A Love Letter to the Braves Utility Players

Austin Bristow recalls his fondest memories of little-known but well-loved Braves utility hitters.

When Nick announced the Why I Love series, my first thought was to write about one of my favorite players, like Craig Kimbrel or Freddie Freeman. However, I was inspired to be a bit more creative with my homerism when considering other players like Jose Constanza, Evan Gattis, and Brooks Conrad. Then I decided I would give shootouts to all of my favorite Atlanta Braves utility players, mostly from the 2010s. Let’s get right into it.

 

Eric Hinske: 2010-2012 (OF/1B)

ATL Career: 731 PA, .236 AVG, 23 HR, 92 RBI

 

I got into baseball and the Braves, my father’s favorite team, in 2010. At that time, Eric Hinske was beginning his first year in Atlanta. The 32-year-old lefty stepped in for first baseman Troy Glaus and left fielder Melky Cabrera (yeah, Melky spent 2010 in Atlanta; no, I didn’t remember that either). However, maybe his most impressive skill was coming off the bench as a pinch hitter.

In 2010 Hinske had 54 pinch-hit plate appearances, in which he slashed .298/.389/.596 with three homers and 12 RBI. He only struck out seven times and grounded into a double play once. Maybe his most spectacular moment in a Braves uniform came in Game 3 of the 2010 NLDS. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Hinske came up to bat as a pinch hitter with one runner on and the Giants leading 1-0. Hinske, facing a 27-year-old Sergio Romo, worked his way from an 0-2 hole to a 2-2 count. On the fifth pitch of the at-bat Hinske took a hanging slider from Romo deep to right field to give the Braves the 2-1 lead going into the ninth inning.

 

Brooks Conrad: 2009-2011, 2B/3B

ATL Career: 357 PA, .233 AVG, 14 HR, 54 RBI

 

Brooks Conrad and Eric Hinske were the first two names that came to my mind when I decided to write this piece. Like Hinkse, Conrad’s best season was also 2010. A solid infield defender, Brooksy got his fair share of opportunities at 2B that year. His legacy, though brief and not particularly spectacular, is well remembered.

Conrad’s greatest achievement in his career came May 10, 2010 in an afternoon game against the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds took a commanding 9-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning, but four singles, a walk, and an error later and the score was 9-6. After Braves star Jason Heyward struck out with the bases loaded, 30-year-old pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad came up to bat. Facing Francisco Cordero, Brooksy took a 97 mph fastball the other way, lifting it just beyond the reach of LF Laynce Nix’s glove, for a walk-off grand slam! Conrad didn’t even realize he’d hit the home run, stopping at first then taking his lap around the bases where his teammates were waiting to pile on him. Maybe the best part of the whole thing was the call from color commentators Joe Simpson: “I’ve been to two rodeos and three goat ropings and I’ve never seen anything like that!”

 

Jose Constanza: 2011-2014, OF

ATL Career: 240 PA, .273 AVG, 12 SB, 32 R

 

Those of you that were not Braves fans in the 2010s have probably never heard of Jose Constanza. Most people seem to think of this episode of Seinfeld when I bring him up, but Constanza was a speedy outfielder that can best be described as Quad-A player. Think Terrance Gore, but fewer World Series rings. I really liked Constanza back in the day, despite him only really being a “relevant” player in 2011 when he played 42 games and batted .303 with 7 steals. When I told my father about this piece and brought up Constanza, he immediately responded, “Oh, the guy that licked his bat after every foul ball?” Why, yes, Dad, that is exactly who I am thinking of. Please watch this video, just to share in the glorious oddity that is Jose Constanza.

 

Kelly Johnson: 2005-09, 2015, 2016, INF/OF

ATL Career: 2231 PA, .262 AVG, 55 HR, 298 R

 

Kelly Johnson started his career in Atlanta as the starting 2B from 2005-2009. We’re not going to talk about that part of his career, because that’s far less interesting than the two years he came back as a utility player in 2015 and 2016. The Braves signed Johnson to a 1 year deal in 2015, reuniting the 33-year-old with his original ball club. He went on to play 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, and RF across 62 games in Atlanta while batting .275 with 9 home runs. On July 24th 2015, Johnson was traded to the New York Mets, along with Juan Uribe, acquiring pitching prospects John Gant and Rob Whalen (Fun fact: in a corresponding move, the Mets called up top prospect Michael Conforto).

