Braves 2016 Mid-Season Top-35 Prospects

The Atlanta Braves minor league system is more loaded with prospects right now that at any other time since the early 1990s. While there have been times since then when the system had a better top echelon of prospects close to the majors, the current crop of young high-ceiling prospects runs deeper than I can remember.

dwanson1So much of this high-ceiling depth is in the low minors, or just signed or drafted. And because of that, I’d like to take a moment to explain how I construct my rankings, so you will hopefully better understand why a 16-year-old who hasn’t played a professional baseball game is ahead of someone who has been in the system for years.

I base my rankings on a mixture of many elements, including my own personal observations of these prospects, conversations I have with scouts and evaluators, and scouting reports I read online. I also consider bonus numbers, proximity to the majors and age.

As they always do, these rankings will differ from other rankings, as my interpretation of the elements listed above and my opinion or bias come into play. My goal in the writeups of each player is to not only educate you about the prospect, but to also tell you why he is ranked where he’s ranked.

Another way I hope to help you understand my opinion of these prospects and the potential impact they may have in the majors is to put them in groups based on similar expectations and assign that group a letter grade.

I tell you all this not only to help you understand my process, but to also prepare you for the fact that this list includes a lot of prospects who have not played above Rookie-ball, or who haven’t stepped foot on a professional field yet. So this list is heavy on the projection side of the prospect equation, and not as much on the performance side. I do this in part to set an expectation for these new prospects — one which may take a couple of years to emerge.

In parenthesis is the level they played at so far this year. Graduating from the pre-season list are Aaron Blair and Mallex Smith.

Grade A+: This grade of a prospect is, and should be a rare grade. It represents a prospect who could one day be a superstar and a franchise cornerstone.

1. Dansby Swanson, SS (AA, A+) — Previous rank: 1
The No. 1 overall pick in 2015 by Arizona, and then plundered by the Dread Pirate Coppy in exchange for the carcass of Shelby Miller, in what could go down as the most influential trade for Atlanta since they acquired Fred McGriff (after which then Dread Pirate Schuerholtz decided to set fire to the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium press box). Swanson’s debut in a tomahawk has been stellar, conquering high-A in a month, and showing great plate discipline and power through the ups and downs at double-A. He won the shortstop showdown with Albies, committing only two-thirds the number of errors in 50% more games, while displaying a strong and accurate arm. In addition to what he can do in the field and at the plate, Dansby is a natural leader who players rally around. We could see Dansby in Atlanta this September, if not sooner, and he should be the starting shortstop when the team opens its inaugural season at White Flight Field next year.

Grade A: These are prospects who I believe will be first division players, and occasional All-Stars, while filling valuable roles on the team.

2. Sean Newcomb, LHP (AA) — Previous rank: 2
The 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Atlanta acquired him in the Andrelton Simmons trade. Newcomb is a prospect where we must trust the scouts and evaluators. He is also a prospect whose stats don’t always look pretty, but he’s still learning to use all of his pitches, repeat his delivery and maintain his velocity. His fastball is plus in the mid-90s, his curve is plus and his change is solid to above average. He has the potential for three plus pitches as a top of the rotation workhorse in the mold of a Jon Lester. He could be ready as early as next year, just as soon as he can put all the parts of his game together.

3. Kevin Maitan, SS (Has not debuted yet) — Recently signed
The Braves handed Maitan a $4.25 million bonus earlier this month, the largest bonus the team has ever given an amateur player. He’s been on scouts’ radar for years as the jewel of this year’s international class, being called a once-a-decade talent. He’s been compared to a young Miguel Cabrera, a true 5-tool prospect who will eventually slide over to third base as the 16-year-old grows and adds muscle. He won’t step on a professional field until next year, but his debut will be eagerly anticipated and watched. If he is as advertised, then he will be a fixture at the top of prospect lists for years to come. For Braves fans he could be this generation’s Andruw Jones — a top prospect for several years before debuting as a teenager.

4. Ozzie Albies, 2B/SS (AAA, AA) — Previous rank: 4oalbies2
Since so much of Albies’ value as a player is tied up in his speed and ability to get on base, and because his high batting averages are a product of a high BABIP, he ranks a bit lower for me than most. This was a large part of my argument for not being as high on Jose Peraza when he was a Braves prospect. In the Albies-Peraza mold of a prospect, I nonetheless like the tools that Albies brings to the plate — better batting eye and patience. That gives him a greater chance to realize his top-of-the-order on-base-and-speed-guy potential.

Grade A-: The next group of prospects I grade as possible first division players who will all play important starting roles in the majors.

5. Lucas Sims, RHP (AAA, AA) — Previous rank: 6
The No. 21 overall selection by the Braves in the 2012 draft, Sims generates more debate about how good he can be than just about any other Atlanta pitching prospect. I have long taken the side of Sims having mid-to-top of the rotation stuff, and I’m sticking to it. He’s still only 22-years old, and has had a taste of triple-A. Sims has struggled to find consistency in his mechanics at times, and the Carolina bus crash last year was a huge setback just when he was sorting himself out. The inconsistency of his mechanics can be seen in his elevated walk rates, but the dominance of his raw stuff is apparent in the high strikeout rates and low batting average against he posts year after year. That’s one of the big reasons he stays high on my prospect list. Once he learns how to consistently find the right mechanics start after start and inning after inning to limit the free passes, that raw stuff will take over and help him fulfill his high ceiling.

6. Dustin Peterson, OF (AA) — Previous rank: 20
A 2nd round pick in 2013 out of high school, and acquired by Atlanta as part of the Justin Upton trade. Peterson had a good debut last year in the Braves system, despite not really standing out in the pack. Part of that was due to the bus crash he and his Carolina team were involved in. Peterson was hitting .314/.392/.448 at the time of the crash en route to a breakout year, but hit only .232/.294/.317 after spending three weeks on the DL post-crash. In my pre-season rankings I slid him down the list too far, and perhaps this mid-season ranking is an over correction too high, but my initial take on him was that of a middle-of-the-order power bat, and he’s well on his way to becoming that. He’s only 21-years-old and already mashing at double-A (.276/.340/.421), while facing older pitchers in 366 of his 368 plate appearances.

7. Austin Riley, 3B (Low-A) — Previous rank: 3ariley
The 41st overall pick in last year’s draft, Riley represents the best power-hitting prospect the Braves have drafted in a decade. His breakout inaugural season last year saw him hit .304/.389/.544. He got off to a slow start this year, which is why he’s come down this list just a bit, but in the last month-plus he’s slashed .304/.342/.471. His strikeout rate has also dropped, though he’s a slugger who will strike out a lot. All of this as a 19-year-old hitting against older pitchers in 324 of 331 plate appearances.

8. Touki Toussaint, RHP (Low-A) — Previous rank: 8
The 16th overall selection in the 2014 draft out of high school, Touki was the first major prospect the Braves plundered from Arizona — essentially purchasing him along with a bad-money contract last year. The word raw is used a lot when describing him, and as such the early results on the mound have not always looked pretty. Nonetheless he has premium velocity and a legit curveball, both out-pitches. The transition from raw pitching prospect to refined prospect is slowly occurring as he learns to repeat his delivery, which leads to better control and an ability to maintain velocity deeper into his starts.

9. Max Fried, LHP (Low-A) — Previous rank: 9
The 7th overall pick in the 2012 draft out of high school, he had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and missed most of that year and 2015. His re-debut this year at Rome has been very successful with a strikeout per inning and a low .236 batting average against. According to reports his fastball has come back strong in the mid-90s, and his once-dominating curveball is still there. Because of the lost time he gets knocked down a bit on this list, but his raw stuff and ability still profile him as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter.

