25. If Giles is traded, who plays second base

If the Braves trade Marcus Giles, who will play second base? The Braves Show's Bill Shanks talks about some candidates.

Okay, so if there's a good chance the Braves are going to trade second baseman Marcus Giles, they must have an idea on who will replace him. Part of the reason Giles might be marketable is the presence of several internal options for that position.

The favorite will be Martin Prado, a natural second baseman who is arguably ready for the major leagues. There will be some debate, however, about how good Prado is and whether or not he can adequately fill the position.

Prado turns 23 years old tomorrow, so he's still young. Prado has always been a hitter. He has less power than Giles, but he might be a better pure hitter. However, Prado will probably hit eighth in the lineup if he's the starter, so he should be judged a bit differently than Giles.

The right-handed hitter had 42 at bats in Atlanta this past season and hit .262 with a home run and 9 RBI. Between his two cups of coffee in the big leagues Prado played in 43 games in Double-A and 60 games for Triple-A Richmond. Overall in the minor leagues in 2006 Prado hit .281 with three home runs and 38 runs batted in. In his 1506 minor league at bats, Prado has a career average of .296.

While he's a good base runner, Prado does not steal a lot of bases. He stole 14 for Rome in 2004, but since then he has only 16 in two years. Defensively, Prado's range is decent, but he's a very smooth player.

Will Prado get better once he gets to the big leagues? Most believe he's capable of being an everyday starter in the big leagues, but the debate rages on about how good he'll be. Braves' Manager Bobby Cox kind of fell in love with Prado back in spring training, and then when Prado came up to Atlanta during the season Cox was even quoted as saying that he believed Prado had the ability to one day hit 20 home runs in the big leagues.

That may be stretching it just a bit, since Prado has only 11 home runs in his minor league career, but it did show that Prado made an impression on the Atlanta manager – and that's important. Prado hustles, and he's good fundamentally at the game, and that's the type of player Bobby Cox likes on his team.

Some believe that Yunel Escobar, Atlanta's second round pick out of Cuba in the 2005 draft, could challenge Prado in spring training. Escobar, a natural shortstop, is playing second base right now in the Arizona Fall League, another sign that he might be thrown into the competition.

Escobar had a decent first full season in pro ball, despite being switched around from shortstop to third base to second base. He hit .264 with two home runs and 45 RBI in 428 at bats. That's a big jump for anyone to make, even a Cuban player that has played against some pretty good competition in his life. Double-A is tough, and the Braves were happy with Escobar's first full season.

Escobar is a hitter; there's no denying that. Most kids from Cuba grow up playing all three infield positions, so there's not a real worry about Escobar doing well at second base. If he continues to play there now in Arizona, and then play more there this winter, you know he'll get plenty of chances to improve further in spring training. So he could be primed and ready to compete with Prado for the job.

Tony Pena, Jr. is a natural shortstop, and he hasn't played much at second base. But the Braves could give him some innings over there at Disney just to see how he does. Pena made great improvements at the plate in 2006, cutting back on his strikeouts. And there's a good chance Pena will compete with Pete Orr for the reserve infielder role next spring. Part of that might include getting some starts at second base.

The wildcard in this race could be Kelly Johnson. Yes, Kelly Johnson who played in the outfield for the Braves. Yes, the Kelly Johnson that had surgery last June on his elbow.

Johnson's elbow is recovering nicely, and he expects to be on a normal throwing schedule soon to prepare for spring training. Johnson came up a shortstop out of high school, so a move to second would not be drastic for him.

Johnson played some at second base last March in spring training, and the coaches were impressed with his play over there. Then this summer, while trying to avoid surgery and get back into action, Johnson played some at second base in batting practice with the big league club. So there's definitely an interest in giving him a look over there.

Chances are Johnson will start the second in Triple-A Richmond, making sure his elbow is ready to go and he's 100%. But with concerns about second base, the Braves might place Johnson there in Richmond, so he could be an option in case Prado or one of the others do not work out.

The Braves love Johnson's bat, and second base might be the ticket to get that bat into the lineup on an everyday basis. If Johnson recovers, he might be able to prove he can handle yet another position switch.

There are a couple of long-term options to mention. First, J.C. Holt will head to Double-A Mississippi next season as the second baseman. Holt had another inconsistent season in 2006. He struggled early on, as he usually does, hitting only .222 in the first three months. But he rebounded nicely in the second half to hit .302 to finish at .266. That's the second straight season Holt has had a better second half than first half, so he must string together two solid and consistent halves of the season.

Holt is a legit base-stealing threat, and he's doing very well in transitioning to second base. He played the outfield a bit in college at LSU, but he's learning how to play in the infield. Holt will have a big year ahead of him in Double-A in 2007, and we might know more about how legit he might be after his time in Mississippi.

And while he's still several years away, it's important to note that with Eric Campbell playing second base in the Hawaiian Baseball League, he's a name to keep in mind. Campbell is a hitter, and while he did well at third base, the presence of Van Pope, a better defensive third baseman, have the Braves wanting to make sure they've got a place for Campbell to play.

Campbell has legit power potential, and if he can handle the defensive change to second, he could develop into a Jeff Kent-type prospect. If he's got that potential, the Braves might feel comfortable going to the hot hand at second base until Campbell is ready. He presents a very interesting long-term option for the position.

Of course, the Braves could sign a free agent or acquire a different second baseman in a trade. Ray Durham, Mark Loretta, Luis Castillo, and Adam Kennedy are a few of the free agent second basemen this winter. But unless there is more money freed up in an Andruw Jones trade, the Braves are more likely to go with a cheaper, internal prospect in the position.

Replacing Marcus Giles will not be easy. He was a fan favorite, and the fans will always appreciate Giles' play over the last few years. But the signals are strong that he could be dealt, and the Braves have to feel good about the internal options at the position.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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