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2011 Atlanta Braves Spring Training: Matt Young, Diory Hernandez Continue To Lead Position Battles Through Nine Games

For the most part, spring training stats are meaningless. You don't want to take much from such a small sample size, not to mention so much of it is when the players are only gearing up for the season or working on different things.

However, at times, teams will use spring camp as a means of determining a roster spot. It's mostly for back of the bullpen spots or fourth outfielder type deals, but every spot on a roster is important in its own way, and these roster battles should not be taken lightly. The Braves have a couple of their own to watch.

Fourth Outfielder:
My projected fourth outfielder entering camp was Matt Young, and I feel this is still the case. Young is 3-10 with three RBI, two walks and one strikeout. There has never been any question about his offensive ability and being able to stick in the majors, but defense as a fourth outfielder has come in question. By all accounts, Young has proven the doubters wrong with the defense, and he seems worthy as a defensive replacement, not to mention a worthy bat over the stretch of 15 games. He is also quite valuable in that he can play second and third base. Young's versatility alone could very well earn him this spot.

Wilkin Ramirez is doing everything he can to change that. The 25-year-old is 6-11 with a triple, two RBI and no walks or strikeouts. Ramirez is capable of playing all three outfield positions with enough defense as a fourth outfielder, and he has displayed good speed on the basepaths in the past. He also has the most pop of any fourth outfield candidate. It might be tough to turn Ramirez away if he continues this pace of hitting, but it's still too early to make this claim. He has at least put his name on the map.

Jordan Schafer is 5-24 with a double, RBI, one walk and five strikeouts. It's not surprising he has received the most at bats of any Brave in camp. The Braves are trying to get Schafer back on track following the wrist injury that killed his 2010 season, and the only way to do it is with constant reps. He may have gained a lot of exposure with his batting practice rounds, but as I wrote a while back when all of this surfaced, batting practice is a lot different from regular reps on the field. Schafer still has a ways to go, and he's showing that he's not ready to compete for a spot yet.

Jose Constanza had his name constantly appear through the first couple weeks of camp as he received a good amount of at bats, but despite good speed and defense, he doesn't produce much at the plate. He is 2-10 with a RBI and walk. Constanza has slapped the ball around and tried to find holes in the infield more than anything, which is his game at the plate. He's certainly capable of the role as defensive replacement in the outfield, but the others above him can do the same with better results at the plate.

Brent Clevlen is a name I mention just to give props for going 4-10 so far, including four RBI, three walks and four strikeouts. Clevlen won't be winning a job based on defense, however, and he's best suited as depth for the corner spots.

Utility Infielder:
Diory Hernandez continues to be my guy after I projected him for the role at the beginning of camp. He is 5-11 with two doubles, a triple, four RBI and one strikeout. His bat has been everything needed to be to hold a spot on the roster, but so has his defense. He won't dazzle with the glove, but he provides sound defense at three positions. I've only seen his name mentioned once in print so far this spring, but I think he is quietly gaining the trust of the coaching staff.

Brooks Conrad is 2-15 with a double and five strikeouts; not exactly what he needs to regain trust. He has also committed an error. Conrad is being given a large amount of at bats and innings in the field, but he hasn't done anything with it yet.

Ed Lucas has opened some eyes so far this spring, going 6-13 with three RBI, one walk and one strikeout. Lucas has some impressive minor league numbers, though he will be 29 this year, and it has carried over to camp this spring. I will admit I know nothing about the guy and haven't seen him play defense, so I can't say how he could handle a utility role. But I do know he has seen innings at third and shortstop, so he gives the Braves an option with versatility who has a stick. Keep an eye on him.

Shawn Bowman is 2-11 with a home run, three RBI, one walk and five strikeouts. He will be 26 this year and has yet to touch AAA, so he's a definite long shot. His best bet is AAA depth.

Brandon Hicks is 3-12 with one double, three RBI and three strikeouts, committing one error. Hicks hasn't done much to prove he has a different approach at the plate or is worthy of a permanent spot on a big league roster. He will likely continue his pattern of AAA depth and September callups as a pinch runner.

Tomorrow I look at the competition for the final bullpen spot, as well as performances by minor leaguers at big league camp.

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