Now, with a week to go before Opening Day, Christian Bethancourt and Jace Peterson are primed to be the two rookies in the Atlanta lineup. Bethancourt will take over for Evan Gattis at catcher, while Peterson has won the competition to be the new second baseman.
They are both doing really well. Bethancourt hit his first home run of the spring Monday. He's hitting .306 and helping quiet concerns about his bat. Peterson had three more hits, popping his batting average up to .352.
There will be questions about both players, simply because they are rookies. While both got cups of coffee in the big leagues last season, this is different. They are now starters. They have won the job.
Peterson has been a breath of fresh air this camp. Acquired from the Padres in the Justin Upton trade, Peterson fought off challenges from Alberto Callaspo, Phillip Gosselin and Jose Peraza to win the job. Even before the games started, Peterson won over his coaches with his grit and determination. They liked his style of play from the outset.
Forget about the 27 games played in San Diego last season, as Peterson hit only .113. This is a kid that should instead be judged on what he did in the minor leagues. Peterson hit .287 in his 1732 minor league plate appearances. He also had 148 stolen bases. Last season between AA and AAA, Peterson hit .307 in 382 plate appearances.
Two years ago, in High-A, Peterson hit .303 with 42 stolen bases. He had 51 steals in 2012. This kid has hit in the minors and he's stolen bases. He has offensive ability, so what's his ceiling this year with Atlanta?
Peterson is going to hit second behind Eric Young, Jr. to start the season. What if Peterson can hit .270 and steal 20 bases or so? That would be the most productive second baseman the Braves have had in years.
Bethancourt continues to get better with the bat. Long known for his defense, we need to realize that Bethancourt has shown gradual improvement over the last couple of years at the plate. Monday he showed more progress with an opposite-field home run against the Tigers.
Bethancourt hit .283 last season in Triple-A and hit .277 two years ago in Double-A. So the development is there for a player that has really never given reason to question his offense. He's just always been so good defensively that it was natural to wonder if he was going to hit.
What if Bethancourt can hit .260 this season with a respectable .320 on base percentage? If his defense is that solid, those offensive numbers will give him high marks for his rookie season.
There is plenty reason to be concerned about Atlanta's lineup this season, particularly the bottom half. But if Peterson and Bethancourt do well as rookies, the Braves may have a better offense than many expect.
It's not fair to say the pressure is on these two rookies to save the lineup, but there is little doubt if they contribute the Braves will be better at scoring runs than they were a year ago.
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