Will Braves find consistent production among second base candidates?
It should come as no surprise that over the past three seasons, no position has provided less consistency in the Braves’ lineup than second base.
That span, of course, included 474 games of Dan Uggla and saw him strike out 535 times, with a franchise-record 171 in 2013.
Released last season, Uggla is your poster boy for everything that’s gone wrong — a point driven home by the fact the $13.2 million Atlanta will pay him this season is second-highest on the year’s payroll — but he’s far from the only culprit.
Over the past three seasons, the Braves are last in the majors in average (.217) and 18th in on-base percentage (.311) and slugging (.367) at that spot. Last year, they hit .224 (28th)/.295 (22nd)/.296 (29th).
Here’s a year look at those who have played second base for the Braves since ’11 with a minimum of 50 at-bats, ranked by batting average.
Even with those sample sizes, Atlanta has had two players at the position hit above the MLB average in the past three years, Johnson in ’13 (when the mean BA was .256) and La Stella last season, when it was at .251.
The Braves haven’t had a second baseman that hit above the league average and met the qualifications for a batting title (3.1 at-bats per game or 502 in all) since Kelly Johnson, who hit .285 in ’08.
Finding some stability, either with one player or a committee of them, is paramount for 2015. With La Stella since traded to the Cubs, will the Braves find an answer amid the group of Gosselin, offseason acquisitions Alberto Callaspo and Jace Peterson or Braves Minor League Player of the Year Jose Peraza?
Callaspo, 31, who was inked to a one-year, $3 million deal, hit .277/.336/.459 last season with the A’s at second, but in all was at .223/.290/.290. He was at or above the MLB average in the previous five seasons, including hitting .300/.356/.457 in ’09 and .288/.366/.375 in ’11.
He does bring a low strikeout rate, fanning 11.1 percent of the time last season (50 times) and in six of his nine MLB seasons, has rates of 9.1 or lower.
By comparison, Gosselin had a 19.9 strikeout rate in ’14. In his two MLB seasons, the 26-year-old has 29 Ks in 134 at-bats (21.6).
We haven’t seen much of Gosselin, who totaled six extra-base hits with one homer and three RBI so far, and the same goes for Peterson.
Acquired from the Padres in the Justin Upton deal, Peterson made his MLB debut last season, hitting .113/.161/.113 in 53 at-bats over 27 games. He struck out 18 times and walked twice.
With no clear favorite at the position — for the record, it’s Callaspo that’s tops the depth char on the Braves’ Web site, with Gosselin second and Peterson third — it’s a new face to the 40-man that’s no intriguing.
During an appearance last week at the Forsyth Rotary Club, manager Fredi Gonzalez discussed Peraza, the 20-year-old Venezuelan that looks to have every opportunity to take the job for himself.
"Jose will be attached at my hip in spring training," Gonzalez told the group. "He might set the record for games played down there just so we can get a good look at him. After that, we’ll see."
Peraza hit .339/.364/.441 in 2014 in 110 games between High-A Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi and in four minor league seasons has a .306/.351/.390 slash line. While he has a strong strikeout rate (11.9), he doesn’t walk much (5.8), something that will be a point of emphasis as he heads toward his expected place at the top of the Braves’ batting order.
What also makes Peraza, and Peterson as well, so intriguing is the added dimension they can bring.
The Braves stole 95 bases, two more than the league average in ’14, but three of the four players in double figures in that department –Jason Heyward (20), Jordan Schafer (20) and Emilio Bonifacio (12) — are gone.
Peraza stole 60 bases last season and in all has piled up 177 steals in 219 tries, while Peterson boasts 148 in 190 attempts.
The obvious problem, though, is experience. Neither of them has it, and really, neither does Gosselin.
Callaspo is the odds-on favorite to take the field at second base for the April 6 opener in Miami. From a goal of trying to bring the kind of immediate consistency the Braves have lacked for seasons at the position, he may be the best option.
But the organization’s youth movement is coming and it’s at second base where it has the potential to make the most immediate and game-altering impact.
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney