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From the moment Craig Kimbrel was traded to the Padres hours before the 2015 season was to begin, many fans have wondered if the homegrown star closer might one day return to the Braves. As Atlanta has tried to replace Kimbrel with Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, and Arodys Vizcaino, Kimbrel has remained outstanding for first San Diego and now Boston. This season, he's pitching the best baseball of his life with a 12 K/BB ratio and a 1.04 FIP. Could the Braves try to entice their former All-Star to return home to Atlanta?

First off, there's a small problem with even dreaming of Kimbrel returning next year. If the Red Sox had no problem paying Kimbrel $13 million this season, the smart money is on them picking up his option for 2018 which will pay him exactly the same. That would mean that Kimbrel's Age-30 season will be next year as the closer for the Red Sox.

There's the other problem - provided the Red Sox are not able to extend Kimbrel before the end of 2018, he'll hit free agency as the best closer on the market. A few other current closers will be available at the same time, though that's always subject to change as relievers are a fickle breed. Regardless of how many closers are on the market, none are Craig Kimbrel - though Andrew Miller is highly impressive even if he's not being used as a closer and will command a significant salary. Furthermore, when Kimbrel becomes available, he'll be aiming for a contract from a market that last winter gave Aroldis Chapman $86 million over five years and Kenley Jansen $80M. Provided Kimbrel hits the market healthy and pitching well, he'll at least command a similar average annual value. Both Chapman and Jansen were entering their Age-29 seasons while Kimbrel's first season of a new contract will be his Age-31 season. That might make it harder to get a fifth guaranteed season, but an open market might figure in big here and Kimbrel's not only a good get for performance, but for his name.

Back to the Braves. Will they be interested? You bet your sweet behind they will. The bigger question is how interested and maybe the even biggest question is - should they be?

Back to the first question, a lot can change between now-and-then. Atlanta has a vast collection of impressive young arms and one of them could turn into their unquestioned closer before the end of 2018. A.J. Minter's name has often been thrown around as a closer-in-waiting. The team's incumbent closer, Vizcaino, is team-controlled through 2019. The Braves have a plethora of other arms, many of them currently starting, that could also be in the discussion by the end of 2018 should they move to the bullpen. Regardless, John Coppolella has seemed to hint at Kimbrel being someone of interest for the Braves in previous #AskCoppy sessions so that could suggest to some degree how interested Atlanta would be.

Once again, the biggest question - should Atlanta be interested in signing Kimbrel - is much more interesting to me. Mainly because I'm going to say no. It's not because I don't love Kimbrel. I mean, what fan of the Braves doesn't love Kimbrel? The man was an absolute beast in Atlanta and I, like most of Braves Twitter, loved to see people have a conniption over Kimbrel's hat on a nightly basis. And I don't think there's much reason to believe Kimbrel won't continue to be a dominant reliever for the foreseeable future. As I said, relievers are a fickle breed, but when someone does what Kimbrel has for the last seven years, you take notice. Getting to 30 saves once or twice in the majors isn't that much of an accomplishment. From 2007 to 2016, there were 168 instances of pitchers reaching 30 saves or more - which comes out to roughly 17 pitchers a year. That's more than half of the teams in the major leagues each season. Yet, only ten pitchers reached 200 saves - or roughly six-and-a-half years of reaching 30 saves. Just 28 others saved 100 games. Being able to accumulate saves year-after-year is a much rarer thing. Craig Kimbrel has proven that he's not Juan Oviedo or Tom Wilhelmsen. He's on another level and predicting continued success is not only prudent, it's what the projection systems actually say. While Baseball Prospectus long-term forecast is very conservative, it doesn't have Kimbrel reaching a 4.00 DRA until his Age-35 season in 2023. For what it's worth, he's never had a DRA in a full season over 2.21 so I imagine Kimbrel will beat those projections by a considerable amount.

If I love him so much and believe he's going to remain very good, why do I hope the Braves pass on the prospect of bringing back Kimbrel?

It's simple economics. The Braves opened this year with a $122 million payroll. That could climb in 2018, but how much is debatable considering the good, but not great attendance this season in SunTrust Park. Apparently, just having a new park doesn't guarantee sellouts. I don't foresee the Braves cutting salary moving forward, but I also didn't believe their payroll would match some of the big boys in the league when they moved to Cobb County. There often is a bump, but payroll just doesn't skyrocket because of a new park. Unless you're the Marlins and that lasted, oh, a year.

Ignoring Atlanta's commitments for 2019 and moving forward, a closer of Kimbrel's ability would take up between $15M and $18M of payroll - possibly more. For a $130M payroll, that's somewhere in the range of 12% to 14%. That's a lot of money to spend for a player only pitching 60 times a year. Bringing back in those future commitments we just ignored, the Braves will pay, short of a trade, nearly $60M for Matt Kemp, Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, and Ender Inciarte in 2019 and adding a big closer's salary will hamstring the entire budget.

And then there's this - is Kimbrel at $15M that much better than Cody Allen, also a free agent in the winter of 2018-19? Or, for that matter, Vizcaino? There's no simple answer to that question. Kimbrel's a better pitcher than Allen and Vizcaino, but finances have to be considered. Think of it this way - would you rather have Vizcaino at $8M and a starting third baseman at a similar rate or would you rather have Kimbrel? With a limitless budget, you might go with Kimbrel and worry about the third baseman later. But the Braves are playing with the salary setting on so that has to be considered.

There's also the argument that paying relievers that much money is foolish in general considering that they are so rarely used properly. The idea is that your closer is your best reliever, but so many teams - even smart ones like the Red Sox - utilize their closers in very restrictive ways. As the Braves found out in the 2013 NLDS, what's the purpose in having a Kimbrel in the bullpen when he's waiting until it's the "right time" to bring him in? Meanwhile, a guy making the major league minimum is blowing the lead just so that you can save your closer until the ninth inning. To get the best value out of a pitcher like Kimbrel, the Braves would need to use their bullpen differently and be willing to surrender save opportunities for higher-leverage situations earlier in the game. At the same time, they would need to justify utilizing a $16M closer in the seventh inning to fans who only value relievers by how many saves they have.

The Braves making Kimbrel a target after 2018 isn't a bad thing. He's an amazing pitcher who could be in line for a handful or more 2 to 4 fWAR seasons after he concludes his current contract - which is no small feat for a reliever. But the finances and the way he'll be used (which will limit his value to the Braves) make signing Kimbrel a bad investment.


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What better way to explain service time than with the hottest prospect to come through the Braves system since Jason Heyward? For that matter, what better way to explain arbitration than with the strangest case that we've seen over the last number of years?

In professional baseball, you earn two different kinds of "time." The one that everyone gets from a rookie-league ballplayer to R.A. Dickey relates to how long you have been a professional. This is especially important when it comes to things like the Rule 5 draft and minor league free agency. For instance, after seven seasons in the minors, you can become a minor league free agent. Oddly, we call them "six-year minor league free agents" despite needing seven years. Baseball is strange.

The other kind of time a player earns - which is far more important to this article - is service time. This refers to each day spent in the major leagues. Under the new CBA, there are 187 days to fit in a 162-game schedule. However, you are still credited with a day of service time during those off days. In fact, a full season is referred to as 172 days in the major leagues - which did not change in the CBA despite the added days to the MLB calendar year. Think of this way - as long as a player didn't use an option that season (i.e. 20 days in the minors), he likely earned a year of service time if he was with the team in April.

You receive service time while on the active roster, the disabled list, the restricted (or suspended) list, and...well...any list. As long as you haven't been optioned to the minors, your service time is climbing. Hence why some teams have tried to play the system against itself. In 2015, the Chicago Cubs waited exactly 13 days to call up Kris Bryant. Under the previous CBA, there were 184 days in a calendar season. As Bryant was not on the 40-man roster to begin the season, by pushing his debut off nearly two weeks, the 2015 Rookie of the Year received 171 days of service time in 2015. That's a day short of a full season. Chicago said all the right things about Bryant needing to work on some parts of his game, but the decision was made with the 2021 season in mind. Had the Cubs opened the season with Bryant on the major league roster, he would have become a free agent after 2020 as players with six years of service time in the majors at the end of any given season can become free agents should they not be signed beyond that season. Believing it was more beneficial to them to keep him in the minors, they did just that.

Should the Braves follow suit with Ronald Acuna? There is a lot of talk about bringing him up in September and why not? Over three stops from High-A ball to Triple-A, Acuna has hit .320/.374/.539 with 28 doubles, eight triples, 20 homers, and 37 steals. His numbers have improved at each stop and despite being about eight years younger than the International League, Acuna has an OPS of 1.021 with Gwinnett over 34 games. He's not only the top prospect in the Braves' system but has a solid claim to the best prospect in baseball and he's just 19 years-old.

Bringing him up now would sacrifice a potential extra year of team control. There are other concerns, but provided Acuna stays in the majors, he would reach free agency after 2023. If the Braves waited until sometime in late April of next season to bring Acuna up, they would follow the Bryant route and gain an extra year of team control while merely sacrificing a few weeks of the 2018 season with their top prospect in Triple-A. The Braves have historically not concerned themselves with that, though. I mentioned Heyward and he opened his rookie season in the starting lineup on opening day. By that September, Freddie Freeman joined the team for a cup of coffee. Last August, Dansby Swanson was surprisingly brought to the majors, which started his clock early. In fact, the last time I remember the Braves really concerning themselves with service time came in 2009.

Tommy Hanson was absolutely dominant with Myrtle Beach and Mississippi in 2008 as a 21-year-old. He finished the season by crushing the Arizona Fall League with a 0.63 ERA over 28.2 innings and 49 strikeouts. Over 14.2 innings the following spring, Hanson had a 2.45 ERA with 14 strikeouts. But it was Jo-Jo Reyes who was named the fifth starter. Predictably, he failed and in mid-May, the Braves made a change. Hanson had a 1.70 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 47.2 ING over his first eight starts, but the Braves passed on bringing him up from Gwinnett. They instead called on Kris Medlen, who had been nearly as excellent but wasn't considered a top prospect. Medlen would get three starts until June 7, when the Braves finally brought up Hanson.

All of this was done for one reason - arbitration. Had the Braves opened the season with Hanson as the fifth starter, not only would he have gotten to free agency a season quicker, he would have gotten paid a lot quicker as well. Players become arbitration-eligible after three seasons on a MLB roster. The Braves passed and continued to pass even after gaining the extra year of team control. That was done to get him past the expected date for Super 2 arbitration-eligible players. Super 2 refers to players with two years of service time plus a lot more. Basically, you group all of the players with more than two years of service time, but less than three years in a given season. You take the top 22% of that list and it gives you a threshold. Anyone above that threshold reaches arbitration early. That threshold differs, but it typically lands somewhere in the 2 years and 120-to-150 days area. Remember Bryant from earlier? Despite the fact that the Cubs bought an extra year before free agency, he will still reach salary arbitration this year. And the three years after it. Hence why Super 2 guys can get really expensive. Since arbitration-eligible players rarely fail to receive a nice bump in pay, it gets pretty costly the third time around even for just good players. Add a fourth year and players often are getting plenty of bank. One such player for the Braves this offseason will be Mike Foltynewicz, who will likely have 2 years and 163 days of service time. While the Super 2 cutoff hasn't been decided for 2017, it's unlikely to be higher than 163 days.

The entire reason I bring up service time and arbitration today is related to Dan Winkler. Back in December of 2014, the Braves selected Winkler in the Rule 5 draft. They knew he would miss of the next season after having Tommy John surgery. When a Rule 5 player is injured and misses time the next season, they still have to log at least 90 days on the active roster to fulfill their Rule 5 eligibility. If they fail to reach 90 days in their first season as a Rule 5 guy, they must finish off the remaining time the next season before being eligible to be optioned to the minors. In Winkler's case, as we know, it gets complicated.

Winkler was activated off the DL in 2015 on September 10. Between that day and the end of the season, he logged 24 days on the active roster. The following season, he was on the active roster for eight days before fracturing his elbow. In two seasons, he had 32 days of service time - or nearly two months short of what he would need to satisfy the Rule 5 requirement of 90 days.

The right-hander is currently on his second rehab assignment this season, which has required approval because pitchers only receive 30 days on rehab assignments. Winkler's most recent rehab assignment began 12 days ago. If he has been granted a second rehab assignment of 30 days, the Braves would be able to keep him in the minors until September 1 without having to make a move with the current roster. The season runs through October 1, which would get Winkler to 31 days of active roster time for this season and 55 overall. That leaves an additional 35 days of active roster time he would need to reach in 2018 to satisfy his Rule 5 requirements.

But...he'll also be arbitration-eligible. Yep, even though Winkler has thrown four innings in the majors, he'd be eligible for arbitration even if he went back on the DL for the rest of the year. Earlier, I said players get credit for service time while on the DL. Even though Winkler has pitched 13 times this season in the minors, it's all came under rehab assignments, which means he's still on the major league DL. That would mean Winkler would reach 172 days of service time this season on or about September 15, which would give him three years of service time in the major leagues.

But why stop this extra-strength convoluted exercise now? Let's go over the Braves' options.

I don't remember a case even close to this so this is my best-educated guess.

The Braves could non-tender Winkler, but as far as I know it, non-tender players become official in early December. That might be longer than the Braves would like to go with Winkler taking up space on their roster if they already plan on getting rid of him.

Atlanta could outright Winkler to the minors, but there are a few hang-ups there as well. One, to get him off the 40-man roster, they would need to waive him, offer him to the rest of the league, and, provided he passed through waivers, offer him back to the Rockies. If the other 29 teams passed, the Braves could attempt to outright him to the minors, but as an arbitration-eligible player, Winkler would have the right to elect free agency. As a free agent, the Braves could still try to sign him as a minor league free agent if they so wanted. For that matter, they could simplify the process and release Winkler and then sign him. If he accepted an assignment to the minors after being outrighted or signed as a minor league free agent and either came before the Rule 5 draft, he'd actually be eligible in the 2018 Rule 5 draft.

The Braves could also elect to offer arbitration. After all, how much could Winkler ask for and what could his agent argue? That he's been a good patient? For his part, Winkler has looked much sharper since beginning another rehab stint with Gwinnett and was very impressive to open last season. As he is unlikely to receive significantly more than the major league minimum through arbitration, he still could be a good bet to receive an arbitration tender.

Fortunately, few cases are crazier than Winkler and most are much simpler. Joining Winkler and Foltynewicz among this year's arbitration-eligible players for the first time will be Sam Freeman, Danny Santana, and Jace Peterson. Another player, Jose Ramirez, seems like a good bet to also reach Super 2 status. Ian Krol, Rex Brothers, Arodys Vizcaino, and Matt Adams will also be arbitration-eligible. Much of this group seems likely to receive a non-tender - including Winkler. Should that happen, the next team won't even have to worry about Rule 5 eligibility with Winkler. That should keep the complications down to a minimal.


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There are some in Braves country that are getting annoyed with the rebuild, and I get it (but don't agree with the mindset). The Braves traded some of their biggest names in Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, and Andrelton Simmons, and thus far have not seen the fruits of that labor at the Major League level. Since the rebuild commenced, the MLB team has looked pretty lackluster, and even the pitching talent that has surfaced has likely not been what is expected...or at least advertised. 

However, if you look outside the Braves front office fluffing of a few of the early pitching prospects, you get an unbiased look at what was expected of some of these guys, and while the "ceiling" has not been met, the expectation was MUCH, MUCH less than what our fans or front office claimed.

