Posted on May 4, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
The first-place Atlanta Braves are about to add a six-time all-star to their lineup. The Braves have called up 37-year old veteran Jose Bautista. He will make his Braves debut when Atlanta hosts the San Francisco Giants Friday night. In a corresponding move, the Braves have optioned outfielder Preston Tucker to the minors. Upon his call-up, Bautista is expected to become the team’s primary third baseman.
Bautista has spent the last 10 seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays. During that time, he made six consecutive all-star teams from 2010 to 2015, took home three Silver Slugger awards, and was the home run king in the majors twice. However, after posting a disappointing .674 OPS last season, he went unsigned during the offseason. Ultimately, the Braves signed Bautista in mid-April, offering him a base salary of $1 million.
After signing, Bautista reported to the minor leagues, playing two games in A-ball and 10 at triple-A. In those 12 games, Bautista hit .256 with one home run and two doubles. However, he’s started to heat up over the last handful of games, going 6 for 15 with a home run, leading the Braves to believe this is the right time to call him up.
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Of course, there is still a question as to whether Bautista can still produce offensively at the major league level. He hit 23 home runs for the Blue Jays last year, so the power is still there. But Bautista hit just .203 and struck out 170 times in 2017. He’s become an all-or-nothing type hitter, which is not in-tune with how Atlanta’s lineup has functioned this season. The Braves have the fewest strikeouts in the National League right now. Nevertheless, the Braves are going to give Bautista a chance.
“We don’t have a ton of right-handed power on this team,” said Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos. “We’re going to give him an opportunity to play and see what he can do. If he can revert to form or come close to it, he can add to our team.”
It’s also worth noting that Bautista hasn’t played third base with any regularity since 2010. He came up as a third baseman, so he’s at least familiar with the position. However, it’s unlikely the 37-year old will provide the Braves with much defensive range at the hot corner.
To this point in the season, Ryan Flaherty has been Atlanta’s primary third baseman. Johan Camargo and Charlie Culberson have also seen time there. Flaherty has been a surprising contributor offensively. He’s currently hitting .310 with an OPS of .843. Camargo, too, has impressed in limited at-bats. However, both will be relegated to a bench role with Bautista in the picture.
Of course, Bautista can also play first base to spell Freddie Freeman if necessary. He could also return to the outfield. With Tucker being sent down, the Braves have no natural outfielders aside from the starting trio of Ronald Acuna, Ender Inciarte, and Nick Markakis. With the power, versatility, and experience Bautista brings to the table, he becomes an intriguing low risk-high reward player for a team that has won five games in a row and sits atop the NL East standings.
“A guy like Jose, his ability, and his talent,” says Anthopoulos, “there’s a lot of upside for us.”