Gonzalez wants to keep Mallex in Majors

Braves manager preaches patience with outfield prospect

Gonzalez wants to keep Mallex in Majors

ATLANTA -- During two weeks as a Major Leaguer, Mallex Smith has repeatedly shown why the Braves had originally planned to keep him with Triple-A Gwinnett through at least the first few months of this season.

But when it has been suggested that Smith needs more time with Gwinnett, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has fought for his talented young center fielder to continue the oft-humbling on-the-job training in the big leagues.

"I have been one of his biggest allies to stay here," Gonzalez said. "I feel this will be better for him than going down [to Gwinnett]. We have options, but I have been one of the biggest supporters and backers for him to stay."

With the Mets starting left-hander Steven Matz on Saturday, Smith was left out of the starting lineup for just the second time since he joined Atlanta on April 11. The 22-year-old prospect has recorded six hits and struck out in 15 of 37 at-bats. He has also provided some defensive concerns, making some bad reads on fly balls and taking some overaggressive pursuits, including the one that led him to collide with Jeff Francoeur during Thursday's loss to the Dodgers.

Francoeur and Mallex collide

As Smith has struggled, some members of the Braves organization have suggested sending him down to make room for Emilio Bonifacio to share the center-field position with Drew Stubbs. But thus far, Gonzalez has won his battles to keep Smith on his roster.

Smith gained his earlier-than-expected promotion after Ender Inciarte was placed on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring. Inciarte has started to compile plate appearances in extended spring training games but has not yet started to run the bases.

The Braves are hoping Inciarte returns to Atlanta's lineup by the end of May's first week. At that time, Smith will likely return to Gwinnett to extend the development that could better prepare him for the big leagues. But for now, he's benefitting from his manager's willingness to remain patient.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.