12/21/12 2:51 PM ET
Braves' additional moves likely to come from within
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Although there is always reason to be somewhat skeptical of Winter League results, Juan Francisco has certainly provided some comfort courtesy of the way he has performed in the Dominican Winter League. His success has at least increased the possibility that he could see significant time at third base next year.
Likewise, Evan Gattis and Ernesto Mejia have given the Braves some optimism based on their success in the Venezuelan Winter League.
"If we went to Spring Training tomorrow with the players we have, I think it would be a very interesting Spring Training, in a positive way," Wren said last week.
If the Braves do not make another roster addition, they would most likely enter the season with the plan to shuttle Martin Prado between left field and third base.
Against right-handed starting pitchers, Francisco could play third base, with Prado positioned in left field. When facing a left-hander, the Braves could use Reed Johnson in left field and Prado at third.
That arrangement would at least address some of the doubt regarding Francisco's ability to hit left-handers. He has batted .190 in just 63 at-bats against lefties at the Major League level.
Given the small sample size, it is unfair to say Francisco would not be able hit left-handed pitching, but with the versatile and unselfish Prado available, the Braves might be able to slowly transition Francisco into a more prominent role.
Francisco showed his tremendous power potential while hitting .234 with nine home runs and a .432 slugging percentage in 192 at-bats with Atlanta last season. The big-boned third baseman has shed a few pounds this offseason and has continued to impress, hitting .307 with nine homers and a .575 slugging percentage in 127 at-bats with Licey in the Dominican Republic.
"He's worked hard," Wren said. "He's always going to be a thick kid, but he's definitely slimmed down."
The Braves were happy to re-sign Johnson, who batted .270 with a .625 OPS in the 43 games he played after being acquired from the Cubs on July 30. In 151 combined at-bats against left-handers between the Braves and Cubs, he hit .311, with a .798 OPS.
Although Johnson is expected to serve as one of team's primary pinch-hitters, Gattis and Mejia will go to camp bidding to earn a spot on the bench. They have both hit a league-leading 14 home runs while playing for Zulia in Venezuela this year.
Gattis has made a meteoric rise since distancing himself from substance-abuse problems and beginning his professional career at the age of 23. He has totaled 40 home runs in combined 610 at-bats at the Class A and Double-A levels over the past two years.
Proving that this success was not necessarily a fluke, Gattis has batted .284 with a .904 OPS while primarily serving as a DH in the 50 games he has played in Venezuela.
Concerns about Gattis' defensive ability as a catcher led the Braves to transition him to left field midway through this past season, but with Brian McCann likely to miss almost all of April while recovering from surgery on his shoulder, Gattis could begin the 2013 season as the backup.
If Gattis takes advantage of this potential opportunity and proves that he can hit at the big league level, the Braves could begin using him in left field on a frequent basis, especially after McCann returns. This scenario would keep Johnson available to serve as a pinch-hitter.
Because his defensive abilities are limited to first base, Mejia will not likely break camp with an Opening Day roster spot. Even so, the 27-year-old Venezuelan could benefit Atlanta at some point thanks to his right-handed power potential. In 2012 he hit 24 home runs in 133 games with Triple-A Gwinnett.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.