The team's five biggest questions going into 2010:
- Can Troy Glaus and Chipper Jones put in healthy years on the corners?
- Will Jason Heyward be as good as advertised out of the gate?
- Will Derek Lowe bounce back from an awful 2009 campaign?
- Will our bullpen cobble together to be an average to above-average NL unit?
- Can Tim Hudson go wire-to-wire (or close to it) in putting together a strong comeback campaign?
On to the grades...
C - Brian McCann, David Ross:
We've got the game's second- or third-best catcher and arguably the best backup at the position. You'd have to go ahead and give these guys a solid A
1B - Troy Glaus, Eric Hinske, Martin Prado:
We all know Prado won't be seeing much, if any, time at first this season, but since he played there a good bit last year, I put him on the depth chart. Glaus is hit-or-miss, in my opinion. Depending on his health, he could either be an asset or a liability. I like Hinske as a backup that can play multiple positions, and both guys obviously have some pop. I'm going into the season giving them a B-
, but that's certainly subject to Glaus remaining healthy. If not, 1B could be a trouble spot for us this year.
2B - Martin Prado, Omar Infante:
Prado has done nothing but hit for the most part since seeing semi-regular time the last couple seasons. He's average-at-best defensively, but one has to think that if he plays 140-150 games, a .300/40 double/15 homer season isn't out of the question based on his production with the stick. Omar's a utility guy on a team filled with them, and someone who can be decently productive if given an opportunity. I'm going to grade a little high on this one compared to many of you, I believe. B+
3B - Chipper Jones, Brooks Conrad, Eric Hinske, Martin Prado:
When healthy, Chipper's our best ballplayer, and one of the top five in the NL. That said, he slumped terribly in the second half last season and has been an injury risk in recent years. None of the three are much defensively at the position. Hinske can play a little third, as can Prado, but we need Chipper to put in 140 games in order to think of serious contention in the NL East, in my opinion. All things graded healthy, I'm going to give 3B an A-
; my hope is that CJ stays healthy long enough to justify it while also proving the second half of last season was a mirage. If Chipper goes down for an extended period of time, the hot corner could be in serious hot water.
SS - Yunel Escobar, Omar Infante
: Yunel could seriously contend for an all-star spot this season, in my book. Regardless, he's proven himself to be a solid player at the position with the stick, and despite some attention lapses in the field, is a solid defensive shortstop when focused in that realm, as well. Infante won't see time here unless Escobar's hurt. I'm giving him a B+
RF - Jason Heyward, Matt Diaz, Melky Cabrera
: Heyward is undoubtedly the future of this franchise, and people are saying he's the most "sure" prospect to come along in ten years. I agree. Whether he comes out this season like Pujols did in 2001 or whether he takes his time becoming the superstar most people think he'll be -- in fairness to Jason, he's not even old enough to legally drink -- we're better off in RF this year, in my opinion. I look for him to be a solid .280-290 hitter this year with 25 homers, 25 steals, and good defense in right if he gets to play everyday in good health. Diaz kills lefties, and will possibly see some time against them in RF, with Melky only playing the position if Heyward goes down. Giving him a B+
for now with the knowledge that he could be an A+++
in three years.
CF - Nate McLouth, Melky Cabrera:
Nate's struggled at times since joining the Braves, including putting up a terrible spring training that ended with the possibility of him being placed on the DL due to a recurring hamstring problem. That said, I can't help but think the guy is a solid player, looking at his track record. Melky's a serviceable fourth OF who can defend all three positions well, and Nate was a Gold Glover in 2008 himself, so defensively, the position should be fine. (...and Jordan Schafer is the ultimate wild card waiting in the wings.) B
, for now.
LF - Matt Diaz, Melky Cabrera:
I wasn't around these parts when the Vaz for Melky deal went down, and I'll be the first to admit I didn't like it then. To be honest, I don't like it now. That said, what's done is done and as fans, we have to move on. Matt Diaz's numbers against left-handed pitching dating back to 2007 are simply unreal, and he is the perfect platoon guy to have out there. Melky isn't going to kill anyone with the bat, but he's decent enough to get most of the starts vs. right handed pitching, plus he's the better defender of the two. Both guys will see lots of time. B-
Starting Pitching - Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Kenshin Kawakami:
Depth-wise, this rotation is as deep as anyone's, in my book. That said, there are question marks in the 1, 3, and 5 holes. Lowe's got to bounce back from his sorry performance after May 2009. Hudson's health is naturally going to be scrutinized going into the year, considering his age (34) and the recent surgical wear on his arm. Kawakami was, in my opinion, better than many thought a year ago, but I'd like to see him learn to be a little more efficient on the hill than he was last year, thus helping preserve a bullpen that got a little older in the offseason. That said, Jair and Hanson are, in my personal opinion, the present and future of this rotation. Both guys are potential All-Stars this season. The reputations of the front four plus having a decent, if not workhorse, arm in the fifth slot give the rotation a good grade. A-
Bullpen - Jo Jo Reyes, Jesse Chavez, Kris Medlen, Eric O'Flaherty, Peter Moylan, Takashi Saito, Billy Wagner:
This is, as has been historically shown, our weakest spot. I don't see the 'pen as being particularly good, especially if Saito's age begins to show -- he's 40 -- or if Wags's age (39) and recent arm troubles emerge to haunt him. I didn't like losing Soriano or Gonzalez, to be honest; Gonzo was badly used, in my opinion, and I think Rafael's one of the better short relievers in the game. That said, as in the Vaz move, what's done is done. Medlen's got potential to be our 8th inning guy next year to Kimbrel, and should see plenty of time this year. Moylan's a solid 7th inning guy. O'Flaherty's an average specialist lefty. Chavez made 73 appearances a year ago with the Pirates and had his moments in posting a 4.01 ERA, but figures to be nothing more than a mop-up man. Jo Jo gives me nightmares. Waiting in the wings is a potential wild card, as Scott Proctor is attempting to nurse himself back to health. Also, we've got Kimbrel in AAA if things go too awry, as well. As it sits, I'm giving these guys a C
, but the potential is there if certain guys step up. (My biggest worry is that Bobby will, in typical Bobby fashion, burn out the 'pen.)
Just thought I'd contribute something early to the picture...