But fret not Braves fans. On a daily basis, I get to set my eyes upon the wonders of the Gulf of Mexico and I can assure you that some waves are bigger than others. If you're familiar with the color-coded flags that frequent the panhandle of Florida that determine wave conditions, you'll be familiar with the green, yellow, red, and double red flags. Here are their descriptions:

  • GREEN FLAG- Calm Condition
  • YELLOW FLAG- Moderate Surf/Currents
  • RED FLAG- High Hazard
  • DOUBLE RED FLAG- Beach Closed to the Public

These flags represent the Braves rebuild, especially that of the pitching variety. We are in the midst of this thing, but it's about to get really rocky for other MLB teams.

LET'S GO GREEN!!!!


Two years ago the first wave of the rebuild showed up and, no doubt, it was of the green flag variety. It wasn't a threat to the other MLB clubs. But the problem was in how it was presented to the masses. Let's break down a few guys: 

Staff Sgt. Jason Duhr via Wikipedia Commons
1. Matt Wisler- Every outlet that projected this guy saw him as a guy with a mid-rotation ceiling, but prior to his promotion he was being pushed as a guy to build on by the Braves brass. This was wish-casting and fast-forward to 2017, Wisler's being converted to relief at AAA after failing to keep his ERA below 4 since 2013.

2. Mike Foltynewicz- Immediately, when Mike was traded for, Braves started discussing front-line rotation stuff.  Unlike Wisler, this wasn't much of a stretch, but many prospect gurus agreed that the floor of "back-end relief" was more likely. Fast forward 3 years, and there are flashes but it mostly looks like he'll be a mid-rotation guy for his career...and that's a win for the Braves.

3. Aaron Blair- "Mid-rotation workhorse" ceiling that turned into a big dumpster fire at the MLB level. And this tidbit: He miraculously lost 3 MPH on his fastball when he donned a Braves uni. He's now sporting a high walk rate, a low strikeout rate, and a mid-4s ERA at AAA.

4. Tyrell Jenkins- "Back-end rotation" ceiling now out of a job after being released by the Padres in July. Many, including myself, got caught up in his dynamic personality and decent ERA despite having poor peripherals that showed their true colors against the best baseball hitters in the game.

So, the GREEN FLAG wave has passed and as of now, only 1 of the 4 have come close to prospect projections. Is this more a lesson in prospect projections? Patience? Expectations? Really, it's all of the above. It is pretty rare for baseball players to live up to the hype of their prospect status, but the expectations that were thrown on this first wave to bear fruit were unfair to the players and the fans, not to mention the pressure the front office put on them with unreachable ceilings. But baseball is hard, and the guys above still have plenty of time to grow into their projections.

They call me MELLOW YELLOW


The Braves are in the midst of their YELLOW FLAG wave. These are guys with higher ceilings but have not put it all together in the MLB or MilB.

1.Sean Newcomb- The poster child for the YELLOW FLAG as Sean has a ceiling that is likely as high as anyone in the entire system, but is still plagued by control issues that were still present at Gwinnett. It's not a bad strategy for him to try to work through control issues in the midst of a punt year, but it'll be interesting to see what happens next year when the Braves are supposedly going to try to compete for the division and likely won't have the patience to run a pitcher out every 5th day plagued with the same issues that have cursed his baseball career. 

Rick Briggs via Flickr (CC by SA 2.0)
2. Lucas Sims- Once considered the Braves best-pitching prospect, Sims is now overshadowed by 2 handfuls of pitchers throughout the system.  Like Newcomb, Sims has been plagued by the ol' 4-baller, but that's taken care of itself over the last 2 years, but at what cost?  What made Sims valuable at a younger age was a fastball that had lots of movement and could hit 96.  Now his fastball sits in the low-90s. At Gwinnett this year, it didn't effect his strikeout rate as he was punching out over 10 per 9. However, in the MLB it's down to 4.7, albeit in a very small sample. The thing about Sims is if you look at projecting the Braves over the next 4-5 years, he doesn't seem to have the sticking power to stay in the rotation. His ceiling is much lower now than what it was after his age 19-season, and current projections have him as a back end guy/high-leverage reliever. It's my opinion that Sims received his 2017 chance due to his 40-man roster placement, not his performance, which was good but not really call-up worthy. As part of the yellow wave, I think Sims' best chance to stay in a rotation would be in a rotation that doesn't have a tomahawk across the chest. 

3. Max Fried- Fried is a poster child for small samples, both good and bad. His overall body of work has looked very pedestrian, but he flashes brilliance on a regular basis. Like Sims, Fried is likely on the MLB roster due to his position on the 40-man roster, but also the Braves are likely trying to keep his innings down as they've been extra cautious with guys coming off of Tommy John surgery. All of Fried's pitches are still present and his hook looks as filthy as ever, but something has held him back from tapping consistently into greatness. My guess is simply location as there's nothing else that can be pinpointed to mediocrity. He's one to keep an eye on as his ceiling is that of a 3-4 starter, but health could take him down as low as middle relief.

Red Flag?  SKIP THAT! DOUBLE RED FLAG IN FULL-EFFECT in 2018!!!


2018, the bulk of high-end pitching prospects will be at full-bloom at some point in time during the year, and it could be a wonder to behold!  Our next group all have front-line potential (number 1-2 starters) and this isn't organizational fluff but real prospect gurus with real projections.

1. Luiz Gohara- 20 years of age and flying through the minors after being mercifully removed from the Mariners' organization, Gohara might have the highest ceiling of all the pitching prospects with a serious left-handed power arm that's capable of striking out the fiercest of opponents. His issues stem from problems outside the diamond of which I'm not willing to delve into, but if he can keep those at bay, look out MLB.

2. Mike Soroka- Comparing anyone to Greg Maddux is setting them up for failure, so I'm not going to do that, but Soroka's pinpoint control is reminiscent of Maddux's reputation. Also only 20, Soroka is on pace to see time in the MLB as early as April of 2018, and I cannot possibly imagine a scenario where he's not in the bigs by 2018's end. Works low in the zone and uses every scrap of the plate, and if Tyler Flowers has anything to do with it, he'll use bits right outside the plate as well. With 3 plus pitches in his arsenal, this dude's the real deal. While he might not have the front-line arsenal of Gohara, his control could put him in the conversation.

3. Kolby Allard- At 19, the Braves might be pumping the brakes on this young stud as he's run into his first professional stretch where he hasn't dominated. Like Soroka, Allard has 3 plus-pitches and can run a FB up to 97, but normally ranges from 91-94. The fastball has lots of movement and his curve has different levels of break depending on the velocity. He's in AA and I think he stays there the rest of this year and maybe part of 2018. From there, it's anyone's guess, but I think his MLB debut happens sometime in 2019.

4. Touki Toussaint- If you were like me (don't be like me) you rated Touki lower on the prospect chart due to an inflated ERA that's been present his entire MiLB career. Like I said, don't be me and listen to others when they say Touki was, and still is, raw, but he is really coming around these last 4-5 starts. Like Gohara, if everything goes right, oh boy! Hold on to your seat because he's going to rocket. For now, his 95 MPH fastball and ridiculous curveball will make its home in Pearl, MS where he'll make foes look like fools. My bet is he'd be on the Allard track.

5. Kyle Wright- Could the Braves push Wright to MLB next year? You bet your butt they could...but I wouldn't expect it. Like Dansby, Wright is a polished pitcher that's got the frame and arsenal to be great. If the Braves need a push from a pitcher late in 2018, Wright could be that guy. However, 2019 seems more realistic and that's only 1.5 years in the Minors, a little more than Dansby.


Calm after the Storm? HECK NO!!! RED FLAG COMING IN!!!!

This group could very well become a named storm, let's call it Hurricane Arm Overload, and that would put them into DOUBLE RED FLAG status if they continue to develop, but for now, let's just appreciate them for kicking butt in the system. Most of these guys are early in their development and while most players they're facing off against are older, they're still in Low-A or below (or injured) and I've learned valuable lessons about projecting guys as "stars" when they're still in the lower minors (or injured). Watch closely to this group's development when they get to Double-A and beyond. I most definitely have high hopes.

1. Ian Anderson- Only 19 years old, Braves 1st round pick from 2016 is sitting 'em down at Low-A and has a body to grow into. Can already run it up to 97, and has the projections to be a #2-3 guy.

2. Joey Wentz- Also only 19, and has been a personal favorite of mine since the draft (and I have articles to prove it!), I think he's going to be really special. Putting up best numbers in the system at Low-A with a mid-90s peak fastball, and a change up and curve that's reportedly getting better every outing. The athleticism is the game-changer here and Wentz was a serious 2-way star coming out of high school and that should really pay dividends on the mound. Early projections show his ceiling as a mid-rotation pitcher.

3. Bryse Wilson- The surprise of the system thus far, and forgive me if I repeat things, but Bryse is also 19 years of age. Only surpassed by Wentz, Bryse is sporting a 2.36 ERA with a great K-rate, low-BB rate, and a knack for controlling the zone. The knock on him when drafted was that scouts thought he was destined for the bullpen, but man oh man he's proving he can play up. Working off of his fastball that sits the mid-90s, Bryse has a curve/slurve that's very effective and a change-up that is developing with every outing. Early projections show him as a mid-to-back end rotation pitcher.

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4. Kyle Muller- Pitching at Danville, Muller seems to be a bit behind in development from the 3 above, but it'd only take 2-3 dominant performances for him to be right in the mix. Muller most definitely has one of the more suitable frames for longevity as he's coming in at 6'6 225. Fastball sits at 92-93 but many reports I saw right after the draft had it pushing 95. I think we will see added velo to his fastball before it's said and done and he's likely toned it down to work on command which is very common for pitchers in the Braves system. Like Wentz, Muller is known for his athleticism and that should help his cause on the mound. A 3 pitch arsenal that's being fine tuned and has a 4th pitch that he's playing around with for now, Muller has the makeup to become an overnight surprise. Was in extended ST for a while nursing an ailment so I wouldn't doubt if he's up in Low-A by the end of the season when mass promotions will once again pour over the southeast like a summer thunderstorm.

5. Patrick Weigel- There's no doubt that Weigel would be in the Double Red Flag group above had it not been for his season-ending Tommy-John surgery at June's end. Like Muller, Weigel has a frame for eating innings if his arm can agree with his body post-surgery. Weigel works off of his fastball which sits 95ish and moves up to 100 on occasions. Weigel was promoted to AAA after 7 dominant starts in AA and ran into some hiccups. However, it was reported that his velo took a nosedive in the last 2-3 starts before being pulled on June 18th after only 3.1 innings.  Due to the Braves extreme caution on Tommy John victims, Weigel likely won't see action again until 2019 or at earliest Winter Ball in 2018 which, in turns, begs the question, "Does Weigel remain a starter?" The short answer for me is yes, but I don't think that'll be his role in MLB. If he can stay healthy, I think Weigel becomes a back-end bullpen threat where he's asked to come in and let it fly. Focusing on 2 dominant pitches in his fastball and curveball and keeping the 3rd (changeup) in his back pocket to keep hitters honest, Weigel could be a serious force for years.

WELL, that's all folks!  Don't fret when looking at the current fruits of the Braves pitching prospects that have peaked into the bigs this year. Dominance is coming and we are going to have wave after wave after wave for years to come.

Go BRAVES!!!


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Not a big week in transactions, though a few players hit the DL that was quite noteworthy. We also had a minor league trade and a player to be named later was finally named in the Brandon Phillips trade. Finally, there was a suspension for a minor league player.

*The moves covered in this edition of Transaction Tuesday cover August 8 to August 14. A number in parenthesis represents the player's ranking in the midseason WOW Top 50.

Atlanta

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Recalled from Gwinnett: Dansby Swanson...Here's the thing that already looks good - Swanson is hitting the ball with more exit velocity (roughly 5-7 mph) than he did when his struggles finally reached rock bottom before the demotion. That's a plus. On the negative side, he has yet to hit a ball with a better than 90 mph EV - something he did more frequently earlier in the season. But we'll take what good we can find from Swanson. His time in the minors wasn't very exciting, though it was short-lived. In fact, the most noteworthy thing about his stay in the minors was when he played second base. Not much else has yet to be written about Swanson this year so I won't bore you with the same old, same old. What we do know is how he finishes these last several weeks might tell us more about where he is heading into 2018 and how the Braves see him.

Acquired as a PTBNL from Reds: Kevin Franklin...A second rounder back in 2013, Franklin has yet to show much of a bat in the minors. He was expected to have good power coming out of high school and was ranked #232 by Baseball America before the draft. Franklin has a long swing and the expected side effect of such a lengthy swing - a lot of strikeouts. He's also quite aggressive at the plate and is simply not in the batter's box to take walks. Now 22-years-old, Franklin is a curious pickup here. I guess it suggests that the Reds weren't offering much more to add to the already very successful Brandon Phillips trade.

DL'd: Johan Camargo (#23, knee bone bruise)...Injured in an odd series of events last week, Camargo will miss some time with a knee injury. Camargo was struggling right before the injury with a .204/.278/.367 slash over his previous 54 PA (15 games). His BABIP was still at a healthy .364 clip and I don't want to make too much of a big deal about that. The Camargo of 2017 is not the Camargo of previous years so the old and trusted idea of a career norm in BABIP might not be as useful as it usually is. All that said, there are some issues here that do suggest a further decline in his full season numbers shouldn't be a surprise. I'm of the belief - and the numbers support it - that Camargo's range is not very good at shortstop. With his cannon, he's a better fit at third. Either way, no one can disagree that Camargo has had a very good rookie season. It's what he ultimately profiles as that there is a lot of disagreement and that is unlikely to change soon.

Gwinnett
Promoted from Mississippi: Emerson Landoni...This is the sixth time Landoni has made one of these updates. He's the definition of organizational filler.

Activated: Rhiner Cruz...One of Gwinnett's top relievers missed very little time on the DL. A right-hander with major league experienced (5.05 FIP in 76.1 ING), Cruz has been much better with Gwinnett than he was in the Mexican League last year, proving once and for all - if you can't hack it in the Mexican League, you still have a future in the International League.

Traded to Tacoma (Seattle): Andrew Albers...You landed on one of two sides when it came to this deal, which brought the Braves some extra cash. Either you were upset about trading the left-hander in the middle of a dominant season at Triple-A or you thought, "Am I upset about dealing a soft-tossing 31-year-old lefty? Nope." Albers has always had good control and with no plus-plus pitch, he knows how to use what he has well. The problem is guys with Albers' stuff often get blasted in the majors. Sometimes, though, something clicks and an AAAA guy finds success late in his career. Aaron Small, who also played in the Braves' system, had a brief 76-inning stretch in 2005 with the Yankees where he put up a 1.3 fWAR run. This is amazing since his lifetime fWAR is 0.5. The next season, he turned back into a pumpkin. Will the Braves regret giving away Albers? I doubt it, but who knows? Baseball's a funny game.

