The Braves were happy with their infield. That wasn’t a diversion. But when there was a clear opportunity to plug Josh Donaldson into the lineup, and that became the most feasible means of upgrading the offense while simultaneously strengthening the bench, the infield was altered.
Johan Camargo, who’d done everything the team could’ve asked as the starting third baseman, was bumped into a utility role once again. In today’s climate, that’s not a bad thing.
“When I heard the news about Donaldson, it was a moment where I realized I didn’t even think about myself, I was thinking about the team,” Camargo said through an interpreter recently. “With that being said, I think it’s a great learning opportunity for me. He brings a lot of experience, he’s a former American League MVP, All-Star. So it’s an honor to play alongside him.”
Camargo relishes his versatility. Swiss Army knives are that much more valuable as baseball’s emphasis on flexibility grows. Charlie Culberson played in 113 games last season, and despite not having a defined position, he essentially was a regular.
The Braves want to give players – even Freddie Freeman – more rest in 2019. Rather than just relying on Culberson, Camargo gives them another with the same profile. It’ll help them withstand injuries over the lengthy season and gives them reliable plug-and-play options if someone is slumping and needs a break.
“It’s important to help the team in whatever way possible, and it’s important to me as a baseball player to be able to play multiple positions and be a little bit more flexible,” Camargo said. “Obviously if it’s up to me, I always want to be in the lineup and help our team however I can, but I’m happy to just contribute in any way I can.”
Camargo spent the offseason on his outfield skills. He’s played just one major-league inning beyond the infield (in 2017), but lobbied the front office that he’d be comfortable expanding his duties. The Braves likely will add a clear starting corner outfielder before opening day, but Camargo as an occasional fill-in would be excellent from a depth standpoint.
Gold Glove outfielder Ender Inciarte had high praise for Camargo. Inciarte watched him taking fly balls in the outfield last March and came away thoroughly impressed. He even joked that Camargo was better than him.
“I don’t know if I was lying or trying to encourage him,” Inciarte said. “I know he’s going to be able to adjust to whatever role they want him to play. He has the best arm on the team. Wherever you put him, he’s going to be able to do great things. You put him in the outfield, and he has one of those opportunities to make a play with his arm or range, he’s going to surprise a lot of people.”
The 25-year-old Camargo hit .272 with 19 homers last season, though his first postseason showing (0-for-15) was a dud. He’s hit .281/.343/.455 across his first 216 games, blossoming beyond his prospect status and becoming an integral cog for the reborn Braves.