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Determining Martin Prado's Defense In Left Field

Rob Neyer continues his spring training question of the day with the Atlanta Braves. Neyer focuses on center field, which is certainly the question of the season so far. How Nate McLouth handles the job is the great mystery of Atlanta these days.

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But Neyer also mentions Martin Prado in left field:

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Martin Prado will probably work out well enough in left field. Despite playing all over the infield during the last three seasons, his hitting has been both effective and consistent. Remarkably consistent. But while he doesn't figure to let the position switch bother his hitting, Prado has started only three games in the outfield in his career, and there's just no telling about his defense out there. And it's probably worth noting that if he's got the speed of a rangy left fielder, that has not yet showed up in his speed-related statistics.

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It probably is worth noting that Prado's speed-related statistics don't spell "rangy left fielder," but stolen bases don't have to. Athleticism is a much better indication of outfield range, as well as natural instincts.

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Athleticism is the obvious one. If a player is athletic, he has natural range and should be able to cover ground well. Footwork also falls under athleticism, such as jumps on the ball and diving.

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Natural instincts include seeing the ball off the bat and taking correct routes on fly balls. Seeing the ball off the bat and judging flight and distance is every bit as important as range. This comes in large part to reps. As Prado works more and sees more innings in left field, he will only get better at doing this, and he's already above average at doing it.

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Prado doesn't steal bases, but he has the athleticism and instincts to be an above average left fielder, and that's all you can ask from him. I don't think Neyer intended to make that final sentence such a big deal as I did, but I just thought it was worth mentioning that you can't really look at stats like that to determine a player's range. Your own eyes are the best indicator.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.