Mississippi
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DL'd: Travis Demeritte (#12)...The hype train was ready to leave the station this season for Demeritte, but one small problem. It left behind Demeritte, who has languished during a terrible season in Mississippi, slashing just .216/.295/.398 with 15 homers. He has struck out less - about 6% less - but that number has been climbing this summer as his batting average has declined. In his defense, a .269 BABIP is killer. In fact, it's similar to his 2014 campaign, where he slashed .211/.310/.450. That year, his BABIP was .286. When you strike out as frequently as Demeritte does - and he's still striking out 27.5% of the time - super low BABIP numbers will kill your average because around 30% of your plate appearances are already outs. If you are looking for another silver lining...Demeritte has hit left-hand pitching very well. That suggests a possibility - a very remote one - of Demeritte possibly pushing his way into the third base picture next spring if the Braves don't bring in a player to take over the position. As of now, I don't have any information as to what landed Demeritte on the DL.

Florida
DL'd: Sal Giardina...There was some thought that when Giardina was demoted at the end of July, he might be retiring. His tweet did kind of suggest that. Instead, he joined Florida, where he played first base and third base over the next several days. According to another tweet, Giardina recently was dealing with strep, which is why he missed a few games. It's possible the trip to the DL is just an extension of that.

DL'd: Ricardo Sanchez (#31)...There have been a few good things with Sanchez's season. His strikeout rate has climbed for the second straight season while his walk rate has declined for the third straight season. He's getting about 7% more groundballs and his numbers would likely look a lot better if he wasn't carrying a .358 BABIP as his FIP (4.06) and xFIP (3.69) suggests. Unfortunately, in his most recent start on Sunday, Sanchez faced two batters (retired both) and threw only seven pitches before being removed. We'll hope for the best in regards to Sanchez, but that's never a good sign.

Rome
Demoted to Danville and Re-promoted: Walter Borkovich...The next handful of moves were all about getting fresh arms on the Rome active roster and utilizing the Danville's bigger roster to do so. Borkovich has appeared with Danville this season, but since his call-up a few weeks ago even though he "spent" much of last week in the Appalachian League.

Promoted from Danville: Troy Conyers...Didn't appear for Danville so another roster management move.

Promoted from Danville: Tucker Davidson...Didn't appear for Danville so another roster management move.

Danville
Demoted from Rome: Matt Custred...This is completely due to roster management as Custred is part of what is a very talented Rome bullpen. In fact, Custred has earned a promotion that probably should have come after last season. In 2016, Custred had a 3.18 ERA over 56.1 ING. The walks were a bit high, but he also struck out 64. A year later and his numbers are tremendously better and the 23-year-old still can't get a call-up to Florida. Custred has solid mid-90's heat with good movement when he keeps it down and an excellent curveball that he has a better feel of this season. The Braves are often aggressive with their best prospects so Custred languishing at Rome (with some "time" spent with Danville) suggests they don't value him very highly.

Demoted from Rome: Taylor Hyssong...Another part of the roster shakeup as the Braves sought to pull guys off the Rome roster and put that back on. Hyssong didn't pitch while in Low-A.

GCL
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Promoted from DSL: Yenci Pena...The 2016 J2 class keeps giving. Pena got an even million bucks to sign last year - though he signed a few weeks after Kevin Maitan and company because he didn't turn 16 until July 13. Pena is a well-rounded prospect who does a bit of everything. The Braves liked him at shortstop in the DSL and moving forward in the GCL, we might get a glimpse into who is the higher-rated shortstop right now - Livan Soto or Pena. Soto has been the regular at shortstop this year for the GCL squad and though he hasn't done a lot with the bat, he's been doing a bit better of late.

DSL
Assigned: Yandri Lara...The Braves haven't been shy about getting some of their J2 class from this year into action and Lara is the latest addition to the club. A 17-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, Lara is listed as a third baseman and that's about all of the information I have on him so far. He played regularly over the last week, though struggled badly with just a single in 18 AB. He walked twice and struck out a dozen times.

Suspended: Madinson Colon...Signed near the end of 2016-17 international class, Colon was in the midst of some truly awful numbers before popping positive for Stanozolol. In eight games and 7.1 ING, Colon had walked 16 and struck out just four. In his defense, one of those walks was intentional so it was really only 15 walks in 7.1 ING. Ruff. He also hit four batters and uncorked five wild pitches. So, you see, the usage of the term "performance-enhancing drug" here does not apply.


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I am on the record with this. I love Ronald Acuna. He makes my heart flutter. When he hits a home run, to quote Bowling for Soup, "all the wind blows and the angels sing." He's the greatest thing since sliced bread. In fact, he's like pretzel bread, which as we all know, improves bread to another level. Ronald Acuna is hope and hope is good.

But the Braves have, as our own Stephen Tolbert said a few weeks back, a corner outfield problem. Worse, it is a problem that could - I repeat, could - continue into 2018. Where would Acuna fit in if the Braves are incapable of finding a trading partner willing to take on Matt Kemp's salary and/or Nick Markakis's...Markaisian averageness? Should the Braves simply take their losses and release Kemp or Markakis (likely the latter) just to open up a spot for Acuna? Should he stay in the minors until the Braves find a taker for one of their older corner outfielders - despite unreal numbers this season?

Here's the thing, Braves fans. The Braves don't have to have an either/or. They can have a team next year that includes Kemp, Markakis, and Acuna. Just so you don't freak out, Ender Inciarte also fits into this arrangement. And what's even better is that the Braves have done it before

You've probably seen a lot - and I mean A LOT - of comparisons between Andruw Jones and Acuna. Both climbed from A-ball to Triple-A in their Age-19 seasons. Both were dynamic outfielders and elite prospects in baseball. Whether these comparisons are fair or not, they are inevitable. There are just too many similar factors here. And why stop now? Why not follow what the Braves did in 1997 with the then 20-year-old Andruw Jones? Why not use Acuna as the fourth outfielder for a year?

I know what you're thinking - the Braves won't do that because Acuna is too valuable to be wasted in a fourth outfielder role. It's also difficult to see a possibility where Acuna isn't better than either Kemp nor Markakis in 2018. And for the record, I don't mean Acuna should be the fourth outfielder in a way Lane Adams is a fourth outfielder. I mean only to use Acuna like Andruw Jones was used in 1997.

Let's flashback to that year for a second. While every Braves fan remembers 1996 and Andruw homering twice in the Bronx during the World Series, the Braves didn't hand the young man a spot in the starting lineup to begin 1997. It's why Michael Tucker had an opportunity to hit the first home run in Turner Field history. The Braves opened the season with a platoon between Tucker and Andruw. When he wasn't in the starting lineup, Andruw would play often in a pinch-hitting/defensive replacement role. Of the first 25 games, he played in 24. He remained in that timeshare until mid-June, when Kenny Lofton went down with an injury. It allowed Andruw the shot to play nightly. When Lofton returned, Andruw was relegated back into his backup role, filling in against left-hand pitching, playing defense in right and left, and occasionally spelling Lofton in center field. He started 96 games - fewer than Tucker, Lofton, and Ryan Klesko - but more than one might expect for a fourth outfielder. He also played an additional 51 games in the field for a total of 147 games of experience in the outfield. Add that with six more games in a pinch-hitting capacity and Andruw Jones actually finished second on the 1997 Braves in games played.

Now, does this situation compare to a potential 2018 Braves' squad? You better believe it. Consider these two scenarios.

Scenario #1 - The Braves Can't Find a Taker for Kemp

This possibility is a likelihood at this point. Many who questioned the Hector Olivera trade last summer pointed out that Kemp's value was only going down. This season, he has been a replacement level player due to atrocious defense and bad baserunning metrics. His offense isn't bad (though a rising groundball rate is troubling), but the belief that he was a changed man after coming over from the Padres is a bit overblown. He's essentially the same player as he was in 2015, his first season in San Diego.

Kemp has been durable to an extent, but many would argue that has been to the club's detriment. Kemp plays hurt - largely because his knees are shot and though he's still just 32, it seems like he's much older. Still, he averaged 153 games in the three years before this so he knows how to stay in the lineup. Two trips to the DL this season, though, and nagging injuries throughout the season point to the possibility that his 150-game seasons might be a thing of the past. That's actually not the worst thing, by the way. Players with Kemp's issues need regular rest to make them better able to deal with a long season.

Since the Braves are unlikely to find a team with much interest in sharing the burden of the nearly $40 million the Braves are on the hook for over the next two seasons, Kemp seems likely to return in 2018. Wouldn't it be nice to have both a capable defender able to hide Kemp in late games and a capable hitter able to contribute offensively? Do you really feel it's out of the realm of possibility that Atlanta will need a contingency plan should Kemp miss a month or more of the 2018 season? Acuna provides a ready replacement.

There's also the possibility of keeping Matt Adams and giving him at-bats to keep Kemp fresh. I'm not sure that it makes a lot of sense to keep two guys who still couldn't cover left field even if MLB allowed the Braves to play both at the same time, but I understand the whole "if Kemp is bad at defense, does it matter that Adams also is?" Nevertheless, the team could still use a defensive replacement for either.

Scenario #2 - Markakis Attracts a Lukewarm Market

Nick Markakis (2015-Present)
vs. AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC
RHP .290 .378 .412 .341 112
LHP .256 .308 .324 .280 71
Since coming to Atlanta, Nick Markakis has wRC of 71 and a .280 wOBA against left-hand pitching. That's abysmal. Hiding that with Acuna would definitely be useful in a world where Markakis might not attract a lot of attention on the open market should the Braves attempt to deal him. Further, Markakis's defense, while not as severely detrimental to the team as Kemp's, remains an issue for Atlanta.

The Braves could - and probably would - be open to paying down some of Markakis's $10.5M remaining salary, but for what? A no-name prospect? Say what you will about Markakis and I have, but the guy is consistent, durable, and consistent. Yes, I know I said that twice, but compliments work best in threes and I couldn't think of another one. With the very real possibility of Kemp going down for significant time in 2018, do the Braves really want to lose Markakis, who again is durable (and consistent)?

Now, you might say that these two scenarios don't exist in a vacuum and you would be right. The Braves could trade Markakis, for example, and sign a good enough outfielder or platoon Dustin Peterson and Lane Adams to deal with any possible injury to Kemp. For that matter, Kemp could stay relatively healthy. Furthermore, Matt Adams is the mix as well (though his numbers have fallen considerably since his big start with the Braves). You might even say, "why put off the inevitable? Ronald Acuna is the future and the future is ready to begin."

It's a tough argument to counter. Playing Ronald Acuna every day is certainly more exciting than watching either the consistently durable Markakis or the kneeless Kemp meander around the outfield. But is it best for the player? I'll use two examples here. First, let's look back at Andruw Jones. He spent a year playing nearly every game, but only starting slightly more than half. Did it stunt his growth? Not even a little. He improved across the board the following season and was an All-Star three years later. While many would argue that Andruw never reached the potential we set out for him, it didn't change the fact that he had a very productive - and possibly Hall of Fame worthy - career.

The other example is Dansby Swanson. Like Acuna, Swanson was an exciting player who rushed through the minors. He was hyped up as the future Derek Jeter and a frontrunner for the 2017 Rookie of the Year. But baseball happened. Now, the Braves are simply trying to jump-start Swanson so he can pivot into 2018 on a high note. If such a thing happened to Acuna, wouldn't it be nice to be able to have Markakis and Kemp in-house? Sure, neither are world beaters, but what are the chances that another Johan Camargo bails out the Braves here?

In the end, I would simply say this - I love Acuna as a player. I want only success for the young man. I believe in him. I also think that maybe the best way of bringing him to the big time is in a smaller role. Again, I'm not saying give him 200 plate appearances like you might a typical fourth outfielder. He'd play often as a platoon bat in right field, keeping Kemp fresh in left field, and giving Inciarte breathers in center field. He'd be part of the mix, not a traditional backup. And either through a midseason trade of Kemp or Markakis or the latter leaving after 2018, Acuna would simply slide into a starting spot.

It worked for Andruw. More than 20 years later, it's time to try it again with Acuna.


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Through their run of 14 straight division titles spanning from 1991 to 2005, the Braves were known for dominant pitching. Regardless of what happened the year before or what happened in the off-season or free agency, it seemed Atlanta always had pitching. Having 3 Hall of Famers anchoring your rotation will, of course, help build that reputation but starting pitching wasn’t the only position Atlanta didn’t have to worry about for the better part of two decades. The other was third base.



Chipper Jones held down the hot corner for the Atlanta Braves for pretty much he’s entire career. Excuse me, his entire Hall of Fame career. The only time he wasn’t there was when fellow all-star Vinny Castillamanned the positions for a few years in the early 2000s while Chipper patrolled LF. And even before Chipper arrived, former MVP Terry Pendelton was the primary 3B, starting over there from 1991-1994. Point is for almost a quarter century, 3B just wasn’t a position the Braves had to worry about. Production was always there.


Well that’s changed.


Chipper retired in 2012 and since the Braves have been, well terrible at 3B. How terrible? Here’s a chart of every NL team starting in 2013 through present day:






Apparently in the NL East you can be great at 3B, or awful. No in between. Anyways, as you can see, the Braves have been bad. I’m not going to go through all the names they’ve run out there since 2012, you guys know who they are. Point is it’s time for Atlanta to find a decent 3B. It is important to remember that uber-prospect Kevin Maitan most likely big-league position will end up being third base in my opinion. Others will disagree with that but I see a guy only 17 and already bordering on being too big to stay at SS. But we’ll see. Maitan is too far away to be counting on at this point anyways so Atlanta still needs to be looking.


And because of that, I put together a list of guys I think may have at least some chance of being Atlanta's 3B in 2018 and beyond. 

There are a few of things about the list before we get started:
  • This isn’t exhaustive. There will be guys you think of that I didn’t. It’s fine.
  • This isn’t a ranking. Where a guy shows up on the list isn’t significant. It’s just a list.
  • Defense matters. It’s a zero-sum game. A run saved is a run scored.
  • Everything is allowed. I look at trades, FA signings, internal promotions.
  • I’ll probably revisit this in December when we have a better idea of the market.



Ok. Off we go.


Mike Moustakas


So this is the name everyone is talking about, and rightfully so. Moustakas is having an incredible year offensively while maintaining league average defense. His 34 home runs rank 1st among all 3B in MLB and is on pace for around a 4 Win season. Moustakas is a free agent after the season and given he’s only 28 and the kind of year he’s having, he will be handsomely rewarded with what is sure to be a massive contract. And this is where it gets tricky with him and Atlanta. The Braves don’t swim in the deep end of the free agency pool and given some big market teams, including the Yankees, will likely be looking for 3B help, it’s very likely Atlanta will simply get outbid. Anything can happen so we’ll see but this looks like a match that makes more sense on paper than it does in the budget.


Adonis Garcia


No.


Eduardo Nunez


The best thing you can say about Nunez is he’s just solid. Nothing terribly spectacular about his game but no big glaring hole either. One plus for him is he’s able to make high levels of contact while maintaining decent power numbers. A 10% K rate with a .140 ISO is solid ratio and works plenty well as a solid major league starter. The defense is just meh, slightly below average but he isn’t going to kill you over there. Nunez is free agent at the end of the year and is expected to command significantly less salary than Moustakas so this one has some plausibility.


Johan Camargo


Everyone’s favorite story of the 2017 season, the once disappointing prospect has turned some serious heads with added pop, loud tools, and what looks to be a new dedication to the game. Johan had a really good spring and was close to making the team if not for some mental lapses and sloppy errors that convinced the organization to go with other, lesser players for the bench. Camargo’s solid play this year has led some to wonder if he should be the starting 3B next year, next to SS Dansby Swanson and 2B Ozzie Albies. Since it’s my list I’ll say I wouldn’t do this just because that .364 BABIP he’s running this year has only led to a 101 wRC and as one rapidly falls, so will the other. Combine that with a 5% walk rate and ultimately, I think Camargo is best suited for a utility role. But he’s definitely put his name in the ring which is amazing given where he was a year ago.


