Braves’ Terdoslavich back on right track

A few days and a couple spring training games back, lodged in a hallway between George M. Steinbrenner Field’s visitor’s dugout and its accompanying clubhouse, Fredi Gonzalez voiced his displeasure with Joey Terdoslavich.

“We happen to have a day off tomorrow,” Gonzalez said, straight-faced, “and we’re gonna sit him down.”

Terdoslavich had just completed a hitless night, 0-for-2. The Braves manager’s face said it all: he was kidding.

The once-upon-a-time future replacement for Chipper Jones at the Braves’ hot corner, Terdoslavich is beginning to live up to expectations this spring, albeit in a different position and a year later than most expected.

Through Sunday’s game against the Marlins, the converted outfielder is batting .464 with a home run and six RBI. His 13 hits are tied for sixth most among all Grapefruit League batters — teammates B.J. Upton and Tyler Pastornicky are also tied for the team lead with 13 — and he’s struck out just once.

Those are the positive signs, the signs that Terdoslavich’s big league career is still very much in play, in Atlanta or elsewhere.

Gonzalez spoke highly of the 24-year-old last Tuesday, underlining just how far Terdoslavich has come in one year’s time.

“He has been so much better this spring training than he was last year, for whatever reason,” Gonzalez said. “Maybe a position change or whatever, he feels more comfortable being in a big league spring training situation. But what we’ve seen this spring, this is what the reports are of him. Everybody that’s seen him play said, ‘This guy can really, really hit.'”

Coming off a 2011 season in which he raked in awards at every minor stop he made, Terdoslavich, a doubles-producing machine in high-A ball, entered last February in a position of well-deserved expectation — he was to be the answer for what is now the Braves’ most hotly-contested position battle. But he faltered in camp. He reached base in just eight of his 25 at-bats, underwhelming along the way.

And much like fellow highly-touted Braves prospect Julio Teheran, Terdoslavich rode the negative wave of momentum out of the spring and into a relatively disappointing 2012 season. After moving up to Triple-A Gwinnett, he hit just .180, striking out in more than 23 percent of his 215 plate appearances, and after two months he was sent down to Double-A. He also had a difficult time defensively (22 errors in 53 games), and the “Chipper replacement” talk faded with doubt that he could handle the position, more impressive minor league seasons, Upton Mania, Juan Francisco vs. Chris Johnson and all the batting practice power prospects like Evan Gattis and Ernesto Mejia can provide.

He’s had to make his own headlines this time around.

With a move to the outfield — where the Braves are already set with three potential All-Stars — and a change in his swing, Terdoslavich can only hope his spring numbers provide a gateway for Gonzalez and general manager Frank Wren to make room for his switch-hitting bat off the bench.

Competition is fierce, though. To keep Terdoslavich in the majors, the franchise would likely have to hold back guys like Pastornicky, Gattis, outfielder Jose Constanza, recent signings Ramiro Pena, Jordan Schafer and Blake DeWitt along with defensive catcher Christian Bethancourt.

That’s a tough — but good — predicament for the organization to be in, but at least Terdoslavich has given himself an opportunity through the first three weeks.

“I’ve been impressed with how well he’s been able to pick up the outfield position for a guy who last played there in college, maybe in high school,” Gonzalez said. “How well he’s been able to pick up both spots — right and left field.”

Assuming the Braves carry seven relief pitchers for the bullpen and four of the team’s bench spots (once catcher Brian McCann returns to the lineup) are filled by Paul Janish, Reed Johnson, Gerald Laird and either Francisco or Johnson, due to their platoon situation, it will be interesting to see if Gonzalez needs another lefty bat off the bench.

Only Francisco bats from the left side among those aforementioned spots, so Terdoslavich, Schafer, Constanza and Pena make for interesting banter here — although the other three each feature substantially more major league service time.

Either way, Terdoslavich has hit his way back into relevance among the Braves’ prospects. That was not guaranteed entering this spring training.

Those calls into the manager’s office aren’t nearly as daunting anymore.