29. Is Ryan Langerhans the starting LF?

Can Ryan Langerhans continue as the Braves' starting left fielder? Bill Shanks talks about the young outfielder from Texas as BravesCenter continues its look at the top questions facing the Braves this winter.

It seems like twenty years ago that the Braves started off the 2005 season with Brian Jordan as the starting left fielder and Raul Mondesi as the starting right fielder. The experiment, as we all know, thankfully didn't last. Mondesi was out by mid-May and Jordan was injured and practically gone by midseason.

The Braves knew both players were only insurance. They knew the young kids were on the way, and it was only a matter of time before players like Ryan Langerhans, Kelly Johnson, and Jeff Francoeur would be ready.

The team had expected Langerhans to win a starting job out of spring training, but Braves' manager Bobby Cox decided to go with the veteran instead. Johnson then got the first shot, replacing Mondesi as soon as the veteran was designated for assignment. But after a while, Johnson's fellow Texas buddy took over in left field.

Ryan Langerhans was once compared to Paul O'Neill, a player with a smooth lefty swing that could generate power, along with tremendous defensive ability. Those comparisons waned a bit, as Langerhans battled some injuries that curtailed a number of his minor league seasons. He had never had a season where he posted double-digit home run totals until he played a full season in Richmond in 2004.

That season might be very indicative of Langerhans' potential. He hit .298 with 20 home runs and 72 RBI in 456 at bats with 103 runs scored. It convinced the Braves he was finished with his minor league career.

Langerhans' rookie season was a success. He might not have gotten the publicity of Jeff Francoeur or the other Braves' rookies, but his contributions were extremely important. His home run in April that beat the Astros will probably be remembered for a long time, and his stellar plays in left field made the Atlanta outfield defense the best in the game.

The soon-to-be 26-year-old finished the 2005 season with a .267 batting average, 8 home runs, 42 RBI, and a .348 OBP. It was a solid season, but since Langerhans finished the year as the starter, many people are wondering how he can follow it up in the future.

Again, I revert back to the 2004 season in Richmond. Those numbers might actually be an indication of what Langy might be able to produce as a regular. He's not going to be a power hitter in the mold of Francoeur or Andruw Jones. But he could be a player that puts up 20-25 home runs and drives in 70-90 runs a season.

It will be interesting to see if the Braves might be tempted to use Langerhans as a leadoff man should Rafael Furcal leave via free agency. The Braves might have to have a different type of leadoff man, not one that steals a bunch of bases, but instead one that gets on base. Langerhans had a .348 OBP in 2005 (same as Furcal), and it might be even higher if he gets the chance to hit there.

If the Braves place Marcus Giles in the leadoff spot, Langerhans could replace him as the number two hitter. Langerhans is a good bunter (better than Giles), and again his ability to get on base might make him perfect in that number two spot. More than likely, he'll hit lower in the order and have the ability to drive in some runs.

The one thing we can count on with Langerhans is his defense. He is perhaps better than Jones and Francoeur in some areas defensively. His instincts are tremendous, and while Francoeur got all the assists by showing off his throwing arm, Langerhans always had the best arm in the Atlanta farm system.

General Manager John Schuerholz might be tempted to acquire a more experienced player for left field, but he's also got to be curious as to what Langerhans might do as the starter over the course of a full season. With Jones already a MVP-candidate type of player and big things expected from Francoeur, the Braves don't have to necessarily expect outlandish numbers from their ‘third' outfielder. If Langerhans could hit around .280 or so, get on base 35% of the time or better, and play his usual outstanding defense, the Braves will have a pretty damn good outfielder.

If Langerhans fails as a starter, Johnson might once again get the chance. But it's not like there are any other outfielders in the system knocking on the door. Most of the outfield prospects down on the farm are a few years away, and as of now there are not any that are considered star-material. So unless someone else is acquired, Langerhans might get his chance.

Who knows if Langerhans can develop into a consistent starting outfielder. But as we have said when analyzing a lot of the Braves' young players, the Braves won't know until he's given the chance. When he got his chance late last season, Langerhans did well. And he deserves the shot to be given that same chance over the course of a full season. Until then, we won't know exactly how good Langy might be as a starter in the big leagues.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional front office philosophies. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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