Ed. note: Every year we publish a series of articles entitled “Where Do We Go From Here?” in which we analyze what the Braves need to do in order to get better the following year. Here’s the intro to the series.
The incumbent, such as it is, is Jace Peterson, who played 87 games at second for the Braves in 2016. Peterson has now amassed 1063 Major League plate appearances, with a career slash line of .237/.319/.334. Optimists may want to toss out his 58 ugly plate appearances in San Diego in 2014, and focus on his 2 year record in Atlanta — .245/.328/.347.
Peterson’s 2016 .254/.350/.366 line was an improvement over 2015, and there is reason to believe that he will continue to improve offensively in his upcoming age 27 season. Whether or not any improvement will be enough to make Peterson a useful major league starter is to be determined. In 2016, Peterson was a 0.4 WAR player, according to Baseball Reference.
Mitigating that a bit is the fact that Peterson had an oWar of 1.3, and I’m not sure how statistically significant the calculation of -0.7 dWar is over 87 games. At 2B Peterson has a career range factor per 9 innings of 5.03, compared to a league average of 4.71. There is a case that at his peak Jace Peterson will be a useful major league starter, but that peak looks to me as if it will be a short one.
Peterson played an additional 16 games in the outfield for the Braves in 2016, and 1 game at 3B. On a better Braves team Peterson would be a useful super-sub, but it looks like the Braves aren’t trying to be that kind of team quite yet. The lefty-hitting Peterson has a career .214/.269/.268 line against left handed pitchers (in 187 PA’s) and the Braves might improve themselves by adding a right handed hitting platoon partner.
Chase d’Arnaud: He is a 29 year old utility infielder who has recorded four unremarkable major league seasons. In 2016 he played all the difficult infield positions and the outfield and may return in a utility role.
Emilio Bonifacio: With all due respect, the title of this article is “Where Do We Go From Here?”
Ozzie Albies: Albies is the 12th ranked prospect in baseball, according to mlb.com, and the 5th ranked shortstop. The Braves have apparently settled on Dansby Swanson at shortstop, and Albies’ near term future looks to be at second base (Swanson is the 2nd-ranked shortstop prospect.) Albies suffered an elbow fracture in September while taking a swing, and is questionable for the start of 2017.
Offensively, the switch-hitting Albies dominated Rookie ball in 2014 at age 17, then followed up with a .310 batting average for Rome in 2015. In 2016, he split time between AA Mississippi and AAA Gwinnett, winning the Southern League batting title at Mississippi as a 19-year-old with a .321/.391/.467 slash line. Gwinnett was not as much fun, as Albies recorded a .248/.307/.351 line in 247 PA’s. Defensively, mlb.com rates him as an above average shortstop, which should translate really well to second base. Albies stole 30 bases in 2016, although at only a 70% success rate.
Still, with a combined .292/.358/.420 between AA and AAA as a 19 year old, it is easy to project that Albies at age 20 could already be as productive at the Major League level in 2017 as Jace Peterson will be. However, there is little harm from Albies starting in AAA and seeing how it goes from there. The elbow injury is the wild card, as it is unclear if Albies will be physically ready to compete for the Major League job in Spring Training anyway. It concerns me that someone can fracture their elbow on a swing. Hopefully it is a case like Chipper Jones’ freak knee injury in 1994, and not a sign of some ongoing structural weakness.
Travis Demeritte: Demeritte is the 7th-ranked prospect at second base, according to mlb.com, and the Braves’ 9th-ranked prospect overall. Demeritte is not ranked among the top 100 overall MLB prospects.
As a 21 year old in 2016, the righty-hitting Demeritte posted a .266/.361/.554 slash line between 2 clubs at High A, including 28 home runs in 520 PA’s. Additionally he stole 17 bases in 21 attempts. His 67 walks contributed to his nice .361 OBP, but his average was pulled down by a staggering 175 strikeouts in 455 at-bats. It will be interesting to see if Demeritte can keep up the OBP and/or reduce the strikeout rate when he makes the presumable jump to AA in 2017.
Although Demeritte is two years older and a level and a half behind Albies, he is still quite young and an interesting prospect. He was acquired from the Rangers organization mid-2016, and according to his scouting profile on mlb.com, the Rangers had moved him to second from third base due to a third base glut at their major league level. The presence of Albies makes it a possibility that Demeritte eventually moves back to 3B, where the prospect competition includes Austin Riley and Rio Ruiz. Demeritte ranks above both those players on mlb.com’s Braves prospect list.
I will not get too excited over anybody’s power numbers at High-A. Let’s revisit this after a season at AA.
The best free agent second baseman appears to be Neil Walker. The 31 year old hit 23 home runs and batted .282 in 2016, while making a little over $10 million. The Mets have made him a qualifying offer, and the Braves will not be in on Walker. A cheaper possibility could be right handed hitting Sean Rodriguez, coming off a career year at 31. Rodriguez hit 18 home runs and could platoon with Peterson. I would not expect him to be a huge improvement over Peterson, based on career numbers.
Other familiar names include Kelly Johnson and Gordon Beckham. The Braves focus seems to be on acquiring starting pitching, and with Albies in the pipeline, it’s probably wise long term that the Braves aren’t looking to spend on age 30+ infielders, even if they could get incrementally better in 2017.
As with free agents, the Braves do not appear to be in the trade market for a second baseman, and the presence of Albies makes it even less likely they would address this position, as opposed to their many other immediate holes (starting pitching, catching, 3B.) The Braves seem to be content to go into 2017 with Jace Peterson as their second baseman, with the idea that Ozzie Albies will get the job as soon as he is ready.