league center fielder."

So the consensus seems to be that while he's getting playing time in center field, he won't be there for too long, if at all, at the major league level. The report did have a happy ending when talking about Jones' improvement at the plate:

So far in Mexico, Jones has seen action in center field in 19 of his 30 games, but it's been his approach at the plate that has most scouts talking.

"He's really improved his pitch recognition more than anything else, and that's something that was a weakness," said the scout. "He's laying off more breaking balls out of the zone--and he's probably seen more of those than he ever has."

This was certainly something that many of us could tell that Jones needed to work on after his short stint in Atlanta at the end of the year. Jones was striking out a lot (8 Ks in 19 ABs), and much of those whiffs were due to him swinging at breaking balls (something that seems to also affect our other recently departed Jones). Give extra kudos to Brandon for improving his hitting while at the same time working at a new and difficult position in the field.

From the same article there are some good words about one of our young left-handed starters, Jose Ortegano. BA is apparently impressed that he is holding his own against much tougher competition than he's faced before.

Also in this article is word about another center field candidate for the Braves, Greg White (or Gregor Blanco to the uninitiated). The most impressive part of his winter league season is when he hits leadoff:

In 102 at-bats, the 23-year-old was hitting .314/.421/.441 and has a 22-18 strikeout-walk ratio. He's led off every game for the Sharks, hitting .429/.556/.571 in 21 first inning at-bats.

Combine that with above average center field defense and the Braves may have another good option to replace Andruw next year. As Frank Wren put it the other day:

Wren said if the Braves don't acquire a more experienced center fielder as a stopgap replacement for Andruw Jones, [Jordan] Schafer would compete for the starting job in the spring along with prospect Gregor Blanco and 25-year-old rookie speedster Josh Anderson.

Add a feather in the cap of Gregor Blanco, and depending on how comfortable Brandon Jones gets this winter, there may be another candidate for center. I certainly wouldn't count on him making it, but the Braves may put him out there to push the other candidates and give them the illusion of more competition.

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