Outfield competition hits homestretch

Outfield competition hits homestretch

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- By the time the Braves complete Saturday afternoon's exhibition season finale against the Indians at Turner Field, Braves manager Bobby Cox will have set his Opening Day roster.

Whether he'll be taking Gregor Blanco or Josh Anderson as his fourth outfielder seemingly remains very debatable.

"It will all work out, but it's tough decision time," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

Both Anderson and Blanco are strong defensive players who could confidently be used in center field to give Mark Kotsay a chance to rest. At the same time, as left-handers, they might occasionally spell the right-handed Matt Diaz, who spent the past two seasons in a platoon.

Anderson, who was acquired from the Astros in November, seemingly entered camp with a good chance to make the team, and he hasn't hurt his chances by hitting .283 with a .327 on-base percentage in 25 Grapefruit League games.

But at the same time, Blanco has hit .400 with a .542 on-base percentage and made this competition a very tight one. Both of these players are left-handed hitters who have strong defensive skills. The one thing that seemingly separates them is the fact that Anderson is undoubtedly the better stolen-base threat.

Still, Blanco has good speed, as he exhibited with a bunt single during Tuesday's seventh inning against the Mets. Two innings later, Anderson unsuccessfully attempted a bunt that landed around the first-base bag.

"I'm just thankful to be here," Anderson said. "I'm not going to worry about [the position battle]. I'm just going to go out, play my game, trust the Lord and know that he has a plan. Whatever happens, happens."

Fortunately for the Braves, both of these players have options and thus there isn't a chance they would be lost via waivers if they don't make the Opening Day roster.

Although he's had two consecutive standout seasons in the Venezuelan Winter League, Blanco wasn't widely mentioned as a top candidate when the club was looking for a center fielder. But the organization's view of him has changed since he learned to play within his means.

Instead of attempting to always making flashy plays, he's played sound defense. As for offensively, Blanco has become comfortable with the fact that he's not a power hitter. He hit .282 with three homers while leading the International League with 81 runs scored last year.

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"I kind of figured it out that I have the tools to play the game," Blanco said. "I was trying too hard before. Now I'm doing the little things that I can do. I'm just a little guy who can get on base. That's pretty much what I've been doing lately. But that's the way I've been going about it."

While Blanco was successful with just 23 of his 41 stolen base attempts last year, Anderson has enjoyed a second straight season with at least 40 stolen bases. He was caught stealing just eight times in 48 attempts with Triple-A Round Rock last year.

Another plus for Anderson is that he has some Major League experience. After being promoted by the Astros in September last year, he hit .358. With a minimum of 50 plate appearances, it was the fifth-highest mark after a September debut for a National League player since 1957.

"It's hard not to think about [the competition]," Anderson said. "But I'm sure everybody wants to assume everybody fighting for a position wants it just as bad as me. I'm confident that it will happen. I believe it will. If not, we'll go from there. I'm just going to think positive about it and do the best I can."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.