Braves skipper Brian Snitker says the organization expects to install veteran Jose Bautista as the regular at third base once he’s brought up to the majors, Gabriel Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Bautista signed a minors deal recently after sitting out Spring Training, so he’s still getting up to full speed.
At the moment, Bautista is playing at Triple-A after logging a few games down at the High-A level. Snitker says that he’s told Bautista is “close,” so it may not be long before we get a look at the veteran at the game’s highest level. Indeed, last we heard, the expectation was that the former Blue Jay would be playing in the majors by early May at the latest.
The decision to use Bautista in a starting capacity will bump Ryan Flaherty into a platoon role. He’ll surely get some opportunities to spell Bautista against righties, and perhaps will receive some time up the middle, but the news certainly will put a big dent in Flaherty’s playing time. The 31-year-old has been among the pleasant surprises in Atlanta; he’s carrying a .362/.471/.500 slash through seventy plate appearances.
Last year, under different front-office leadership, the Braves attempted an even more novel maneuver at third by slotting Freddie Freeman there after he returned from a lengthy DL stint. That experiment didn’t last long. In this case, though, new GM Alex Anthopoulos says that he has long believed Bautista can handle the hot corner. And Snitker says there are “nothing but good reports” streaming in at the moment.
There are obviously some questions about how Bautista will perform at 37 years of age, coming off of a season in which he hit just .203/.308/.366 while playing his accustomed corner outfield. But there’s upside aplenty here for the Braves and relatively little to lose by trying. Bautista is not far removed from being one of the game’s preeminent hitters and could be quite a valuable asset if he can bounce back at the plate and deliver even palatable glovework at third.