Yandy Diaz


Some of you have no idea who this but this is a guy I, personally, have been following for a while. Diaz is a 3B in the Indians farm system and has consistently put up some of the best numbers in minor league baseball. When we did our trade deadline extravaganza here at WalkOffWalk, we each picked a guy we “wish” the org would go get. My guy was Yandy. He’s not a guy you'll see on top 100 prospect list because his production has always been louder than his tools and prospect guys love tools. But here’s what he’s done the last few years in the upper minors:



2015 AA

143 wRC

13.8 BB%

11.5 K%

2016 AA

144 wRC

21.8 BB%

14.5 K%

2016 AAA

149 wRC

11.3 BB%

16.8 K%

2017 AAA

166 wRC

16.9 BB%

15.4 K%



Just insane production. And as far as his defense goes, Fangraphs throws a 60 on his glove and a 70 on his arm. The other great thing about Yandy is he’s barely seen any major league time. That means it’s at least 5 or 6 years of team control if you can acquire him. And given Cleveland already has an All-Star 3B in Jose Ramirez and are a win now team, I imagine Atlanta can find something to send their way in the offseason to make a deal work. This list isn’t a ranking but if it was, Yandy would be #1.


Rio Ruiz


Rio is another guy who has ridden the prospect roller coaster the last few years. If you don’t remember, Ruiz came over in the Evan Gattis trade with the Houston Astros and at the time, was a top 100 prospect. But after a disappointing 2015, Ruiz found himself at a crossroads in his career and there were many in the Braves organization who questioned his effort, specifically around keeping his body in shape. Well Ruiz took the criticism to heart and showed up in 2016 with a new body and a new game. Ruiz put up a 114 wRC for AAA Gwinnett in 2016 with an 11% BB rate and re-established himself as a legitimate prospect. He didn’t slow down in 2017 either, starting the year on fire and eventually earning a promotion to Atlanta. His big-league stint was rather lack luster, in part because of extremely inconsistent playing time, and eventually was sent back to AAA. It’s a bit of a mystery where the organization sees him long-term but if I had to guess, it would be more as a solid bench piece rather than an everyday starter. We’ll see though. Rio continuing to play well can only help his cause.


Eugenio Suarez


Suarez is another guy that, if you’re not as weirdly obsessed with baseball as I am, you may never of heard. But he’s a really good player. Suarez is the starting 3B for the Cincinnati Reds and is quietly putting up a very good season. In 2017. Suarez has a 120 wRC with 20 HRs and a 13% BB rate. He’s also an absolute vacuum cleaner defensively. Suarez is at 7 defensive runs saved for this season and while that’s much better than he’s ever posted, he’s always been at least above average with the glove. The reason the 26-year-old would be available is because the Reds have a 22-year-old stud prospect named Nick Senzel putting up a 188 wRC in AA. And when you have as many holes to fill as Cincinnati does, you can’t afford these types of redundancies on the roster, especially on their budget. My guess is they’ll move Suarez for help elsewhere and Atlanta would be wise to at least check in.


Travis Demeritte.


Last guy on the list (remember, not exhaustive) is Travis Demeritte. Coming into the year, Demeritte would have been near the top of the list of potential guys to man to hot corner for Atlanta in 2018 after the strong year he had in 2016. Even 6 weeks or so into the season, he was having a solid year, and most importantly had appeared to figure out his strikeout problem. But around mid-May, he just fell off a cliff. For the season, he’s still put up 15 HRs, a 10% BB rate and a league average OBA but the strikeouts returned in full force. His K rate is up to 27.5% on the season, and to make that profile work in the majors, you have to produce a ton of power and be quality with the glove. Good news for Demeritte is he has both a good glove and plus power but it’s unclear where the organization seems him now and seemingly unlikely he’ll see the majors in 2018 absent a strong finish to the season.



So there it is. An early look at some 3B options going into next year. Like I said at the top, we’ll look at this again in the offseason when we have a better idea of the market and have a few more names to go through. 



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In the major leagues, few teams have had a better situation behind the plate than the Braves this season. With Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki, the Braves have a pair of players who have been productive all season long at the plate and in Flowers' case, they have the game's best framer. But both are over 30 and may not around when the Braves next make the playoffs. Today, let's look at the minor league situation and see if the Braves will have replacements.

It wasn't that long ago that the Braves had one catching prospect - Christian Bethancourt. It was easy to look past his flaws because he was really Atlanta's only hope. Similar things happened over the years with Scott Thorman at first base and Kyle Davies at starter. Atlanta didn't have many other options so what options the Braves did have seemed better than they actually were.

While the Braves will still have to wait a few years for their guys to develop, the catcher position is starting to turn from an organizational weakness to one of strength. From trades to the draft to the international market, the Atlanta Braves have acquired a good deal of talented catchers that might usher in the next Javy Lopez or Brian McCann - catchers who were both offensively and, to some degree, defensively able.

Seven catchers made our Top 50 Midseason Prospect list. The seven prospects run the gamut from the strong defender to the strong hitter to the guys who are a bit of both. Moving forward, their development might prompt the Braves to avoid spending richly on a free agent and go with a cheaper, younger, and maybe an even better option. With all that in mind, let's take a look level-by-level.

Gwinnett
Kade Scivicque, #43 in the Midseason Top 50 - Acquired in last summer's Erick Aybar trade with the Tigers, Scivicque had a strong Arizona Fall League showing after the trade, but hasn't been able to continue that success this season. Slashing .261/.314/.345 mostly at Mississippi, Scivicque hasn't really regressed compared to last season, but it's still not close to his AFL numbers. Unfortunately, Scivicque has not graded well defensively this season according to Baseball Prospectus's Advanced Metrics for catchers (-4.6 FRAA). These metrics have their issues, but do help frame the discussion. Scivicque was expected to be a decent little hitter who could improve behind the plate. At this rate, that might be too much to expect. Scivicque made out Top 50 at midseason, but without a strong finish, it could be the final time he holds that distinction. On the plus side, at 24 years-old, he's the youngest catcher to play at Gwinnett with the exception of Bethancourt in at least a part-time role - period. Seriously, since their inaugural season in 2009, the Gwinnett Braves have been a home for the, as Outfield Fly Rule's Brent Blackwell recently put it, Fraternal Order of Replacement Backstops (FORB). These are guys who just travel from one organization to the next getting playing time as a "good handler of young pitchers." Scivicque might not be a great prospect, but he is - at the very least - a prospect.

Mississippi
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Alex Jackson, #11 - The bat is back for Jackson. He hit .272/.333/.502 with Florida while smashing 14 HR. To be fair, his walk and strikeout rates are concerning, but Jackson was drafted for his massive raw power and with already a new career-high in home runs set this year, the Braves are very happy with his development at the plate. Behind it, he's still a work in progress. When he was drafted, Jackson's arm was not the problem and still isn't. He's got a showcase cannon either from behind the plate or in the outfield. The problem was that defensively, his skills were behind the curve. Three years of playing outfield have done little to help with that. I think the Braves will wait until this offseason - at the earliest - before attempting to judge Jackson's defense. If they've seen progression throughout the year, he might continue to wear the tools of ignorance. If not, it might be time to shift him back to the outfield. Regardless, his bat plays no matter where he ultimately lines up.

Joseph Odom - The recent trade of Anthony Recker brought Odom to Gwinnett, but only for a couple of days before he was exchanged with Scivicque. Odom has generally not hit well since he was drafted out of Huntingdon College back in 2013, but he increased his OPS each year to a personal-best .758 last year between Carolina and Mississippi. He doesn't profile as a big prospect, but there is enough pop and plate discipline here that, when combined with solid reports of his defensive capabilities, it makes Odom a potential future member of FORB.

Jonathan Morales - In three years, Morales has gone from interesting prospect to we're-still-hoping to nearly-forgotten-to-the-point-a-blogger-has-to-do-a-last-second-edit-before-publishing-this-article-because-I-forgot-about-him. Got all that? Morales slashed .304/.377/.511 in the Gulf Coast League back in 2015, but his OPS fell a bit over two hundred points with Rome the following year. He wasn't really setting the world on fire in Florida over the first few months this year, but with other higher-rated prospects pushing him, he was moved up the chain. Morales does rank solidly in catching metrics, though he's playing nearly as much first base now. To get back in the Braves' good graces, we're going to need to see some production at the plate soon, though.

Florida
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Brett Cumberland, #26 - Don't look now, but Bcumbo Slice (his twitter handle) is starting to figure it out at Florida. Cumberland got off to a tough start in Rome, going 6-for-45 to begin the year with a .582 OPS. His next 179 PA looked like this - .308/.469/.623 with 9 HR. He was brought up a level last June and again, it was tough sledding early. In his first 59 AB, he had just 10 hits, including one homer. However, he's been on fire since, hitting .377/.482/.478 with seven doubles. It's not a big sample size, but Cumberland's got the skillset to be a big bat. Like Jackson, the question has remained whether he'll remain a catcher with that big bat or be forced to move to another position. Unfortunately, there is a reason to agree with Baseball Prospectus' Steve Givarz when he said of Cumberland, "His glove? Hey he’s a good hitter let’s focus on that!" It's not that he can't stay at catcher, but there's significant doubt whether or not his defense will ultimately take away from his overall value. You don't have to be a superb defender and a good hitter, but the team would like to know that your glove is good enough to not embarrass the team should you stick at the position. Furthermore, there is a reasonable concern that Cumberland's hit-by-pitch numbers are soft. Going back to college, he's always got hit by a healthy number of pitches (38 total this year). However, pitcher's control improves as you climb the minor league ladder. He has just one more unintentional walk this season than he does HBP so it's a big part of his game. What happens if pitchers avoid hitting him?

Tanner Murphy - I was a big fan of Murphy after he hit .242/.361/.389 with Danville in 2014 and earned a lot of praise along the way. However, his numbers have only regressed since. He seemed to turn the corner last season, hitting .297/.411/.337 after the All-Star Break, but he has struggled to duplicate the success since. While his defense remains solid, Murphy is struggling to find at-bats behind higher-rated prospects added to the system since Murphy's selection in 2013. When Bethancourt arrived in the majors, Murphy was the top catching prospect still in the minors. Now, he's not even in the Top 5.

Rome
Lucas Herbert, #36 - The good news is that Herbert's numbers have looked quite a good deal better with Rome than they did in 2016. The bad news is that they still don't look that great. On the year, Kolby Allard's former high school catcher is hitting .258/.317/.390 with 7 HR. A name comes up on his Baseball Prospectus page as a top similarity that might not make Braves' fans happy - Christian Bethancourt in 2012. While no one wants to compare the two, the idea is pretty fair - both had reputations as strong defenders with questionable offensive potential. Now, let's be generous here and remember that Herbert basically lost a season of development after he went down with an injury in his first professional game in the Gulf Coast League in 2015. Let's also recall that at 20 years-old with really one year of experience, one would expect Herbert's 2017 level of production considering his profile coming out of high school. Nevertheless, success has been hard to come by for Herbert to this point. His offensive game is still raw and he could be a sleeper candidate next year if it starts to come together, though

Carlos Martinez - Where did this come from? Martinez hit in the .220's the last two seasons for Danville but has found a way to hit .301 this season. Of course, when your BABIP jumps to .352 when it was never higher than .269, that helps. Martinez also has one of the strangest numbers in the system - an .010 ISO. Of his 31 hits, 30 are singles. That's astounding. It's also reason to believe that Martinez, even at his best, is not a prospect.

Drew Lugbauer, #44 - A recent callup from Danville, Lugbauer has yet to stop hitting. On the year, the former Michigan Wolverine is hitting .272/.374/.551 with nine doubles, a triple, and ten homeruns. All of the four-baggers came with Danville before the promotion to Rome. He's shared an equal amount of time between first base, third base, and catcher and hasn't looked that bad at the corners. His footwork behind the plate is not crisp, though, and he's failed to throw out any of the nine baserunners that have attempted to steal on him. Despite including him in this discussion, it's harder to see him staying behind the plate than either Jackson or Cumberland. He'll have to improve dramatically in that regard to continue to receive regular time as a catcher. The good news is that Lugbauer could present the Braves, if he develops well, with an interesting option that can catch if needed, but also play the corner infield positions. Such a player would have been nice in Atlanta this year with the production the Braves have received from both catchers and the hesitancy to use one or the other in a pinch hitting appearance.

Danville
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William Contreras, #50 - I gave Contreras a #46 ranking in our Midseason Top 50 and Ryan Cothran ranked him two spots higher. I don't know about Ryan or Stephen Tolbert (who had him unranked), but Contreras is primed to be one of my biggest risers when we reconvene for a postseason update. The brother of the Cubs' Wilson, William OPS'd .783 and .721 over two years spent in the DSL and GCL before this year. Lauded for his defense, the bat was considered more of a question. This season, he's had the best year combining both offense and defense of any of the Braves' minor league catchers. Hitting .336/.426/.496 with 3 HR, Contreras has regularly flashed a bat capable of doing big things despite all but 19 of his 141 PA coming against pitchers older than he is. He also has shown a good command of the strikezone, walking four more times than he has struck out. His defense is very fluid behind the plate and only getting better as he refines his footwork and framing. Of the games I've personally seen this season, no catcher has prompted the umpire to receive more complaints from batters upset about strike calls. That tells me that he's capable at framing. But while all of his tools are solid, his biggest weapon is a cannon of an arm that he's not shy about showing at any time. He keeps his infielders on their toes as he's willing to try to pick off runners. He'll even gun it around the horn after a strikeout. I haven't seen a better defensive catcher this season in the Appalachian League and he's still only 19 years-old.

Hagan Owenby - Drafted more for his bat, Owenby played a good deal of first base and DH before Lugbauer's promotion just to get him into action. He's a leader on the field and does a good job working with his pitchers, but his defense isn't very good right now (he has five of Danville's 11 passed balls to this point). At the plate, he has a nice line-drive stroke that might develop more power as he progresses. His performances at first base were pretty ugly and I feel confident that he'll last at catcher, but I don't have the same amount of confidence that the bat will ever be enough to make up for defensive problems behind the plate.

Alan Crowley - Some people are drafted just to be backup catchers in the minors. Crowley is one of those guys. He did ride a high BABIP to a .327 average over 56 PA with Rome last year, but less balls are dropping this year and his .163 average is a result.

GCL
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Abraham Gutierrez, #33 - While Kevin Maitan received most of the coverage during last year's international signing spree by the Braves, Gutierrez is a pretty impressive prospect as well. He jumped to the states to begin this season with the GCL squad and the 17-year-old has hit a respectable .261/.327/.330. He's also thrown out 39% of baserunners, which is no small feat considering the ability for teenage pitchers to hold runners. Gutierrez's scouting report includes amazing athletism behind the plate, a strong arm, and a quick-and-powerful stroke at the plate. The emergence of Contreras this year as the best full-package catching prospect shouldn't negate Gutierrez, who still might have the best potential of any Braves minor league catching prospect.

