Have Braves Found Their Utility Man?

One of the items on Braves General Manager Frank Wren’s list this off season was a utility man who could back up at short as well as second and third.He may have filled that that need today with the signing of minor league free agent Drew Sutton.

Sutton split last year between Pawtucket and Boston. Derek Stykalo over at BoSox Injection reporting the signing today described his season like this.

. . . (Sutton)appeared in 31 games last season, batting .315, (with) an OBP of .362 and drove in 7 RBI (sic).  He played all over the infield, except first base and also served as a left fielder when the Red Sox were in times of need thanks to injuries.

He would’ve been a guaranteed call up in September this past year, however a dislocated finger hindered that opportunity.

Sutton attended Baylor University in Waco and was originally chosen by Colorado in the 38th round 2002 amateur draft. He elected to stay in school and was taken by the Astros in the15th round of the 2004. Houston traded him to the Reds in March 2009 as part of their trade for Jeff Keppinger.  In 2010 the Indians claimed him off waivers from the Reds but at the end of the season he became a minor league free agent and signed wit the Red Sox.

At 28 Sutton is a late bloomer of sorts. Twice before (Cincinnati in 2009 and 2010 and the Indians in 2010) he didn’t hit well at all but with the Sox in 2011 he seemed to find his stroke.  The scouting report over at sox prospects says he made average contact while in the minors with flashes of above average power for a middle infielder. Though originally a second baseman he’s become a versatile utility man able to play all infield positions and both corner outfield positions but with below average defense. Fangraphs however shows him slightly above average in 2010 and 2011. From a utility man I wouldn’t expect much more than that. His job after all is to fill in until the man we pay to play the position returns.

Sutton is an interesting sign and different form previous years where retread washouts and rehabbing older players were chosen because they were cheap. Sutton got an invite to spring training in 2012 and may well be given the chance to earn the utility role full time.

Also signed today OF Luis Durango, 1B Ian Gac, P Dusty Hughes and IF Joshua Wilson.

Durango is a fast centerfielder one scouting report cited as having a unique skillset; great contact skills, patience, and speed. Like most players in this mold he also offers almost no power but earns his keep by getting on base and making the defensive plays. He has a minor league career groundball rate around 70% takes his walks and gets infield hits. He bunts for a lot of hits but isn’t a true base stealer. He was starting centerfielder for the World Team during the same futures game where Jason Heyward played right for the U.S. (2010.)

Ian Gac was drafted by the Rangers in 2003 and never played above A ball. Dusty Hughes was drafted by the Royals in 2003 and spent time with the big club in 2009,10, and 11. In 2010 he appeared in 57 games but that shrunk to 15 last season. At 29 he’s probably destined for minor league strength. Josh Wilson was drafted by the Marlins in 1999. He’s spent time with the Nationals, Tampa Bay, Arizona (twice), the Padres, Mariners and the Brewers. he’s a light hitting utility infielder who looks to be added to the minor league roster perhaps at Gwinnett. (To replace Tyler Pastornicky perhaps?)

The way the trade market is shaping up Pastornicky appears poised for the first shot at shortstopnext year. The market was thin to begin with and multiyear contracts and high salaries for middle infielders have probably convinced the front office they were just as well off with a rookie. Of course as soon as I post this the Braves will trade for someone.

The other possible conclusion one might draw is that the money set aside for a shortstop might well be applied to a corner outfielder’s salary. More on that next time.

Tags: Drew Sutton Luis Durango Tyler Pastornicky

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