SARASOTA, Fla. – Drew Stubbs was operating on two hours sleep, having flown from Phoenix through Salt Lake City on a redeye that landed in Orlando at about 5 a.m. Thursday.
But there was no time for napping or asking for a day off to get ready. Not if he hoped to impress Braves officials enough to win a spot as a backup outfielder on the opening-day roster with only three games left in spring training.
That’s three games including Thursday against the Orioles at Sarasota, where Stubbs arrived about 90 minutes before the first pitch, after driving with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer following a quick round of get-to-know-each-other batting practice back at Braves camp at ESPN Wide World of Sports.
He entered the game in the fifth inning and got two plate appearances, flying out to left and drawing a walk. Stubbs is scheduled to start Friday against the Tampa Bay Rays and left-hander Adam Wilk.
“Obviously this is unique circumstances, just with a few days left in camp,” said Stubbs, who signed a minor-league deal on Wednesday, after opting out of a similar contract with the Rangers when told he wouldn’t make the opening-day roster. “Really, all I’m looking to do is come here and showcase what I can do for a few days and see how it shakes out.”
The Braves weren’t satisfied with having 33-year-old left-handed hitter Michael Bourn and switch-hitting Emilio Bonifacio as backups to starting center fielder Ender Inciarte, also a lefty hitter.
While they like what Jeff Francoeur provides and already named him to their opening-day roster, the right-handed hitting Francoeur is a corner outfielder and pinch-hitter, not someone to play center for any significant amount.
Thus the call to Stubbs, 31, coming off a career-worst season in which he hit .195 with five homers, and a .665 OPS in a career-low 140 plate appearances over 78 games with the Rockies and Rangers.
He’s a speedy, strong defender who’s hit 15 or more homers in three of his six full seasons, had 30 or more stolen bases in three consecutive seasons for the Reds through 2012, and hit a career-best .289 with 15 homers, 20 steals and an .821 OPS in 2014 for the Rockies (albeit with 13 homers at Coors Field).
This is a no-risk move for the Braves with a potentially high reward, if Stubbs ends up as a right-handed complement to Inciarte. That would likely mean the Braves have to eat most of the $14 million owed to Bourn this season and the $1.25 million owed to Bonifacio, since the Braves will presumably keep only one from among those two and Stubbs.
Before being released by the Rangers after exercising his opt-out, Stubbs was 12-for-40 (.300) with two homers and three stolen bases this spring.
“We’re going to give him an opportunity,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He’s a right-handed hitter, which kind of fits. Let’s see where he’s at. He can run, he can defend, he’s got some pop. He’s had a couple of good years offensively. So, he fits. But we’ll see how it breaks down.
“We’ll watch him for a few days. They’ve got a left-hander going tomorrow, so I’ll get him up there, maybe lead him off to get him some more at-bats against a lefty. That will be perfect.”
Stubbs can get a full night’s rest instead of operating on mostly adrenaline, as he was Thursday. This week has been a whirlwind for the 6-foot-4 former University of Texas standout, who was born in Atlanta – that’s Atlanta, Texas.
“I knew first and foremost that I wanted to start the year on a big league roster, and I knew it wasn’t going to happen with the Rangers,” he said. “That’s why we had the opt-out built in. Wasn’t sure what was going to be available out there. The Braves were one of the first to reach out, and were pretty adamant that there was a potential fit and they wanted to get some eyes on me. So I felt like, given the circumstances, this was the best fit that I could possibly have at this time.”
Asked about his expectations for the last days of camp, he said, “No expectations. Just come and, in a really small sample size, just go out and try to show some guys some things that I can do. And like I said, just see where we shake out.”