The Atlanta Braves continue to remake their team, and have now reportedly pulled off their second blockbuster trade of this offseason by sending slugging outfielder Justin Upton to the San Diego Padres. In return the Braves receive a haul of prospects: left-handed starting pitcher Max Fried, infielders Jace Peterson and Dustin Peterson (no relation), and outfielder Mallex Smith. The Braves also send minor league pitcher Aaron Northcraft to the Padres, and receive an international bonus slot, valued at $182,300, from San Diego.
It became apparent that the Braves were not going to re-sign Upton, and with one year remaining in his contract before free agency, next year would have been his last in Atlanta. The team spent the last three months assessing the market for Upton, and we have to believe they found the best deal, but the return they got seems to be more about quantity than quality. San Diego’s best prospects were not included.
That said, the Braves have an expert knowledge of San Diego’s minor league system thanks to the hiring of Chad MacDonald as a Special Assistant to the General Manager earlier this offseason. MacDonald had spent the previous three years as the guy in charge of player personnel for the Padres. That should give everyone a little more confidence that the prospects coming to Atlanta are well thought of.
Max Fried was selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft out of high school. Since then he’s ranked between 43 and 61 on various top-100 prospect lists. While his stats in the minors have yet to catch up to his scoutable talent, the tools are there for him to have three plus pitches and a top-of-the-rotation profile.
His debut in a Braves uniform will have to wait though, as he had Tommy John surgery in late August of this year. While that is a risk, the Braves must be confident that he can return fully healthy. There is also no rush with Fried, as he’ll be 21 next season, and 22 the year after when he should return to the mound. His acquisition is about putting together a rotation for 2017 and beyond.
Jace Peterson is another first-round pick (58 overall), selected in the 2011 draft out of McNeese State University. He was listed as the Padres No. 7 prospect prior to 2014 by Baseball America. He’s a shortstop, but has also played second and third. While he has below-average power, he sprays the gaps and gets on base well then uses plus speed and instincts to take the extra base. He profiles as a top-of-the-order hitter with a low strikeout rate and a high walk rate. He had several brief stints in the majors this year, serving mainly as a backup player.
The next two guys, third baseman Dustin Peterson and outfielder Mallex Smith, are young projectable prospects, and instantly rise to the top of a Braves system weak in positional prospects.
Dustin Peterson was selected 50th overall in the second round of the 2013 draft. He played last year as a 19-year-old at A-ball. While his stats won’t knock your socks off, he held his own against much older competition, and probably wore down late in the season. He may eventually have to move off of third base to the outfield, but with excellent bat speed he should hit for plus power and a high average.
Baseball America ranked him No. 22 on San Diego’s top prospect list before last season, and MLB.com ranks him No. 10 now. Mallex Smith was unranked by Baseball America last year, but is now ranked No. 20 by MLB.com.
Smith’s calling card is speed. He’s stolen 169 bases since turning pro three years ago when he was selected in the fifth round of the 2012 draft out of Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, Florida. He’s a slasher at the plate, but does whatever he can to get on base, and is an excellent bunter. Mallex will start next year at Double-A in his age-22 season, and could get a look in the majors at some point. He is B.J. Upton’s replacement-in-waiting. So just as soon as the Braves can move B.J., Smith will be his replacement. He sounds like a classic Juan Pierre-like leadoff guy.
For more on the prospects, check out this article at FanGraphs.
All of these young hitters continue the trend of the Braves to acquire more “on-base first” type players who don’t strike out in excess, and the Braves likely expect all of them to be big parts of their team by 2017. Here is a potential lineup that we could see for the first ever game at Sun Trust Park:
- Mallex Smith, CF
- Jose Peraza, 2B
- Freddie Freeman, 1B
- Dustin Peterson, LF
- Nick Markakis, RF
- Christian Bethancourt, C
- Jace Peterson, 3B
- Andrelton Simmons, SS
While that lineup may not have the kind of power in it that we’ve come to expect from recent Braves’ lineups, it has tons of speed, good on-base ability, and good situational hitting. If anything, it has too many top-of-the-order types, but in the post-enhanced era this could be where baseball lineups are headed.
The Braves didn’t get any of the Padres big prospects, but they got prospects who can fill needs, as well as high risk/high reward players. It sounds like Atlanta opted for four boom or bust prospects rather than one sure thing. That makes this trade of prospects difficult to compare to the Jason Heyward trade. It’s easy right now to say that the Heyward trade is better because Shelby Miller is an impact major leaguer, and Tyrell Jenkins is likely only a year away.
To accurately compare the two trades we will have to wait several years to see what the four players acquired from the Padres develop into. Right now the Heyward trade is better, but there’s a chance the Upton trade could be to Atlanta what the Mark Teixeira trade was to the Rangers–in which the four main prospects traded have so far amassed 41 bWAR as major leaguers. On the other hand, it could be what the Fred McGriff trade was to the Padres–which netted them three “prospects” who eventually amassed -2.3 bWAR in their careers.
In terms of building for 2017 this is a good trade. The Braves would have gotten a draft pick when Upton left after next year, but that pick would probably not be ready in time for the opening of the new park. At least three of the players here should be major leaguers by that time, and all but Smith come with a first round (or equivalent) pedigree.
It feels like the Braves aren’t done reshaping their team this offseason, with Evan Gattis and Chris Johnson being two players who could also be traded. Until we see what happens there, we shouldn’t take this trade as a signal that the Braves are punting the 2015 season and completely rebuilding.