The Atlanta Braves expect Johan Camargo and Adonis Garcia — hey, anybody remember Adonis Garcia? — to return soon. This would again make their infield a crowded place, which isn’t to say picking a lineup should be all that difficult. Here’s why.
1. Camargo needs to play third base on a regular basis. Brandon Phillips has had an OK season. (His Baseball-Reference WAR is 1.2, so it mightn’t be as good as the back-of-the-baseball-card numbers suggest.) He’s also 36, and he’s already out of position (third base now, as opposed to his usual second) and his contract is expiring. There’s no reason to play him every day in a meaningless September. Bradley’s Rule: Don’t lose with seniors. The Braves were surprised by what Camargo has given them. They need to learn if that was a blip, and it might well be: He hit .279 with an OPS of .703 in 2,111 minor-league plate appearances; he has hit .291 with an OPS of .797 in 197 big-league PAs.
2. Repeating the above: Camargo needs to play third base — not shortstop, not second base. Camargo’s emergence was the impetus behind Dansby Swanson’s relegation to Gwinnett. Swanson has returned and looks rather better. Ozzie Albies started slowly after his promotion but has begun to hit. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the only way Swanson and Albies could be lesser talents than Camargo is if every scout in baseball (and not just those employed by the Braves) got it wrong. The Swanson/Albies tandem remains this club’s keystone combo of the future, which means it needs to be the keystone combo of the here and now.
3. If Camargo’s audition for the third-base position in 2018 fizzles, he might still fill the role envisioned for Sean Rodriguez. The Braves traded Rodriguez — the same guy they’d rushed into the lineup, also at Swanson’s expense — because they now believe Camargo could be capable of playing several positions. (They think Danny Santana could do something similar.) They saved the $5.75 million Rodriguez is due next year, always a consideration with this organization, but the colder truth is that a guy slated to miss this season after being injured in a car crash appears to have returned too soon. He hit .162 with an OPS of .677 in 15 games here; he has hit .195 with an OPS of .713 in 19 games with Pittsburgh. The Braves love the idea of having a super-utility guy — their Ben Zobrist — and they hoped Jace Peterson would develop into one. He hasn’t. They thought Rodriguez would be the ticket. He wasn’t. The combination of Camargo/Santana is on the clock, but only if Camargo doesn’t cut it as an everyday third baseman.
4. Garcia doesn’t need to play. If not for a solid second half last season, Garcia would have been non-tendered over the winter. He hit .293 with an OPS of .789 after the 2016 All-Star break, and the Braves figured, “What’s the harm in one more year?” Well, this: He hit .247 with an OPS of .633 in 39 games wrapped around injuries. He’s 32. He has a career WAR of 0.6. (He’s at minus-0.3 this year.) He’s not part of any long-range plans. If he’s not going to be here in April, there’s no call for him to get many, if any, September innings.
5. Don’t forget Rio Ruiz. He was here briefly, to no great effect. He wound up being sent down after Camargo’s emergence, but it was curious that Brian Snitker, on the day of Garcia’s first return from injury, announced his not-very-good everyday third baseman would stay the everyday third baseman. A Garcia/Ruiz platoon might have worked, but the Braves’ manager nixed it. Ruiz figures to be back in September, and the possibility of a platoon with Camargo, who’s a switch hitter, might also be in play. Granted, Ruiz hasn’t had the greatest season at Gwinnett — he’s hitting .250 with an OPS of .771. Still, he has long been regarded as a mid-tier prospect. The Braves hold out hope for him.
6. And there’s Austin Riley. He’s 20. He has hit .292 with an OPS of .809 since he was promoted to Double-A Mississippi. He’s the third baseman the Braves got with the draft pick obtained from San Diego in the Craig Kimbrel/Melvin Upton Jr. deal. He won’t be here this September. Maybe soon, though.