With the incumbent utility infielder likely to wind up at third base, things are a little unsettled on the Braves’ bench. We’re sure that Julio Franco will be the righthanded first baseman and bench bat. Beyond that…
Rather than going out and getting someone with some ability to back up the middle infield, the Braves enter the season with Jesse Garcia the odds-on favorite for the job. This is not a good thing. The Braves know that Garcia can’t hit. Last year, he played 13 games for the big club — and came to bat ten times. He’s a solid glove and he can run, but his Belliardian level of offense just isn’t acceptable. It’s not just that he’s a bad hitter; he’s so bad that Bobby will be extra-reluctant to give Giles and Furcal days off, making it all but certain they’ll run down over the summer and increasing the risk of injury.
If I were calling the shots, I’d give Russ Branyan every chance to win a platoon job at third, letting DeRosa get the starts against lefties and otherwise be a utility infielder, while Garcia gets another year to sample the delights of the Richmond area. Branyan’s a severely limited player who does one thing well — hit homers — and another thing pretty well — draw walks. He’s also a career .227 hitter and that might be his legitimate level. On the other hand, his OBP would probably be no lower than DeRosa’s (if DeRosa played every day) and he might hit 35 or 40 homers. Branyan’s not much of a fielder, but then neither is DeRosa (as a third baseman).
Wilson Betemit has fallen a long way from when they thought he might be an Alex Rodriguez-type player. Right now, he’d be lucky to have Alex Gonzalez’s career. (Or, for that matter, Alex Gonzalez’s.) Playing third base last year, he had just enough pop to be interesting, but he still doesn’t have a strong idea of the strike zone, a lot of power, or much of a glove. He’s still better than Jesse Garcia.
It’s very likely that Andy Marte is already the best all-around third baseman in the organization, even without playing above A-ball. I’m sure that the Braves don’t want to rush Marte, but if the other guys go out and play as badly as they’re likely to, Scheurholz, Wren and Cox might just gather together one day and decide that the kid can’t be any worse than the incumbents. I don’t think that he’ll win the job in spring training… But it’s 50/50 that he gets called up before September.