Should the Braves shake things up?
Mark Bowman of MLB.com reported Sunday the Braves were considering promoting Gwinnett catcher Christian Bethancourt and making additional moves in the starting lineup.
According to Bowman, the Braves may allow Evan Gattis to move from catcher to left field. Justin Upton would then move to right field, the position he excelled at while in Arizona, and then Jason Heyward would move over to center field.
B.J. Upton, the current center fielder, would then move to the bench.
Is Bethancourt ready? Defensively, he's been ready for several years – at least when it comes to his arm. He still needs to improve on calling games and his receiving. But scouts that have seen Bethancourt this season continue to rave about his throwing arm.
"It's the best I've ever seen in almost 35 years of baseball," one scout that has seen Bethancourt several times this year said recently.
The Braves have waited on Bethancourt to advance with the bat, and that seems to be happening with a strong first half of the season in the International League.
Bethancourt is hitting .274 with two home runs and 29 RBI. He has a 12-game hitting streak (18-for-47, .383). Since May 1, Bethancourt is hitting .308. Going back to last year, starting at July 1, Bethancourt is hitting .282 with 10 home runs and 55 RBI in 372 at bats.
Would moving Gattis to left field kill the defense? Well, if Heyward were in center, he would cover a ton of ground. Plus, Justin Upton has not been great in left. Perhaps if he were moved back to the spot he's had the most success at, the overall defense would not take that big of a hit with a catcher playing left.
Plus, the defense up the middle would be improved. Bethancourt would be an upgrade over Gattis and Heyward would be an improvement over B.J. Upton, who has had several defensive issues in the past week.
The moves would also allow Gattis to remain in the lineup more regularly. He's currently getting regular days off as the starting catcher. If Atlanta goes in this direction, part of the intention would perhaps be to shake up B.J. Upton, who is hitting .194 with Atlanta over the past season and a half. His 2014 season has been better than last season, but not by much.
B.J. Upton is hitting .189 in June. He hit .213 in April and .219 in May. One additional number that stands out is Upton's average against left-handed pitchers this season - .150.
Heyward has played 22 games in his career in center field, while Justin Upton has played four and a half times more games in right field (763) than in left (163).
Should the Braves make these moves? Yes.
B.J. Upton is not getting the job done – at the plate or in the field. His defensive mistakes last week were costly, and he is simply horrid at the plate. Can he make an occasional good play in center? Sure, he did on Sunday night with his diving catch. But that makes the bad plays even more frustrating to watch. We know Upton can play well, but he's just very inconsistent.
Another advantage to these moves would be the move of second baseman Tommy La Stella into the two hole in the lineup. Manager Fredi Gonzalez has hedged on doing that so far, not wanting three lefties in the first three spots. But if B.J. Upton was not in the lineup, some lineup shuffling would be required.
The Braves need to make the move sooner rather than later. Why wait for another month and then seem desperate to make the move in August? Do it now and see how it works. Then, if it doesn't, they can always go back to the original setup. But it's worth a try. The offense has been tremendously inconsistent this season, and they do not want that to be the main reason they fail to achieve their goals for 2014.
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