In the outfield, you can count on Andruw. He’s always there, he always produces, he always runs hot and cold. His 2005 was not actually that out of line with what he’s done in the past — except for 15-20 more homers, of course. Anyway, it’s nice to have someone you can rely upon out there, even if part of what you can rely upon is deep slumps.
In the corners, the rookie combo of Langerhans and Francoeur would seem pretty much established now, despite Bobby’s ridiculous start of Jordan in the first playoff game. However, there are question marks in both cases. Langerhans doesn’t really seem to have the kind of bat you’d like in left field. He’s not a drag on the lineup, and gets extra credit for his defense, but you expect a left fielder to be the kind of guy you can put in a key lineup position — leadoff or 3-5. Langerhans is more the kind you hit second or 6-7.
Kelly Johnson might be the kind of hitter you could hit leadoff, or the kind you could hit fifth. He might not; it’s hard to get a handle on him. There doesn’t seem much point in sending him back to Richmond, at any rate, seeing as how he’d pounded the International League into submission. It seems that he’ll return in a fourth outfielder role, unless he’s traded. Or Langerhans could be traded and Johnson given left field. There’s certainly precedent for this. Charles Thomas was traded just last season. Jermaine Dye had won the right field job seemingly for years, then was shipped out suddenly. Keep in mind that San Antonio Ryan is two years and two days older than Austin Kelly.
Jeff Francoeur will not be traded, unless it’s one heck of a blockbuster with a Hall of Fame type player coming to Atlanta. My suspicion, however, is that Jeff will spend time in Richmond in 2006. He hasn’t played AAA yet, of course, and though skipping it isn’t that big of a deal with elite talents, he really wasn’t that good in September and stunk it up in the last three games of the playoffs. Yes, he doesn’t walk much, but if he’s really a .300/.336/.549 hitter you can live with the low walks. But if he’s really a .270 hitter with an isolated power about .200, then we have a problem. He’d have to be really bad in spring to lose his job, and I don’t expect that. If anything, he’ll probably tear up Florida, since the pitchers won’t throw many breaking balls. But what happens if he gets off to a bad start when the games count?
There really isn’t anyone else to challenge these guys. Well, Brian Jordan says he wants to play next year. If he does, hopefully it will be for the Phillies or the Marlins. Andy Marte may break out his outfielders’ glove in winter ball again. But I half expect a trade, with Langerhans or Johnson going elsewhere for a regular left fielder, the other in the fourth outfielder spot. It’s just too similar to the past situations. The Braves need that third middle-of-the-order slugger, and I don’t see either of them ready to fill that role.