Ricardo Rodriguez - Acquired in the Christian Bethancourt trade, Rodriguez has been stuck with the Gulf Coast League Braves due to a weak offensive profile and not enough at-bats for all of the Braves catching prospects. Rodriguez is one of the guys who might get more extended look if the Braves opened some playing time by adding a second rookie team in the GCL or adding a short-season A-ball team for their college-age draftees like Owenby or Crowley. Rodriguez, by the way, has a strong glove and flashed a decent enough bat in the Dominican Summer League two years ago. It's been missing-in-action since coming stateside, though.

The Braves have more catchers, but these are some of the bigger names. What would your Top 5 Braves catching prospects look like? And do you think Jackson, Cumberland, and/or Lugbauer will stay at catcher long-term? Let me know in the comments.


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The Detroit Tigers staring a full blown rebuild square in the face while the Atlanta Braves are 3 years into theirs and are looking for the finish line. The problem for the Tigers is they have some veteran players on big contracts they’d like to move to expedite that rebuild. The problem for the Braves is they don’t seem to have much interest in going with all kids for the upcoming seasons and are searching for reliable veterans they can pair with their impressive group of prospects. These two realities have led some to wonder if these two teams could come together and help each other out. And the most obvious player to facilitate such an outcome is Justin Verlander.
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Verlander, long one of the best pitchers in the game, has seen father time take its toll on his game and consequently, his value. The Tigers signed Verlander to a massive 7-year/180 million-dollar contract back in 2012 and, as is normally the case with veteran contacts this size, it looks less appealing year after year. Essentially, the contract is underwater. The last 2 years of the deal pay Verlander 28 million/year as well as the 5 or so million he’s still owed this year and the harsh reality is he simply isn’t worth that anymore.


Verlander’s numbers this year have been just average. 4 ERA, 4 FIP, league average strikeout rates, little worse than league average walk rates, thought lately the numbers have improved. Over his last 6 starts, he’s running a 2.31 ERA and strikeouts have gone up while the walks have gone down. Verlander’s had dips in performance before and has always bounced back so he’s certainly not washed up. He’s just not worth what he’s owed.


But just because you aren’t worth 28 million/year doesn’t mean you’re worthless. The dip in Verlander’s performance this year as well as the position Detroit is in as a franchise are exactly the factors that make him available to a team like Atlanta. The Braves have, understandably, shown a hesitancy to move any of their top prospects while simultaneously searching high and low for reliable starting pitching after failing to do so last offseason. This makes an overpaid but still quality pitcher like Verlander a logical candidate to pursue.


But what would it take?


Early on, Detroit was reportedly telling interested teams they would have to pay down the full contract as well as send a legitimate package of prospects to get any deal done. It’s nice to have dreams but here on this planet, an actual deal will look very different and will somewhat depend on what Detroit wants out of it. The general formula for these types of trades is the more money you eat, the better prospects you get. Assuming Detroit wants a real prospect back, the number I’ve heard is they’re going to have to eat around 30 million or so, or half of what’s still owed. This of course is a sliding scale. The more money they force onto the acquiring team, the more it’ll look like a salary dump. They more they take on themselves, the more they help their farm.


We obviously don’t know where Detroit stands on that scale but I want to make a trade today so we’re going to put them right in the middle. Basically, eating as little money as possible while still getting a real prospect. So that’s why the first part of our deal is Detroit is eating around 30 million.


But what about the return?


I put a “real” prospect somewhere between the top 75-125 in all of MLB or in the Braves’ case, somewhere around the 9-15 range of their individual top prospects plus maybe a filler. Detroit will have their own scouting preferences relative to Atlanta’s system but, again I want to make a trade today. so for today’s exercise, we’re going to assume their views and the industry views match up pretty well.


So, if Detroit is committed to picking up 30 million in the deal, I’m saying a “fair” deal for Verlander to ATL is:


ATL gets: Justin Verlander 30M


DET gets: SP Touki Toussaint and OF Anfernee Seymour


To be clear, this is not a post advocating Atlanta do this deal. This is simply looking at the value of the pieces and coming up with what a fair deal probably looks like. I’m sure there’s plenty of you right now saying you’re not giving up 6 years of Touki for 2 years of Verlander. It’s understandable. But at 14M/year instead of 28M, Verlander has value, and value must be given to acquire him.



This is just how they do it. I’ll the leave the “should they do it” up to you guys.



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Last week, the Braves, prompted by a promotion of Ozzie Albies to the bigs to become the everyday 2nd baseman, asked Brandon Phillips if he'd slide over to the hot corner to make room for the rookie. Needless to say the veteran was not happy when informed of the decision and made that known by silence.  Here's the story, paraphrased by me and told by Jim Powell of Braves radio (read from bottom to top):

Jim Powell just told a story: BP never gave a verbal agreement to play 3B, rather he showed up next day & fielded grounders at 3B. #Braves
— Ryan Cothran (@baldheaded1der) August 6, 2017

He also went on to say there's still been no communication and he implied BP still isn't too happy with decision. https://t.co/NKtguH4E7o
— Ryan Cothran (@baldheaded1der) August 6, 2017

Most Twitterers that watch Braves games on a regular basis have noticed that BP's normal smile and "love for the game" hasn't been as present lately, and rightfully so.  He was traded away from the team he'd spent 11 years manning 2nd base after they informed him that he would be replaced by Jose Peraza. Fast forward 1/2 a year, and it essentially happened again, but with an alternate ultimatum: play 3B or ride the pine. It's a hard pill to swallow especially in the midst of a pretty good season, but whether it be willingly or out of spite, he accepted the challenge and the transition is going about as well as could have been expected.

Watching Brandon over at 3B, one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to see that in the 54 inning sample size his play has been something to behold.

  • Line drives are being snagged.
  • Balls down the line are gloved.
  • Tricky hops are no match.
  • And most surprisingly, the arm is playing.


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He's not just passing the eye test as his  2 Defensive Runs Saved tell the same tale.

Phillips has always had remarkable hands, but with age, his range has naturally deteriorated. The rest of the skills are omnipresent which makes the move to 3rd seem unintentionally intelligent. With this being said, hopefully Brandon can see a blessing in disguise and realize what has just transpired. In a day where MLB teams are looking for more and more positional flexibility, the pure truth that has just happened is the Braves have made Phillips more desirable right before he enters free agency.

So Brandon, when a team gives you a 2 year/20 million dollar deal to be a swing-man between 2nd and 3rd, giving you ample rest and 100-120 starts a year, a tip of the cap to the Braves would be nice because sometimes a true blessing is one that cannot be see by our own eyes but by others.


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What a busy, busy week for the Braves. Some of the moves, we reported on as they happened, but many more occurred as the Braves brought back a guy from the Mexican League, demoted a few underperforming pitchers, and continued to aggressively push rookie league players up a level.

*The moves covered in this edition of Transaction Tuesday cover August 1 to August 7. A number in parenthesis represents the player's ranking in the midseason WOW Top 50.

Atlanta
We've reported on a number of these moves already so I won't go too far into them anymore. To read about Ozzie Albies' arrival in the bigs, you can click here and here. The latter link has information also on Lucas Sims, who came up with Albies last Tuesday. We also addressed the callup of Max Fried and the trade of Sean Rodriguez this week. Surprisingly, the week after the trading deadline was much more interesting than the week before.

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Recalled: Jace Peterson...Peterson's Triple-A numbers took a nose dive over the recent few weeks, but he's probably happy to be back in the majors anyway. He's been bad this season with Atlanta - there's no doubting that. His BABIP is 30 points below where it should be and an 11% line-drive rate is criminally low. Whiffing on 11.5% of his swings aren't helping, either. It's tough being a bench guy in the majors - especially when you aren't used to it. Hard to play yourself out of a slump when you may only get five plate appearances in a week. Peterson might become Super 2 arbitration-eligible this season, which would make the Braves even less likely to bring him back in 2018 without a strong finish. He has added two pinch hits since being brought back, making him 3-for-3 in his last three pinch hit appearances counting the homer he hit before being sent down in mid-July.

Activated: Jason Motte...At some point, the Braves need to move on from Motte. I assume they are hoping he'll attract enough trade attention with a 3.81 ERA in 33 games and his veteran presence, but Motte's peripherals are not solid beyond his typical good control. While the 35-year-old (who the Rockies are paying nearly $5M to not pitch for them) takes up space on the major league roster, younger arms who could be in the mix for the 2018 roster are losing out.

Traded to Reds: Randy Ventura (#34)...When this trade was announced, many were quite upset about it. Like me in high school, they struggled to let a crush just slip away and not obsess over it. To be sure, Ventura is a prospect. He came on the scene back in 2017 when he hit .329/.421/.394 with 55 steals in 58 games. But that was in the DSL, which is notorious for making stars out of average players who crash-and-burn when brought stateside. Ventura hit .284 last year with a good OBP of .358 but stole just 15 bases. He's almost doubled that total this year with a .294 average before the trade but has also struck out a lot. And after a great start, he has tapered off considerably. Since May 15, Ventura had a .273/.317/.309 clip with 59 Ks in 267 PA (22%), which is not a good profile for a player with his tools. On the plus side, he's still very young (just turned 20) and the 29 steals along with the ability to play a decent center field have value. My thing, though, is the $1.25M the Braves received in international signing bonus space the Braves added is well worth what amounts to the seventh or eighth best outfield prospect in the system when it comes to raw potential. As Bennett Hipp tweeted, "This fan base is going to implode when actual good prospects are traded." Ventura was a nice prospect who demanded at-bats, but did he have a higher ceiling than those who he was blocking? Debateable, but I lean toward no.

Optioned: Jason Hursh (#42)...Starting with his cut from spring camp, Hursh has been optioned six times this year. His numbers aren't that great and considering the Braves' refusal to give him a longer look, Hursh is a prime candidate to be designated for assignment this winter to open up a spot on the 40-man roster. It's unfortunate because Hursh has improved notably over the 2015-16 version that looked like a wasted top pick, but Atlanta doesn't appear to have that much faith in Hursh.

Optioned: Micah Johnson...I understand why Johnson was optioned. Just not so sure I agree with it. He got three pinch-hit appearances while up with the Braves, who are making the conscious choice that Danny Santana is a better fit than Johnson. It makes sense. Santana plays more positions and is a switch-hitter. I don't have to like it even if it makes sense.

Optioned: Akeel Morris (#29)...Again, I get why Morris got the boot back to the minors - he had options and others didn't. I just disagree that sending Morris to Gwinnett is best for the Braves. I don't know if Morris will be in the long-term picture for the Braves, but I wouldn't mind finding out. The guy struck out 28% of opposing hitters in the majors. To me, that buys some time. Sure, his xFIP was really high and he allowed an insane amount of fly balls, but I'd like to see if those numbers normalize with more time. At the end of the day, this year's Braves aren't going to the playoffs. We know that. With Sims and Fried in the majors, seems like a good time to also have some of these more borderline Top 30 prospects up trying to help their cause for the 2018 roster.

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DL'd: Ian Krol...Ah, that tricky oblique strain. It landed Bartolo Colon on the DL in June and shut down Arodys Vizcaino last July. Odd that all three were struggling at the time. Krol has been just abysmal this season - a year after looking like a potential building block for the Braves. I'd like to say it was the increased cutter usage, but it's simply bad pitching. You can't go from pitching in the zone 47% of the time to 40% and not suffer as a result. Depending on how long he needs to recover from his oblique strain, Krol, who is arbitration-eligible, may have thrown his final pitch for the Braves.

Gwinnett
Signed and assigned to Gwinnett: Manny Barreda...Three days before Christmas back last winter, the Braves signed Barreda. He earned a mention in one of my offseason articles on minor league signings (the same one with Lane Adams). Another former Yankees arm, Barreda has also pitched in the Brewers organization and spent most of the last two years with Tijuana in the Mexican League on loan from first Milwaukee and now Atlanta. His debut with Gwinnett last week was his Triple-A debut and he struggled with his control, which is a recurring problem. When he's on, Barreda can be very good. Example: he threw a no-hitter last winter for Los Mochis. But he's not frequently on and that's why, in his eleventh season, he's finally made it to Triple-A. He works off a low 90's fastball with some breaking stuff that often decides just what kind of game it will be for him.

Activated: Kyle Kubitza...It's been a trying season for Kubitza, who was awful through two months of action but did hit .297/.394/.429 over the final 30 games before landing on the DL. No longer a prospect, Kubitza cycles between the corner infield and outfield positions along with some time at DH.

Rehab: Dan Winkler...Rehab 2.0. Winkler memorably (sadly) fractured his elbow last April after looking like he might be a surprise pitcher out of the pen for the Braves. He finally got back to action in mid-June, but his pitches lacked the Winkler stuff and movement that made the Braves spend a Rule 5 pick all the way back in 2014 on him. The Braves asked and were granted permission for an extended rehab stint and shut Winkler down for a month before he returned on Sunday and threw a two-strikeout inning out of the pen for Gwinnett. Winkler's one of those guys that the Braves would love to get a look at over the final handful of weeks to see if they want to keep him. He still has over a month-and-a-half left to satisfy his Rule 5 obligations. Interestingly, he's probably going to be arbitration-eligible because of all of the time spent on the major league DL accruing service time.

DL'd: Rhiner Cruz...A Rule 5 pick by the Astros back in 2012, Cruz got into 72 games with Houston over two seasons before being cut two years later so that he could make some real money in Japan. He then spent last year in the Mexican League before signing with the Braves this offseason. The righty with great velocity has been a solid arm out of the Gwinnett pen this year with 54 K's in 43 innings and pretty decent control to go with it.

DL'd: Caleb Dirks (#40)...Coming into 2017, Dirks had spent all of nine days on the DL. This is now his second trip to the DL and he missed nearly a month before. A lot of us that follow the Braves' minor league system had high hopes that Dirks might spend time in the big league pen, but his numbers haven't been nearly as dominant (4.23 FIP/3.85 xFIP) as we've grown to expect from the young righty. In four games since returning from the DL, Dirks gave up ten hits, six earned runs, walked one, struck out three, and surrendered three homers in five innings. This from a guy who gave up three homers in 61 innings all of last year. Hopefully, this trip to the DL helps.

Mississippi
Assigned: Connor Joe...I mentioned the Sean Rodriguez trade already. Just wanted to point out where Joe landed after the trade. He'll probably make his Mississippi debut today as the M-Braves play a double header.

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Promoted from Florida: Josh Graham...ERA for a reliever can be incredibly misleading. Just ask Graham. His ERA with Florida was sitting at 4.69. This was mainly a product of two awful outings back-to-back in late May and another stinker on July 16. He gave up five to the Palm Beach Cardinals before Clearwater lit him up for a quartet of runs six days later. A month-and-a-half later, he gave up five more in one outing. That's 14 ER in 3.2 ING. Take those three out and his ERA over the other 28 outings? A 2.23 ERA in 44.2 ING. That's more fitting for a guy with a 27% K-rate, 9% walk rate, and no home runs given up while he maintains a 54% groundball rate. That all comes out to a 2.32 FIP/2.97 xFIP. Now, you can't completely take those three games away - they happened after all - but they help add context to the fact that Graham deserved this promotion. The former 2015 fourth rounder struck out two in his Double-A debut last week.

Activated: Luis Valenzuela...Acquired for the since-retired Jonny Gomes, Valenzuela has spent much of his time with the organization on the DL. He was hitting the ball extremely well when he was acquired but has an OPS in the two seasons after the trade of around .670. He can play up the middle along with sliding over to third base, but unless the bat again starts to show, Valenzuela is just a guy in the system.

