The last spot on the roster will, presumably, go to somebody who can play centerfield. I suppose it’s possible that the Braves would go into the season with nobody on the roster to back up Nate McLouth except Joe Mather, but this would be a strange thing to do since (a) McLouth isn’t any good, or at least wasn’t last year; (b) Mather hasn’t hit at all in the majors; (c) Mather has played little center and is not particularly a centerfield “type” physically; and (d) it’s not like there’s any particular reason to get Brooks Conrad or Brandon Hicks on the roster.
There are two players who are putatively centerfielder on the 40-man besides McLouth, Jordan Schafer and Matt Young. Former hot prospect Schafer is now 24 and there was a flurry of stories about him during the winter, with the team talking him up. On the other hand, he hit .201/.268/.255 last year and was demoted from Gwinnett to Mississippi for extreme ineptitude. There were basically no signs that he could make contact consistently or hit the ball hard when he did, and his wrist may be permanently fouled up. At any rate, if the Braves consider him a backup centerfield option, that’s a sign that they’ve totally given up on him as a regular prospect. At this point, he appears to be on the Chris Snelling career path.
Matt Young was an undrafted free agent out of the University of New Mexico signed back in 2005. After essentially wasting a year in Rome — there’s no point in starting out a 22-year-old college player in the Sally League — he torched Myrtle Beach for a couple of years, had some growing pains upon reaching the higher levels, but has been solid in AA and AAA since 2008. His career line is .289/.390/.385, .294/.375/.404 for Gwinnett, which shows his problem, a lack of home run power, which can be crippling for a player trying to make it on the major league level. Now, he has a lot more power than Gregor Blanco did, and doesn’t strike out as much, but Blanco was really the exception, as most players with low power levels don’t survive in the majors. Also, Young lacks Blanco’s raw speed (though he’s been a fairly successful basestealer) and centerfield skills. A converted second baseman, his tools in the outfield are questionable at best and he’s played more left than center. Very small (listed at 5-6), throws better than Blanco.
Several outfielders got NRIs. Brent Clevlen, who played briefly in the big leagues for the Braves before getting hurt, has played a little center in the minors, but has usually been in a corner and after a knee injury his chances of playing there are pretty slim. Similarly, Wilkin Ramirez has played some center in the minors, but sparingly, and none for Gwinnett last season. Jose Constanza, a former Indians prospect picked up this offseason, is a true centerfielder and a sort of Blanco type, a career .287/.365/.356 hitter who is 210 of 260 career stealing bases. He’s a natural fifth outfielder, which doesn’t mean he isn’t possibly the best centerfielder in the organization, just like Blanco was. He might post a .620 OPS in the majors, but that’s what McLouth did last year, and Constanza seems likely to be the better fielder. The centerfielder of the future, I guess, is Mycal Jones, who has been moved to the position according to reports. Jones has some secondary skills, particularly power, but strikes out a bunch and has hit .261 in his brief minor league career. Basically, he’s a young, righthanded McLouth right now. He’s listed as an infielder on the NRI list.