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Braves trade Villareal for OF Anderson

ATLANTA - As of Friday, the Braves' leading candidate to replace Andruw Jones in center field is Josh Anderson.

Who?

The Braves acquired the speedy 25-year-old from the Houston Astros for reliever Oscar Villarreal in hardly the kind of deal that fans were hoping for or expected.

Anderson played in 25 games for the Astros last season and hit an impressive .358. But his main edge over top Braves prospect Jordan Schafer is that he has a few more years of experience.

Even with a big hole to fill, the Braves were determined not to do anything that would block an eventual spot for Schafer, who added a good Arizona Fall League season to his breakout year in Class A.

Schafer, 21, hit .324 in the Arizona Fall League after leading all the minors in hits last season while playing for Rome and Myrtle Beach.

Manager Bobby Cox and general manager Frank Wren watched Schafer in Arizona this week and saw nothing to convince them that he isn't the Braves' center fielder of the future.

But Schafer isn't likely to be ready for an Opening Day spot and that is where Anderson comes in. He's a little older, has tasted the majors already and brings speed that the Braves obviously need.

Anderson had 41 stolen bases in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League last season, led the Class AA Texas League in steals the previous two seasons with 50 and 53, and swiped 78 bases to lead all the minors while in Class A in 2004.

Anderson, though, hit a modest .273 last season at Round Rock and is still developing as a hitter despite his impressive average with the Astros. The left-handed hitter also has almost no power, with his minor league high in homers for a season just six.

Still, Anderson will likely go to spring training with the best chance to replace slugger and 10-time Gold Glove winner Andruw Jones in center field. The Braves have said they will not pursue Jones as a free agent.

The Braves don't want to move right fielder Jeff Francoeur to center or try second baseman Kelly Johnson there. Brandon Jones, a top hitting prospect, is playing center field in the Mexican Winter League, but is more likely to compete with Matt Diaz for playing time in left field.

Villarreal, 26, was 2-2 with a 4.24 ERA in 51 games for the Braves last season. He was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks two years ago in the Johnny Estrada deal.

Villarreal may have become expendable with the development of Charlie Morton in the Arizona Fall League. The right-hander was 4-1 with a 2.57 ERA and struck out 20 in 21 innings.

The Braves will also save money to be used elsewhere. Villarreal is arbitration eligible.

SideBar: THE ANDERSON FILE

Who: Josh Anderson

Position: Outfield

Age: 25

How acquired: Obtained from Houston Astros in trade for pitcher Oscar Villarreal.

2007 stats: Hit .358 in 25 games with Astros after batting .273 with 41 stolen bases for AAA Round Rock.

Background: Fourth-round draft choice out of Eastern Kentucky in 2003. Led the minors with 78 stolen bases in 2004. Uses his speed to cover plenty of ground in the outfield.