Demoted from Gwinnett: Mauricio Cabrera...Things just keep going from bad to worse for Cabrera. After missing some action, Cabrera was demoted to Mississippi and walked three in his first outing there. His second outing didn't go much better, but he did throw a perfect frame on Saturday. It was his first perfect inning in over a month. Out of options, Cabrera will need a strong August to avoid potentially being designated for assignment this offseason.

DL'd: Michael Mader...After not appearing since June 23, Mader finally landed on the DL this week. It's been a year since the Braves acquired Mader from the Marlins and in 34 games (six starts) since, he has 76 K's in 86.2 innings and quite a few walks as well. Rule 5-eligible after the season, the Braves will have an interesting choice to make with Mader. With his fastball/curve mix, Mader could make for a decent lefty reliever if he develops just right. But Mader hasn't really opened any eyes and his walk rate has doubled since last season along with a declining groundball rate. It makes me think Mader will be left unprotected where a team might bite on the prospect of using Mader as a LOOGY.

Florida
Promoted from GCL: Kyle Wright (#3)...How far the Braves push Wright this season remains to be seen. After three starts in the GCL, Wright arrived in Florida last week and made a pair of starts there. His debut went perfect and he allowed no baserunners over two innings. His next game out didn't go quite as well, but he still allowed just a single and walked one. Both times, he was limited to two innings or less than 30 pitches. After 103.1 high-profile innings with Vanderbilt, chances are Wright won't throw much more than a few dozen innings - if that. Regardless, every time out, he has the focus of Braves Country as fans wonder just how close Wright is to putting his hat in the ring for a spot in Atlanta.

Demoted from Mississippi: Junior Rincon...Another week, another transaction for Rincon. He's been in the organization for just a month, but he's quickly become one of the always-on-the-move pitchers who fills in wherever he's needed. Rincon, who has also pitched in the Marlins and Brewers' organizations, carries a 4.63 ERA over 11.2 innings into this week, but on the plus side, he's K'd 17.

Demoted from Mississippi: Matt Withrow (#45)...At first, this was a "rehab assignment," but the next day, there were reports Withrow had been assigned. One of those designations could be a typo or it could have something to do with a less-than-thrilling rehab appearance with the Fire Frogs. In a 2.1 inning appearance out of the pen, Withrow allowed five baserunners. He limited the damage to just one run, but retiring seven and putting five guys on won't amaze anyone. Withrow had a bipolar-like beginning to the year before hitting the DL. First five starts: 2.08 ERA. Next five starts: 7.25 ERA. He threw fewer strikes and what strikes he did throw were sent sailing to the outfield and beyond. Withrow is a talented pitcher with an inconsistent feel for the strike zone. Perhaps he'll find it in Florida.

DL'd: Joe Rogers...A fifth rounder by the Tigers all the way back in 2012, Rogers hasn't been good since '15. At 26 years-old with a 6.29 ERA between Rome, Florida, and Mississippi, it's a surprise he still has a job.

Released: Andrew Daniel...This is the progression of Daniel's OPS from 2014 to now: .917, .752, .686, .597. Now, I'm not brilliant by any means, but that seems bad. Signed to give Mississippi some depth, Daniel washed out there before a recent demotion to Florida, where he continued to struggle. An 11th rounder by the Angels back in '14, Daniel might have to try his luck in independent baseball or dive into a new trade.

Rome
Promoted from Danville: Walter Borkovich...Good to see the Borkovich continuing to develop. An undrafted free agent out of Michigan State, Borkovich tossed nine quality innings for Danville - which followed four quality innings in the GCL - before getting promoted to single-A. In his first game with Rome, he nailed down a save, though he did give up four hits in two innings. Obviously, when players don't get drafted despite playing high-quality conference ball, there wasn't a lot of interest in them. Nevertheless, Borkovich seems primed to do well in the lower minors because he matches pitchability with a fearless attitude. It's the more competitive upper levels of the minors where I wonder if Borkovich will continue to be successful. Well, until then.

Promoted from Danville: Taylor Hyssong...An 8th rounder last year, Hyssong has been at Danville now for 20 total games between two seasons with nothing really standing out about his numbers. Drafted more to save money (signed for $10K, $174,400 less than the suggested slot), I wrote this about Hyssong at the time. "Nothing really stands out in his numbers." That remains the case.

Promoted from Danville: Bradley Keller...A 15th rounder back in 2015, Keller has been slow to develop. Keller was a callback to the old Braves' way of drafting toolsy players and trying to teach them how to play. He struggled through a 2015 introduction to pro ball in the Gulf Coast League and looked completely lost last year as he struck out 122 times in 318 PA between the GCL and Danville. However, this season, things have started to click. Keller hit .306/.360/.597 over 33 games with the D-Braves. That includes an 11-game run before his promotion in which Keller hit .400 with six doubles, two triples, and three home runs. He added his seventh homer of the year in his first game with Rome. Keller still strikes out a good amount, but he's starting to hit the ball with much more authority. Could still turn into an interesting enough prospect and with Ventura traded, there are more at-bats for guys like Keller.

Danville
Promoted from GCL: Jeffrey Ramos...Very few people took note of Ramos heading into this season. One of the lesser-known names coming out of last year's mega J2 class, Ramos was also one of the few to immediately get into game action. It may have been too much for the 17-year-old as he hit just .230/.283/.333 over 33 games in the DSL. This season, he joined many of the other J2 class members from last year in the GCL and outshined most of them - and a good portion of the league. Over 30 games, he hit .325/.374/.556 with 14 extra base hits, including a half-dozen homers. A left fielder by trade, Ramos will go as far as his bat takes him and early impressions are it might take him quite a long way.

Demoted from Rome: Troy Conyers...The 23rd rounder in June, Conyers dominated the Gulf Coast League before bypassing Danville to join Rome in late July. He made three long-relief outings there and kept pitching well so I assume this is more roster management than anything.

Demoted from Rome: Tucker Davidson...There are two reasons a guy with a 2.99 FIP and 3.4 K/BB gets demoted from full-season low-A ball to Rookie ball. Either the Braves needed a roster spot in Rome or Davidson is getting punished for whatever reason. Or...there is a third reason that might work here. Davidson might be hitting a bit of a wall and they are giving him a breather (or flat-out shutting him down). Davidson worked entirely out of the bullpen until June 27. His next seven games were all out of the rotation. At 76.1 ING, he's thrown a shade over 45 innings more than he tossed in 2017, which could be influencing this roster move. Either way, Davidson has pitched well this season and there was a reason to believe he'd receive a promotion rather than a demotion.

GCL
Promoted from DSL: Gabriel Noguera...The Braves scout as well as anyone out of Venezuela, but Noguera's story is a little different. His name came up in the 2013 J2 class as a Top 50 prospect, but he didn't sign until last year. Earning praise for a "low-effort delivery" and a good fastball, Noguera finally made his professional debut in his Age-21 season in the Dominican Summer League. He looked very good again there and while his 0.87 ERA in 31 innings was soft, his strikeout-an-inning stats were impressive. He made his first start stateside last week and went four quality innings while allowing a run. He's not a big prospect, but at 21, it wouldn't surprise me to see Noguera on the Rome Braves roster when 2018 opens.

Assigned: Alex Aquino...Almost fitting that in the week Ventura's name shows up in this, Aquino finally joins an active roster. Aquino and Ventura were two of the four Braves' farmhands involved in a late August car accident in the Dominican Republic. He's the only one still in the system now. A right-hand hitting infielder, Aquino hit .274/.329/.378 with the GCL squad last year and hit his first professional homerun. It was a bit of an improvement over his 2015 DSL campaign. Despite joining the team last Tuesday, though, he has yet to play in a game.

Rehab from Gwinnett: Josh Collmenter...Did you forget he was in the system? You're not alone. Collmenter opened the season on the active roster after pretty much earning a spot with three smoke-and-mirrors starts last September. It did not go well for Collmenter and he was sent to the minors in late May, but he hit the DL soon after and did not appear in a game for Gwinnett. Last Wednesday was his first appearance since May 24 and he gave up three hits, a run, a walk, and picked up one strikeout in three innings of relief.

DSL
Nothing outside of losing Noguera.


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Since his demotion to the minors, Dansby Swanson's bat has been slow to come around. Through his first eight games, he was 6-for-30 with no extra-base hits, four walks, and seven strikeouts. On Sunday night, the Gwinnett Braves tried something new - they gave him his first game away from shortstop. Not to be the DH, but to play second base - something he had yet to do professionally. Swanson responded with his first multi-hit game and went 2-for-3 with a home run, two walks, and a strikeout. On Monday night, Swanson again was at shortstop.

Naturally, it got people talking.
Let's have a discussion: Why is Dansby getting time at 2B? #Braves
— Ryan Cothran (@baldheaded1der) August 7, 2017
Let's go into some of the theories and how likely they are. And I'll leave out my ridiculous theory that Damon Berryhill, Gwinnett's manager, needs a second baseman for his Triple-A fantasy roster. Though, if I were a manager - and that probably should never happen - I'd use Ronald Acuna at catcher for five games. It'll be good for him. And for my Triple-A roster, The Jack Slugbauers.

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Theory #1 - Versatility is a Good Thing, Right?

Of all the theories we can discuss, this one has the highest likelihood of being true. Why not play Swanson at second base here-and-there? It improves his comfortability at the position, helps his trade value, keeps Atlanta's options open, and more. And there's nothing wrong with that. After all, Swanson was an All-SEC second baseman at Vanderbilt before moving across the bag his junior year. Typically, though, top prospects don't move around unless that's part of their game (i.e. a super utility player) or the organization has a bigger - possibly permanent - move in mind. That may not be what is happening here, but this article would be extra small if we limited it to the most likely reason.

Theory #2 - The Braves have soured on Swanson's defense

Swanson committed a decent amount of errors and they all seemed like they came back to haunt the Braves - like every mistake the Braves have made this year. Of his 14 errors in 785.1 innings, nine were fielding while the other handful were throwing. If you care about errors, that might be a problem. I, personally, don't. Errors are subjective and too often depend on whether you are playing at home or on the road. With that in mind, the advanced metrics aren't glowing for Swanson - nor are they damning. He carried a 0.0 UZR (or -0.6 UZR/150) before his demotion with one defensive run saved (DRS). His range was okay both in terms of RZR, RangR, and the Inside Edge Fielding stats - all numbers that gauge range. So, while the errors are what we remember, Swanson was not a bad option at shortstop and I have a tough time believing the Braves don't feel Swanson can play a decent shortstop moving forward. He's unlikely to win many awards, but he shouldn't embarrass you, either.

Theory #3 - The Braves want to flip-flop Ozzie Albies and Swanson

This...could be possible. When Albies was promoted, I was flabbergasted by the Braves push to use Brandon Phillips at third base while using Johan Camargo at shortstop full time. The simpler idea, in my mind, was to move Albies to shortstop, where he has a wealth of experience at. The Braves didn't concur and oddly, Phillips looks like the next incarnation of Brooks Robinson so far at the Hot Corner so what do I know? But will the Braves consider flipping Albies and Swanson anyway?

This one goes back to why the Braves chose Albies at second and Swanson at shortstop in the first place. The Braves believed Swanson's defensive skills were just a bit higher overall. That didn't stop the Braves from continuing to give Albies time at shortstop this season, though. The Braves could have changed their mind and right now are keeping Albies at second to not put too much on him right after his promotion to the majors. I'm of the belief that Swanson is better, but it's close and Albies is plenty capable of playing shortstop. Whatever the arrangement really doesn't matter all that much to me.

Theory #4 - The Braves Are Trying to Jumpstart Dansby

The Braves put a lot on Swanson even before the first pitch of the 2017 season was delivered. They scheduled much of their ad campaign around him, were ready to push him heavy as a Rookie of the Year candidate, filmed many vignettes, and basically tried to make Swanson their crowned jewel as SunTrust Park opened. Oh, sure, Freddie Freeman is still the face of the team, but Swanson was going to be one of the game's young and charismatic figures. And then, the season happened.

The Braves stuck with Swanson for a long time and for much of that time, he was handling the adversity well. But over the final weeks before his demotion, he was starting to show it. The season from hell was finally getting to him and why wouldn't it? Now, in the minors, they can turn off the spotlight and let him do his thing. A move to second base might take even more stress off.

Theory #5 - With the emergence of Camargo, could Swanson be the utility guy now?

No.

What do you think? Are there any deeper reasons for Swanson playing second base beyond just versatility and keeping him fresh at the position should he need to play it for any reason?


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Ronald Acuña is quite good at baseball. If you’re unfamiliar, Acuña is a 19-year old phenom destroying competition 5 years older than him and making his case for being the best prospect in all of baseball. I could fill several post on the greatness of Ronald Acuna but for today we’re going to get a little more specific. Actually, very specific. One pitch to be exact.


Recently he did this:






That’s a very impressive HR but after it was hit, it was followed by this tweet from the Gwinnett Braves official account:


#GBraves take the lead as Ronald Acuna unloads on one for a 2-run HR down the LF line. 114 mph off the bat and 370 feet to LF. 4-3 GWN, B6 pic.twitter.com/nmzo9H7BL7
— G-Braves Media (@GBravesMedia) July 18, 2017

Acuña hit that ball 114 mph. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you 114 mph is an absolutely destroyed batted ball. The average exit velocity in MLB for all batted balls is around 87 mph. But that number includes all the broken bats, bleeders, bloopers, and generally weak contact that happen in a season. If he we look at just home runs, the balls that were hit really well by the best hitters in the world, the major league average goes to 103 mph. That’s a significant jump from 87 mph and yet, still good ways away from Acuña’s blast.

How rare a feat is a 114 mph? Here’s a list a of the hardest batted balls by a Braves player this year:






All exit velocity data is via Baseball Savant

Despite having some rather large men who can hit the ball a long ways, the Braves haven’t had a single batted ball reach 114 mph this year. Or 113 for that matter. It’s just not that common.

In fact, in all of major league baseball this year only 119 of the balls put in play left the bat at 114 mph or greater. For context, Statcast tells us there’s been 87,483 batted ball events in 2017. That means .001% of all the balls in play this year have been hit as hard as Acuña hit this HR. It’s even crazier when consider of that 119,Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton account for 43 of them. That means the rest of baseball combined has only done it 76 times, or .0001%. And none of them were 19.



Unsurprisingly, the damage done on balls hit this hard is off the charts. Here are the numbers of the 119 balls hit a 114 mph or better:




  • BA .778
  • wOBA 1.086
  • SLG% 1.843
  • ISO 1.066



All of this is important because we’ve learned that hitting the ball hard is a skill. You don’t fluke your way to 114 mph. Most guys can’t physically hit a ball that hard. So showing the ability to do it, even once, puts Acuna is rarefied air in terms if skill set.



And the fact that he’s 19 can’t be overstated. He’s not fully physically mature yet. Guys like Stanton and Judge are in their mid-20s. Acuña is going to get bigger and stronger. This is the tip of the iceberg.


Yeah it’s one pitch. One AB. One HR. But it tells a much bigger story.



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A homecoming for 2 former Orioles.

By Keith Allison [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr
It was 3-4 days ago that Braves fans received word that Jim Johnson and R.A. Dickey were placed on revocable waivers. While they’re likely not the only players that were placed on revocable waivers, those were the 2 that made it to the mainstream media. My guess, there are at least 3 more guys that the Braves pushed out there but weren’t comfortable in letting the news leak to their fan-base (Matt Kemp, Brandon Phillips, Nick Markakis).