10. Kolby Allard, LHP (A-, R+) — Previous rank: 7
I find no prospect on this list harder to rank than Allard. He was the 14th overall pick last year, and by most accounts should have been drafted much higher but for injury concerns. Those concerns were borne out when he had back surgery late last year after signing. The Braves held him back in extended spring training this year for a couple of months before trying him in Rome. They lowered him to Danville when their season started, which by the early results seems more appropriate, though it’s probably too soon in his career to rely on stats as a barometer of his talent. I expect he’ll be back in Rome before the end of the season.

11. Mike Soroka, RHP (Low-A) — Previous rank: 12
msorokaThis is the second-hardest prospect to rank. I keep wanting to put a comp on him as a poor-man’s Greg Maddux. Soroka was the 28th overall pick last year, and has already shown an uncanny ability to limit walks for such a young (18 year old) pitcher. He commands the strike zone with three above-average pitches and does a good job of staying low in the zone. He’s a smart pitcher that gets the most out of his stuff, but none of his pitches grade out as plus. Because of that lack of wow factor, and the wow factor that many of the recently drafted guys below him have, Soroka will probably fall lower on prospect lists as an almost forgotten prospect. As a command/control guy it will also take longer to get an accurate read on what his ultimate ceiling might be.

12. Derian Cruz, SS (R-) — Previous rank: 13
Last year’s top international signing (for $2 million), the switch-hitting Dominican debuted state-side in the GCL this year as a 17-year-old. So far the early returns are good, as he got off to a blistering start, hitting safely in his first seven games. He’s shown much more power than I expected out of him at this point, but it’s way too early to read too much into his stats. If the Braves follow their recent pattern for their top performing young talent in the GCL, we should see Cruz get a promotion to Danville at some point this season. He would then be setup to start 2017 at Rome.

13. Ian Anderson, RHP (R-) — Recently drafted
Starting here the next four prospects are all projection based on scouting reports and draft position. The No. 3 overall pick this year, Anderson is a northern pitcher with mid-90s velocity on his fastball, a curveball with late action and a changeup that already grades as plus. He has a good chance to turn all of those into plus or even plus-plus pitches. With a big strong frame he profiles as a top-of-the-rotation workhorse with ace potential. In most years he would debut among the team’s top-10 prospects, but winds up in this position simply because there are so many talented prospects in the system.

14. Joey Wentz, LHP (R-) — Recently drafted
Ranked here between Anderson and Muller, in the order of which they were drafted. The No. 40 overall pick this year, Wentz has been a tall prospect that scouts have been been dreaming on for years. He has solid-to-plus low-to-mid-90s velocity, a plus curve and future-plus change. Wentz also features advanced control for his age, and profiles as a mid-to-top of the rotation workhorse.

15. Kyle Muller, LHP (R-) — Recently drafted
As if Anderson and Wentz weren’t enough, the Braves used the No. 44 overall pick this year on the talented two-way Muller. He’s shown less on the mound than the two guys ahead of him, but his raw talent is likely equal to them. He’s the tallest of the three at 6-foot-6, and now that his focus will exclusively be on pitching, he has a chance to rise to the top of the class.

16. Abrahan Gutierrez, C (Has not debuted yet) — Recently signed
Considered by many to be the top catching prospect of the 2016 international class, his $3.5 million bonus would have been the largest bonus ever given by Atlanta to an international player, but for Maitan getting a larger bonus this year. He’s only 16, and will likely debut in the GCL next year with Maitan, but as a catching prospect he will move slower through the system. He has displayed good catch-and-throw skills, a strong arm and good contact at the plate, but all of his tools are raw.

Grade B+: These players grade as solid above average players with the potential to be much more.

17. Rio Ruiz, 3B (AAA) — Previous rank: 19
One of the two main prospects acquired in the Evan Gattis trade, Ruiz is a 22-year-old playing at triple-A, and slashing .276/.365/.385. He should probably be higher, though he falls to this rank due to all the other talent in the system that I deem better than him. I rank him a bit lower because I’m bearish on his star potential. I do think he will make the majors soon, this year or next, but right now I don’t see too much more than a Chris Johnson-type player. Light power, a good walk rate, but extremely streaky.

18. Brett Cumberland, C (R+) — Recently drafted
A young now-21-year-old draft-eligible college sophomore, the switch-hitting catcher was drafted for his bat speed and power. His profile reminds me of a catcher the Braves drafted in 2013, Victor Caratini, and later traded to the Cubs at the trade deadline in 2014. Caratini came in as a bat-first catcher, and his development has been slow both at the plate and behind the plate. I expect Cumberland to follow a slow development path overall, however, if his bat starts to show up big, then the Braves may put him at another position to speed him up. They want him at catcher for now, though, and that will take some time.

19. John Gant, RHP (MLB, AAA) — Previous rank: 18
A 21st-round pick by the Mets in 2011, and part of the 2015 Kelly Johnson trade. Just before he was acquired he made a mechanical change, which ended up turning him from a back-of-the-rotation fringe prospect into a mid-rotation prospect. He surprised many people by winning a spot in the Atlanta bullpen coming out of spring training, and has yo-yo’ed between the majors and triple-A, as well as yo-yo’ing between the rotation and bullpen. Gant is the perfect type of prospect to have in a year like the Braves are having, as he can audition for a number of different roles without any pressure. At some point he’ll show us if he can fulfill that mid-rotation projection.

20. A.J. Minter, LHP (AA, A+, A-) — Previous rank: 36
A 2nd-round pick last year out of Texas A&M, Minter served as the school’s closer before going under the knife for Tommy John surgery prior to the draft. The Braves were undeterred by that, and saw in Minter the best closer prospect in the 2015 draft. Once he got on the field this year he set out to prove that, and prove it he has, putting up video game numbers as a pro. In 19.2 innings he’s given up only 6 hits, 1 run, issued just 5 walks, while striking out 24. All of that while zooming from Rome, through Carolina and on to Mississippi. He could reach Atlanta this year, but the Braves may want to keep him in the minors with regular work as he continues his return from TJ. If he keeps putting up these kinds of numbers, then he’ll zoom up prospect lists, and should find his way into an important late innings role in Atlanta next year. His success this year makes Arodys Vizcaino more tradeable.

21. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP (MLB, AAA) — Previous rank: 14
tjenkins3The 50th overall pick in the 2010 draft, and part of the Jason Heyward trade that began the rebuild, Tyrell is, in a way, Prospect Zero. He made the big club mid-year, beginning in the bullpen, then making an excellent spot-start prior to the All-Star break. Tyrell has above average projection right now, as a back of the rotation starter or late innings reliever. There’s no one tool that stands out, as Tyrell is more of a pitchability guy who can occasionally run his fastball into the mid-90s. That seems to paint the picture of a bullpen guy, but then Tyrell goes out and pitches like a mid-rotation workhorse last year and won the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year award. Never underestimate #ProspectZero.

22. Chris Ellis, RHP (AAA, AA) — Previous rank: 16
The other pitching prospect in the Andrelton Simmons trade, Ellis got off to a better start this year at Mississippi than Sean Newcomb, and earned an early June call-up to Gwinnett. Ellis has a solid three-pitch mix without having a real out-pitch. That puts him in back-of-the-rotation contention with a chance to find an out-pitch and ascend to mid-rotation projection. He could also need to break in as a reliever in the majors (a la Jenkins) in order to find what works.

