Yunel Escobar just keeps getting better. He's a veteran now, with two-plus seasons in the big leagues.
Last year was rocky. There's little doubt about that. At times, Braves manager Bobby Cox wanted to kill his talented shortstop, for mental mistakes and behavior unbecoming of a Brave.
But a trip to the Children's Hospital, that was right around the same time Cox had Escobar in for a little chat, calmed the Cuban infielder down a bit.
He went on to have his best overall season, with a .299 batting average, a .377 OBP, 14 home runs, and 76 RBI.
Escobar is a year away from arbitration, and four years away from free agency. So he's going to be around for a while.
The more Escobar plays, the better he gets. His offensive production was excellent, and he seemed to get better last year at shortstop.
When he was moved down in the order last year, Escobar became a run-producing shortstop. Cox's decision on where Escobar hits this year will be one of the mini-dramas of spring training.
He could go back to sixth in the order, where he thrived last year. Escobar hit .324 in that spot, better than the .303 he hit in the second spot in the order and the .288 he batted in the fifth spot.
With Troy Glaus now the 'real' cleanup hitter, Brian McCann will probably move down to fifth, pushing Escobar back into the sixth spot.
Jason Heyward could change that. If the rookie is productive, Cox may be tempted to move him up in the order since he's more of a home run threat than Escobar.
But for now, Escobar is penciled into the sixth spot in the batting order.
The main backup at shortstop will once again be Omar Infante, who can also play second, third, and the outfield.
Brooks Conrad and Joe Thurston are battling for the last infield reserve spot. Both have played shortstop in the minors, but not in the major leagues.
Martin Prado, Atlanta's starting second baseman, could move over to shortstop in an emergency.
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 column for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
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