As the Braves attempt to defend their perennial NL East title, the team is loaded with key players in only their second seasons in the big leagues. But this club faces a daunting task, as early-season injuries to Edgar Renteria and Chipper Jones have shown just how thin Atlanta's bench is.
Renteria and Jones should be back in the lineup this week, and Atlanta badly needs at least one of them to stay healthy. Wilson Betemit is a credible replacement for either Renteria or Jones, but he can't play both short and third at the same time, which has forced the much less talented Tony Pena Jr. and Pete Orr into the lineup.
Atlanta's rookie crop this year -- relievers Chuck James and Kenny Ray plus shortstop Pena and newly called-up second baseman Martin Prado -- isn't expected to have anywhere near the impact that last season's rookie class had. The only rookie who might have assumed an important role this season was 2005 first-round draft pick Joey Devine, who could have emerged as a setup pitcher. However, Devine was clobbered in two appearances with Atlanta in early April, was optioned to Richmond, where he appeared only once, and now is on the rookie-league Danville Braves roster because of a back injury.