December 24, 2010

Atkins Will Compete for 1B/3B Job

The Pirates announced the signing of Garrett Atkins yesterday. Atkins is a righthanded corner infielder who will make $800,000 if he's on the major league roster. I expect him to make the team as a backup at first and third base.

That's a far cry from the $4 million Atkins got from the Orioles on a one-year deal last offseason. He turned out to be the Orioles' Akinori Iwamura as he hit .214 with one home run and was released in July. He'll try to resurrect his career in Pittsburgh. What makes this intriguing is that Atkins is one of several players who was an outstanding hitter under Clint Hurdle's instruction and then fell apart when Hurdle left Colorado. From 2005-2008, Atkins hit .301/.364/.482 and averaged 87 runs, 36 doubles, 22 homers and 105 RBI a year. In 2006 he scored 117 runs and drove in 120. Even in Coors Field that's excellent production from a third baseman.

In 2009 and 2010, Atkins hit only .223/.299/.326, performances which doomed him to a sub-$1 million contract. But he will be only 31 this year and still owns a career batting line of .285/.350/.449, .294/.379/.467 off of lefthanders. Don't be surprised if he's platooning with Lyle Overbay by May. Atkins hasn't hit lefthanders for two years, while Overbay hasn't hit southpaws in his career.

Also signed to a split minor/major league contract was Josh Fields, another righthanded hitter who figures to compete with Atkins for the backup corner infield job. Fields is a former top prospect with some pop in his bat, but he never learned either plate discipline or contact hitting leading to a career batting line of .234/.303/.431. Coupled with below average defense, that makes Fields look like AAA filler. But he'll still be only 28 and he hit .306 with three home runs in 50 at-bats with the Royals last year. Stranger things have happened, see, e.g., Garrett Jones in 2009.

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