For those not in the know, if a player(s) is claimed on revocable waivers, the 2 teams have 48 hours to work out a deal, and the deal could be as simple as allowing the other team take the full value of the contract(s). If a deal cannot be worked out, then the team that placed said player(s) on revocable waivers pulls the player(s) back and said player(s) have to remain with the team for the rest of the season.

 I’ve been scouring the MLB standings looking for matches in a deal for some of the Braves more expensive veterans. Make no mistake, these are tricky and, for the most part, pipedreams. However, I think I might have stumbled upon a great match. The Orioles, even with a starting pitching ERA that nears 6 and is 29th in all of baseball, remain only 2.5 games out of the Wild Card. The writing’s on the proverbial wall for this team and it may be their last time to contend for the foreseeable future. But nonetheless, they are in the thick of it. While they’re likely not in a position to make big moves as their farm is very weak and they’d need to keep any MLB talent around through this season, they could look for small boosts to aid in their push to Wild Card berth. And it just so happens that the Braves could aid in giving that push.

By Keith Allison [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Both Jim Johnson and Nick Markakis have a long-running history with the Orioles. Jim played with them from 2006-2013, taking on the full-time closer role in 2012 and had 50 and 51 save seasons in ‘12 and ‘13. Nick Markakis was the beloved right-fielder for the O’s from 2006-2014, doing very much the same as he’s done for the Braves with the exception that he was younger and about 10-15% better in all facets of his game. They were both well-liked in the clubhouse and many faces from their time there are still in-house and would welcome them back. There are tricks to this as both guys are under contract for 2018. While Jim still has some perceived value in a reliever’s role, Markakis is pretty much shot and is playing at a replacement level. The positive is that the guys the O’s are running out there in LF are playing at the level of a leper. Yes...it’s been bad. But the Braves aren’t going to get the Orioles to pay the entire contracts of both players without taking a hit themselves...no sirree. To do a deal like this, the Braves will have to take something back, and that’s where we turn to Ubaldo Jimenez.

Jimenez, who once threw a no-hitter against the Braves when he was slinging for the Rockies, has been downright putrid in an Orioles uniform and has posted a 6.31 ERA this year, is owed 13.5MM for the 2017 season, but is a free agent in 2018. I feel like the Orioles would be happy to wash their hands of Ubaldo and welcome back 2 guys that they know and love.

 So, here’s the deal:
 Braves get Ubaldo Jimenez, Chance Sisco

Orioles get R.A. Dickey, Nick Markakis, Jim Johnson, and 3MM

Considering the Braves would be taking 4.25MM of Ubaldo’s salary and the Orioles would be taking on 7.5MM for 2017, the 3MM is there to offset the cost. In return, the Braves get a prospect that has somewhat fallen from grace that can head to AAA and try to recapture the magic that made him one of the game’s best catching prospects. I’ve not talked about Dickey going until the proposed deal, but he makes a lot of sense for them. There are guys in their rotation that are underachieving and throwing a knuckleballer right in the midst could be the boost that’s needed to make them successful.

This is only 1 of many ways that the Braves could look to in dealing veterans, but if they wait too long or til offseason, the chances of making a deal without eating a HUGE chunk of cash becomes less and less. What say you? Would you alter it? Got another idea? Let’s hear from the peanut gallery!

 Go Braves!


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It's been a busy afternoon for the Atlanta Braves. Shortly after the surprising announcement that they had promoted Max Fried to the Show, the team announced that they had dealt utility man Sean Rodriguez to the Pirates in exchange for minor leaguer Connor Joe. Jace Peterson returns from Gwinnett to replace Rodriguez.

Rodriguez signed on Thanksgiving last fall to the tune of $11.5 million over two seasons. At the time, the Braves loved what Rodriguez provided for them. He could play everywhere and gave the Braves a bridge at two positions - second and third - where they were waiting on prospects to develop. He also gave them an option against left-hand pitching, which the Braves needed with Peterson penciled in at second base.

But things changed in a hurry. Before spring training, Rodriguez was involved in a horrific car wreck that sent his family to the hospital. While everyone would be okay enough to head home in a few days, Rodriguez would need shoulder surgery. In response, the Braves acquired Brandon Phillips to be their everyday second baseman. Initial fears were that Rodriguez might miss the entire season, but the tireless worker returned to play in his first rehab game on July 1. After a few weeks, he made his return to the majors on July 17. Over 15 games and 47 PA, Rodriguez had done little at the plate except hit a pair of pinch-hit home runs.

Rodriguez seemed to fit less into the July and August version of the Braves than he had with the proposed 25-man roster in November and December. The Braves had added Matt Adams and Danny Santana to the team while Johan Camargo had emerged to become a significant member of the Braves moving forward. The recent call-up of Ozzie Albies only compounded the problem of finding Rodriguez at-bats - even with Matt Kemp on the mend.

Who the Braves received in the deal isn't all that important. But...Connor Joe was the 39th overall selection in the 2014 draft. He was considered a bit of a reach at the time as a borderline Top 100 prospect. Despite being primarily a 1B/RF in college, the Pirates decided to focus Joe on catching - something he was more of a project at. He quickly was hurt and didn't play the rest of the summer. Once healthy, the Pirates scrapped that idea and sent him to first base, then third base, and then the corner outfield slots. He's only made a cameo at 3B this season as he's shifted between 1B and the corner OF positions more.

Joe wasn't drafted for his glove, though. Unfortunately, hitting professional pitching is a bit tougher than hitting West Coast Conference pitching. Over parts of three seasons, Joe has slashed .257/.352/.361 while climbing from A-ball to Double-A. He doesn't strike out much and is lauded for his professionalism, but he's not much of a prospect right now.

What the Braves received in the deal is much more important.

First, they received some financial flexibility this season and next. Similar to how the Braves traded away Jaime Garcia for a project rather than pay down salary to - in essence - buy a prospect, the Braves are making more of a salary dump. Rodriguez was owed roughly $2M this year and $5M next year. That's cleared with this deal. There is also the subject of the $1.5M signing bonus. I don't have any particulars related to that, but typically, signing bonuses are spread evenly over a contract. The Braves have probably paid half of the signing bonus already and might even pay the other half. Ignoring that, they saved $7M or so.

Second, the Braves cleared another 40-man roster spot. I mentioned how tight things could become on the 40-man roster a few days ago when addressing the Ronald Acuna situation. With this trade, Rodriguez's spot is cleared. For more on players who might need to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason, here's a list. Joe, by the way, will be eligible.

Third, this deal naturally leads to the possibility that more is on the way. By more, I mean both more trades of veterans through the waiver trade process and more in the sense that something bigger might happen. While adding a well-regarded established player at this point seems unlikely - Chris Archer isn't going through waivers, people - the Braves could set themselves up to add another prospect. As long as a prospect is not on the 40-man roster, they do not have to pass through waivers.

How might such a scenario play out? Say a Contending Team is trying to add a big piece to their roster. That might come from the Braves, but it doesn't have to. Say the Contending Team needs to clear salary to add the player they want. The Braves, who have shaved off $6M or $7M or so in salary, could absorb a significant contract while also getting a good prospect. In some respects, that's similar to the Touki Toussaint trade.

Either way, the Braves felt that paying Rodriguez $5M in 2018 was a bit too much. It's unfortunate because of everything Rodriguez went through - the car wreck, the quick rehab, the early struggles. Rodriguez came to Atlanta to be a difference maker for a young team on the rise. Now, he heads back to Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Atlanta is primed to make another big August move or two as they look to build toward contention in 2018.


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The Braves have brought up another big prospect.

No, not Ronald Acuna. Nope, not Mike Soroka or Luiz Gohara. Not even A.J. Minter.

Instead, the Braves have recalled Max Fried from Double-A Mississippi while sending Jason Hursh back to Gwinnett for the 18th time this season (or so). To say this move was shocking is an understatement. Fried has had a rough season in Mississippi with a 5.92 ERA and a 2-11 record, which is pretty ugly even if you hate win-loss records. A preseason #11th best prospect according to the Walk-Off Walk rankings, he dropped to 21st in the recent Midseason update.

Of course, there's always more to this story than just the simple numbers. Fried hasn't pitched much differently than he did last year when he reaffirmed his status as a prime prospect coming off Tommy John surgery. Don't believe me? Well, here's some numbers.

Year Level K% BB% LD% GB% FB% HR/FB FIP xFIP
2016 A-Rome 26% 11% 20% 51% 29% 14% 3.97 3.39
2017 AA-Miss. 22% 11% 16% 52% 33% 10% 4.06 3.76

(Edit...a previous version of this article had inaccuate information for the 2016 FIP and xFIP)

Fried has also struggled with blisters, which cost him a few weeks on the DL in early July as he tried to recover from them. Once he returned, he left his first start with more blister issues and spent another week on the DL. After returning again, his next two starts were short-lived as well - though that may have been by design.

Could the Braves be considering jumping into one of the latest bullpen trends in baseball - converting minor league starters into multiple-inning, high-leverage relievers? The average outs-per-game for relief appearances is on the rise. After remaining steady at 3.0 outs per relief appearance for the last few years, the NL average has jumped to 3.2 this season. This is particularly noteworthy in the NL considering the presence of the pitcher's spot in the lineup. No team has embraced this more than the Reds. In 2015, their relievers averaged 3.2 outs per game. The next year, it was 3.6 and this season, they are averaging 3.8.

Back in 2015, no team averaged more than 3.2 outs-per-relief appearances in the NL. Four NL teams are at 3.3 or better this season. This may not seem like a big number, but it represents a growing trend that managers aren't as beholden to the idea that one guy pitches the seventh, one guy pitches the eighth, and one guy pitches the ninth.

The Braves are behind the curve on this, though to be fair, their weak bullpen has often forced replacing the current pitcher even if they would rather them throw more. But even that might be changing. Last week, the Braves asked Jose Ramirez, in a tight game, to throw two innings in relief. It was the first time since he became a primary setup reliever for the Braves in mid-May that he had recorded more than three outs in a game. A few days ago, Rex Brothers entered to record the final out of the seventh and then pitched the eighth inning. The game was tied when he entered and he eventually got the win after a Tyler Flowers pinch-hit two-run homer. Brothers has regularly been used in close games in the late innings.

Maybe the arrival of Fried is to give the Braves an option that Luke Jackson, the current long guy, doesn't really give the Braves - a high-leverage reliever who can throw a few innings twice a week.

We saw how the Indians used Andrew Miller last fall. He's currently fifth in fWAR among relievers despite having recorded just two saves. Chris Devenski has stabilized an Astros bullpen and thrown 1.4 fWAR worth of quality middle relief. Our old friend Mike Minor has done the same in Kansas City. The Reds use Raisel Iglesias, their closer, often to get more than three outs - which is almost unheard of in today's game.

This is just a guess, but Fried could be Atlanta's experiment in taking a former starter and converting him into a guy trusted to throw quality innings (that's plural) late in a close game.

Is Fried up for such a task? Well, his stuff says he is. Fried utilizes both a four-seam and two-seam fastball that has been known to reach 97 mph. That velocity should only become more sustainable in shorter bursts. His curveball is a thing of beauty and he has a couple of versions of it (the slow looper and the hard late breaker). The looper is a show-me pitch while the hard breaker produces whiffs. His changeup is hit-or-miss but was considered average enough to keep him projected as a starter. He'd probably use it less or abandon it altogether if converted to relief.

Fried is death to lefties, by the way. While his control has wavered this season, lefties are hitting just .208 in 90 PA with 7 doubles against Fried. Last season, lefties actually hit better against Fried than righties - but is a .717 OPS over a .690 OPS something to talk about?

Whether or not Fried is used in such a way remains to be seen, but I have to believe the Braves didn't surprisingly call him up just to get his feet wet. They want him to play an important part on their team over the next two months. That might be achieved by using Fried as a typical setup/specialist reliever. That would be a sensible choice, but my hope is that they look outside-the-box a bit more than that. Fortunately, John Coppolella is well-known for such outside-the-box thinking.


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The many trades of John Coppolella's still brief tenure with the Braves run the gamut between the amazing to the surprising to the occasional "don't remind me." And then, there is the Sean Newcomb/Andrelton Simmons trade. Sure, there were two other players in that deal - Chris Ellis and Erick Aybar - but this deal was effectively one top pitching prospect for one extra-elite glove with plenty of offensive issues.

It was a controversial deal from the beginning. Simmons had signed a seven-year extension in February of 2014, was just 26 at the time of the trade, and had already won two Gold Gloves while posting unreal defensive metrics that introduced Braves fans to the ideas of DRS and UZR/150. Despite his struggles at the plate, Simmons had posted 11.7 fWAR from his call-up in 2012 to the end of 2015. Players like that just don't fall from the sky.

Neither do pitchers with Newcomb's combination of youth, projectability, and stuff. Newcomb had just jumped from low-A ball to Double-A in 2015 while recording 168 strikeouts and allowing just five homeruns. It was his first full season after being selected with the 15th overall pick of the 2014 draft. But he had his concerns, too. He walked 76 batters that year in 136 innings - far too high of a total if he was to live up to his frontline potential in the majors.

When the deal was announced, you either thought "loved Simba's glove, but he wasn't going to hit anyway" or you went the "Newcomb's never going to throw strikes" route. Other than the deal we don't talk about anymore, no other Coppolella trade had so much contention attached to it. The Braves dealt a fan favorite in a year full of trading away fan favorites and all they received was a lefty with great stuff, but mega trouble in finding the strike zone. Oh, and Ellis and Aybar, but that latter name makes this deal look worse for most people - even those that like it.

For my part, I was one of the rare indifferent people to this trade who agreed with both sides to an extent. I understood the process, understood why the deal made sense and understood that Newcomb's potential was incredibly high. I also understood that Newcomb's issues and Simmons' defense made the deal not so slam dunk and Simmons had shown in the minors the ability to hit much better than he had in the majors. I liked the deal, but I also didn't like the deal all that much. I remember writing for About.com at the time that regardless of how I may fall on the trade for the Braves, I didn't understand at all why the Angels pulled the trigger. If any team in baseball needed to develop some young and talented arms, it was the Angels. They had cashed in their last blue-chip trade minor league asset at the time for a shortstop who couldn't hit.

Yeah, I know. About that...

Simmons predictably didn't hit in an injury-riddled 2016 campaign. Well, he hit .281, which was his best batting average since his rookie call-up season, but he paired that with a .302 wOBA and a 91 wRC . Better than his last two seasons with the Braves, but hardly something you were going to miss - especially with Dansby Swanson arriving in the majors last August. For his part, Newcomb lowered his walk rate slightly - and saw a slight downturn in his K% - but took a big step forward with his mechanics in the second half of 2016. He was on the rise, Simmons was stagnating, and Swanson was a budding superstar.

How things have changed. Newcomb is still on the rise - or at least a few of his metrics are. Both his strikeout and walk rates approached his 2015 levels. Simmons is also on the rise. And Swanson...

Moving on.

With Simmons posting the eighth-best fWAR in the game and third-best wOBA among shortstops, it's easy to look back at the trade and throw tomatoes. Watching Newcomb walk seven Dodgers Thursday night might also make someone throw assorted produce. And Swanson...

Moving on (again).