23. Rob Whalen, RHP (AA) — Previous rank: 31
A 12th round pick by the Mets in 2012, Whalen was part of last year’s Kelly Johnson trade. He came over as more of a pitchability guy with an average three-pitch mix, but this year at Mississippi, he’s put up terrific numbers, specifically a low batting average against and low walk rate. Oh, and he’s leading the Southern League with 94 strikeouts in a workhorse-like 101.1 innings. His good control and deception have been effective against both lefties and righties, and he’s been metronomically consistent from start to start. His previous back-of-the-rotation ceiling is being reconsidered, and he could move further up this list with a good second half.

24. Patrick Weigel, RHP (Low-A) — Previously unranked 
A prospect like Weigel represents the performance side of this list, as he has already massively exceeded his draft position or pedigree. Weigel was an arm-strength draft prospect when Atlanta took him in the 7th round last year, with tons of questions about his control and whether he could throw his slider and curve for effect. The Braves worked with him on repeating his delivery which has helped him control his fastball and command his off-speed pitches, seemingly erasing all of those pre-draft questions. It’s really tempting to rank Weigel much higher, especially since his fastball sits mid-90s and he can reach back for 99mph. His ceiling is that of a Mike Foltynewicz-like pitcher. If his second half performance matches his first half performance, he’ll be moving way up this list.

25. Cristian Pache, OF (R-) — Previous rank: 21
Pache was the other big international signing (after Derian Cruz) by the Braves last year when he got $1.4 million. He also got off to a hot start this year while debuting state-side as a 17-year-old. While it’s early to judge anything from stats, he has nonetheless shown good speed and doubles-power, as well as a low strikeout rate — just 2 Ks in his first 63 plate appearances. Like Cruz, we should expect to see Pache promoted to Danville before the end of the season.

26. Ronald Acuna, OF (Low-A) — Previous rank: 24
An international signing out of Venezuela in 2014 for $100,000, he debuted in the GCL last year, finishing the season at Danville. I’ll probably get more grief for ranking Acuna this low than I will for any other ranking on this list. Some evaluators would put Acuna in the system’s top-10, and some might even put him among the top-150 prospects in the game. His near-five-tool skill set is scintillating, and he will no doubt move up my list if those tools show up on the field, but I just haven’t seen enough to feel confident ranking him ahead of those above him.

Grade B: With these prospects, the potential is there for a higher grade, all they need are experience and reps, but there is less certainty that they will emerge as impact players.

27. Max Povse, RHP (AA, A+) — Previous rank: 39
Povse is one of those guys that’s shown great improvement this year. The 2014 3rd-rounder has a heavy low-90s fastball, and he uses that to get a lot of ground balls. That leads to a lot of hits, but he counterbalances that by hardly walking anyone. So far this year he has a 1.7 BB/9 rate, when 3.1 is the current major league rate. He recently earned a promotion to Mississippi’s talented rotation. If he can match the first half stats he put up in Carolina in the second half in Mississippi, then he will shoot up this list. I probably keep him a bit lower because he’s a pitch-to-contact guy, but he’s just about to jump to a B+ grade with continued good work.

28. Bryse Wilson, RHP (R-) — Recently drafted
This year’s 4th-round selection, he became the 4th high school pitcher this draft to get a million-plus bonus from Atlanta. He received over twice the recommended slot value, but due to his lower draft position than the big three, Wilson could become the forgotten fourth. Reports of his stuff say it is somewhat behind the big three, but he’s still a high-dollar bonus guy, and as such the expectation is that he will be a top prospect. That leads me to rank him here, though he could land anywhere within the Grade B category.

29. Lucas Herbert, C (Low-A) — Previous rank: 33
A 2nd-round pick last year, Herbert tore his meniscus shortly after getting on the field after signing. The Braves started him at Rome this year, and he’s slogged along there without much success at the plate. Behind the plate he’s impressed, throwing out 38% of would-be base-stealers. The long development approach is important with Herbert, but the Braves may have been too eager to get him back on the field, and he probably could have benefited from being held back this spring and starting at Danville. Until he shows something with the stick he’ll stay lower down in these rankings.

30. Manny Banuelos, LHP (AAA) — Previous rank: 15
Remember this guy? He’s still technically a prospect. At 25-years-old he’s about to fall off the list, and unfortunately it’s not really his fault. The injury bug continues to bite ManBan as he can’t quite get his elbow back to full health. Atlanta seems content to take it slow with him, though the clock is ticking. This rank takes into account the injuries and his age, and reflects that at this point he’s probably just a back-of-the-rotation prospect or reliever.

31. Drew Harrington, LHP (Has not debuted yet) — Recently drafted
The team’s 3rd-round pick this year out of Louisville, the junior southpaw is a classic low-90s pitchability lefty. The Braves love guys like this, but I’m glad they at least waited until the 3rd round this year as opposed to making him a first rounder as they have in the past with the likes of Sean Gilmartin and Brett DeVall. Harrington has a chance for three above average pitches, complimenting his fastball with a slider and change. If everything comes together, he has a chance to be a mid-to-back of the rotation regular.

32. Braxton Davidson, OF (High-A) — Previous rank: 11
The No. 32 overall pick in 2013, he may be one of the most disappointing prospects on this list. He came into the organization with a lot of fanfare, but he can’t seem to find any magic at the plate. I’ve seen a lot of his at-bats the past couple of years, and they can be very frustrating to watch. From one at-bat to another he’ll look completely lost at the plate to overly-aggressive to overly-patient. His strikeouts are increasing at an alarming rate, and the power one expects to see with that many strikeouts has not followed. However, patience should be shown here, as he just turned 20 years old, and hasn’t faced a pitcher older than him the last two years. Still, an improved approach (and attitude) are in order.

Grade B-: With these prospects, the potential is there for a higher grade, all they need are experience and reps, but there is even less certainty that they will emerge as impact players.

33. Mauricio Cabrera, RHP (MLB, AA) — Previous rank: 30
The 101 MPH heat of Cabrera was felt in… I’m about to say… prepare yourself… Hot-lanta. Despite a legit fastball, he wasn’t really a big strikeout guy in the minors, and that keeps him down here on the list.

34. Yunio Severino, SS (Has not debuted yet) — Recently signed
Part of the international bonanza this year, Severino signed for $1.9 million. The switch-hitting Dominican would be big news in any other year that didn’t include Kevin Maitan. Severino still has some growing to do, but he should follow Maitan and Abrahan Gutierrez to the GCL next year.

35. Juan Yepez, OF (Low-A) — Previous rank: 17
The Braves top international signing in 2014 out of Venezuela. He debuted state-side last year, putting up good numbers in the GCL and then Danville, but without the hype that accompanied Ronald Acuna. Yepez went on the DL with an injury at the end of May, after starting late at Rome.

The next five:
Isranel Wilson, OF
Ricardo Sanchez, LHP
Ricardo Rodriguez, C
Juan Contrereas, RHP
Yenci Pena, SS

Posted in Top Prospects | Comments Off on Braves 2016 Mid-Season Top-35 Prospects

Atlanta Braves 2016 Draft, Rounds 11-20

Day three of the 2016 MLB Draft sees the Atlanta Braves selecting several players that they will sign to over-slot bonuses. While the team’s primary strategy on day one was to spread the money for the top three selections of the draft nearly evenly across those three players, a second strategy seems to be to select several high school and Junior College picks on day three and see which ones will take over-slot deals.

Click here for rounds 3-10 from day two of the draft. 

