With a decision pending on the return of catcher Brayan Pena, the Braves selected to release veteran first baseman Craig Wilson Thursday morning.
Wilson, who was signed to a one-year, $2 million dollar contract in January, hit only .172 in 24 games with one home run and two runs batted in this season. He was also 0-for-4 as a pinch-hitter. The Braves will be responsible for the rest of his contract.
With Wilson gone, Scott Thorman will now become the regular first baseman. Thorman is hitting .271 with five home runs and 21 RBI in 96 at bats. He's gone 4-for-14 so far against left-handed hitters.
The Braves activated the switch-hitting Pena from the 15-day disabled list to replace Wilson on the roster. Pena was hit in the head on a follow through with the bat two weeks ago and suffered a concussion.
The release of Wilson also opens the door for Jarrod Saltalamacchia to remain on the roster. The Braves wanted to find a way to justify keeping the young catcher on the team. Saltalamacchia has been playing at first base during batting practice the last few days, and the Braves have been thrilled with how he looks at the new position.
It's usually preferable to have a young prospect like Saltalamaccchia play everyday, but the Braves believe he is ready to help out at the big league level. Since he's blocked at catcher with Brian McCann, the duty now is to move him around in order to get 'Salty' adequate playing time every week.
Expect Saltalamacchia to be the main backup catcher. He will probably catch one of the five starters, as Bobby Cox usually delegates for his reserve backstop. But with Saltalamacchia now getting a look at first base, he may eventually get some occasional playing time at that position as well.
The Braves would like for Thorman to get consistent playing time at first base, but against some lefties you can expect the switch-hitting Saltalamacchia to get some at bats there. It may take him a couple more weeks in batting practice taking fungos for the Braves to be comfortable with him in a game, but the early indication is Saltalamacchia can handle the work over there.
If Salty does well at first base, keep in mind the option of having Thorman go to left field if that position became a question mark. Thorman played left the last few seasons and did well, so that could remain an option if the Braves want to get both Thorman and Saltalamacchia in the batting order.
Until Saltalamacchia gets more work at first base, expect Chris Woodward to be the main backup first baseman. Matt Diaz could also see time at the position.
Pena could possibly become the third catcher, with pinch-hitting duty his main responsibility. Pena is also a decent baserunner and could play third base in a pinch, so he does add some versatility for Bobby Cox's bench.
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 be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at email@example.com.
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