Braves 2005 Preview: Outfield

Kelly Johnson
Johnson is a converted shortstop who had an excellent
bat for a SS, but saw his prospect status fall slightly after being
moved to the outfield. He tied for Southern League lead last year
with 35 2B, while ranking 2nd in extra-base hits (54), and tying for
5th in hits (135). KJ had a very solid 2004, but is not mentioned
with the Martes and Francoeurs when talking about Atlanta’s OF
prospects. However, Kelly was a first round pick and has hit well
at every level in his minor league career. In fact, Mark Bowman
recently reported in his Braves mailbag that Kelly had been
impressing Bobby with the bat this spring. He figures to play
everyday in Richmond this year, and compete for playing time in
2006.

Brian Jordan
Brian had some great years in Atlanta, carrying them at
times during the 1999 and 2000 seasons. Before the 2002 season the
Braves did an excellent job of exploiting the market on baseball
players, “selling” him at his highest value in the trade with LA
that brought Gary Sheffield to Atlanta. Brian was a fan favorite in
Atlanta and gave the Braves several very productive years. However,
that was three years ago, and he will be 38 by opening day. His
numbers have decreased as his injuries have increased in each of the
last three seasons. The physical toll his body took playing three
years in the NFL looks to be showing as Brian gets older. I really
do hope he has a healthy and productive 2005 season; however, I just
don’t see it happening. If he cannot shake the injuries and get off
to a hot start, we may see Langerhans playing full-time in left, or
even the much-awaited debut of Andy Marte.

Raul Mondesi
Mondesi is pretty much a lock to be the opening day
starter in right field. Then again, whether he is still there in
September remains to be seen. Everyone knows that Mondesi was
indeed a clubhouse cancer his last few seasons, and this horse has
been beaten to death this winter. His behavior last year in
Pittsburgh does not mean that he will behave similarly in Atlanta.
Bobby and Schuerholz have a history of taking a chance on guys who
everyone else has deemed “washed up” and finding a way to get a few
more productive years out of them. Mike Devereaux and Luis Polonia
in 1995 come to mind regarding key outfield reclamation projects.
Those who do not change their ways do not last long, as we saw in
Bobby Bonilla and Ken Caminiti.

The fact is, if Mondesi plays well he will stay in Atlanta and be
rewarded. If he does not perform, or returns to his days as a
cancer, he will be released or traded. Does Raul want to work hard,
be humbled, and work towards a team goal, or does he want to loaf,
bring down his teammates, and focus on individual goals? His
performance in 2005 will hinge heavily on the answer to this
question, of which neither you nor I know the answer.

Andruw Jones
Andruw likes to go after the first pitch and chases
some balls in the dirt, and those are big reasons why he hasn’t been
able to hit .300 consistently. Nevertheless, it’s hard to say
anything bad about a guy who is just 27 but has already hit 250
career home runs. We can look for Andruw to hit roughly .270 with 30
HR and 100 RBI once again in 2005. Oh and by the way, he has won
the last seven gold glove awards in CF.

This off-season all everyone heard was how great Carlos Beltran is,
and he did have a scintillating post-season. However, his career
stats are eerily similar to those of Andruw Jones, and Andruw hit
the ball just as well as Beltran did in the NLDS. Let us not forget
that Andruw was 10-19 (.526) with 2 HR and two doubles in the five
games against Houston. Andruw’s 162 game averages over 9 seasons of
.268-31-96 are not too far from Beltran’s .287-27-104 line over the
past seven seasons. There is an inexplicably large contingent of
Braves fans pushing for Andruw to be traded, saying he is overpaid.
Beltran received a seven year, $119 million deal from the Mets,
averaging out to $17 million a year, while Andruw’s $75 million,
6-year deal averages to just $12.5 million. Yes this is a lot of
money, but in my opinion, Andruw’s contract is reasonably priced for
his offensive consistency and defensive wizardry. Atlanta will not
find a comparable player for the same kind of money on the free
agent market, that’s for sure.

Billy McCarthy
McCarthy, a former Rutgers OF, killed the ball in
Richmond after a mid-season move from Greenville. He hit .354 with a
.946 OPS at Richmond. For the season as a whole, he hit .324 with
15 homers. At 6-feet-2, 200 pounds he is a projectable
major-leaguer. However, he has one more year of minor-league
options available, and would really have to impress this spring to
make the big club. I have talked to several of his teammates, and
they all say one thing- the guy can flat out hit.

Ryan Langerhans
2004 was a banner year for “Langy”. Ryan
established career highs in batting average (.298), 2B (34), HR
(20), RBI (72), R (103), and BB (70). On top of this, he is an
excellent defensive outfielder with a plus arm. Remember, he was
held in much higher regard that Charles Thomas, prior to Thomas’
breakout 2004 campaign. Langy was recently signed to a MLB contract
at the league minimum, ensuring his place in Atlanta for 2005.
Given the Braves history of breaking in rookies slowly, Bobby Cox
would ideally like to platoon the left-handed hitting Langerhans
with the right-handed hitting Brian Jordan in left field. However,
if Jordan fails to produce I think Ryan is good enough to produce
better than replacement level numbers in 2005.

Onil Joseph
Playing in historically pitcher-friendly Myrtle Beach,
Joseph posted excellent numbers in 2004. His .272 average and 32-42
stolen base rate shot him up the list of Braves prospects. I’m not
sure how much stock can be put into his average though, as only 16
of his 115 hits went for extra bases. He is not a power hitter by
trade, but a speed guy without much pop should be able to leg out
the occasional double or triple, something he did not do in 2004.
Also, if his age is correct, he was still 22 playing in A ball, and
is older than Francoeur and almost exactly the same age as Kelly
Johnson (Joseph is 10 days older). Johnson has already proven that
he can hit AA pitching, something Onil will have to prove this year
in Mississippi if he is to continue to rise in the Atlanta system.

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