11th Round (319): Matt Rowland, RHP — Day 3 of the draft usually starts out with a player or two who will sign for more than the $100,000 slot limit for all picks from the eleventh round onward. The prep pitcher Rowland fits this bill, with Atlanta inking him to an over-slot deal of around $400,000. The local product from Pope High School has good size at 6-foot-3, and already sports plus velocity with a fastball touching 95 mph, while sitting in the low-90s. He draws a comparison to Derek Lowe for the sinking action on his fastball, which he pairs with a slider that flashes future-plus. He’s far less refined than the other high school pitchers taken ahead of him, but he nonetheless represents good value at this pick in the draft. The Braves also continue to double down on the strength of this draft, high school pitching. He was ranked No. 496 by Baseball America.

12th Round (349): Brandon White, RHP @brandonwhite01 — A dominant closer at Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina, he features a plus slider, average fastball and a developing curve. Click here for a great article on him, and how he was forced to improve on his secondary pitches. This could be a great under-the-radar pick, especially since everyone will focus on his name, which is the same as…

13th Round (379): Brandon White, RHP — A fifth-year senior, this Brandon White has the honor of being the first ever player selected from Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Three more of his teammates also got drafted after him, including Corbin Clouse, who went in the 27th round to the Braves. This Brandon White was a starter in college, with a low-90s fastball, as well as good size and athleticism.

14th Round (409): Ramon Osuna, 1B — Completing a nearly annual tradition, the Braves select Osuna out of Walters State Community College… after all, the school’s head coach is an associate scout for the Braves. At 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, Osuna has a big, strong frame which results in good in-game power. He has also hit for a high average, though power and/or hitting prowess don’t always translate well from the JuCo ranks to the pros. The Braves have drafted plenty of players with his pedigree who didn’t go anywhere.

15th Round (439): Zach Becherer, RHP — A JuCo sophomore out of Rend Lake College in Illinois, Becherer had Tommy John surgery in mid-April. At 6-foot-4 he has a good pitcher’s frame, and was apparently moving towards being a possible helium pick before the injury. The Braves have reportedly signed him to an over-slot bonus of $275,000. So he must be very highly thought of, despite being just a sophomore and recently undergoing TJ surgery.

16th Round (469): Josh Anthony, 3B @mlbjaye — A JuCo standout from Western Oklahoma State College (the same school that produced Andrelton Simmons and Braves’ 2015 15th-rounder Justin Ellison), Anthony is also a local product from Columbus, Georgia. He grew up a Braves fan, with Chipper Jones as his favorite player. He put up some video game numbers the past two years, combining to hit .444 with 25 home runs and 49 stolen bases, and really came on this year, hitting 20 home runs. He’s committed to Auburn, and also plays catcher. The Braves will likely have to go over-slot to sign him.

17th Round (499): Devan Watts, RHP @d_watts7 — A junior reliever from a small private college in Tennessee, there’s not much scouting info out there about him. He may be a bit undersized at 6-foot, but Atlanta has a good track record of plucking relievers out of these middle round picks.

18th Round (529): Zachary Rice, LHP @zrice45 — A junior from UNC Chapel Hill, Rice is an interesting selection. A reliever throughout his college career, he only threw 3.2 innings this year, allowing half of the 22 batters to reach base. At some point during the spring he was dropped from the UNC roster. While he has significant control issues to overcome, he throws a low-90s fastball and a plus slider with a deceptive delivery.

19th Round (559): Tucker Davidson, LHP @tucktuck6 — A JuCo lefty from Midland College in Texas, Davidson is committed to play at NC State next year, but the Braves have other plans. He worked mainly as a starter, and has good control with a plus slider.

20th Round (589): Gabe Howell, 2B @howellgabe — A high school player from Trion, Georgia, north of Rome, the well-built two-sport athlete was thought to have the potential to get drafted in the first ten rounds. He’s athletic enough and quick enough that some scouts see a good-hitting middle infielder in him. His defense apparently needs work, but the Braves will move him from shortstop to second where that will be less of a liability. This quote from his mom might just be the highlight of the draft:

“It was like a movie at Mount Paran when he took batting practice in front of all 30 teams,” Lori Howell said, pausing for a second to relish the moment one more time. “He almost hit Chipper Jones’ truck with his homer.”

Posted in Braves Draft | Comments Off on Atlanta Braves 2016 Draft, Rounds 11-20

Atlanta Braves 2016 Draft, Rounds 3-10

The main action for the Atlanta Braves was on day one of the 2016 MLB Draft, but day two offered a few interesting picks early, but eventually devolved into a money-saving affair halfway through. This wasn’t money savings for the sake of saving money. The organization drafted five college seniors with picks No. 6 through 10 who will likely sign for under $50,000. From that the Braves should realize a cumulative savings of about $1 million. This is money that the team will use to ink their top selections from day one.

The seniors drafted from pick 6 to 10 would normally be taken after the 15th round, if “best player available” were how Atlanta was drafting, but the need to move slot money from one place to another necessitates lowering the talent level for certain picks.

I like this approach the Braves are taking in this draft. They are focusing on draft picks who have the greatest potential to be elite-level players, and those players are only at the top of the draft. So the team is moving money up the draft board. One of the more likely consequences of this strategy will be a lack of quality depth that usually comes from the following rounds.

Click here for the top-4 picks in the first two rounds from day one of the draft. 

3rd Round (80): Drew Harrington, LHP — This pick is the embodiment of the Braves love for #pitchability lefties. Voted the ACC Player of the Year as a Junior from Louisville, Harrington moved to the rotation this season with great success, and ends up getting taken a whole round before his much more heralded teammate Kyle Funkhouser. The Braves may have overdrafted here, with MLB.com ranking Harrington No. 148 and Baseball America ranking him at No. 124. (We’ll have to wait and see if the team is trying to save money with this pick too.) He works his sinking fastball in the high-80s to low-90s and compliments that with a solid slider. His changeup is below average, and how that pitch develops should tell us whether Harrington remains in the rotation or moves to a relief role. If he can add some velocity and continue to refine his slider and changeup, then he could have a mid-rotation ceiling, but more than likely he’s a back-of-the-rotation work horse or durable middle reliever. Though he was apparently mid-90s when working as a reliever as a sophomore, so that may bode well for a floor of a high-leverage reliever. He has the pitching acumen to be better, but scouts think he is limited by the ceiling of his stuff right now.

4th Round (109): Bryse Wilson, RHP @brysewilson — A common refrain from day 1 of the draft, Atlanta reprises that role by dipping back into the high school pitching ranks to take their only prep player of day 2. The team also fulfills their pre-draft statement of taking athletes who play multiple sports. Wilson was a football player in high school as well as a pitcher, and there is a lot of football parlance from scouts when describing his stocky but strong build. On the mound Wilson has plus velocity for an 18-year-old, with a fastball that consistently sits 92-94, and can flash 96 mph. His offspeed stuff is inconsistent and raw, but the Braves are drafting him based on his velocity, and will try to develop a second and third pitch. MLB.com ranked him No. 144 overall, while Baseball America had him ranked No. 93. This is a typical high-risk, high-upside pick that this front office regime has focused on since last year.

5th Round (139): Jeremy Walker, RHP @prince_walker12 — The Braves take a guy Baseball America ranked No. 320 a couple of hundred spots earlier at No. 139. As a college junior this is probably not an attempt to save money on this slot, but instead as we saw last with last year’s draft, the team really likes players with #helium. These are players who moved up the draft board late in the spring, so their rank on pre-draft prospect lists may not accurately reflect how evaluators view them now. Already working his fastball in the low-90s, Walker tickled 96 mph towards the end of the season, with some scouts believing he can add even more velocity once they clean up some kinks in his mechanics. At 6-foot-5, 205-pounds, this could be a similar pick to the selection of Max Povse in 2014 or Ryan Clark in 2015. Another solid high-risk, high-upside pick, but like the two guys mentioned above, he could take some time to develop, despite being selected as a junior out of college.

