Friday, June 9, 2017

Best #60 in Braves Franchise History

(Series Note: Baseball-Reference was used for a collection of players so this series is as complete as their database is. No coaches/managers were included and a number had to have at least four options to be considered with two exceptions. I started from the highest available number because as I approach #1, I'll have much tougher decisions. For the complete series, click here.)

Best #60 in Franchise History

I began this series months ago and am now trying to get back to it.

I'm also remembering why finding the best #60 stymied me in the first place. Six players have worn the number before and all came in a ten-year period between 2007-16. Half of the club wore different numbered jerseys in their times with the Braves with two, including Ian Thomas, donning three different jersey numbers.

Joel De La Cruz could, theoretically, become the first Brave to wear #60 in more than one season. After all, he's the only guy still in the system. But he, like the aforementioned Thomas, fell short of being the top #60. As did Manny Banuelos and Ryan Buchter, who wore the number during their short careers in Atlanta. Jose Ascanio appeared in just 13 games with the Braves back in 2007 and wore two different jersey numbers, but he won't be our top guy, either.

My choice for the Top #60 is...Gregor Blanco

To be fair, #60 was one of two different numbers Blanco wore in 2008. I don't know when he changed over to #18 (or changed to #60, which would be odd). Either way, Blanco was a bit of a cult hero back in '08. That probably tells you how badly the Braves performed that season.

He was never much of a prospect. Though fast, he was not a skilled base stealer. Though a strong defender, his arm wasn't considered much more than average. But he did one thing that Billy Beane would love - he got on base. A lot. Frankly, it's a pretty big surprise that there wasn't a chapter in Moneyball related to Beane trying to get Blanco. In 2006, he on-based .403 between Mississippi and Richmond. After another year, in which he carried a .369 OBP for Richmond, Blanco broke camp with the big-league club in 2008.

To put it mildly, the outfield was a bit of a mess for the '08 Braves. Jeff Francoeur was the unquestioned starter in right field, but the Braves were relying heavily on Mark Kotsay in center field to replace Andruw Jones (that sentence seems a bit ridiculous). Out in left field, the Braves had let Willie Harris go and unless you count acquiring Josh Anderson, had not replaced Harris. In retrospect, you'd probably want the team to let Harris go and go out and find an improvement. Instead, Atlanta prepared to give Matt Diaz a shot to be an everyday guy.

Part of their refusal to go heavy after a replacement for either Jones or Harris was that their top prospects, Jordan Schafer and Jason Heyward, were outfielders and the Braves weren't anxious to block them with long-term outfield commitments. But, to be fair, Diaz kind of deserved at least a shot. Since coming to Atlanta in 2006, Diaz slashed .333/.366/.487. And...to also be fair...he had done a good deal of that against right-handed pitching (.336/.374/.439). Of course, it took a .401 BABIP to do that...

So, Diaz started the first 15 games before Blanco finally got a shot in the lineup. Diaz would continue to be the regular guy until ineffective play and injuries limited him to just 43 games. When Diaz finally went down in late May, as did Kotsay. That left Blanco in an everyday role as Anderson, Greg Norton, Brandon Jones, and Omar Infante tried to fill in.

Blanco would do what Blanco does. Show solid range, get on base, and never steal enough bases to truly maximize the value of his walks. He hit just .251, but on-based .366. His ISO was a miserable .058 in 519 PA. On a Braves team that would finish with 90 losses, Blanco was sixth in plate appearances and fourth in games played. Atlanta had seen enough of Blanco in the everyday role, though he did a bang up job keeping the seat warm considering his limitations.

The Venezuelan outfielder would never wear #60 again. He'd switch to #1 and play 60 more games with the Braves over the next year-and-a-half before being shipped with Jesse Chavez and Tim Collins to the Royals in the Rick Ankiel/Kyle Farnsworth deal. And in the end, it was that deal that made this decision so easy. If only for the magical homerun Ankiel would hit in the 2010 NLDS, that makes Blanco the Top #60 in Braves history.

Blanco would re-establish himself in the majors with the Giants as a regular contribitor for five years and won two rings with San Francisco.

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