When the Atlanta Braves traded for shortstop Alex Gonzalez on July 14th last year, he was hitting .259 with 17 homers and 50 RBIs for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Most Braves’ fans thought moving on from Yunel Escobar, a guy who rarely hit for any power, to a guy that was hitting homeruns at a career pace was a great move.

Gonzalez’s year took a downturn after the trade, however, as he hit just .240 with 6 homers and 38 RBIs the rest of the way for the Braves.

Gonzalez comes into this year with hardly any talk surrounding him, but he may be the Braves’ most important player this season.

Gonzalez has been regarded around the league as a plus defensive shortstop who is average at the plate. Gonzalez is on a cycle of hitting good one year then following it up with a subpar offensive year the next.

The Braves can’t have that this year.

Gonzalez is THE shortstop for the Braves, who don’t have a guy that is quite ready to be an everyday player at the major league level behind him. This puts a lot of pressure on Gonzalez to play more like the one suiting up for the Toronto Blue Jays than the one for the Atlanta Braves.

Gonzalez is likely to hit sixth or seventh, so he is important in the fact the he has to protect Dan Uggla or Brian McCann, depending on who is hitting in front of him. Gonzalez should be getting good pitches to hit, and he will need to take advantage of it.

Whether he hits well or not, Gonzalez is going to play good defense and be a great teammate. That alone is an improvement over Escobar as we look back into the 2010 season. Escobar was a bit too flamboyant for his teammates, while also seeming lackadaisical at times when they were losing or he made a mistake.

You won’t be seeing that from Gonzalez, who has always been a guy proud of his defense and is a team-player.

A Gonzalez line of .260-12-65 would be great for the Braves with his defense, and anything above that would be a plus.

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