6th Round (169): Matthew Gonzalez, 2B @mattgonzo14 — For the remainder of day 2, starting with this pick, the Braves took all college seniors. That usually means they plan to sign these players to deals significantly below slot value, and as I mentioned in the intro above, this could result in significant savings. Ranked No. 359 by Baseball America, Gonzalez profiles as a utility player in the majors. He added some more power this year, so it will be interesting to see if that sticks. I keep wanting to put a Todd Cunningham comp on him, but that may be a reach.

7th Round (199): J.B. Moss, LF @J_Moss11 — This is the typical “save the slot money” pick, as Moss was an unranked senior out of Texas A&M. He posted good numbers last summer in a collegiate wood-bat league. No scouting report that I can find on him describes any carrying tool.

8th Round (229): Taylor Hyssong, LHP @taylorhyss — Another unranked player, the 6-foot-3 Hyssong is out of UNC Wilmington. Keith Law of ESPN writes that Hyssong is a “funky lefty who could end up as a specialist reliever.” Some scouting reports clock his fastball as high as 94 mph.

9th Round (259): Tyler Neslony, RF @Tyler_Neslony7 — A good college player in a tough conference, he faced a lot of good competition and held his own throughout his four year career.

10th Round (289): Marcus Mooney, SS @marcusmooney8 — A short 5-foot-7 player and a defensive whiz at shortstop, he reminds me of Mickey Reynolds, whom the Braves drafted in 2013. Mooney is the shortest player Atlanta has drafted since 2012 (Ross Heffley).

Posted in Braves Draft | Comments Off on Atlanta Braves 2016 Draft, Rounds 3-10

Atlanta Braves 2016 Draft Picks 1-4

The Atlanta Braves enter the 2016 draft with four selections on day one among the top 76 picks, including the team’s highest pick since Mike Kelly was selected No. 2 overall in 1991.

The team traded for two additional picks again this year at the end of the first and second rounds. They added a pick at the end of the first round at No. 40 from the Marlins via the Dodgers in the Alex Wood trade last year, then added the No. 76 pick in a recent trade with the Orioles.

My hope with the early picks (below) of this draft for Atlanta, was that they would use their large bonus pool (made so in part because of the huge slot recommendation for the No. 3 pick) to draft first round talents with the majority of these selections. With their first three picks the Braves did just that, using picks 40 and 44 to choose prospects who were ranked by many evaluators among the top-25.

The Braves didn’t listen to the critics in the media who wanted them to draft based on current major league needs (meaning: draft hitters), and instead focused on selecting the prospects they saw as having the highest ceiling. And they used those picks to select one of the most expensive and toughest positions to fill: starting pitching.

1st Round (3): Ian Anderson, RHP @ian_anderson15 — The Braves surprised a lot of people by taking a high school pitcher who wasn’t nearly this high on most people’s board. But the Braves believe he has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the draft, and that he really came on strong late in the season. This reprises a theme from last year’s Braves draft of taking late risers or “pop-up” picks. He was ranked No. 13 overall by MLB.com, No. 11 overall by Baseball America, and No. 7 by Keith Law of ESPN.

iandersonIt’s not like Anderson is a light weight prospect, or unworthy of being selected here. He is a tall and lean 6-foot-4, the kind of frame that scouting directors love to have in their system, with the belief that they can add muscle and velocity. He also has a clean and easy delivery that reminds some of Mike Mussina or Jacob deGrom.

He has at least two plus pitches with a chance at three, and his command also grades as plus. His plus fastball sits in the low 90s, touching 95-96. Though he doesn’t use his changeup much, it nonetheless garners plus grades from some scouts. His curveball is still developing, but it has plus projection. A high school pitcher with this kind of velocity who is projected to have three plus pitches certainly warrants a selection this high.

In short, Anderson checks all the boxes that a team wants in a high-ceiling prep pitcher. His upside is that of a top-of-the-rotation starter. I like this selection, as it continues the philosophy they have focused on during their rebuild of acquiring young controllable starting pitching. By concentrating their top picks on prep pitchers in the draft two years in a row, Atlanta is assembling the building blocks of a rotation similar to the one from the 90’s that led them to all those division titles.

1st Competitive Balance Round (40): Joey Wentz, LHP @joeywentz — The Braves draft strategy works to their advantage as they select another talented high school arm who was ranked higher on just about every board. In doing so they will likely be paying Wentz more than slot, using money saved on the (expected) under-slot Anderson pick. Ranked No. 22 by Keith Law, No. 19 by Baseball America, and No. 16 by MLB.com, Wentz seems like excellent mid-first-round value for an end-of-first-round pick.

Wentz is like a less-refined left-handed version of Anderson. The 6-foot-5 prep lefty from Kansas features a low-90s fastball that can reach 95-96, and a low-to-mid-70s curveball, both of which grade as above average with a future grade of plus. His changeup and overall control are also both said to be above average, with a chance at a future plus grade. Like many high school pitchers, this pick is about future projection and how the organization can guide his development.

While Wentz’s path to top-of-the-rotation prospect status may not be as clear as Anderson’s, the potential is certainly there. As with many two-way players, once Wentz dedicates all his baseball acumen to pitching, the results should get better. I really like this pick, as it checks the box that I wanted to see checked from this draft of the Braves getting at least two mid-to-upper first round talents.

2nd Round (44): Kyle Muller, LHP @kylemuller19 — Atlanta is back at it with their third pick, plucking another high school pitcher, and again getting good value. The 6-foot-5 lefty out of Dallas was ranked No. 58 by Keith Law, No. 39 by Baseball America, and No. 24 by MLB.com. Like Wentz, Muller was a two-way player in high school.

Muller is an interesting prospect, as he put up “video game stats” at times over the past two years. At one point striking out a high school record 24 straight batters over two starts and recording 36 consecutive outs on strikeouts. His fastball velocity is not consistent yet, ranging from mid-80s to low-90s, while occasionally touching 95 with some sink to it. His curve is average and change is below average right now, but some scouts think both have a chance to be above average if not plus.

Scouts love his big and athletic body, and Muller was a stand-out at the plate as well, challenging for the national high school home run lead most of the year. His athleticism and physique are said to be among the best in the entire draft. He’s more of a raw product as a pitcher than the two earlier picks, but he has the canvas to be just as good of a prospect, though it may take a little bit longer for the good results to show up in games.

2nd Competitive Balance Round (76): Brett Cumberland, C @bcumboslice — The Braves finally get off the high school pitcher bandwagon and take a college hitter. The Cal product was ranked No. 90 by Baseball America, No. 82 by Keith Law, and No. 69 by MLB.com.

The draft-eligible sophomore checks many of the boxes that are supposedly “needs” in the Braves system. He hits. He hits for power. He’s a catcher. Actually, the switch-hitter hits for a lot of power, but he may end up in left field due to the belief by some scouts that his overall athleticism and catch-and-throw skills may not be enough to stick behind the plate.

Wherever he ends up he becomes one of the best power prospects in the Braves system, and perhaps the closest one to the majors. As a sophomore he still has some development left to get to where his prospect ceiling will be, but I like the combination of power and hitting ability, even if he’s forced to move to the field. Solid pick for the team and decent value here.

Posted in Braves Draft | Comments Off on Atlanta Braves 2016 Draft Picks 1-4

Braves 2016 International Bonanza

In the middle of a season of maximum struggle it can be hard for many fans to see any light at the end of the tunnel… especially if that light is four or five years away. But the Atlanta Braves are about to create a very bright light at the end of that tunnel, with an international signing bonanza the likes of which this team has never seen before.

