The Atlanta Braves generally have consistent fielding, but one spot that is seen as a hole in their defense is second base. For a long time, Dan Uggla started at second, but for the past couple years he has been slipping both offensively and defensively.
Despite efforts to improve Uggla’s hitting, such as laser eye surgery and being more conservative when swinging the bat, Uggla continues to hit below the Mendoza line at .184 and is almost guaranteed to be an instant out. Uggla’s faulty fielding does not help either; he has been charged with the most fielding errors on the Braves this season.
No doubt that these statistics are coming back to haunt Uggla. Since May 7, Fredi Gonzales has benched Uggla in favor of starting either Ramiro Pena or Tyler Pastornicky at second. While Gonzales won’t admit that he benched Uggla, by now he should know that shoehorning Uggla onto the card is not practical anymore, especially when almost the whole team is not hitting.
A tough road ahead
So far the NL East is in a dead heat; although the Braves are 5 – 8 in May, they still have a 1.5 game lead on the Washington Nationals, but this could change because of their tough schedule. For the rest of May, the Braves play the St. Louis Cardinals, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Colorado Rockies, the Boston Red Sox, and the Miami Marlins. If the Braves want to retain their lead through May, they will need to bring their A-game, but with the lack of hitting from top to bottom, the Braves have to make changes soon, and second base is a good place to start.
Right now there is no definitive starter at second. Nobody in the Braves’ clubhouse confirmed that Uggla lost his job, but at the same time the Braves are trying other options to strengthen second base.
Pena put up decent numbers last season and could be a potential replacement, but as a lifetime .239 batter, the Braves could get a better hitter as there is no guarantee that Pena will have a repeat year. And while Tyler Pastornicky is also contesting for second base, like Pena, his hitting numbers are not that attractive with a lifetime .242 average.
While I would not rule out Pena and Pastornicky as starters at second, there are other potential starters in Triple-A Gwinnett who also could replace Uggla.
Tommy La Stella is expected to get called up from Gwinnett soon, and with Uggla’s status in question it seems more likely than ever that La Stella will get the call. La Stella has an all-around great batting average in Gwinnett this season at .289 and posted an exceptional slugging percentage of .492 last season. With these numbers, La Stella’s offense could provide the power that the Braves need.
Philip Gosselin started once at second base last season, but he was quickly sent back to Gwinnett after appearing in four major league games. Since then, Gosselin has been racking up good stats in Triple-A, posting a .336 average in 134 at-bats this season. Gosselin also impressed in spring training this year finishing with a .357 average in 28 at-bats.
No matter who ends up with Uggla’s job, one thing we know is that Uggla has had enough time to shine, and at this stage of the game, the Braves need more good bats on the roster.