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Talking Chop Round Table: Braves Second Basemen

As part of season reviews for major league players and top prospect ranking for minor league players, we here at Talking Chop thought it would be a fun idea to get all of our bloggers together with the help of Google Docs and debate the various aspects of each position in the Braves organization.

The participants are, yours truly (gondeee, indicated by MG), yondaime4 (indicated by MF), royhobbs (indicated by DH), and cbwilk (indicated by CBW).

Here is the round table for second basemen in the Braves organization:

MG: I think the Braves are going to release Kelly Johnson this off-season. I think they'll try and trade him, but it will be just like Marcus Giles several years ago, where no one wants his salary, so they'll end up non-tendering him.
CBW: It's funny you mention this, because I was thinking about writing up a post comparing the two. Johnson's 2009 was actually a lot worse than Giles' 2006. Giles hit .262 with a .729 OPS that year while Johnson managed just .223 with a .692 OPS this year. Johnson is only making 2.825 million compared to the 3.85 million Giles made that year, but the problem is still the same, nobody gets a pay cut when the hit arbitration, in fact, they all get pay raises. Johnson's situation is worse, because his replacement is obvious in Martin Prado. The Braves got rid of Giles under the hope that Johnson could play second base and recover from missing a year to Tommy John surgery. I really dont' see any way that Johnson comes back, unless he's willing to sign a Minor League deal after getting non-tendered and come to ST to earn a job. Speaking of, Atlanta should be a desirable destination for Minor League free agents who play second base; they'll probably doubt Martin Prado too.
MF: This is sad to me because I have always liked Kelly, ever since he was a 19 year old power hitting shortstop prospect for Macon in the Sally league. I think cutting ties with him now could bite us hard in a couple of seasons but I don't know what else we can do with him that keeps him on the team but not making a but load of outs. That was the problem with this team this year and ultimately the reason we didn't make the playoffs: in the first half of the season we gave away more outs than I care to think about. We can't keep him around if he is going to make those outs, he will just have to rebound elsewhere.
CBW: Definitely agree with the sentiment about liking Kelly for a long time. He was so impressive with Macon and Myrtle Beach. At the time, the guy he really reminded you of was Chipper. His stance was a little less crouched than it is now, and was fairly identical to Chipper's. He had all the tools as well, the surprising speed and general knack. But around AA those things kind of tapered off and he just kind of became another guy. I hope he rebounds for his sake, cause I generall like the guy, but I still think it's going to take some AAA time before a team gives him a shot at being a starter in the Majors again.
MF: I would put serious money on him getting a job with KC or Washington if we non tender him. And that isn't even a joke. One of those guys will go after him.
DH: I was saying the exact same thing with my friend who is a Nats fan. And to no surprise, he says he'd be thrilled to see Kelly Johnson on his team, and I can practically already see him wearing their uniform already. In response to everything else, I'm afraid that I must agree that Johnson's probably done in Atlanta. I remember the old 90's ideology of drafting the best athletes, and in some respect, I thought Kelly was a product of that line of thinking. He has good pop with the bat, a good eye when he wants to be patient, and has decent speed. I kept my mouth shut on the board during the heated Johnson vs. Prado wars, but in the long term, I think Johnson is the better option. Prado may be younger, and might certainly have turned a corner in his career, but I'm still a little bit weary with him.
CBW: Johnson would look right in that lineup. If he played like he did this year, he'd certainly help them go for three number one picks in a row. Sometimes you have to wonder what they're doing in DC; Ian Desmond is one of the worst defensive infielders I've ever seen, but everything I read says their fairly intent on trading Guzman and going with Desmond as their SS. It just baffles me how bad one organization can be.

