Kyle Kubitza now on Atlanta's radar

Is Kyle Kubitza an option for the Braves in 2015? Bill Shanks has more.

Kyle Kubitza was Atlanta’s third round pick three years ago out of Texas State University. He just turned 24 in mid-July, but Kubitza is starting to develop into a prospect after a solid 2014 season.

The left-handed hitter improved in many offensive categories this season in Double-A Mississippi from what he did a year ago in High-A Lynchburg. In fact, only his home runs (from 12 last year to eight this season) and his RBI (from 57 to 55) numbers decreased from the 2013 season.

But Kubitza improved 35 points in batting average (from .260 to .295), 25 points in on base percentage (from .380 to .405), 36 points in slugging percentage (from .434 to .470) and 61 points in OPS (from .814 to .875). Kubitza also had 31 doubles, three more than last year. He hit 11 triples, five more than a year ago and he stole 21 bases. That number is up from only eight last season. He even cut down on the number of times he was thrown out trying to steal bases, from 16 in 2013 to only six times this season.

Kubitza doesn’t have much power. He’s hit 30 home runs in his four minor league seasons. But to see his other numbers go up is a sign of significant improvement.

Kubitza reminds some scouts of the man who has the position he covets – Braves third baseman Chris Johnson. Both strike out a lot. Kubitza struck out 133 times last season, one more than he did a year ago. Johnson has struck out 145 times this season with the Braves in 138 games.

Johnson never hit more than 14 home runs in a minor league season. He hit 15 in 2012 between Houston and Arizona for high major league high. Kubitza’s highest home run total was 12 last season.

But Kubitza does a much better job of getting on base. He’s got a .381 career OBP in his minor league career, while Johnson’s big league OBP for his six seasons is .320 and his minor league OBP was .318. So Kubitza can take more walks than Johnson can ever dream of as a very impatient hitter.

Both are pretty much confined to third base. Johnson has played 19 games at shortstop in the big leagues and 18 games at first base, but all the rest have been at the hot corner. Kubitza has only played two games away from third, both in left field.

Johnson is a nice player. He doesn’t really have many star attributes. He has no power at a power position. He strikes out too much and doesn’t walk a lot. Defensively, Johnson is ok but again nothing special.

For some reason, the Braves signed Johnson to a contract extension earlier this season. He’s due $6 million next season, $7.5 million in 2016, $9 million in 2017 and a $10 million option in 2018. Why? This is awful. Is Johnson going to get better? Is he going to hit for more power? Is that batting average going to get back up to where it was in 2013 (.321), when he finished second in the National League?

One reason the Braves probably signed Johnson to an extension was there is no clear replacement for third base on the horizon. Edward Salcedo was paid $1.6 million four-plus years ago and he’s been a flop (.235 career minor league batting average, .303 OBP). But is Kubitza developing into an alternative?

Well, it will be hard to tell with Johnson in his way. Why would another team take Johnson with at least three years and $22 million left on the contract? That’s affordable, but is it reasonable for someone who is not great defensively and has limited power?

The Braves should have Kubitza learn to play more in the outfield. That is an unsettled area, with Justin Upton and Jason Heyward both headed for free agency after 2015 and B.J. Upton’s status very uncertain. Maybe at the least, Kubitza can become versatile enough to be valuable as a reserve. He’s got skills – patience at the plate, the ability to get on base, speed – but Kubitza needs a place to play and is blocked from an everyday opportunity.

Kubitza is, however, on the radar. You cannot ignore the improvements he has made this season. Expect him to be invited to big league camp and given a strong long at how he could possibly contribute at the big league level in 2015.


Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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