Prado ready to venture into foreign territory
Uggla's arrival sends versatile infielder to left field
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- While Brian McCann and many of his other Braves teammates were getting excited about the acquisition of Dan Uggla from the Marlins in November, Martin Prado had to step back and evaluate how the transaction affected him.
To get Uggla, the Braves were forced to part ways with valuable utility player Omar Infante, who had become one of Prado's closest friends.
Though losing good friends because of trades is part of the landscape of professional sports, losing a position during the offseason isn't something that athletes can simply take with a grain of salt.
Thus it wasn't surprising to hear Prado explain that it took him a few days to digest and decide what to make of the Braves' plans to shift him to left field and position Uggla at second base.
Prado expressed this after working out for more than three hours on Monday at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex, which will once again serve as the Braves' Spring Training headquarters.
When the Braves acquired Uggla, they had no desire to allow him to enter free agency at the end of this season and potentially spend just one year in Atlanta. Thus they had to accommodate both his capabilities and his desire to remain at second base.
By immediately making it known that Uggla would remain at second, the Braves likely helped themselves in the negotiations that led to the completion of the four-year contract extension that will keep the power hitter in Atlanta through the end of the 2015 season.
At the same time, the club added to the offseason challenges faced by Prado, who was enjoying his first All-Star season until tearing his left oblique muscle and sustaining a painful left hip pointer on Sept. 27, just six days before the end of the regular season.
"I was happy for the team and all my teammates," Prado said. "I talked to [McCann] and all those guys. They were pretty excited about getting Uggla. This isn't about me. It's about the team. It's about all those guys that got together and put up the season that we did last year. I guess we have to get together and do it again."
In addition to serving as the National League's All-Star starting second baseman in place of the injured Chase Utley, Prado hit .307 last season with a career-high 15 homers and an .809 OPS. Once projected to be nothing more than a utility man, he was arguably the most valuable player of Bobby Cox's final Braves team.
Now he will have to continue providing this kind of value while positioned in foreign territory.
While announcing this position switch in November, general manager Frank Wren said that Prado had spent some time playing the outfield in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Though he confirmed this, Prado said that the time he spent in the outfield was limited.
"There's a bunch of stuff I have to work on," he said. "I'm asking everybody for tips."
Fortunately for all parties involved, Prado has arrived at Spring Training with this professional "team first" attitude and without the pains that prevented him from aiding the Braves during the postseason last year.
Prado was cleared to begin some physical activities in mid-November. About a month later, he cautiously began swinging. Now, as he prepares to begin his daily spring workouts with his teammates, he feels he's as healthy as can be.
"I feel like all the work I did is paying off," he said. "We'll have to see with the games, because they provide different situations."
Prado, Uggla and center fielder Nate McLouth were among the starting position players in camp on Monday, when pitchers and catchers were required to report.
Because they were injured at the end of last year, Prado and Chipper Jones will be permitted to be on the field while the pitchers and catchers conduct their workouts through Friday. The club's first full-squad workout will be held on Saturday.
Along with introducing himself to left field, Prado must keep himself ready to play third base in the event that Jones struggles in his attempt to return after tearing his left ACL in August.
Though he's displaying the right attitude, Prado is not hiding his desire to return to the infield, possibly when Jones chooses to retire.
But for now he is simply preparing himself for the challenge of introducing himself to the outfield.
"That's a challenge in my career," he said. "I've got to hope in the future I can go back in the infield. But that's what I've got right now."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.