31. Is Scott Thorman a big league starter?

The Braves must make a decision about left field. Could Scott Thorman be the answer there? The Braves Show's Bill Shanks has more.

From the time he was drafted in 2000, Scott Thorman has been compared to Ryan Klesko. Like Klesko, Thorman was a high school pitcher that moved to first base. Like Klesko, Thorman has a violent left-handed swing that can produce awesome power. And like Klesko, Thorman had to move to left field to get a chance at playing for the Atlanta Braves.

The 24-year-old Thorman was brought up to Atlanta in late June, when Brian Jordan finally went down with his collarbone injury. He spent most of the rest of the season with the big league club, with the exception of a two-week stint in August when he was returned to Richmond. Overall, Thorman played in 55 games and hit .263 with 5 home runs and 14 in 128 at bats.

Thorman started in 20 games in left field and 11 games at first base. His transition to the outfield is still a work in progress, and there's little question he's more comfortable at first base. But with Adam LaRoche establishing himself as an everyday player, Thorman doesn't have much of a future at first base.

But can he compete for a job in left field? Do the Braves have enough confidence in Thorman's ability to give him the left field job? Or does the desire for a leadoff man kill Thorman's chances at being an everyday player?

You would think that if the Braves considered Thorman a likely option in left field Bobby Cox would have played him there a little more later in the season. Now some say that Cox did a poor job of that, perhaps because he's not used to his team being out of the playoff hunt. But wouldn't the Braves have given Thorman at least a few more starts if he were going to be the starter in left next season?

Thorman's defense is a bit of a concern. He's not horrible out there, but he's not going to win many Gold Gloves either. He would probably be like Klesko: a decent fielder that would simply get better over time. But if the Braves trade Andruw Jones, would they want a question mark in left field with Thorman?

Thorman's bat is his drawing card. For inconsistent playing time, he didn't do poorly in Atlanta. We've all got to remember that when these minor leaguers come up to Atlanta they have to get use to not playing everyday. They spend years playing everyday trying to get to the big leagues, and then when they get there most have to accept a part-time role. That's a big adjustment.

If you look over Thorman's minor league career, you see a pattern. He usually gets better the more he plays with a team. For instance, in 2004 the Braves sent Thorman back to Myrtle Beach, after he had hit .243 there in 2003 with 12 home runs in 445 at bats. They believed he needed a little more seasoning in the Carolina League and needed to have some success. So when he returned there the next year, he hit .299 with 4 home runs in 43 games before earning his promotion to AA Greenville.

Then the next season, after hitting .252 in his 94 games in Double-A, the Braves sent him back there to start the 2005 season. Thorman then hit .305 in Mississippi with 15 home runs and 65 RBI in 90 games. The Braves then sent him to Triple-A Richmond, where he hit .276 the rest of the season with 6 home runs and 27 RBI in 52 games.

To start last season the Braves sent Thorman back to Richmond, and again he improved on the numbers he had posted from the previous season. He hit .324 with 15 home runs and 44 RBI in 256 at bats before his promotion to Atlanta.

Each of the last three seasons Thorman has made significant improvements when returning to the level he ended the previous season. So could he continue that pattern next year and improve on his decent numbers in his debut?

There is little doubt that Thorman can generate awesome power, but there just doesn't seem to be much energy about him being a starter. The sign at the end of the season when he wasn't playing much was a big one, and you'd think if the Braves believed Thorman had a future as a starter they would at least be talking about him more in the media.

What could Thorman do as a starter? Could he hit 25 home runs and drive in near 80-100 runs? Possibly. But the Braves would have to commit to him playing everyday, and the chances of that are slim. Remember how the team platooned Klesko when he first arrived in the big leagues, not to mention fellow lefty Adam LaRoche's struggles in a platoon until last summer when he was given more consistent playing time?

There is the chance Thorman could stick around as the backup to LaRoche, but the Braves seemed to fall in love with Daryle Ward last in the year after he was acquired from the Nationals on August 31st. Ward is a free agent, and he expressed a desire to re-sign this winter. Both Ward and Thorman are both lefty hitters, just like LaRoche. But the Braves are going to have to have a backup first baseman next season, and until Ward makes a decision, Thorman is the most likely candidate at this time.

Thorman could also be used as trade bait, and if the Braves traded Langerhans he could simply slide into that role of the left-handed part of a situation in left field. But he's going to have to overwhelm the Braves to win an everyday job, just like Klesko had to do. It won't be easy, especially if the Braves do go after a leadoff man this winter. But Scott Thorman has talent; it's just a question of how the Braves plan to use that talent for their benefit – which was the same quandary they had with Klesko a decade ago.

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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