Prado out to prove himself at new position

Prado out to prove himself at new position

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When informed he would be making the switch to left field this year, Martin Prado didn't have any ill feelings toward Dan Uggla. In fact, he celebrated the acquisition of the powerful right-handed hitter and supported the Braves' decision to acquire Uggla to play second base.

Prado's concern was rooted in the fear that he had disappointed as a second baseman and was essentially being demoted from a defensive perspective. Those who had watched him become a solid infielder knew this wasn't the case.

But for Prado, this was an expected reaction. After being forced to prove himself throughout a statistically strong Minor League career, he was called to the Majors and regularly displayed a fear that his days at this level were numbered.

Seven months after standing at Angel Stadium as the National League's starting All-Star second baseman, Prado has returned to Braves camp and provided indication that he's still motivated by paranoia. Or maybe it's better to say that he's respectful of the fact that he has the potential to prove to be much greater.

"I think it's a great attitude to have," Braves pitcher Tim Hudson said. "A lot of young players expect to have jobs handed to them, and [they] have a sense of entitlement. But that's not how it should be. You should have guys coming in expecting to work hard for a job and expecting to have to produce at this level.

"Here's Prado, who has been productive at this level for two or three years. Still, he has a sense that he has to prove himself. That's what makes him great."

After hitting .307 with 15 homers and providing a necessary spark when he was placed in the leadoff role in May, Prado was arguably the Braves' most valuable player last year. Still, when Uggla was acquired from the Marlins in November, Prado actually feared that he had disappointed the Braves by not proving reliable enough in the field. He was calmed a short time later when it was explained that the organization was simply confident that his athleticism would allow him to be the one who could make a smooth transition to left field.

"We needed a big bat, and I totally thought that was the right move," Prado said. "Now I'm just going to take it professionally. Unfortunately, it was my spot that was affected. But I'll be fine."

When the Braves' medical staff determined in November he had recovered from the torn oblique muscle and hip pointer injury he suffered on Sept. 27, Prado began getting back in shape and attempting to acquaint himself with playing the outfield, something he had only done occasionally while playing in the Venezuelan Winter League.

By the time Braves center fielder Nate McLouth arrived in Florida during the first week of February, Prado was ready to kick it into full gear.

While some of their teammates were still packing to come to camp and enjoying the final days of the offseason, Prado and McLouth were working out from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. ET on a daily basis at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex.

"You're not going to find a guy who works harder than Prado," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "He keeps his body in shape and does everything necessary to get ready for a ballgame every single night. As a teammate, you see that and respect it a whole lot."

Braves strength and conditioning coach Phil Falco beams with pride when asked about the dedication shown by Prado, who arrives at the Spring Training complex around 6:30 a.m. every day and exits at approximately 3 p.m., about 90 minutes after most of his teammates.

"I'm trying to do everything I can to be able to go home and say, 'I did whatever it takes,'" Prado said. "I don't want to go home and think, 'I could have done better.'"

"There are some points where you want to say, 'Slow down,'" Falco said. "But that's basically him and that's what makes him go like he does. He's got that one speed, and that's to give everything he's got and work as hard as he can. He's got a great intensity level. He's a pleasure to work with. If I had 100 guys like that, it would be the easiest job in America."

When Prado returned to his locker after Monday's workout, he was wearing a smile and showing no sign that he was being fatigued by the increased responsibilities he's gained now that he's been asked to spend some time in left field.

The Braves have asked Prado to spend two days focusing his defensive drills in the outfield and then take grounders at third base the next day. This rotating schedule will help him to be prepared in the event that Chipper Jones is sidelined for any period of time this year.

At the same time, the Braves recognize that Prado's long-term future isn't likely in the outfield. With Uggla signed through the 2015 season, Prado's days at second base are likely complete. But he could serve as Atlanta's third baseman once Jones steps away.

"I'm enjoying it," Prado said. "I'm having fun. That's all that matters. I'm lucky that I'm here in the big leagues. I'm so grateful that I'm healthy and I can do what I want."

So far, Prado seems quite capable of making a smooth transition to the outfield. He has been seen making a number of over-the-shoulder catches during the first week of camp. At the same time, the other outfielders have been impressed by his desire to be the best that he can be while learning this foreign position.

"He's expecting perfection out of himself at a new position," McLouth said. "I've seen him get frustrated a couple times at himself. But it's nothing that keeps him down."

While hitting .307 over the past two years -- the 11th-best mark in the Majors during this span -- Prado forced many around the game to recognize he has far exceeded the expectations of those who projected he would never be more than a utility player in the Majors.

But as he tirelessly works in the weight room and excitedly accepts the challenge of playing in the outfield, Prado has provided the impression that he believes he has plenty left to prove.

"I don't think I've seen him just standing around," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Whether he's on the field, in the clubhouse or in the weight room, this guy does not stand around. He's always working and always trying to improve himself."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.