MG: Martin Prado will improve next year, I stand by that. He now has an entire off-season to prepare himself to be a full time player, where he may not have expected that last off-season.
CBW: I don't understand why some people still doubt this guy. He was a solid .300 hitter with a .747 OPS in the Minors and has been better as a Major Leaguer, hitting .307 with an .810 OPS. Everyone wants to knock him for the amount of time he's spent as a part-time player, but I think the fact that he's maintained and improved upon his success as a part-time player only makes what he's done more impressive. It's not easy to come off the bench and not play every day when you're young and used to being full time in the minors. For some reason he's gotten this reputation as a poor defender, which I just don't see. What he is is a solid, all-around classic second baseman. He's relatively young, and very cheap, and not having him as the starting second baseman in 2010 would be silly. I don't know if he's going to get better, but if he just repeats what he did this year for the next few that'd be fantastic.
MF: Prado hit for more power than I thought he would, but CB is right, his ML performance is right in line with his minor league stuff plus that little bit of power. I'm not sure he will improve next season, but I wouldn't be afraid to expect more of the same. And we are going to need him because as Martin points out, there is no immediate help for 2B.
CBW: I definitely think one of the big offseason needs is to bring in another Infante-like backup, a veteran who's dependable and can play around the infield, cause, as you pointed out, there's no safety net. A guy I've always liked is Mark Loretta. His offense took a huge dip this season, but you're not looking for him to be the main guy off the bench. He'll be 38, but he's still dependable around the infield and is a great presence in a clubhouse. I'm sure there are plenty of guys who fit this bill, but he's the first one that comes to my mind.
DH: As I mentioned above, I'm not 100% sold on Prado. Part of the reason is also his health - joking aside from Kelly line drives, he played most of 2009 with balky knees and ankles. I certainly enjoyed the improvements demonstrated by him throughout the year, and I also agree that I was surprised at the power he flashed from time to time, but I think it's just some part in the back of my mind that is worried that he won't be as effective if he's the starter out of the gate. One question I have is, who's going to inevitably spell Martin Prado? Given the fact that he himself will spell 1B or Chipper a lot of the time, Prado will occasionally need a day off.
CBW: You have to wonder if somebody else won't be brought in to be that backup guy. If they do indeed get rid of Johnson like we all seem to think they will, they'll be asking Prado to become the everyday second baseman, and most teams aren't going to ask one of their starters to be a backup or slide around positions. It seems like you could find a more valuable corner guy with some pop, since you need to replace Norton as well, and just let Omar Infante back up Prado.

MG: Our minor league second base depth is beyond pitiful.
CBW: It's not great, no. When you're mentioning guys like JC Holt and Michael Fisher you know things aren't going well. Holt is 26 and hasn't even played every day the last few years, while Fisher was 24 playing for Myrtle Beach and didn't play that well. Neither are really prospects. The middle infield is a dry spot for the Braves at the moment. I'm actually of the opinion that our best second base prospect is shortstop Myke Jones. His body and his arm look more suited to second, but since he hasn't played there yet, I can't really put him there.
MF: Coming into this season I wouldn't have worried too much about our middle INF depth in the minors simply because we had good players locked up for a while going forward in KJ, Prado and Escobar, but now we just have Prado and Escobar and I am a little worried about what we have coming up. I mean there isn't even any potential in there. Everyone was excited about Robert Brooks last year and he actually might be our best second base prospect right now but I didn't rank anyone this year who missed the season for injuries. We will just have to wait and see with him. Otherwise there is nothing here. Maybe the best option long term is moving Mycal Jones there? But I'm not really sold on him.
CBW: I had completely forgotten about Brooks. I might have had him on my list instead of Holt, because at least if he didn't have a career ending injury, there's the potential that he becomes good, while we pretty much know what Holt is. Still, I wasn't very sold on him last year; yeah, he was great for the Orlando Braves, but he was old for the league. I'm guessing that the plan was actually for him to be at Rome, but he still would have been old there. So, if he's healhty, he's probably starting 2010 at Rome, and he'll turn 22 in May, so, for me, he really needs to come out of the gate and dominate or else I'm going to look at him in the same light as Campusano.
MF: Completely off topic here, but you know who I thought would be great, and then we traded and I thought would bite us in the butt but never amounted to anything? Richard Lewis. I think he was the last college guy we took with or first round pick (supplemental) and he struggled for a couple seasons and then exploded in the AFL right before he went to AA. Then we traded him to the Cubs for Juan Cruz and he knocked 60 XBH in his first season there between AA and AAA and I thought we had been hosed. And then he never made it to the majors. Not even for one AB. How does that happen?
CBW: It's funny, you look at his career, and was always old for whatever league he was playing in, but aside from those 99 games in AA for the Cubs in 04 he never dominated, or even really played that well. We had a lot of busts early in the draft around the late 90s early 2000s, but really I think a lot of teams did. I had forgotten that Richard played Indy ball last year; I think I missed him by a week or so when I saw Camden. It was funny, but I actually talked to Lewis the day he got traded from the Braves. It was during ST and I had talked to him a little in the morning, then he left early, then came out and was saying goodby to everyone. I asked him what was up and he told me about the trade. Kind of interesting to hear about a trade directly from one of the guys involved.

