Inbox: Are plate upgrades a concern?

Inbox: Are plate upgrades a concern?

Why isn't general manager Frank Wren doing anything to upgrade the offense? What good is it to have a great pitching staff when the offense can't score runs? Wren needs to understand that Braves fans want to see our team back in the playoffs!
-- Ramiro H. Laredo, Texas

I'm not sure how many of you share Ramiro's view that the Braves haven't improved from an offensive standpoint. So I guess it would be best to answer this question by saying that my take is that the starting rotation was the only aspect of the roster weakened by Wren's offseason decisions.

There's no doubt that the quintet of Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson and Kenshin Kawakami could prove to be among the game's best. But the lack of depth in this department leaves them subject to potential disaster even if just one of these starters suffers a significant injury.

It's easy to argue that Lowe was bound to be better than Javier Vazquez this year or that Vazquez wouldn't have been able to match what he did last summer. But can you confidently say that you like Kris Medlen or Jo-Jo Reyes filling one of the rotation spots if one of these hurlers was out for a significant period?

With this being said, losing a starting pitcher for some time has essentially been a part of the game. You celebrate seasons like the most recent, when the Atlanta rotation was barely bruised, and dread seasons like 2008, when MMA fighters were less prone to injury than Braves pitchers.

If the Braves are forced to call upon Medlen or Reyes this upcoming summer, they still have the potential to have a sufficiently strong rotation. But the organization's lack of Major League-ready talent in the starting pitching department should be viewed as one of the primary concerns entering the season.

In other words, I'm not too concerned about how Wren's moves have affected the offense. We'll see whether Troy Glaus is able to put up the kind of production that Adam LaRoche provided during his two months in Atlanta last year. But I think it's pretty safe to say he is capable of providing equal or greater power. And do I even have to mention that Glaus is a significant upgrade in comparison to Casey Kotchman?

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Melky Cabrera's versatility further improves an outfield mix that is significantly better than the one you saw during the first two months of the 2009 season. You know, the outfield mix that seemingly registered more outs with their bats than they actually recorded with their gloves.

Taking this even one step further, it's pretty safe to assume most of you would view Eric Hinske as an upgrade over Greg Norton. But be careful about getting to over-excited about these bench guys. At this time last year, there was little reason to predict there would be some evenings when it seemed the Braves would have been better off calling Norton back to the dugout in favor of Bobby Dews.

After seeing Matt Diaz's stats and playability last season, will Diaz see the playing time he deserves this season with the addition of Cabrera?
-- Ryan C. Tuscaloosa, Ala.

With the belief that Jason Heyward will spend all or at least a significant portion of this season as the starting right fielder, you have to assume the addition of the switch-hitting Cabrera signals that Diaz will once again find himself in some sort of platoon role.

It was a bit unusual to see Diaz hit .412 in 136 at-bats vs. left-handed pitchers and .255 in 235 at-bats vs. right-handers last summer. During the 2007 season (he missed most of '08), he hit .318 (54-for-170) vs. right-handers and .356 vs. left-handers.

While Diaz came to the Braves with the reputation of being some guy who raked against lefties and flaked against righties, it seems he's more like the guy he was in 2006 and '07, when he didn't show this tendency.

Diaz essentially served as an everyday outfielder during the final two months of this past season. From Aug. 8-Sept. 4, he hit .422 with five homers and a 1.167 OPS. His production slipped over the remaining month as he dealt with the discomfort of a splinter that led to a troubling infection in his thumb. Nevertheless, he still took advantage of the opportunity to prove he could be successful in an everyday role.

But with this being said, I think we should expect to see Diaz sharing time in left with Cabrera, who will also spell Nate McLouth in center and Heyward in right.

Should the Braves minimize the hope of Heyward being a starter? He might need more development. Remember Charlie Morton and his struggles?
-- Danny C. Snellville, Ga.

We may be a part of history here. You may never again see a sentence where Heyward and Morton are linked via a comparison. The 20-year-old Heyward is full of legit confidence and Morton is well, not Heyward.

Danny, you have a legitimate concern about the possibility that Heyward isn't quite ready for the Majors. But if this is the case, I don't think you have to worry about the possibility that he would be mentally scarred for a significant period.

In addition, there's no doubt that the Braves will be closely monitoring Heyward throughout camp. If there's even a hint that he's not ready, they won't be overly concerned about having to send him to Triple-A Gwinnett to begin the season.

Part of the value brought by Cabrera is the fact that he could capably keep the right-field position warm until Heyward is ready for the big leagues.

Where would you rank newly acquired pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino amongst the other Braves' prospects?
-- Derek G. Charleston, S.C.

Having not seen him, I can only go with those who have said he ranks just behind the heralded Julio Teheran, who was listed by Baseball America as the third-best prospect in the Braves' organization.

There have been a number of highly-regarded young pitching prospects like Vizcaino and Teheran who never live up to their potential at the Major League level. But it's certainly exciting for the Braves to know that they have two 19-year-old hurlers with this kind of promise within their system.

When it comes to pitchers, you just never know until they have time to mature and test themselves at higher levels. Things can change quickly. I mean, the 18-year-old version of Tommy Hanson was so highly regarded that he slipped to the Braves in the 22nd-round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.

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