The Braves watched Dansby Swanson depart in free agency this winter. They’ll enter the season with something of a question mark at shortstop for the first time in six years as a result.
As things stand, shortstop looks like a two-man battle between young infielder Vaughn Grissom and utilityman Orlando Arcia. Grissom, 22, is seemingly the organization’s shortstop of the future. He has just 41 MLB games under his belt and comes with some questions about his ability to handle the position defensively, as many prospect evaluators have suggested he’d be a better fit for second base or left field. Arcia has a much longer MLB track record but owns a modest .243/.295/.369 line in just under 2200 career plate appearances.
Veteran shortstop Elvis Andrus remains unsigned and would seem a viable fit on paper for a win-now Atlanta team in a competitive division. There’s no indication the Braves have explored the possibility of adding a stopgap shortstop, though. Atlanta has placed a decent amount of trust in their highly-touted young players in recent seasons, and president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos expressed optimism about the in-house candidates over the weekend.
Anthopoulos acknowledged that some have defensive concerns with Grissom but noted that well-respected infield coach Ron Washington has offered strong reviews on his offseason work. “I can see how the scouting community might have questions about Vaughn. I had questions about Vaughn when I first saw him,” Anthopoulos said (link via Justin Toscano of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). “And I’ve been wrong plenty of times. The difference is we have a guy in Ron Washington who’s unbelievable with this stuff. He wouldn’t just say something to say it. … And, look, we don’t know how Vaughn’s going to hit. He’s got to earn the job. Orlando Arcia can do it, too. But Wash really believes in Vaughn. We believe in Vaughn, too, but we’re going to go with who we think the expert in that area is, and I don’t know anybody better in the game than Ron.”
Certainly, the Braves would love for Grissom to seize the position out of the gate. The right-handed hitter impressed during his first crack of major league action, hitting .291/.353/.440 with five home runs over 156 plate appearances. He showed an aggressive approach but quality bat-to-ball skills. Grissom played mostly second base with Ozzie Albies injured last season, with public defensive metrics painting him a couple runs below average in 347 innings of work.
Albies will be back at the keystone, while Austin Riley has third base secured. The only non-shortstop position in the lineup that’s unsettled is left field, where a hodgepodge of players led by Eddie Rosario look to be competing for reps. Skipper Brian Snitker stressed over the weekend that Grissom wouldn’t factor into the corner outfield during exhibition play, with the club viewing him solely as an infielder (via David O’Brien of the Athletic).
The 28-year-old Arcia is a lower-upside veteran fallback. He’s coming off the best offensive showing of his career in a part-time role, hitting .244/.316/.416 with nine homers through 234 trips to the plate. That was the first above-average slash line of his seven big league seasons. Arcia made hard contact at a career-high 42.5% clip to collect 18 extra-base hits over 68 games. It was a nice year for the 28-year-old to at least put himself in the mix for the shortstop position if Grissom falters, although his modest career track record at the plate raises questions about whether he could maintain his 2022 production over a full year of everyday shortstop reps.