Filling the Hole: Atlanta’s Leadoff Spot

We’re now sitting less than thirty days away from the voluntary report date for all players invited to big league Spring Training and yet the Braves lineup still has a gaping hole in the leadoff spot. Atlanta’s front office has made it clear since the signing of B.J. Upton that they are comfortable with the roster as it stands. Any and all holes, according to Wren and his staff, can be filled internally if need be. So for now, let’s ignore the swirling rumors about Justin Upton and the fantasies about Michael Bourn and take Wren at his word. Who then will be in the box on April 1 when the Braves come to bat in the home half of the first against the Phillies?

Sept. 17, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves left fielder Martin Prado (14) connects for an RBI single during the eighth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. The Braves won 7-5. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like an easy answer, right? Martin Prado. He’s the closest thing Atlanta currently has in terms of a leadoff guy. He’s been steady in the second spot for most of his time in Atlanta, providing the Braves lineup with the perfect bridge between a leadoff guy and the heart of the order. He’s even collected a decent share of at bats in the leadoff slot, hitting a career .298 with just 79 strikeouts in 590 at bats. But what if moving Prado isn’t the right decision? What if Prado struggles mightily during the early part of the season, as he tries to grind deeper into at bats and set the table the way many great leadoffs do? It seems unreasonable to think that Prado won’t be able to slide up in the order without any ill effects, given his proven versatility, but the chance is always out there, so let’s look a little deeper at the possibilities.

If the Braves do not reel in a LF in the next month, there is a very real possibility that Reed Johnson could see a good deal of time in LF as pitching matchups dictate. So what about Johnson at the top of the order? With over 1,800 career at bats in the 1-slot, Johnson has the body of work to warrant the job, and while his career strikeout to walk ratio is not pretty (3.75:1 to be exact), Johnson would give Atlanta the option of having a veteran bat at the top of the order in the event that Prado’s transition becomes a cause for concern.

Another interesting option could be found in Atlanta’s sure-handed shortstop Andrelton Simmons. While Simmons’ batting average doesn’t jump out at you as one that you want at the top of your order, he has maintained a pretty consistent on base percentage of .340 or better in three minor league seasons and carried it over to a .335 on base percentage during his shortened season in Atlanta. The thing that is most promising about Simmons in the leadoff spot, though, is his speed. In 2011, his only full season in minors, Simmons racked up 26 steals. Given a year of emphasis on the base paths and his natural speed, Simmons could easily become a guy that fits the traditional leadoff mold. If the Braves chose to groom the 23 year-old into an everyday leadoff man, it seems like he would have the perfect skill set to thrive.

Speaking of skill set…does Jason Heyward not scream leadoff man to you? Who says a 30-30 guy can’t serve as the leadoff? Why not have a power option at the top? It’s an outside chance, but Heyward’s unique combination of speed and power make him a very interesting outside-the-box option. Not to mention that the Braves lineup is already filled with potential power (I stress potential). Doesn’t it seem more logical to have one of those guys in the lead off spot with the chance at more at bats rather than let some of the power spill into the six and seven holes where at bats go to die?

Like I said earlier, Prado is more than likely going to be the guy that Fredi Gonzalez wants at the top of his order. And again, by all indications, Prado will make the move seamlessly, doing what the Braves ask of him without any hesitation. And even if the Braves were able to land Justin Upton to fill the hole in LF, it would still seem logical to have Prado’s versatility at the beginning of the order. But there are always ways to shake things up. You have to admit that Dan Uggla would at least be intimidating as a leadoff, right?

Topics: Atlanta Braves, FanSided

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  • fireboss

    I thought Simmons would get a chance in the spring but he’s wasting him in the without benefit classic so Prado will be the guy unless Bourn crawls back for a year pillow deal or there’s other movement between now and then. Heyward is wasted as leadoff man and I expect him to hit second mostly because Fredi has no vision. that would put B J 3rd because Fredi likes the left right left thing followed by McCann Uggla Freeman wasted at seventh then Simmons. If McCann isn’t ready Freeman will move up and Laird at 8th. Heyward loses run production hitting 1st or 2nd but they popped 15M a year for BJ and unless Justin arrives they will hit him 3rd or 4th even though he’s better at 5 or 6.

    • Lee Trocinski

      Looks like you either figured out your speech-to-text thing or your left-handed skills have dramatically improved.

      • fireboss

        if you saw how long it took to type that or this you’d know left is still not good. I do get a few minutes out of the immobilizer (sling) every now and then but sudden movement stops that the post was started i anticipation of the arb stuff still working on speech to text.

  • Lee Trocinski

    Prado doesn’t have to change his approach to grind out at-bats. He already had the 5th-lowest Swing% out of 143 qualified hitters. My Heyward idea from last year was based on his high-OBP approach his rookie season, which was not the case last season.

    The biggest problem with lineups generally come from the top two spots, especially the two-hole. A lot of managers end up putting someone like Simmons (or worse) up top when someone like B.J. Upton or Brian McCann hit 7th, even though they are more productive. The lineup optimization tools show how much it’s been screwed up, as the 3rd spot rates only as valuable as #5. Fortunately, batting order isn’t a huge deal, as long as Laird and Simmons aren’t hitting third and fourth.

    • fireboss

      interesting you mention the lineup tool i put the probables in it and gave upton benefit of career obp. the 59-onward tool gave one lineup

      Prado
      Heyward
      Simmons or Upton
      Freeman
      Upton or Simmons
      McCann
      Uggla
      Francisco
      pitcher

      while the 89-04 tool gave this on
      Uggla
      Freeman
      McCann
      Heyward
      Simmons or Upton
      Francisco
      Upton or Simmons
      pitcher
      Prado

      in both upton/simmons interchangeable because sinba’s slg ws inflated by the small samples Interesting

      took about 5 minutes to type this lefty style

  • Xaq Matthews

    If you put a guy who hits 30 HRs in the leadoff spot, you’ll inevitably cause him to hit a higher percentage of solo HRs, which is going to cost your team runs and potentially games. There’s a chance that having Heyward’s quality OBP in the leadoff spot offsets that production because having men on base typically has a positive trickle-down effect for the rest of the lineup, but I don’t think its necessary to put Heyward there because the Braves have guys that would perform just as well as Heyward in the leadoff spot.

    • Lee Trocinski

      Heyward wasn’t a quality OBP guy last year at a .339 mark. He might be the best option for hitting second, but leadoff should be out of the picture.

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