COMMENTARY | From top to bottom, the Atlanta Braves boast one of the best lineups in all of baseball … until we get to the second-base position.
What became a black hole on the diamond for the Braves last season could be the turning point in the order that elevates Atlanta to the next level of top contenders, or demotes it back to a team having to fight for its playoff life.
The Braves will break camp with four realistic options to become the starting second baseman this season -- some good, some bad, and some Dan Uggla.
The Good: Ramiro Pena quickly became manager Fredi Gonzalez's go-to guy at second when Uggla struggled. In 50 games last season, Pena hit .278 with three home runs and 12 RBIs, and played flawless defense with zero errors in 90 total chances.
Pena is back to full strength with no mobility limitations after rehabbing from shoulder surgery last June. The Braves would really like Pena to be that Martin Prado-type of super utility player off of the bench, but, if Uggla struggles again, Gonzalez should be quick to hand the starting job to Pena this season.
The Bad: Tyler Pastornicky will have some work to do to stay in the bigs the season. He was the man filling in for the man filling in at second base last season, but, Pastornicky lasted only two games before tearing his ACL and being lost for the year.
All indications suggest that Pastornicky will not immediately be 100 percent as he continues to rehab from his knee injury, but Pastornicky is just the type of hard-nosed scrappy player who could find himself with a starting role if other players do not step up to claim it.
Pastornicky only has a .251 career average, but his sample size is still very small with only 96 career major league at-bats. He hit an even .300 in the 30 at-bats he got in 2013.
The Uggla: Make no mistake about it, the Braves desperately want Uggla to be their second baseman. Don't let his .179 average and 171 strikeouts from last season fool you. When Uggla is right, he is arguably the best second baseman in baseball.
In Uggla's first go-around with Atlanta in 2011, Dan single-handedly carried the Braves when he posted a 33-game hitting streak from July 5 to Aug. 13. During that stretch, Uggla hit 15 home runs, drove in 32 and recorded a .377 average.
We know he's in there somewhere, but it has been 391 strikeouts since that Dan Uggla made an appearance in Atlanta. Uggla brings more to this Braves' offense than any of these other options can, but the question is whether or not No. 26 can find a way to become the same player who hit .287 and drove in 105 in the season prior to coming to the ATL.
The Dark Horse: Is Tommy La Stella ready to take over at second base for the Braves?
The reason the Braves did not push harder to make a move for a player like Brandon Phillips could be because they know their future second baseman is already in their system
La Stella hit .343 with Double-A Mississippi last season and is expected to start 2013 in Gwinnett, but he will have a opportunity in spring training to put his name in the mix for the starting job with the big club.
There is still a concern that La Stella's defense is not yet at a major league level. The Braves' No. 2-ranked prospect committed seven errors in 77 games last season.
One big feather in the cap for La Stella is that, like Pena, he can swing a left-handed bat, which could be very attractive in an Atlanta lineup that has suddenly become very right-handed heavy.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Braves for over 20 years. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
- Sports & Recreation
- Atlanta Braves
- Dan Uggla
- Ramiro Pena