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?
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?