The international signing rules can be hard to understand, so it may be better to phrase this in the context of a draft, which more fans can understand. I already wrote about how the Braves will be doing quite well in this year’s state-side June draft, where the team has two first round picks, and by virtue of how they might shift money around, could have three — three first round picks is huge in any sport.

While the July 2 international signing period is not a draft, we can draw some comparisons between the two systems for acquiring amateur talent by using the bonus money given to players. From the early reports at Baseball America and MLB Prospect Watch, the Braves are set to sign six players with the equivalent of a first-round bonus. Six players who can be expected to get $1 million-plus bonuses.

The worst kept secret of this year’s international signing period is the Braves handshake agreement to ink the top international prospect, switch-hitting Venezuelan shortstop Kevin Maitan. That deal could be worth over $4 million, a sum comparable to what Atlanta might give to their first round draft pick, the third overall player taken in the draft.

The Braves are also linked to the top international catching prospect, another Venezuelan named Abrahan Gutierrez. His bonus could be upwards of $3 million, comparable to a top-10 draft pick.

Dominican shortstop Yunior Severino and right-handed pitcher Juan Contreras, considered by many the top non-Cuban pitcher in this year’s class, could each get bonuses nearing $2 million, similar to what a player taken at the end of the first round of the draft might receive.

The million dollar bonuses will continue for two more players linked to the Braves, Venezuelan shortstop Livan Soto and Dominican third baseman Yency Pena.

Cuba Libre
With the way the Braves have tried in vain to attract the top Cuban talent in recent years we can be pretty certain that this time around the organization will once again make strong attempts to sign some of the top players available from the island nation. Among the top international talent in this year’s pool of players there are at least three major Cuban prospects who are not currently linked to any team — RHP Vladimir Gutierrez, OF Lazaro Armenteros (aka Lazarito) and 2B Randy Arozarena. And there could be more who have yet to defect or be made eligible by MLB to sign with a major league team.

Let’s take a quick look at the money the Braves might be putting out there (according to reports) to see how much they could spend internationally. Atlanta’s allotted international bonus pool is $4,766,000. The team could exceed that by just signing Maitan. Here’s what the bonus pool scuttlebutt says so far:

Maitan, $4 million
A. Gutierrez, $3.5 million
Severino, $2 million
Contreras, $1.5 million
Soto, $1 million
Pena, $1 million
Total: $13 million

By the rules of the international signing period, the Braves will be taxed 100% on any amount they go over their allotted pool. So if the bonus numbers listed above are close to correct, then that $13 million in salary will turn into a $22 million expense.

Atlanta has a draft bonus pool of just over $13 million, closely matching the money they will be giving their international prospects, but less than their actual outlay once penalties are assessed.

The other major penalty of a team going over their international bonus pool is that the team cannot sign any international player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods. That equals a lot of savings over the next two years, which means all the team’s eggs need to be in this year’s basket. The rules also indicate that a team can distribute any bonus payments that surpass $1 million over three years. Meaning some of that new stadium money can be used to sign prospects this year.

It’s been quite obvious that the organization has not spent as much money as they probably could have on the major league team this year. The conventional wisdom has been that the Braves were going to shift some budgets around so they would spend less on the major league roster and more on the draft and international signings. From the math above it looks as though the Braves have already provisionally spent $35 million between the draft and international market.

The team has already released over $25 million in player salaries from their major league roster in Swisher, Bourn, Matusz, Stubbs and Bonifacio. Surely if they’re willing to continue taking on salaries for prospects, then they’re willing to truly spend big for actual prospects.

If the Atlanta payroll this year is somewhere in the $85 to $95 million range — the range where most guesses put it — and if Atlanta payrolls the past couple of years have been in the $105 to $115 million range, then it looks like the Braves are shifting anywhere from $10 to $30 million from MLB payroll to other areas. We are not privy to the details of the team’s payroll, so there’s no guarantee this reasoning is sound.

Assuming that my reasoning is (at least somewhat) sound, then I bet the team has more than $22 million to spend on the international market. That guess is based on the team’s statements that there will be more money available for payroll as the team moves into their new stadium, and that burning desire by the front office to hoard prospects.

This reasoning also takes into account that there will be savings that occur over the next two years as the team is constrained to their pool limit, and the fact that the bonuses given out this year can be paid out over the next three years. Add to that the team’s desire to make some positive headlines by signing big names, and the team’s obsession about signing a big named Cuban prospect or star, and the odds look good that the team will spend even more internationally than has been reported.

My guess is that those additional signings are Cuban players. Most Cuban players are considered closer to major league ready than the typical 16-year-old international singing, so that light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel gets a little closer.

Posted in Braves Draft | Comments Off on Braves 2016 International Bonanza

Braves trade for pick #76 in 2016 draft

I’m really glad that baseball began allowing the trading of some draft picks. And so are the Braves.

Atlanta used the acquisition of additional draft picks to their advantage last year by trading for two additional selections, one as a part of the major Craig Kimbrel trade with the Padres and the other in a pure salary dump trade with the Diamondbacks*. For this year’s draft the Braves already have an additional pick as part of the Alex Wood trade with the Dodgers, and now they essentially purchase another in a salary dump trade with the Orioles.

The Braves acquired the No. 76 pick in the 2016 MLB draft and LHP Brian Matusz from the Orioles in exchange for RHP Brandon Barker and LHP Trevor Belicek. Per the Braves beat writers, the team plans to release Matusz, so the deal is really the draft pick and $3 million (the money left on Matusz’s contract) for Barker and Belicek.

To look at it yet another way, since a currently-nameless player is involved by virtue of the pick, the Braves are trading for the Orioles 2nd-round pick in the 2016 draft in exchange for the Braves 16th-round pick in the 2014 draft, the 16th-round pick in the 2015 draft and $3 million.

Yes, both Barker and Belicek have done well in their short pro careers. Barker has been a huge surprise this year with a 2.00 ERA in 8 starts at double-A. Belicek was putting up good numbers while being used as a swing-man at low-A. Neither were really considered prospects for Atlanta. While Barker might have gotten listed at the back third of some top-30 Braves prospect lists if his good work continued, neither were more than a B- prospect at this point (see the preseason list for where Barker might rank as a B- prospect).

Yet another way to look at this trade, is that when the Braves acquired their second round pick (No. 75 overall) last year, they used it on a college closer, A.J. Minter, who has a much greater chance to be an impact player in the majors than either Barker or Belicek. In this year’s trade the Braves acquire virtually that same selection with the No. 76 pick. I’ll say that’s worth three million in today’s baseball landscape.

Whichever way I look at this trade, it continues to look like a big win for Atlanta. Clearly the Orioles think highly of both Barker and Belicek, as they didn’t clear as much payroll space as the Diamondbacks did last year when they dumped twice as much payroll while getting two outfielders, one of whom is no longer playing baseball.

The real value of this trade could be in the way that it plays into Atlanta’s overall 2016 draft strategy.

While the slot money assigned to the No. 76 pick is just over $800,000, the Braves could place even more value on that selection by picking a higher-ranked prospect who has fallen down in the draft and giving him an over-slot bonus. This is possible because of the Braves large draft pool created by their No. 3 overall pick and the expectation (around the baseball industry) that the players drafted in the top-5 spots might sign for less than slot value ($6.5 million for the Braves No. 3 slot). If Atlanta is able to sign its first round selection for a $1 million or $2 million less than that $6.5 million slot value, then that frees up money to be used around pick No. 76 to sign a player to late-first round money. The last pick, No. 34, in the first round is almost $1 million more than the slot value of the Braves No. 76 pick.

The Braves could have bought themselves another first-round pick.

