CHIPPER JONES ATLANTA 32 YEARS OLD .248 batting average .362 on base percentage 30 home runs 96 runs batted in 117 hits in 472 at bats 20 doublesCOMMENT: It was Chipper's worst season as a major leaguer, and his comeback this season will be one of the most important factors in Atlanta winning its 14th straight division title. Take away his hot August, when he hit .337 with 11 home runs and drove in 29, and his numbers would be downright bad for a player of his caliber: .224 with 19 homers and 67 RBI. However, there was no doubt that he was extremely happier back at his home at the hot corner. The hope must be that now that he knows he's going to be at third, his offense will return to the level it was before he made his move to the outfield. How long will he stay at third base? Well, that's the million-dollar question.
ANDY MARTE RICHMOND 21 YEARS OLD .269 batting average .364 on base percentage 23 home runs 68 runs batted in 104 hits in 387 at bats 28 doublesCOMMENT: The outfield experiment failed, so Andy Marte returns to where he never wanted to leave in the first place. Marte is an exceptional third baseman, and while athletic, he must have simply been too good at one spot to move to another. Moving him from third base would be sinful anyway, considering his tremendous skills at the position. Andy is a Gold Glove candidate for the position in the future. Offensively, he's a right-handed power hitter with the potential to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 every season. Marte is another Scott Rolen, so don't expect the Braves to treat his talent lightly. Right now, Chipper is in his way, but let's just wait and see how it shakes out – which is exactly what the Braves are going to do. Things like this usually have a way of working out for this organization. Marte is one of the best prospects in the game.
WES TIMMONS GREENVILLE 25 YEARS OLD .279 batting average .387 on base percentage 3 home runs 45 runs batted in 105 hits in 377 at bats 24 doubles 10 stolen basesCOMMENT: Here is a player that doesn't get much attention, but over the past two seasons has proved he has tremendous skills. Wes Timmons may be our next Mark DeRosa, and before you think that is a knock, remember how good DeRosa was as a utility player before his failure to transition into an everyday player. Timmons has the same ability to play multiple positions and contribute greatly to his team. For the last two years, he's settled in at third base and done very, very well. Wes can also play second, short, and even an occasional first base. That versatility is what will get Wes to the big leagues. Offensively, he's one of the most patient hitters in the Braves system. If he goes to AA Mississippi and does well in 2005, you can expect the talk to start that Wes may get a strong look in big league camp next spring. Wes Timmons may not be a star, but he's the type of player that helps teams win championships.
SCOTT SCHADE MYRTLE BEACH 23 YEARS OLD .244 batting average .296 on base percentage 15 home runs 55 runs batted in 92 hits in 377 at batsCOMMENT: Scott Schade split time at third base last season in Rome with Dean White, whom we featured in our shortstop profile. Schade also plays first base and is decent defensively. The 15 home runs show he has decent power, but his peripherals need to improve for him to become a better prospect. Like it is for many of our fringe prospects, Myrtle Beach will be an excellent test for Schade this season. He'll probably continue to split time between third and first.
VAN POPE ROME OR MYRTLE BEACH 21 YEARS OLD .270 batting average .333 on base percentage 5 home runs 39 runs batted in 18 doublesCOMMENT: This will be one of the most interesting stories to watch in spring training. Last year the Braves believed Van Pope was the best player in junior college baseball. He then went to Danville and had a very good start to his pro career. Now the question is whether or not the Braves will send him to Rome or Myrtle Beach. Over the years, the Braves have allowed numerous college players to skip Low-A, with Adam LaRoche being the prime example. If Pope has a solid spring training, it's likely they'll want him to go ahead and be tested in Myrtle Beach, particularly since Eric Campbell could start out in Rome.
ERIC CAMPBELL ROME OR DANVILLE 19 YEARS OLD .240 batting average .298 on base percentage 7 home runs 30 runs batted in 56 hits in 233 at batsCOMMENTS: Last year's top pick had a solid beginning to his pro career as well. It's almost customary for a young high school hitter to struggle a bit with the wooden bat, and Campbell did hit only .240. But he also showed the power that made the Braves fall in love with him in the fall of 2003. While he played shortstop last season, the Braves are ready for him to go to third base. If he plays well in spring training, there's a chance he will return to Rome, where he finished out the last week of the 2004 season. But if the Braves feel he needs more time, he'll stay in Extended spring training and get more time there before playing in Danville. Expect him to wind up the season in Rome, even if he does start out in Danville. The Braves believe Campbell can develop into a Matt Williams-type hitter, and his real training begins this spring.
MAX RAMIREZ DANVILLE 20 YEARS OLD .275 batting average .339 on base percentage 8 home runs 35 runs batted in 56 hits in 204 at bats 16 doublesCOMMENT: Ramirez had a solid season in the Gulf Coast League last season. He showed solid promise with the bat with his home runs and run production. Defensively, Ramirez is a little raw, but he is making solid strides. Ramirez has a good, solid frame for a third baseman and is still growing. More than likely, he'll be in Danville this season.
This is one of the Braves' deepest positions. Chipper Jones is only 33 years old this season, and he's under contract for probably four more years if all his options vest. Andy Marte could push Chipper back to the outfield and be at third base for the next decade. In Wes Timmons, the Braves have a valuable player that could become a solid role player on the team. The Braves truly deepened the position last June when they drafted Pope and Campbell. In two years, both could be climbing the prospect list on their way to Atlanta. Even if something were to happen where the Braves felt they could not move Jones back to the outfield and decided to trade Marte, Pope and Campbell give them two solid long-term prospects. Third base should not be a problem for a long, long time.
Bill Shanks is the Editor of BravesCenter.com. His new book, "Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team," will be out this April. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org