This decision has pretty much already been made, as general manager Frank Wren has said Martin Prado will be the starting second baseman in 2010.
It was a strange turnover at the position. Kelly Johnson had been the starter at second for two and a half seasons before Prado took over in June.
Johnson was once again thrust into the role as the leadoff man to start the 2009 season, despite proving to everyone in 2008 that he was not a good fit for that spot in the lineup.
Johnson hit only .203 in April. He rebounded with a strong May, hitting .297. But then he fell off again in June, hitting only .125. That was enough for the Braves to insert Prado as the starter at second base.
While Johnson was hitting only .125, Prado hit .359 and didn't relinquish the position. Prado hit .327 in July, .291 in August, and then .308 in September and October.
Along with the base hits, Prado also showed power for the first time in his career. Prado hit 11 home runs with Atlanta, the most he's ever hit in his professional career. His previous high in home runs was 5 home runs in 2005, hit between Myrtle Beach and Mississippi.
When Prado came up to the big leagues in 2006, Bobby Cox made a comment about his belief that Prado could one day hit close to 20 home runs. Most fans laughed, considering what Prado had done in the minors.
But with 11 home runs in only 450 at bats, Prado showed that Cox knows a thing or two about baseball. In fact, over the course of a full season that would give Prado about 14 or 15 home runs. That's not 20, but it's a lot more than what Prado did hit in his minor league career.
So with Prado now the second baseman, perhaps the bigger question is can he keep it up? Can he continue to produce enough at second base to be a major league regular?
The Braves think so. Prado has always been known as an offensive player, hitting .302 in his minor league career. His major league career average is now .307. So he's passed every test to prove he can, in fact, hit.
One has to wonder how much more consistent Prado might be if he is left at second base for the full season. He bounced around from second to third, and then to first, and even in the outfield a bit last season. But now as the regular at second base, he could be even more consistent.
Prado should also be left in one position in the batting order as the new regular at second base. He hit mostly in the second spot in the order last year, hitting .315. Occasionally he was moved around, but expect Cox to leave him in the two hole.
The Braves believe Prado can hit close to .300 regularly, and if he can hit 12-15 home runs and drive in close to 60, they will have one of the best offensive second basemen in the National League.
As for Johnson, the Braves have to make a decision on him. They hinted around about moving him back to left field, but it's more likely Johnson has seen his last day in a Braves' uniform.
The Braves are probably going to try to trade him, but he's eligible for arbitration. And unless the Braves can find a team that has a player in a similar financial bracket, one that the Braves can afford and a player the Braves may need, it's more likely Johnson will simply be non-tendered.
Cox unwisely used Johnson at the top spot in the order to start the season, and even after Johnson struggled, Cox continued to lead him off. Johnson is more of a number two hitter, or perhaps even a number six hitter in a lineup. But the Braves may choose to instead find him a new home this offseason.
Second base is Martin Prado's position now. He's got to hit like he did after he got the job in June of last season, and the Braves feel he will do that.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on
WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
19. Prado or Johnson - who starts at 2B?
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