Remember back in spring training, when everyone was concerned about who would play shortstop for the Atlanta Braves following Dansby Swanson's departure? Those worries seem silly in hindsight. Not because the Braves have found themselves a clear answer at the position -- they haven't -- but because it hasn't yet mattered on a team-results level. To wit, the Braves entered Tuesday with the largest division lead in the majors, outpacing the rest of the National League East by seven games.
Things are mostly swell right now in Atlanta as the Braves prepare to host the Boston Red Sox for a brief two-game set. We here at CBS Sports felt like this would be an opportune time to check in on the Braves shortstop situation. After all, we're just days removed from the Braves shaking up their depth chart by activating Orlando Arcia from the injured list without first sending him on a rehab assignment; demoting Vaughn Grissom to the minors; and promoting Braden Shewmake for his debut.
How have each of those three players performed so far, and what do we make of their games moving forward? Let's break them down, one by one. (Do note that the players are presented in reverse order of their positioning on the depth chart.)
3. Vaughn Grissom
Season to date: .277/.314/.308 (70 OPS+) in 70 plate appearances
Analysis: It qualified as a surprise when Grissom, the odds-on favorite to win the gig entering the spring, was optioned ahead of Opening Day. He's since received an opportunity created by Arcia's injury, and boy oh boy did it go poorly. Perhaps that was to be expected defensively, where he erred six times in 19 games (including on a few routine plays) and dashed any hope that his offseason fielding work with Ron Washington had been transformative. His offensive woes, though? They were unforeseen. Grissom did hit the ball harder on average than he did last year, he just wasn't rewarded for with positive outcomes. His approach remains swing-happy (he offered at more than 55% of the pitches he saw; the league-average is 47%), and his unwillingness to walk puts a lot of pressure on him getting good batted-ball results. When that component is going his way, he's good; when it's not, he's bad.
Outlook: This season hasn't been kind to Grissom at the big-league level, but let's be clear: he still has a future in the majors. The questions are when and where. Keep in mind, he jumped to the majors directly from Double-A, where he had played all of 22 games. Additionally, he won't celebrate his 23rd birthday until next January. It's OK -- heck, it's downright understandable -- that he has more growing to do before he becomes a big-league mainstay. Now, with that established, we must confess that at this stage we don't think the shortstop experiment is going to work. The Braves, or whatever team he ends up with for the long haul (hey, Atlanta has a lot of position players locked-in for the long haul), will be better served moving him down the defensive spectrum to a position that allows him to prioritize his hitting. As such, we're pessimistic about his chances of taking the shortstop job as his own.
2. Braden Shewmake
Season to date: .243/.282/.456 in 110 plate appearances (Triple-A stats)
Analysis: Shewmake bested meager offensive expectations during the spring, putting himself in the running to win the job outright. The Braves elected to roll with their veterans instead, but he's made the most of a second tour in Gwinnett. Not only was Shewmake's OPS 23 points higher compared to last season, he also topped Grissom there in some important ball-tracking metrics: he had a higher average exit velocity, and he hit the ball at an optimized angle more frequently. (To be fair, he's also more of a finished product, physically and skill-wise, at age 25.) One area where Shewmake has a clear leg up is with the leather. He's regarded by scouts as a plus defender.
Outlook: While Shewmake has spent all of a weekend in the majors, it would be wise to forecast him as a below-average hitter going forward. That, plus his glovework and defensive versatility, make him a better fit as a utility type than as a starting shortstop on a contender. We could see the Braves turning to Shewmake in case of injury, or if they want to prioritize run prevention at the position. Beyond that? Eh.
1. Orlando Arcia
Season to date: .358/.414/.547 (158 OPS+) in 58 plate appearances
Analysis: Baseball history is littered with examples of players receiving unexpected opportunities and making the most of it. Arcia sure had before suffering a microfracture in his left wrist. As improbable as it reads, let it be known that he returns having to date hit a higher percentage of his balls 95 mph or harder than teammate and MVP candidate Ronald Acuña Jr. The catch is that Arcia is doing most of his damage by hitting the ball into the dirt. (He ranks 325th in average launch angle out of the 338 players with at least 50 plate appearances.) We'll concede that hitting hard grounders back up the middle is a more viable approach now than it has been in recent years thanks to the shift rules, but we're not ready to buy in completely. Arcia had posted only one above-average offensive season in his first seven big-league attempts, and that came last year … in a part-time role. Players can certainly improve, even later in their careers -- we'd just like to see his formula work well for more than 50-something plate appearances. Where, precisely, his offensive numbers fall is of the utmost significance to his handle on the position because Statcast's measurement has him as a below-average defender -- albeit not to Grissom's level, mind you.
Outlook: We think it's fair to conclude that Arcia is the best option the Braves have at the moment. He's a better hitter than Shewmake and a better fielder than Grissom, plus he's produced this season when he's been healthy. Being the best current option does not mean he'll be the best option come July. That will depend on how he performs during the interim period, and how the trade market shakes out. In other words, keep an eye on the Braves shortstop situation -- it's not settled just yet.