MG: Campusano intrigues me, but I'm not quite sold on him yet, though he gets the top spot almost by default. I want to give it to Travis Jones, but I can't, though I still think there is a good bit of hope for him.
CBW: I was really surprised you guys both had Campusano ahead of Jones. Campusano is only a year young, but he's playing two levels below Jones. He's old for his league and not exactly dominating the way he should be. And, when you see him in person, his body just isn't impressive. He strikes me as a guy who needs to move out to left field; of course, his production out there would just be poor. Jones is a little old for his league, but nowhere near as much as Campusano. Despite low averages and too many strikeouts, Jones has shown some ability to dominate at both Rome and Myrtle Beach, so that's already more than Campusano has going for him. He's going to have to repeat AA as a 24 year old, so he'll definitely be old for his level, but we already know neither he nor Campusano are big time prospects anyway. But still, I can't see putting Jones after Campusano, so I'm curious to hear the reasons you guys had for doing so.
MF: I might reconsider on Jones now that I am looking over things more. In my head I had his season as being worse than what it was and I always take hitting stats in the Southern League with a grain of salt. Especially when you play half your games in Pearl. So, I don't have much justification for ranking Campusano ahead of Jones. Especially with the playmaking ability that Jones flashes with his speed. On top of all that Jones was great in the second half of the season with an .819 OPS and 10/12 on SB attempts. Maybe he is a little better than I was giving him credit for. I stand corrected CB.
CBW: Well, if we can get gondee to change his mind too, can we get the ranking changed to flip flop these guys? I don't know what the plan is, but if the discussion bears out something different, I don't see why not.
MF: It is in stone man, there is no going back now. Not now, not ever.
CBW: ...that's...depressing.

MG: CB, you have got to tell us why you think so highly of Jim Linger.
CBW: Well, I knew I was definitely reaching to put him first on my list, but I was completely shocked that neither of you even had him on yours. When the position is as thin as second base is for the Braves, I figured it couldn't hurt to go out on a limb and take a completely unproven guy. When he signed in 2007, he was considered the best amatuer talent in Australia at the time. The team ultimately decided he didn't have the range, arm, or instincts for shortstop, but at 5'11", 195 pounds he's got a solid, strong body for second base and seems to be making strides there. His 2009 season, was nothing amazing, hitting .273 with a .688 OPS for the Orlando Braves, but he's only 18, he walked a fair amount, and he didn't strike out much. Australians always take a while to develop, and I see a kid with a good body and a ton of upside who was highly though of when he signed. Frankly, nobody else at second base in the system strikes me as a true prospect, so, if only by default, I had put Linger at the top of my list.
MF: I kind of take the Sickels approach to ranking players in that I generally don't give a guy much credit until they have made it into full season ball or have universally praised tools. This year the only real exceptions to that I have are Teheran and Bethancourt. So Linger is a guy I didn't know much about and you have the heads up on having seen him.
CBW: And I really barely saw him. It was like, oh, there's that Australian kid. I watched him take some infield, at shortstop, and a little bit in the batting cage. I definitely don't have any great insight on the guy, I just thought he was worth taking a leap with at a thin position.

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