A few months later, during the 2015-16 offseason, the Braves and Johnson would once again agree on a one-year contract, bringing him back as their utility man for the 2016 season. Johnson would have a disappointing 62 game stint with the Braves, batting just .215 with one home run, playing 1B, 2B, LF, and RF. Yet, on June 8th 2016, Johnson was once again traded to the New York Mets, acquiring pitching prospect Akeel Morris. While none of the pitchers acquired through the two trades really panned out as successful big leaguers, the two trades are well remembered by the Braves fanbase, if only for their peculiarity and memeability.

 

Adonis García: 2015-2017, 3B/LF

ATL Career: 944 PA, .267 AVG, 29 HR, 110 RBI

 

2014 to 2017 were four rough years for Braves fans. We dealt with a team that averaged 71 wins a season, a .441 winning percentage. The few bright spots included Freddie Freeman, two seasons of Andrelton Simmons, and the weird players that pop up when you have nothing to play for. Among those were Adonis García, a power-hitting third baseman who spent one season in 2016 as the starting 3B, but was otherwise relegated to a utility role. Braves fans may remember him as a poor defensive third baseman, who never quite figured it out at the plate, despite a solid .267 batting average and 16% K-rate. García consistently played hard, running out every groundball and doing his darnedest on a Braves team that nobody expected much from. Despite a lackluster resumé, I still remember enjoying watching García’s no-nonsense style of play while he left it all on the field.

 

Charlie Culberson: 2018-present, INF, OF, P

ATL Career: 466 PA, .267 AVG, 17 HR, 3.00 ERA

 

To round out my list, let’s talk about two of the utility men on today’s winning Braves team, the first of which is Charlie Culberson. “Charlie Clutch” was acquired in December of 2017, in a trade with a lot of financial implications, sending Matt Kemp to the Dodgers in exchange for Culberson and a few other inconsequential veterans. From there Charlie made his presence known despite the lack of a starting role. He batted .270 with 12 home runs in just 322 plate appearances and playing all across the diamond. In his two years in Atlanta, Culberson has played every position on the field except for center field and catcher. That’s right, Charlie has pitched! He’s put up three innings of work on the mound, striking out one batter and only surrendering a single run. The man can do everything!

Freddie Freeman was quoted in 2018 saying that Culberson was the MVP of the Braves team that went on to win 90 games and win the NL East. Charlie’s ability to easily move anywhere around the diamond makes him an valuable asset for the team, and I sincerely hope he makes the big league roster when the 2020 season eventually does begins.

 

Johan Camargo: 2017-present, INF/OF

ATL Career: 1058 PA, .269 AVG, 30 HR, 135 RBI

 

The Braves have been searching for a solution to the gaping hole that Chipper Jones left at third base when he retired following the 2012 season. No player has spent more than two seasons as the primary starter in the role, but Johan Camargo has had the longest opportunity. He led the team in appearances at the position in both 2017 and 2018. However, he only made 43 appearances at third in 2017, a year when the Braves truly tried everything at the hot corner, including playing Freddie Freeman at third for 14 games while Matt Adams was on a hot streak.

When Josh Donaldson joined the squad in 2019, Camargo was relegated to a utility role, playing every position except for center field, catcher, and pitcher. He’s been a ver competent fielder no matter where he plays and now he may once again find himself in the starting third base role. Only time will tell, but the Braves seem to have narrowed down the field to Camargo and Austin Riley. I personally prefer Carmargo, as he’s a far superior defender, but we’ll have to see how each of them performs.

 

Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by J.R. Caines (@JRCainesDesign on Twitter and @caines_design on Instagram)

Austin Bristow II

Raised as an Atlanta Braves fan in central Illinois, Austin Bristow II attended Eureka College for undergrad and Purdue University for his master's degree in Higher Education Administration. Since co-founding his home league at age 16, Austin has been obsessed with fantasy baseball. Austin serves as the Staff Manager for Pitcher List and host of the On the List podcast.

One response to “A Love Letter to the Braves Utility Players”

  1. Ben says:

    Brooks Conrad will only be remembered for the 3 error game in the 2010 NLDS for many of us. SF would go on to win the World Series.

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