In a 2007 update to the 44, Mac opined that if he redid the list, Jeff Francoeur would likely have to fall in in the thirties somewhere. I was surprised at the relatively high ranking, as Jeffy was easily Mac’s favorite punching bag. After I actually wrote up Francoeur for this list, I realized that I just couldn’t do it. With all due respect to Mac, that comment was before a disastrous 2008, when his OPS fell to .653 and the Braves in desperation sent him in midseason down to Mississippi to relearn to hit, and a half season in 2009 that was of similar stinkage. I don’t think Mac would put him on the list now, but in any event, Martin Prado was much more deserving.
Martin was signed as a free agent by the Braves from his native Venezuela in 2001 at age 17. He progressed somewhat slowly through the minors (he didn’t show up for rookie ball until the 2003 season). He had a cup of coffee with the big league squad in 2006 and again in 2007. In 2008, he played half a season, slashing .320/.377/.461. It wasn’t until 2009 that he recorded 500 plate appearances. He hit .307 in that year and the identical number again in 2010.
He was an all-star for Atlanta in 2010, when he also finished ninth in voting for the NL MVP, which is a tribute not so much to his statistics as a nod to his value in doing it while playing multiple positions. Over his seasons with Atlanta he played:
209 games at second
191 games at third
15 games at short
56 games at first
222 games in left
1 game in right
The value of a guy who can play four or five positions, and well, is not truly appreciated, primarily because itâs so rare. Back in the 1960s, it seems most team had one of these guys. Bert Campaneris, Cesar Tovar, Cookie Rojas, and even Pete Rose come to mind. Usually, though, the superutility guy was a banjo hitter, Pete Rose being an obvious exception (though Tovar could hit decently as well). Later on, it was guys like Tony Phillips and Jose Oquendo. The last Brave before Prado in this mold was probably Jerry Royster, who is sometimes derided on this board, but a guy that I think was actually a pretty useful player. Remarkably, the Braves were doubly blessed in having Omar Infante, a fellow Venezuelan and a nearly identical player, at the same time as Prado in 2008-2010. Infante played every position Prado did for the Braves, plus a few games in center.
The benefits of a superutility player are obvious: the ability to dance around injuries to regulars, to give everyone days off, and also to craft lineups to fit a particular opposing starting pitcher. But in Martin’s case, you weren’t penciling in some Punch-and-Judy hitter like Don Kelly or F.P. Santangelo to fill out the lineup– you wanted Prado in the lineup, every day, somewhere. This guy was hitting leadoff or second, even third once in a while. That is a huge asset to a manager. It’s also quite an asset to the front office, when you’re thinking about free agents and trades and bringing guys up. The knowledge that you can plug a player like Martin into any of three or four positions permits significant creativity in how you assemble the rest of the lineup.
Martin was probably best suited for third, but played them all competently (although he was a bit of a stretch to play SS). He also did it while hitting like a machine, which is why the Diamondbacks wanted him in the Justin Upton trade. He was sent to Arizona with Randall Delgado and some minor leaguers for Upton
and Chris Johnson.
Of players eligible for this list, his .295 batting average ties for sixth with Felipe Alou. He trails Chris Chambliss in Atlanta Runs Created, but his versatility in the field give him the nod over Chris. So Martin is New No. 42, above Chris Chambliss, who slides from Old No. 36 to New No. 43, and Ron Reed. Ron Reed now is 44th, the last man in.