Mississippi Infield Candidates

Here are the infield candidates for the 2015 Mississippi Braves.

FIRST BASE
Seth Loman played 73 games at first base for Mississippi last year. The 29-year-old veteran minor leaguer will be back for spring training to compete for a job in the organization. Last year Loman hit .261 with 12 home runs and 59 RBI in 359 plate appearances. Even though Loman has played only 43 games in AAA, he could be a candidate for the Gwinnett Braves as well. But with no clear-cut favorite for the first base job in Double-A, Loman may get his old job from last year back for 2015.

Barrett Kleinknecht played 34 games at first base last year. He played well, hitting .280 with nine home runs and 38 RBI in 100 games. Kleinknecht also played second, short and third, along with a handful of games in left field. He’s becoming a very versatile player. Kleinknecht has played every position except center field in his five professional seasons with the Braves. He’s even pitched in four games out of the bullpen in mop-up situations. Could Kleinknecht be another Mark DeRosa? He’s 26 years old now, so he’s definitely a late bloomer. Like Loman, Kleinknecht might also get a chance to make the Gwinnett roster.

Edison Sanchez led the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats in starts at first base last year, but he hit only .218. He’s a career .237 hitting in his seven seasons in the Braves organization. The 24-year-old Sanchez can also play second, third and the corner outfield spots, so his versatility is what the Braves keeping him around to fill in where needed.

Levi Hyams played 42 games at first base for the Hillcats. He also played second and third base. Hyams hit .238 with 41 RBI in 370 at bats. He could either return to High-A (now Carolina) or be moved up to Mississippi.

Keith Ahrens played mostly at third base last season for Lynchburg, but it’s unlikely he’ll move up to play that same position in Double-A this year. Ahrens has played some at first base (60 games), so he could be a candidate to compete for playing time there in Mississippi this season.

The Braves signed free agent infielder Travis Mattair this winter. He played 118 games last season in Pensacola, the Double-A affiliate for the Reds. Mattair hit .238 last season with 13 home runs and 69 RBI. He can also play third base. Mattair has hit 45 home runs in the last three minor league seasons, so his power may give him a job either in Mississippi or Gwinnett.

SUMMARY: This is what you call a wide-open race. Six players will fight it out for the job and for at bats as the first baseman for Mississippi. Since they signed him to bring him in, Mattair may have an edge, but the other five will have a chance to make their case in March.


SECOND BASE
Emerson Landoni had the most starts at second last year for Mississippi. He’s been in the organization for three years now after starting with the Yankees. The one thing Landoni has done with the Braves is hit. He batted .271 last year in 59 games with the G-Braves. The organization needed him in Lynchburg after Jose Peraza was promoted to Double-A. Landoni hit .270 there with one home run and 21 RBI.

Kleinknecht played second in 29 games for Mississippi last season. So he’s an option here as well. If Mattair wins the first base job, Kleinknecht could instead win the second base job.

Hyams is mainly a second baseman. He’s been Lynchburg for parts of his last two seasons now, so it’s probably time for him to move up.

SUMMARY: This one is wide open. Anyone might win the job. There should not be anyone as the considered the favorite.


SHORTSTOP
Daniel Castro played 44 games in Double-A Mississippi last season and needs to return. He’s still just 22 years old. Remember, the Braves let Castro play in the Mexican League for parts of two seasons. When he returned full-time to the organization last year, the Braves placed him in Lynchburg and he did very well, hitting .292 with 34 RBI in 257 at bats. Then Castro hit .277 with 20 RBI in 173 at bats in Double-A. He needs to improve his on base percentage. It was just .312 at the two stops last season. But the Braves know they have a guy that can hit. Castro can also play multiple positions – second, shortstop, third and the corner outfield positions.

SUMMARY: Yeah, it’s Castro’s job.


THIRD BASE
Rio Ruiz was acquired from the Astros and he will move up from High-A, where he hit .293 with 11 home runs and 77 RBI at Lancaster in the California League last season. Ruiz will turn 21 in May, so he’ll be very young for the Southern League when he starts the season. It might be more important to see how he does in the second half of the season. Many believe Ruiz was the jewel of the Evan Gattis trade with Houston. We’ll see he how adapts after being traded. But there is little doubt the success he’s had the last two seasons (23 home runs and 140 RBI) has many wondering if Ruiz is the Braves future third baseman. He’ll be tested in Double-A at Mississippi, but if he succeeds then we may have another player ready to make his debut in 2017 when Sun Trust Park opens in Cobb County.

Keith Ahrens got significant time at third base last season in Lynchburg, and he can also play first base. So the Braves may have the perfect older minor leaguer to be a corner infield reserve.

SUMMARY: This is Ruiz’s job. He’ll be the everyday third baseman.


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 email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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