Johan Camargo was probably the biggest surprise of the 2017 season for the Atlanta Braves. He was also the result of some of the biggest arguments. Will he be able to take another step forward in 2018?
What were the expectations?
Frankly not a lot. Camargo was highly regarded as one of the best fielding prospects in the Braves’ minor league system. However, there were questions about his bat and whether he would hit enough to stick in the majors.
Camargo went to spring training with the major league club and showed some nerves committing six errors in just 15 games. He began the season at Gwinnett but was quickly called to Atlanta in early April when Matt Kemp was sidelined with a hamstring injury. He returned to Gwinnett at the end of the month and made another cameo appearance in the majors in mid-May.
Camargo put up solid numbers at Triple-A hitting .295/.340/.473 and 123 wRC+ in 33 games.
By the start of June, Camargo was in the majors to stay and started to see increased playing time at third base and shortstop. He appeared in 23 games in June and hit .313. His performance led him to eventually take over the shortstop position from Dansby Swannson who was subsequently demoted to the minors. Camargo hit .295 in July before suffering a knee injury while hopping over the foul line while running onto the field before the start of a game against the Phillies on August 8.
That injury cost him about a month as he returned to action on September 6. With Swanson back at short, He worked his way into semi-regular playing time at third.
Camargo finished the season hitting .299/.331/.452 in 82 games and was worth 1.2 fWAR. That’s nearly a 3 WAR pace over a full season, and is what happens when you combine a league-average bat with some fine defense.
Camargo raised his stock considerably in 2017 but there are still a number of questions left to be answered. He excelled at the plate but benefited from an elevated BABIP of .364. There are myriad things to discuss about the replicability of Camargo’s results going forward, including that he posted an insane doubles rate that just seems crazy-difficult to replicate for pretty much any hitter: over eight percent of his PAs ended in doubles, which was second behind Jose Ramirez for players with 200 or more PAs. In addition, the top 10 percent of these players by doubles rate averaged 15 homers, and had a homer rate of 3.2 percent, which is average-ish. Meanwhile, Camargo knocked only four homers and had nearly a bottom 10 percentile homer rate.
More importantly, though, Camargo’s xwOBA, which is a measure of aggregate offensive production expected based on exit velocity and distance traveled, was below .300 at .297. He had the seventh-highest wOBA on the team, but the 12th-highest xwOBA, behind those of Jace Peterson and Rio Ruiz. His gap between wOBA and xwOBA was .040. While Ender Inciarte had a bigger gap and consistently outperforms his xwOBA in a way that seems ludicrous but appears to be semi-sustainable at present, it remains to be seen whether this is also a weird Camargo skill. That’ll be an interesting narrative to track for 2018.
Camargo looks like a perfect fit for a super utility player that could line up at any position in the infield as well as some spot starts in the outfield. His emergence seemed to make Sean Rodriguez expendable and the Braves dealt him back to Pittsburgh in August.
Still as of this writing, Atlanta has no clear cut solution at third base and if things remain the same, Camargo should see an opportunity to win an everyday job in spring training. The possibility of a platoon with Rio Ruiz is also there. Camargo did essentially all of his 2017 damage against lefties (190 wRC+) and couldn’t hit righties at all (65 wRC+) despite his switch-hitter status, so if Ruiz can do anything against righties going forward, that could be an option for the Braves.
Camargo went from essentially an afterthought at the beginning of the season to looking like a potential piece of the future. He will need to prove that it wasn’t a fluke in 2018.