Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 3/5/13
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. Juan Francisco sat on a bench in the visitors' locker room in Tradition Field, wearing a pair of Beats By Dre headphones and bobbing his head along as he intently watched a video on his iPad. Francisco was taken out of his trance by Chris Johnson, the player with whom he's competing to be Chipper Jones replacement at third base. They smacked hands before Johnson walked out into the Florida sun. Before the Braves arrived in Florida, manager Fredi Gonzalez was hoping one of the two would seize the job outright. But with another day of spring training complete, Atlanta seems no closer to any clarity at the position. "It's going to be fun," Johnson said. "Juan can definitely play. I'm just trying to see if I can hang with him and give him a little competition." He's done more than that. Johnson has gotten off to a torrid start, hitting .421 (8 for 19) with two home runs, four RBI, including Monday's performance against the Mets, in which he went 3 for 3 with a solo HR. It was his third multi-hit game of the spring. Meanwhile, Francisco hasn't hurt his own case, going 8 for 24 (.333) with a pair of doubles, one home run and four RBI. He has also struck out four times. "It's a competition, but we're teammates," Johnson said. "We respect each other. I hope he gets hits. And I hope I get hits. That's the way you want to go about it. You don't want somebody to win when somebody's struggling and somebody's hot. We're both going to go out there and play our best. "At the end of the day, we're both Braves and we'll go from there." Acquired from the Diamondbacks in the deal that brought Justin Upton to Atlanta and saw Jones' expected replacement, Martin Prado, shipped out as well Johnson has the edge over Francisco in experience. Hes logged 315 starts at third in his four-year career, including 123 last season split between the Diamondbacks and Astros, to Francisco's 71. Defensive sabermetrics, though, heavily favor Francisco, who had an 11.6 UZR150 compared to Johnsons minus-10.7, which was 12th at the position among every day third basemen. Johnson has been the steadier bat over their careers with a .281 average, while Francisco has hit .234. But Francisco has proved the better power option, posting three straight seasons of at least 23 home runs in the minors, making Johnsons two early home runs a positive sign for him and further telling of how close this race has become. "Competition creates a lot of good stuff," Gonzalez said. "And again, if we decide to go with a platoon, it's there. If somebody wins it outright, then you've still got a pretty good bench, and it'd still be a deadly option off the bench." With both playing well in early springl, it has Gonzalez weighing his options. That was on display against the Mets when he gave Francisco the start at third base and used Johnson at first. It's a spot Johnson played in 35 23 innings last season with the Astros. "He's swinging the bat really well, and gives us an option he can play some first base," Gonzalez said. "Whenever (Freddie) Freeman needs a day off or something, you can run him out there. He looks pretty good at first base." It's a spin on a platoon that could allow both players to see time in the starting lineup at third, with Johnson taking the lead role and Francisco can also be used as a left-handed bat off the bench. That's basically the same role Francisco had last season as he pinch-hit 48 times and saw action in 49 games at third base while filling in for Jones. Heading into the spring, no spot on the Braves roster had figured to be more hotly contested than third base, and with a little more than three weeks remaining before Opening Day, the question mark remains exactly that. Francisco? Johnson? Both? "They're swinging the bats really well, both of them, Gonzalez said. "Playing good defense ... So its going to be interesting. Weve still got a lot of games left to be played here in spring training."
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