If the Braves’ roster construction of the last few years holds, they will carry only four outfielders, preferring to keep two reserve infielders and twelve pitchers. I disagree with this philosophy and feel that it is too concerned with risk-avoidance and too little with winning games, but the Braves have a long-haul philosophy and risk-avoidance is part of it. At any event, an extra outfielder would give the Braves a more potent bench at the cost of only an auxiliary mop-up man (the Braves almost always have one pitcher on the staff who only gets to pitch in blowouts after the top mopup man has been used) or an extra backup infielder behind three guys who play everyday and don’t need to be pinch-hit or pinch-run for.
So, assuming that Jordan’s legs stay connected to his torso, Mondesi’s brain stays connected to the terrestrial plane, and Ryan Langerhans stays connected to the Braves’ organization, there’s little chance of anyone winning their way onto the roster. However, someone will get hurt, sooner or later — probably Jordan. When that happens, the most advanced prospect in the system is Bill McCarthy. A college product (out of Clemson) McCarthy has usually hit save for an injury-plagued down-year in 2003 on his first exposure to Greenville. Last season, he hit .300/.375/.485 for Greenville in the first half and .354/.407/.539 for Richmond in the second. A righthanded hitter, he looked to have a good chance of being part of a platoon with Langerhans, and still might. However, he hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy, and God knows he isn’t going to learn that from the Braves’ corner outfielders. McCarthy’s career line in the minors is roughly .298/.361/.539 (I’m not sure about the OBP) and he deserves a chance. He’ll probably start at Richmond.
Some people who haven’t been paying attention to the Revolution in Baseball Statistics™ want the Braves to call up Jeff Francoeur even though he’s 21 years old, hasn’t proven he can hit in AA yet (.191 BA with no walks after a callup to Greenville last season), and walks about twice a month. He isn’t ready yet, and will probably be the main drawing card for the new AA team in Pearl, Mississippi. I wouldn’t expect him to be ready for the majors before 2007, or late 2006 at the earliest, though maybe he’ll surprise me.
Andy Marte is only two months older than Francoeur, but he probably is ready to hold his own in the majors. He’s been streaky in the minors but put up a solid line with an increased walk rate in Greenville last year. He also had some injuries, which tended to come up just as he got hot. Most teams would have Marte in the lineup to start the season, if not by the end of last season, but the Braves have Chipper blocking him at third. Apparently, Marte will get a chance to play outfield in Richmond to start this season; if Jordan lasts until June, it may be Marte who replaces him, not Langerhans or McCarthy. I stand by my prediction that Marte will win at least one home run title before his career is over, and last year’s bump in walks makes me hopeful he’ll indeed be a better player than Matt Williams — not that Matt Williams would be such a bad thing to be.
The Braves signed Esix Snead to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. If someone gets hurt in spring he might have a shot at a job with the big club ala DeWayne Wise last season. Snead, a switch-hitter has had a long minor league career with the Cardinals and Mets; he was a college player and will turn 29 this year. His major league line is .308/.357/.538 but that’s in 18 AB. His career minor league BA is .230, his SLG .297; last season he hit .264/.348/.316 for Norfolk. Hey, he really is like DeWayne Wise!
No Pepper lists John Barnes as the third outfielder in Richmond; he’s hit .305 with a .456 SLG in the minors over nine seasons. Since a lot of that is in hitter-friendly parks and leagues and he doesn’t walk much, I don’t think much of him. Kelly Johnson has slipped between the cracks as a prospect since being shifted off the infield, but hit .282/.350/.468 in Greenville last season and probably should be taken seriously again. Onil Joseph has been on the 40-man roster for two years now even though he has a career minor league slugging percentage of .353. Hits for an okay average with some walks, but he will never ever be a major league regular.