Did Injury To Melvin Upton Improve The Atlanta Braves?
By Jeff Schafer
On Friday afternoon, it was announced that Atlanta Braves center fielder Melvin Upton (B.J. Upton) will be out for the entire 2015 Spring Training as well as a few weeks after that. Upton has sesamoiditis in his left foot – which is inflammation in the bone behind the ball of his foot. He will be in a short leg cast for about two weeks and then a walking boot for 4-6 weeks.
With Upton out, that opens the door for another positional battle early in Spring Training.
The candidates for the job – Eric Young Jr, Todd Cunningham, Zoilo Almonte, Eury Perez, Mallex Smith
The intriguing aspect of the injury…most, if not all of these candidates, will probably slide right into the leadoff spot.
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Of the five potential center fielders, we can almost but eliminate one – and it’s not because I want to. The Braves will not chance the growth of
by moving him to the majors to quickly. He hasn’t played above Single-A level and is only 21-years-old. Though his numbers are very compelling, .310/.403/.432 with 88 stolen bases, the Braves will develop the 5’9″, 170 pound outfielder in the minors a little longer.
Cunningham will be 26-years-old in March and will probably get shafted again with an opportunity. He’s the type of player that is in-between the Triple-A level and the MLB. He is a switch hitting outfielder that continues to put up solid numbers in the minors. If the Braves see any future with Cunningham, this is his shot. He fits the mold with age, progressiveness and timing. Would he be the sexy pick for the Braves center field spot? Maybe not, but he will be a solid choice for the Braves.
Almonte has nine years of experience playing the outfield positions in the minor leagues…the problem is that the majority of his playing time has been in left and right field. He has played 114 games at center field but that’s over 100 less than left and over 200 less than right. Almonte is kind of in the same boat as Cunningham. He’s played at Triple-A the past two seasons and is a player who hasn’t caught his break yet. The 25-year-old will turn 26 in June and has a great shot at this position. Almonte had a slash line of .261/.311/.437 with 18 homers in 2014. If Nick Markakis isn’t ready by opening day, which is probably not likely, Almonte could find himself slotted into the right field spot.
Young was probably my top choice to fill the spot when I heard the news of Upton being injured. Then I began taking a closer look at the numbers. He’ll be 30-years-old in May and is coming off a season where he batted .229/.299/.311 with 30 stolen bases, five triples, and 48 runs scored. If he can prove that he can take pitches, get on base and have a higher batting average, he could be our starting center fielder come opening day. Like Almonte, he has experience in center but not as much as the left field position. In his six seasons as a pro, he’s played 44 games in center and 221 in left.
Perez has been the focus point of many discussions on Twitter with Braves beat writers David O’Brien and Mark Bowman. They believe that he’s taken the early lead for this job. The 24-year-old joined the Braves team late in January when they scooped him off waivers from the New York Yankees. Though he’s only had 23 MLB plate appearances, he could have a solid Spring Training and be our center fielder. He is a solid defender with terrific speed. His minor league batting numbers aren’t bad either – he batted .311/.372/.406 in Triple-A in 2014.
One of these guys will most likely get the nod on opening day. Whether it be Young, Perez, Cunningham or Almonte one thing is for sure, these guys will push each other like never before. I believe the unfortunate injury to Upton will actually make the Braves better by inserting one of these guys into the lineup.
As of 3/1, my Opening Day lineup prediction would be…
1. Todd Cunningham, CF
2. Jace Peterson, 2B (Nick Markakis, RF if healthy)
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Jonny Gomes, LF
5. Chris Johnson, 3B
6. Zoilo Almonte, RF (Jace Peterson, 2B if Markakis is healthy)
7. Christian Bethancourt, C
8. Andrelton Simmons, SS
9. Julio Teheran, P