We’ll have to wait and see if this is what the Braves are thinking, or whether they will simply be content to take a player that fits the value of the bonus slot assigned to that pick. Either way equals a win for the Braves, and potentially a huge bonanza for the team — highlighting how important these extra draft picks are this season.

*Technically, the 2015 trade with the Diamondbacks was two trades.

Posted in Braves Draft, Braves Trades | Comments Off on Braves trade for pick #76 in 2016 draft

Atlanta Braves 2016 Draft Board

2016mlbdraftWho will the Atlanta Braves pick in the upcoming 2016 MLB First Year Player Draft on June 9? With the third overall pick, Atlanta has a chance to add significant talent to their already strong stable of prospects.

In preparation for the draft, and the eagerly anticipated No. 3 overall pick, I’ve compiled a list of the top mock drafts from the major prospect outlets around the internets. I will add to this list as the draft nears, but already we can see a lot of discrepancy about who Atlanta will pick. Two high school pitchers keep getting listed repeatedly, as Baseball America has been consistent about picking Riley Pint for Atlanta, while Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com has repeatedly picked Jason Groome.

Date Mock Draft w/ link Phils No.1 Reds No. 2 Mock pick for Braves at No. 3
3.30 Baseball America Groome Senzel Riley Pint, RHP, high school (Kansas)
5.2 MLB (Callis) Puk Lewis Corey Ray, OF, college junior (Louisville)
5.2 MLB (Mayo) Puk Lewis Jason Groome, LHP, high school (NJ)
5.5 FanGraphs Groome Senzel Kyle Lewis, OF, college junior (Mercer)
5.6 Baseball America 2.0 Puk Lewis Riley Pint, RHP, high school (Kansas)
5.11 Perfect Game Puk Ray Jason Groome, LHP, high school (NJ)
5.12 MLB (Mayo) 2 Lewis Puk Jason Groome, LHP, high school (NJ)
5.13 Baseball America 3.0 Puk Lewis Riley Pint, RHP, high school (Kansas)
5.18 Keith Law Puk Lewis Jason Groome, LHP, high school (NJ)
5.20 MLB (Callis) 2 Puk Senzel Kyle Lewis, OF, college junior (Mercer)
5.25 Perfect Game 2 Lewis Puk Corey Ray, OF, college junior (Louisville)
5.26 MLB (Mayo) 3 Puk Senzel Kyle Lewis, OF, college junior (Mercer)
5.27 Baseball America 4.0 Moniak Puk Corey Ray, OF, college junior (Louisville)
5.28 Keith Law 2 Puk Lewis Jason Groome, LHP, high school (NJ)
6.3 MLB (Callis) 3 Puk Senzel Kyle Lewis, OF, college junior (Mercer)
6.4 Keith Law 3 Puk Lewis Jason Groome, LHP, high school (NJ)
6.7 Baseball America 5.0 Moniak Puk Kyle Lewis, OF, college junior (Mercer)
6.9 Keith Law 4 Moniak Puk Kyle Lewis, OF, college junior (Mercer)
6.9 Perfect Game 3 Moniak Senzel Ian Anderson, RHP, high school (NY)
6.9 MLB (Callis) 4 Moniak Senzel Corey Ray, OF, college junior (Louisville)
6.9 MLB (Mayo) 4 Moniak Senzel Corey Ray, OF, college junior (Louisville)

We’ll see where it goes from here. If I missed an important mock draft or another one is release and I don’t have it listed here, please tweet me @gondeee.

Posted in Braves Draft | Comments Off on Atlanta Braves 2016 Draft Board

A silver lining to today’s roster moves

The Atlanta Braves shook up their roster today, DFAing Drew Stubbs and demoting Jace Peterson, John Gant and Chris Withrow. Technically Withrow got demoted yesterday and was supposed to be replaced with Emilio Bonifacio, but arcane baseball rules intervened. In their stead the team called up Matt Tuiasosopo, Chase d’Arnaud, Reid Brignac and Mike Foltynewicz. It’s not worth knowing much about those first three, as they’re likely just placeholders until the next roster shakeup, and it will be interesting to see how Folty does this go-around.

jpeterson3The silver lining I’d like to pull out of these moves is the impact it has on Jace Peterson. To begin with he’s a curious player, and his place on any major league roster is still largely up for debate. Of the 200 games he’s played in the majors the past three years, he’s started 168 of them, so one might think he’s supposed to start. But scouts and baseball analysts are split on whether he’s a starter or a bench player.

With this demotion, it may look like Jace as a starter might be going by the wayside, but his career to this point reminds me of another Braves player — Ron Gant.

Jace first 3 MLB seasons: 200 games, .605 OPS
Gant first 3 MLB seasons: 242 games, .694 OPS

Like Jace, Gant was demoted during his third major league season after starting the season hitting .172/.233/.309 through 60 games. Peterson has started this season hitting .182/.260/.205.

While Gant was a couple of years younger and a far more talented prospect than Jace is, I find some similarities of their career arcs to this point intriguing. Both were given the starting job in two major league seasons, both struggled to begin their third season, and both were demoted mid-season to the minors.

The move to the minors worked for Gant, who turned his demotion into the fuel that propelled him to become the player that he ultimately became — an All-Star and Silver Slugger with multiple top-10 MVP finishes. While Jace is a rung below Gant in the tools department, he still has a strong set of major league caliber tools that could make him a valuable starter at second base, or a super-utility player who can play all over (think Omar Infante).

So I look forward to seeing what Jace does with the rest of his season. How will he respond to this possibly demoralizing event in his career? He hasn’t been in the minors since 2014, so this could be a shock. Will he use this event like Gant did 27 years ago to become the best version of the player many scouts and people in the Braves front office believe he can be?

Or am I reaching to find silver linings in this miserable baseball season for Braves fans…

Posted in General Bloginess | Comments Off on A silver lining to today’s roster moves

The 2016 Atlanta Braves: A Team Built for the Trade Deadline

By now it should be no secret: the 2016 Atlanta Braves are not built to be a contending team. A team that expects to compete against the strong and deep rotations of the Mets and Nats doesn’t take a week at the end of spring to decide whether Williams Perez or Jhoulys Chacin should be their fourth starter or fifth starter. A team that expects to contend doesn’t hold up as their top free agent signing of the offseason a backup catcher or backup infielder.

None of that should be taken as an indictment against how this 2016 Braves team is constructed, but we should be honest about this team: they’re not built to be a contending team. They are, however, built to take full advantage of the desperate needs of other teams leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. They are built to continue the rebuild that started after the 2014 season.

The Atlanta front office has stacked the 2016 Braves with as many tradable players as they can fit on a roster. They have parted ways with players still owed money in order to equip their roster with players who have the best chance to build trade value.

Most likely to be traded

Yesterday I was trying to figure out why the team would bring in Drew Stubbs at the end of spring to essentially usurp a roster spot from the popular Michael Bourn, and even Emilio Bonifacio — two players owed a combined $15 million this year. The best answer I came up with was that Stubbs’ career .444/.528/.756 slash line as a pinch-hitter is vastly superior over Bourn’s .137/.200/.176. Both of those are extremely small sample sizes of just over 50 plate appearances spread out over multiple seasons, but with such extreme numbers for each player the team must be hoping that while neither is expected to get regular playing time, Stubbs has the better chance of putting up good numbers in a pinch-hitting role.

Assuming they once again put up good numbers in the pinch this year, guys like Stubbs and Jeff Francoeur could have value at the trade deadline for teams seeking pinch hitters and role players. They could add value to trades when they’re paired with a reliever like Jim Johnson or Jason Grilli — the two most likely relievers to be traded. Veteran relievers Eric O’Flaherty and Alexi Ogando could rebound this year and raise their swap value.

