A few days ago, Yunel Escobar forgot to throw the ball to home, allowing a run to score against Pittsburgh.
On Sunday, Yunel Escobar botched a double play and a run-down play in the first two innings, leading to several runs at Baltimore. Braves manager Bobby Cox became so incensed that he benched his starting shortstop — in the third inning — and later referred to him as lackadaisical.
We’ve heard a lot about the “next wave” of Braves players. It’s normal any time an older and high-payroll team releases veterans or lets them sign elsewhere in free agency. A transition to younger players make economical sense. The problem is when the “next wave” of players look flawed. And these Braves have been just that.
Here are four players out of the Braves’ system that were supposed to make a difference — in a good way — this season:
♦ SHORTSTOP: Escobar. The good news is he’s hitting .293, which makes him relatively Ruthian in the Braves’ batting order. But he has become a mush head in the field. He has eight errors in 53 games, which puts him on pace for 24 — eight more than year’s 16. Overall, the field percentage of Braves shortstops is only .969, which ranks 23rd out of 30 teams.
Worse is the mental errors that don’t show up on the scoreboard (at least not under “E”). In Baltimore, he hesitated before throwing to first base, which would’ve completed a double play. In the second inning, pitcher Derek Lowe had the Orioles’ Brian Roberts picked off first. But during an ensuing run-down play, Escobar passed on a chance to tag Roberts (which would’ve ended the inning) and instead threw home too late to get the Orioles’ Robert Andino, who had been on third.
Cox: “We pride ourselves on doing things right and being in the game [mentally] and don’t do things lackadaisically.” Also this, ”I’ve talked to him an awful lot since he’s been here.” Understand, this is somebody who almost never criticizes a player. So for Cox, this is as close as he comes to throwing a player under the bus.
♦ SECOND BASE: Kelly Johnson: The Braves weren’t sure about his defensive abilities at second base when he came up but thought he could provide some offense. That assessment seemed on target when Johnson raised his average from .276 two years ago to .287 last season. But he’s now down to .238 and has a career-low on-base percentage of .301.
♦ RIGHT FIELD: Francoeur. I won’t bore you too much. His nosedive has been debated ad nauseam. But his batting average is down to .250 and, even though he is striking out less, he has hit only four home runs in 61 games.
Chipper Jones had some interesting things to say on Francoeur the other day when I asked him. The first thing stood out the most: “He’s got a million batting coaches. A million. And he’s listening to all of them.” (Feel free to read between the lines.)
But Jones believes the problems with Francoeur are not all mental: “He’s tried. He’s worked. But he has some fundamental issues that he can’t feel. You can tell him don’t arm-bar at the plate [keeping arm stiff and parallel to ground]. I can show him what it does to his swing but he can’t fix it because he can’t feel it. If you can’t feel it, you can’t make the adjustment. You can show him his stance in his rookie year and show him last year and all the major differences. But he doesn’t feel it.”
♦ CENTER FIELD: Jordan Schafer. How many times did we hear in the last three years, “Jordan Schafer is going to be great”? And he still might be one day. But right now he’s a mess. There was the drug-related suspension last season, which pushed back the team’s plans (even if circumstances surrounding that suspension remain sketchy).
This season there was some debate within the organization as to whether he was ready or not. The Braves took a chance. The answer: He’s not ready. He was hitting .205 with 63 strikeouts in 167 games before general manager Frank Wren screamed “uncle.” So Schafer is down at Gwinnett and Nate McLouth is the starting center fielder for the foreseeable future.
So there you go. Four hot prospects. Half the line up. All struggling.
So why is Francoeur the only one being rumored in trade? It’s harder to find somebody on the team who isn’t tradable.
It’s OK for a team to get younger, faster and cheaper. But when there’s something wrong with the replacements, this is what you’re left with.