ATLANTA - Wilson Betemit says he knows he can be a major league starting shortstop.
Or a third baseman.
Or even a second baseman.
Outfielder? Why not?
Betemit doesn't know if he can be more than a utility player at any of those positions with the Atlanta Braves. Everywhere he turns, his progress has been blocked by established star players - Rafael Furcal at shortstop, Chipper Jones at third and Marcus Giles at second.
"He's in a tough situation," says Braves bench coach Pat Corrales. "Our second baseman hit.320 last year. Our shortstop is one of the best in baseball and then the guy at third base is a Hall of Famer. It's a tough situation."
In both 2000 and 2001, Betemit was named the Braves' top prospect by Baseball America. After signing with the Braves on his 16th birthday in 1996 - the same year the organization signed Furcal - Betemit appeared to be the team's rising star.
But Furcal made a big jump past Betemit to the big leagues in 2000 and quickly became established as the team's shortstop and leadoff hitter.
It appeared Betemit might find a major league opening at third base when Jones moved to the outfield in 2002, but Jones switched back to third base last year.
Betemit, 24, says he also could play second base, but Giles was a 2003 All-Star pick who has hit over.300 two straight years.
The Braves' starters are not the only block to Betemit's progress. While spending parts of three seasons at Triple-A Richmond, he struggled through inconsistent production at the plate and in the field.
"He went from being the top prospect to not too many people were interested in him," Corrales said.
The player who was says he was 6-foot-1 and about 150 pounds when he signed with the Braves began to look less like a shortstop and more like a corner infielder or outfielder as he grew to 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds.
Betemit's eventual home may be at third base, and he has helped his cause by playing well as a fill-in the last two weeks when Jones missed five games with a strained left oblique.
Betemit had two hits on May 17 at San Diego and three hits the following day against the Padres. He is hitting.282 with a homer and two RBIs. He showed potential as a power hitter with 13 homers at Richmond last year.
"I feel very good when I've had the opportunity to play," he said. "I try to wait. I know these guys are going to play when they're healthy. I know I have to wait."
Betemit appeared tentative at times in earlier auditions with Atlanta. Now he has a more confident demeanor.
"I think both on and off the field you can see the difference," Corrales said. "He's married and has a family now. He handles himself better on the field now. He knows he can compete on this level."
With Betemit out of minor league options, there were rumors in spring training that he might be traded or even be cut. But when the Braves traded Nick Green to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for reliever Jorge Sosa at the end of spring, they cleared room for Betemit and Pete Orr to stick as utility infielders.
The best opportunity for playing time this season may be at the corner outfield spots, where Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi are the new starters.
Orr has filled in for Jordan and Mondesi. Betemit, who worked in the outfield for the first time in winter ball in the offseason, says he'd also like a chance.
"He probably could do it if the opportunity came," Corrales said. "He's a good athlete."
Betemit still thinks of himself as a shortstop first who is capable of playing other positions. He keeps different gloves for the infield positions in his locker but does not have an outfielder's glove yet.
"I could borrow one," he said. "That's no problem."
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