I’m no scout, but I liked the looks of Johan Camargo from the start. There was just something about the versatile, switch-hitting infielder.
The Braves have always seemed a bit more cautious.
Camargo didn’t make the major-league roster to begin 2017 and was behind Jace Peterson (remember him?) when he did get the call. Once Camargo got his shot that year he produced enough offense that he eventually took some playing time from touted rookie Dansby Swanson. Camargo got his first extended chance to be an everyday player in 2018 and was better at the plate than any regular outside of Ronald Acuna and Freddie Freeman while playing solid defense at three infield positions.
That’s why I thought the Braves would be OK with Camargo at third base for 2019. The Braves are better than OK there after signing 2015 American League MVP Josh Donaldson. That obviously was a great addition, but now there is no obvious place in the lineup for Camargo after he showed he belonged there over 135 starts in 2018.
That’s too bad. I’d like to see what Camargo can do as a lineup regular from April to September (and beyond). He didn’t get to do that last year because injuries cost him about six weeks, and now he’s slated for a utility role because the infield is full.
As you might expect to hear from a guy just trying to stick in the majors, Camargo said he’s not worried about where or when he plays.
“I really try not to focus too much on front-office decisions or anything the manager has to do,” Camargo said Tuesday via an interpreter at Braves spring camp. “Really, I’m just thrilled for the opportunity. The more they want to get me in there, the happier I’m going to be.”
Braves manager Brian Snitker will do what he can to get Camargo in the lineup. The plan is to find a few starts for him each week. Camargo will get his chances because Donaldson is trying to stay healthy, shortstop Swanson is a light hitter and second baseman Ozzie Albies was worn down by the end of his first full season in the big leagues.
There’s also a chance Camargo will get some time in the outfield. Nick Markakis played in at least 155 games in each of the past six seasons, a streak that is sure to end. Both Markakis and center fielder Ender Inciarte bat left, and Camargo was strong from both sides of the plate in 2018.
But Snitker said the Braves also will try third baseman Austin Riley in the outfield this spring. That makes sense because he’s a top prospect who might be ready now. But giving RIley his shot might mean Camargo stays stuck on the bench.
Maybe I’m wrong in thinking Camargo can be a good everyday player over the long term. In that case he can make a career out of the so-called super-utility role he seems stuck in for now, which wouldn’t be so bad. Camargo can look to an ex-Brave Martin Prado and current Astro as standards.
“I was definitely a fan of Martin Prado, so watching him (and) how versatile he was and able to play so many positions,” Camargo said. “That was a good role model coming up. ... Looking at Marwin Gonzalez (of the Astros), I think to myself, ‘Why not? Why can’t I be the same way?’”
I still think Camargo can be more than that. When he got off to a good start at the plate as a rookie he was probably getting a little lucky on balls in play. But I figured Camargo was for real because he was hitting the ball hard and had pretty good plate discipline for a rookie. Sure enough, Camargo hit the ball even harder and had better plate discipline in 2018.
He had good numbers over 524 plate appearance: .272 average, .349 on-base percentage, .457 slugging percentage. In 258 plate appearances after the All-Star break Camargo hit .295 with a .353 OBP and .491 SLG. For the season, Camargo ranked third behind Acuna and Freeman among regulars in the Fangraphs Weighted Runs Created Plus metric.
As it stands now, Camargo projects to be part of a four-man Braves bench along with Charlie Culberson, Adam Duvall and the backup catcher. With Camargo as a sub, the Braves figure to have more lineup depth after the lack of it hurt them in their loss to the Dodgers in the National League Division Series. Camargo probably has trade value, but the Braves would be left thin if they sent him away and didn’t get a good hitter in return.
Again, it’s possible I’m overvaluing Camargo. FanGraphs projects he’ll get about 400 plate appearances this year and come back down to earth. It could turn out that Camargo and the Braves will benefit from having him at the ready as a substitute.
“I’m trying to display (that) I’m a ballplayer who wants to win,” Camargo said. “Whether it’s the defense, or with the bat, the main objective is to make sure the team wins and that’s all I really care about.”
I think that’s another reason I was high on Camargo from the start. What’s not to like?
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