Braves Weighing Position Changes





ATLANTA—Proving that plans are perpetually fluid, the Braves will enter the 2011 season with players at positions different than what the organization might have expected last summer.

A prime example is Mycal Jones. As a shortstop, Jones reached Double-A Mississippi in his first two seasons in the organization. With the Braves suddenly deep at the position, the 23-year-old moved to second base during instructional league and showed promise. Upon further review, however, the organization realized the keystone sack is also crowded, meaning Jones and his athleticism are now headed to center field.

"It's not a big deal because I played some outfield in high school and in college," Jones said. "I'm comfortable wherever they want me to go. As long as I have a chance to take the field, I'm fine with it."

Part of the depth at shortstop includes Matt Lipka, Atlanta's first pick (supplemental first round) in the 2010 draft out of high school in Texas. The Braves envisioned Lipka moving to center field in order to take advantage of his outstanding speed and solid baseball instincts. Those plans have been put on hold after Lipka displayed plus athleticism and ironed out flaws in his fundamentals, particularly with his throwing.

"He's a leader in the middle of the field with really good range," roving infield instructor Tommy Shields said. "The more I see him, the more I like him at short."

After taking Lipka last June, the Braves nabbed Todd Cunningham in the second round out of Jacksonville State. Scouting director Tony DeMacio mentioned that Cunningham would be a strong candidate to play third base, yet so far he has remained in the outfield. He is capable of playing all three positions, providing versatility that is hard to find at all levels.

"I spent most of my time in the outfield before I signed, but I feel like I could play third or second if they wanted me to," Cunningham said. "At this point in my career, I'm up for anything they might be considering."

Wigwam Wisps

• Jones, Lipka and Cunningham were three of 26 players the Braves invited to Turner Field in late January to take part in their new rookie development week. In addition to touring the facility, they also had the opportunity to hear a plethora of speakers, including the Atlanta coaching staff, players Tim Hudson, Brian McCann and Jason Heyward, and specialists in public relations and sports psychology.

• First baseman Freddie Freeman and pitchers Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran attended the rookie career development program hosted by Major League Baseball in Leesburg, Va., in January.