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Inbox: Who will be the Braves' leadoff hitter?

Inbox: Who will be the Braves' leadoff hitter?

Inbox: Who will be the Braves' leadoff hitter?
With Michael Bourn testing the free-agent market, who are some of the candidates to replace him in the leadoff spot in 2013?
-- Samuel P., Newland, N.C.

After striking out 155 times this past season, Bourn did not necessarily look like a prototypical leadoff hitter. But he was certainly the closest thing the Braves have had to a leadoff hitter over the course of the past six seasons.

Now with the likelihood that Bourn will be playing elsewhere next year, there is reason to wonder who will be positioned at the top of Atlanta's lineup next year. The Braves' top free-agent target, B.J. Upton, is certainly not a candidate to fill the leadoff role.

If the Braves land Upton, they could attempt to sign either Shane Victorino or Angel Pagan to fill the role. With the likelihood that Pagan is heading back to San Francisco, Victorino would be the more likely option.

Then of course there is always the possibility that the Braves could find their next leadoff hitter via a trade. The Rockies' Dexter Fowler and the Twins' Denard Span are both potential options.

And if the Braves are forced to fill this role internally, general manager Frank Wren has said that Andrelton Simmons would be a candidate. A year ago, we were debating whether Simmons would even hit at the Major League level. After hitting .289 with a .335 on-base percentage over 182 plate appearances, we're now mentioning him as a potential leadoff hitter.

This seems to be yet another reminder that there are very few legitimate leadoff hitters in the game. In fact, it is easy to argue there are fewer legit leadoff hitters than there are legit aces.

Production out of the leadoff spot does not necessarily provide an accurate indicator of a team's overall success. The Reds won 97 games this year as their leadoff hitters compiled a .254 on-base percentage, last in the NL. The top two NL teams in OBP from the leadoff spot this year were the 101-loss Cubs and the 98-loss Rockies.

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Then you have the World Series champion Giants, who primarily used Gregor Blanco as their leadoff hitter during the season's first four months. They didn't insert Pagan into that role until the early portion of August.

The Giants were legitimate playoff contenders without Pagan at the top of their lineup. They put themselves in position to win their second World Series in three years once they put him there.

The Braves will obviously make every attempt to land a proven leadoff hitter. And if they don't, they can only hope to be as fortunate as the Giants, who obviously did not know what kind of impact Pagan would have at the top of their lineup.

How much more viable of a choice would Span or Fowler be over Upton? I imagine Span and Fowler would be much cheaper to acquire and Span has similar numbers to Bourn.
-- Joey S., Loganville, Ga.

It is amazing how many Braves fans have been clamoring over the opportunity to get Span, who has been described as a "poor-man's Michael Bourn." He has hit .284 with a .357 on-base percentage and .389 slugging percentage in 589 career games. He has never recorded more than 33 stolen-base attempts in a season.

While hitting .283 in 128 games with the Twins this past season, Span did not seem to be bothered by effects of the concussion that sidelined him for much of the 2011 season. Still, while the 28-year-old outfielder has the potential to be a nice piece, he is certainly not capable of being a difference-maker like Upton.

As for Fowler, the Braves might benefit from the opportunity to bringing him back to his hometown to play alongside his good friend, Jason Heyward. Or they might quickly realize that Fowler dearly misses those opportunities to play in Coors Field. Either way, the Rockies are likely going to ask for more than the Braves are willing to offer.

Todd Cunningham had a really good year in Mississippi, what's the story with him? Is he a possible option in center?
-- Justin E., Newark, N.J.

Cunningham seemed to put everything together this past summer and live up to some of the expectations he produced while winning the Cape Cod Summer League batting title in 2009. He batted .309 with a .364 on-base percentage and 24 stolen bases in 120 games with Double-A Mississippi this year.

It will be interesting to see how Cunningham handles himself when tested at the Triple-A level this season. Along with showing positive signs at the plate, he has provided indication that he is athletic enough to handle the center-field position. Right now, it seems safe to say he has the potential to at least be a solid fourth outfielder at the big league level.

It seems like Juan Francisco is being left out of any consideration for third base next year. If he works hard in the offseason and comes to camp in fine shape, should he be given a chance to earn the position?
-- Joe S., Yankton, S.D.

The Braves have certainly not forgotten about Francisco and his tremendous power potential. They were pleased with the progress he made after one of the team's executives challenged him in late June. Once this season concluded, Francisco was told that he needed to shed some weight while playing in the Dominican Republic.

All indications are that he is starting to get in better shape. And say what you want about Winter League stats, he is proving productive at the plate. Still, looking toward the 2013 season, you can expect Francisco to serve as Martin Prado's backup at third base.

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

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