Veteran infielders on one-year deals like Erick Aybar, Gordon Beckham and Kelly Johnson are all likely to be shipped off by the deadline. It’s a reassuring comment on the potential value of seemingly small trades of role players that one of the prospects Kelly Johnson was traded for just last year, John Gant, is already making his big league debut with Atlanta. One of the players that Jim Johnson was traded for last year, Hector Olivera, is expected to be an integral part of this year’s team.

While the stating pitching for the Braves is thin to begin the season, the first wave of rebuilding pitching prospects is going to be ready in a few months. That means the Braves will need to create spots for these young starters by shipping off veterans like Bud Norris and Jhoulys Chacin.

While many of the names I mentioned likely don’t have huge trade value on their own, as we saw last year, the Braves were able to combine players in trades to receive a better return. They were also willing to include a top prospect like Jose Peraza as a sweetener in a trade to acquire the player they really wanted in return. With some surplus of prospects, I wonder if we’ll see the Braves include one of their second tier of prospects in a deadline trade in order to get a top tier prospect in return.

Less likely to be traded

While the Braves have Nick Markakis on the books through 2018 at what seems like a reasonable $11 million per year, that lower-dollar contract is also what could make him attractive on the trade market. More years of control on a player should net better players and prospects in return.

The same could be said for Ender Inciarte, who has a whopping five years of team control left. After Atlanta acquired him this past offseason there were reports that many teams called to inquire about his availability. The Braves GM has even bragged in interviews about how many teams (20, by some reports) have expressed interest in Inciarte. Even with Ender filling a valuable role as a leadoff hitter and center fielder, the emergence of prospect Mallex Smith in that same role could make Inciarte available.

A good first half out of Jace Peterson could have Braves fans thinking he’s the second baseman of the future, but it could also raise his trade value to the point where the Braves would strongly consider moving him if another team expressed interest. Once again, five years of team control could add to his value in any deal, and with infield prospects Albies and Swanson arriving soon, there’s reason to think that Peterson could be considered surplus.

******************

In order to put a contending team on the field for the opening of their new park in 2017, the Braves need to give their young prospects the space and time to cut their teeth in the majors. Consider too that many of their young prospects won’t be ready to join the major league roster until after the All-Star break. The team then needs to clear spots on a roster currently crowded with veterans. The confluence of those three things, as well as the potential tradability (described above) of so many of these players, seems to auger well for a flurry of mid-season trades.

At some point the team is going to have to stop trading away valuable pieces, but that point is not just yet. This year’s Braves team is still all about building for the future, and not yet about winning now.

Posted in Braves Trades, Making the Team Meter | Comments Off on The 2016 Atlanta Braves: A Team Built for the Trade Deadline

Atlanta Braves 2016 Making the Team Meter: Final Week

The Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) is nearing the end of spring, and there are still many unknowns surrounding the remaining position battles and opening day roster construction.

kjohnsonThis week I’ll take a look at each area of the team in one post. I will list the locks, then discuss which spots are still up in the air. The players listed in red are the ones who have not yet made the roster.

Lineup (8 of 8 spots are locks): Surprisingly, the lineup is not quite a sure thing because of possible platoons at second and third, though it’s mostly set, especially if we base our guessing off of the lineups of the past few spring games. This seems to be the prevailing lineup:

1. Ender Inciarte, CF (L)
2. Erick Aybar, SS (S)
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B (L)
4. Adonis Garcia, 3B (R)
5. Nick Markakis, RF (L)
6. Hector Olivera, LF (R)
7. A.J. Pierzynski, C (L)
8. Jace Peterson, 2B (L)

While I’ve had Garcia on the roster bubble all spring, comments on a recent broadcast by the GM, and Garcia’s repeated inclusion in lineups, leads me to believe that he will be the starting third baseman. That said, both he and Peterson will share a large part of their playing time with Beckham, Johnson, and Bonifacio.

Bench (3 of 5 spots are locks): At least three bench players are known: backup catcher Tyler Flowers, infield backup Gordon Beckham, and everywhere backup Kelly Johnson. That leaves Emilio Bonifacio to find a spot, as well as the crowded veteran outfield trio of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Jeff Francoeur.

There has been mention that the team could cut Bonifacio loose and eat his $1.25 million salary. Until recently he was hitting poorly, and still leads the team in strikeouts this spring — not a good sign for a low-power contact hitter off the bench. That decision to cut money is complicated by the probable need to eat some, if not most, of the salaries of both Swisher and Bourn.

Both Swish and Bourn have had good springs, so it seems reasonable to believe that the Braves can find teams that are interested (as long as Atlanta eats a large portion of their salary). If the Braves can find a taker for one of those guys, then they probably cut Bonifacio and keep Francoeur and whomever between Swisher and Bourn wasn’t traded. That gives them the greatest veteran trade power leading up to the trade deadline in July — as I presume they will swap as many veterans on short contracts as they can for prospects, much like they did last year.

We should know more on Tuesday, when the team is required to inform Francoeur of where he will start the year.

Rotation (3 of 4 spots are locks): The top three spots in the rotation appear to be solid locks, while the fourth spot is still up in the air with the poor finish to the spring by Chacin. Atlanta will not need a fifth starter until April 12, so while I’ll list those candidates, they will start in the minors and get recalled on the 12th.

jchacinThe right-handed heavy rotation of Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, Matt Wisler and Jhoulys Chacin seem like the four the team will take north. Chacin is the only question mark after some rough outings recently. With starting pitching so thin throughout the majors and in the Braves organization, I have to believe that they’ll at least see what they have in Chacin for the first few weeks of the season. If he’s not up to the task, then they have a phalanx of young starters who should be ready by mid-April.

The team will take the extra two weeks of not needing a fifth starter to decide between Manny Banuelos and Mike Foltynewicz.

ManBan had been the early favorite, but Folty came on strong in his last start while Banuelos has been hit hard in two of his three appearances. Neither seem like options to be in the opening day rotation due to their delayed start to spring.

Young righty John Gant was considered for the fifth spot for a hot minute, but he’s much more likely to begin the year in the minors. Though his good spring could accelerate his timetable. The forgotten one, Williams Perez, could sneak into some sort of roster spot in the rotation or bullpen.

Bullpen (6 of 8 spots are locks): This is the area with the most uncertainty, and an area that could change a lot between now and opening day due to trades, releases and waiver claims. The locks appear to be Arodys Vizcaino, Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, Alexi Ogando and Jose Ramirez, all right-handers.

With the acquisition on Sunday of left-hander Eric O’Flaherty, he becomes another lock. One of the remaining spots seems like it will go to Rule 5 reliever Daniel Winkler, who received a strong vote of confidence from the GM on a weekend broadcast.

That leaves one bullpen spot, and until recently is sounded like it would go to another left-hander — the helmet-hat wearing Alex Torres. Like Chacin, A. Torres has gotten hit a lot lately, and the team may be rethinking his inclusion in the bullpen. The only other competition at this point seems to be from righty Carlos Torres, the improbable resurgence of Hunter Cervenka or someone else from minor league camp, or one of the starting candidates falling to the pen.

With that eighth spot in the pen going away in mid-April once the team needs a fifth starter, my best guess is that spot will be filled by Banuelos or Perez, with either of them serving primarily as long relievers. If I had to put money on it right now, I’d choose Perez, but a lot could happen between now and opening day.

For a bit of fun reading, click here for a look at the final MTM post from last spring.

Posted in Making the Team Meter | Comments Off on Atlanta Braves 2016 Making the Team Meter: Final Week