Monday, March 21, 2016

The Case for Jace Peterson at Second Base

Jace Peterson is in a weird spot this spring. He's been shuffled around to every possible position short of filling in for the battery, and I'm wondering if he's even going to make the squad this year let alone start at second base like he did in 2015. The Braves seem to be wondering the same thing.

The problem for Jace is that he wasn't hitting well in spring training. He's recorded his 9th hit in 36 ABs, which only scores out as a .250 average, but the upside for Jace is that he's had two multi-hit games in a row this week. After starting slow at the plate, it looks like Peterson is finding his stroke with the lumber which puts some pressure on the Braves when it comes to 2B decisions.

After all, there's no such thing as a set position unless your name is Markakis or Freeman. Everything about the Braves is in flux, and Jace is caught in that whirlwind. As I see it, there are three semi-viable options to play second for the Braves his year: Jace Peterson, Kelly Johnson, and Emilio Bonafacio. Right now, here are their spring slash lines (AVG,OBP,SLG,OPS):

Peterson - .250/.372/.389/.761
Johnson - .240/.406/.360/.766
Bonafacio - .297/.350/.486/.836

Simply looking at spring numbers, you'd put Emilio Bonafacio into the starting spot. He's a veteran, he's hitting well right now, and he's able to field the position adequately. And the Braves might end up doing just that. Bonafacio may see some time as the starter early, and that's why Jace is being moved around to provide utility. Let's also just assume that Kelly Johnson really isn't in the discussion other than as a bench guy, because that's all he's been for the last few seasons with some outlier streaks and his hitting is meh in training.

However, I don't think Emilio is the second baseman starter for all of this season. Jace Peterson should be that guy in my mind and here's why. Emilio is 30 years old and in his past 3 full years he posted an OPS in the .600s. Last year in his disastrous season with the White Sox that got him cut, he had an OPS in the .300s. That's not even Dan Uggla bad, that's guy you pulled out of the minors and told him to lean into pitches bad. Defensively, Bonafacio is a guy. He's the standard second baseman who can make the average plays and not much more.

Jace on the other hand is young at age 25 and under Braves control until 2021. He also hit in the .600s of OPS in his true full rookie season, but his defensive ability is much better than Bonafacio's in my opinion, and it's improving as he gets more time at the MLB level. His hitting stats are similar if not better than Bonafacio's in several categories like stolen bases and walks, plus he's got more gap to gap power than Emilio. The downside for Jace is that he had a metric ton of strikeouts, and he needs to cut down on those with high walk rates to raise his OBP, which will give him more value in a lineup. Jace on base means more runs scored for the Braves with his speed.

Given similar stats, I think Jace has the better upside and I hope the Braves would develop him for that 2B and possibly what I will call the "Martin Prado" utility role. That's going to be a key role for the Braves over the next 3 seasons as we figure out what in the world we have on the field. Being able to shift a guy who can hit and run into daily positions of need is a manager's best friend. And the Braves needs all the friends they can get in 2016.


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