You might ask if Simmons is playing over his head? I'd like to tell you that he is, but instead, he has finally improved at the plate. Simmons was the King of Bad Contact with the Braves. Despite a big swing, Simmons didn't strike out much. Twice, he finished the season with less than 9% of his plate appearances ending in a strikeout. The problem with so much contact is it increases the frequency that you make bad contact. This season, overall he's made less contact, but the quality of the contact is better. His hard-hit rate has improved from 23%, which is where the rate stagnated over the last two seasons, to a career-high 31.2%. The wOBA on hard-hit balls this season is .695. Making better contact is more beneficial for the player than making more contact.

He's also pulling the ball more frequently than he did the last three years and that particular nugget is more in line with his 2013 numbers. If you recall, he blasted 17 of his 31 homers that he hit for the Braves in just that season. The wOBA on pulled balls is .412 this season, easily the most impressive of the three zones one can hit the ball.

Simmons is doing the things that many of us felt he needed to do with the Braves, but was either not capable of doing or not being instructed to do. Whatever the case, Simmons, at 27 years-old, finally has a bat to at least compliment his glove, which remains elite.

Newcomb's not half-bad, by the way. Yes, the control has wavered - and worsened a bit since getting to the majors - but as Stephen Tolbert pointed out a few weeks ago, the weapons are there. Newcomb has the pitches. Right now, he needs to locate them better. He's living in the zone 5% lower than the average pitcher despite average to slightly-above-average rates in first-pitch strikes and swinging strikes. Despite getting ahead, he's not finishing off enough batters. A lot of his problems have been self-made. He puts runners on, nibbles, and then hangs a curveball and it gets hit to the moon. After seven home runs surrendered the last 197.2 innings in the minors, he's given up six in just 52.2 innings.

But don't be discouraged. Pitchers with otherworldly stuff and talent often need time to learn to pitch with it. Clayton Kershaw walked 11% and 13% of batters over his first two years in the league. Not that Newcomb's destined to be Kershaw, but that might add a little context to the argument.

To be honest, I think most people want to just be right. As Simmons struggled through another substandard year with the bat while Newcomb got hot down the stretch, no one was trying to make a suggestion that the trade went awry. Fans of the deal said "look, I told you! And now we got Dansbae!" Now, Simmons is surging and Newcomb looks like a rookie pitcher. Critics can go back in their facebook or twitter timelines and point out how they called it. They just knew Simmons would start to hit and Newcomb wouldn't throw strikes.

It also is worth mentioning that this deal doesn't exist in a vacuum. It was part of an organizational philosophy to rebuild through pitching. That required grabbing every high-end pitching talent they could. This deal wasn't one move, but one of many. Some of those talents have already washed out like Matt Wisler (now a reliever) and Manny Banuelos. Others like Mike Foltynewicz and Newcomb are in the major league starting rotation. Still others like Touki Toussaint, Luiz Gohara, and Ricardo Sanchez are on their way.

In closing, I would say this deal worked out for both teams and it worked out for both players. The Angels got an elite player to compliment Mike Trout and play phenomenal defense behind their aging staff. The Braves got a high-end pitching prospect who, less than two years later, is already in the majors and striking out 23% of opposing hitters. Simmons got a chance to work with Dave Hansen and Paul Sorrento - and learn from Albert Pujols - on how to hit major league pitching. That's something he may have not gained in Atlanta. And Newcomb has the chance to work with the Braves' impressive cadre of pitching coaches and instructors.

Sometimes, the deal benefits everyone. In my opinion, this is one of those times.


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The good news for Atlanta is up ahead, in the distance, you can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The young players this organization has spent the last 3 years acquiring are making their way to and through the upper minors and are slowly joining the big league club.


The future is coming.



The bad news for Atlanta is the past is still here. Specifically, Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp are still here. Even more specifically, the 60 million or so they still owe Kemp and Markakis is still here. While the Braves have been able to avoid negative long-term commitments everywhere else on the roster, corner outfield hasn’t been so lucky. Atlanta is desperately trying to move from rebuilding to being rebuilt and the next big hurdle, arguably the biggest, is going to be figuring out a way out from under these aging two vets.


We’ll take them one at a time.


The Nick Markakis signing was always a bit of a head scratcher. The Braves had just spent the winter before the 2015 season selling off most of their major league pieces for prospects and it was abundantly clear that a massive, organization wide rebuild was under way. Then this happened:


Source: OF Nick Markakis agrees to four-year deal with Atlanta Braves. Dollars unclear, but sides discussed a deal in neighborhood of $44M.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 3, 2014


Man, you guys remember that day? What a weird day. I remember exactly what I was doing. I was on my laptop trying to figure out why in the hell my team just signed a declining outfielder with no power to a 4 year/44 million dollar contract at the beginning of a rebuild. Almost 3 years later, I still don’t have an answer.


Markakis has been exactly what everyone thought he’d be when he signed. A 1-2 WAR OF with below average power and declining defense. The Braves have also been exactly what everyone thought they’d be when he signed. A rebuilding club that’s yet to win 70 games with him on the roster and are now trying to get good while he gets bad and stays expensive. It made zero sense then and makes even less sense now.


I could go through Markakis’ numbers line by line and show you what kind of player he is now but you guys know. He’s a slightly worse than league average hitter and a significantly worse than league average defender making 11 million dollars a year. The saving grace for the Braves is that he’s only under contract one more year after this one so it’s not entirely unfathomable that he could be moved. Atlanta would obviously have to send a chunk of cash or a decent prospect in the deal to make it worthwhile for the other team but deals of that nature are made every year.


There is a sense of urgency to solving this problem, however, and for a couple reason:


  • One, Atlanta wants to be contending as soon as possible and you can be sure they feel 2018 is a realistic opportunity to do just that. And contending becomes a lot easier when you don’t have a replacement level RF taking up 600 ABs and 10% of your payroll. This alone is motivation to move him.
  • Two, you may have heard of certain OF prospect named Ronald Acuna who’s currently treating the upper minors like it's beer league softball. Acuna’s rapid ascension as not only the best prospect in Atlanta’s system but arguably in all of baseball, has made the easy decision to move on from Nick Markakis even easier. And since the level Acuna’s currently destroying is AAA, a 2018 ETA is not only realistic, but likely. Atlanta just needs to create room for him on the roster.


When Atlanta traded Jamie Garcia to Minnesota a couple weeks ago and had the Twins pick up the entirety of Garcia's salary, one of the first things I thought was Atlanta is going to use that 5M to help move Markakis. And since no team would dare claim Markakis' contract on waivers, that possibility still exist in August. It's going to take something creative like that.

 The bad news for Atlanta is Markakis is the much easier of the two problems. Where it really gets tricky is with Matt Kemp.


If you don’t remember Kemp came over in a bad contract swap with the San Diego Padres for dumpster fire Hector Olivera. At the time, and even still to this day, people get confused on exactly what Atlanta agreed to take on in this deal so I’m going to go over it simply because it’s relevant to their current situation.


In the deal Atlanta agreed to take on all of Kemp’s remaining contract and San Diego agreed to take all of Olivera’s remaining contract in return. SD also agreed to send the same 10M to Atlanta that the Dodgers sent to them in their previous Kemp deal. That’s it. All of Hector Olivera off the books. All of Matt Kemp onto the books and an additional 10M to play with. So, at the time he was acquired Matt had 3 years/64 million left on his deal. Assuming Atlanta used the 10M SD sent on Kemp’s contract, ATL was now responsible for 3 years/54 million or 18M/year. It is important to remember though, that Kemp is making 21M/year not 18M/year. Atlanta is only paying 18M/year because of the money SD sent. That’s important because 21M/year is what other teams would be responsible for if they decided to trade for him unless Atlanta agreed to send money along with him as LA and SD did before them.


OK, now that we understand exactly how much Atlanta is paying let’s talk about what kind of player they’re paying for. Kemp is a conundrum. There are flashes of brilliance. Every once in a while you see the MVP caliber player Kemp used to be and dream about how this level player is going to change your favorite team’s fortunes. When he’s on he’s a true force in the middle of a lineup and can legitimately carry an entire team for stretches.


The problem is those moments are fleeting. They don’t last. Kemp will spend a month as the one the best players in the league and then another month as the worst. Because he is a bat-only player, his entire value is tied to how he’s hitting. And because his defense and baserunning are such large negatives, he has hit out of this world to justify his cost. And hitting out of this world against major league pitching just isn’t feasible for a guy on the wrong side of 30 with bad legs. Take 2017, he’s running a 108 wRC this year, which is above average hitting, but is at 0.0 WAR. When the only thing you can do is hit, then you have to hit big, all the time. And he just doesn’t.


There is a common refrain among Braves’ fans that goes something like “When he’s healthy, he’s a beast.” While there is truth to that statement where it’s faulty is in its assumption. Kemp carried quite a bit of extra weight on his legs for a few years as well as having arthritic hips, bad hamstrings, bad knees and the burden of being mispositioned. He’s a DH masquerading as an OF and combine that with chronically bad legs and there’s basically zero chance he’s ever going to stay healthy for the marathon that is a baseball season.


The saving grace with Markakis was he’s only signed through the 2018 season and for “only” 11M but there’s no such grace with Kemp. His 21M/year for both 2018 and 2019 along with the fact he’s producing at a replacement level means he basically unmovable. The Braves would have to eat so much of the money still owed to move him that’s it’s not even a realistic possibility.

There’s the most painful path of combining him with one of the team’s better prospects to entice another team to essentially buy that prospect by taking on Kemp’s contract. Basically, the Touki Toussaint trade except this time Atlanta playing the role of Arizona. It’s an effective way to clear payroll but I really can’t see Atlanta sacrificing the valuable assets they’ve spent so long acquiring.

There's also the option of looking for another bad contract out there to swap with Kemp but replacing a problem with a different problem isn’t really a solution. It’s how they got into this mess to begin with. In hindsight, Atlanta would have been much better off cutting Olivera and eating the 26M he was owed and really, it’s not hindsight. I, along with several other people tweeted that very idea the day the trade went down and now, almost exactly 1 year later, it rings truer than ever.


But Atlanta didn’t want to eat 26M, hard to blame them, and instead doubled down on 54M in hopes they might catch lightning in a bottle and watch a former MVP candidate regain his form. Instead what they have is a very expensive dilemma to deal with and no great way to deal with it. The most likely outcome is Matt Kemp will be the starting LF for the Braves in 2018 and they’ll live with whatever he gives them. But players get worse as they get older and Matt will be a year older next year and not a dime cheaper. It could get ugly.


However you slice it, however you break it down one truth is unescapable, the Braves are paying two spots a lot money for not a lot of production. And if they’re serious about contending next year, the biggest step may be solving their corner OF problem.



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John Hart stopped by with Chip Carey and Joe Simpson during Wednesday night's game to talk about a host of issues. During it, we found out that Ronald Acuna was unlikely to be called up this year. Why not, you might wonder. Acuna is one of the best prospects in baseball and he has a .423 wOBA at Triple-A? Why not bring him up to get his feet wet? Because of the 40-man roster concerns this winter, that's why. Now whether or not the Braves follow through and refuse the temptation to call up Acuna this season - baseball general managers are notorious for changing their mind on a dime - the reality of the situation has some factual basis. With that in mind, today I want to look at the potential 40-man roster concerns after this season.

Just a few reminders. Every team has two rosters - the Active roster (usually 25-man) and the 40-man roster. Everyone on the Active roster is also on the 40-man roster. The other 15 players are a mixture of minor leaguers and - typically - injured major leaguers currently on the 10-day DL. Once a player is placed on the 40-man roster, he will typically remain on it until one of three things happens - he no longer is under contract by the organization, he is designated for assignment (and waived), or he is on the 60-day DL. That last designation doesn't clear jo, for good, though. When a player is able to return from the 60-day DL, he either has to be placed on the 40-man roster or designated for assignment and exposed to the other teams via waivers. But I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, right?

With all of that in mind, let's dive in. Atlanta's 40-man roster currently has 39 players on it. This is a common practice by the Braves, who like to keep a spot open in case it's needed to make an immediate move (waiver pickup, call-up, etc). You might say that there is an open spot so why not bring up Acuna? We'll get back to that.

Of those 39 players, the Braves "control" 36 of them into next season. That's just a way of saying that it's up to the Braves whether or not they bring back the player in 2018. For most of the players, they are either arbitration-eligible or will have their contracts renewed because they haven't reached arbitration. In the case of Tyler Flowers and R.A. Dickey, the Braves hold options to retain their services. Others like Julio Teheran, Ender Inciarte, and Matt Kemp have contracts that guarantee them a salary in 2018. Immediately, you might see a problem. All but four spots are already locked up for next year's 40-man roster? Isn't that kind of tight?

But that's not all. It gets even tighter when you take into account the players on the 60-day DL right now like Jacob Lindgren, Armando Rivero, and Dan Winkler. Regardless of their injury situation at the end of the season, the Braves will have to transfer them to the 40-man roster or risk losing them. Say that they do. Now, we're back to that 39 number. Only one spot empty.

Of course, the Braves aren't going to bring back all 39 of these players. There will be trades, guys will get non-tendered, and others will be designated for assignment to make room and we'll address some of the players most likely to be in the mix for that. You might think the Braves will be searching for room for free agents, but the primary reason people will be shuffled off the 40-man roster at the end of the season will be to allow the Braves to keep players who would be otherwise eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft.

Quick reminder - players eligible for the Rule 5 draft are typically those that were younger than 19 on June 4 of their signing year five years ago or players who were 19 or older on June 4 of their signing year four years ago. In the simplest terms, that's typically high schoolers/international signees from 2013 or college-age draftees from 2014. There are exceptions, but let's not get too bogged down with the details just yet.

In practical terms, let's see what this means for the Braves. Some of the most noteworthy players to be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this season include five players who made our Midseason Top 50 in Luiz Gohara, Travis Demeritte, Dustin Peterson, Tyler Pike, and Caleb Dirks. I want to point out that Pike is a little different because he's been eligible before. A few others include Tanner Murphy, Michael Mader, and Omar Obregon, but let's focus on just the five I mentioned a couple of sentences ago. If the Braves want to protect all five from being drafted, that adds to the 39 players I counted before. So, with that, we're four players over and the Braves haven't signed anyone yet.

Again, many of these players will be shuffled off the roster through the various means of removing a player from the 40-man. One common tool is to non-tender an arbitration-eligible player. Who's getting Arby this year? This list includes Matt Adams, Arodys Vizcaino, Ian Krol, Rex Brothers, and potential first-year arbitration players like Danny Santana, Mike Foltynewicz, and possibly Sam Freeman. Interestingly enough, there is a possibility that Winkler will be eligible for arbitration. Yeah. Of this list, we know Adams, Vizcaino, and Foltynewicz will be offered arbitration. The Braves could bring back others, but do their performances deserve raises in pay due to arbitration? Let's say the Braves pass on the other players on the list and we're back to 39 players on the 40-man roster.

The Braves can shave some others off the list by designating them for assignment. Prime candidates for that might include Lane Adams, Enrique Burgos, Adonis Garcia, and Micah Johnson.

At that point, the Braves would have room to acquire players ahead of the Rule 5 draft and still have a chance to dip their toes in the water for that draft should they want to.

I started this article by talking about Acuna so let's get back to him. Say the Braves call him up now. While it makes for a great story as Acuna began the year in High-A ball, it also makes all of this 40-man roster maneuvering all the more difficult. Unlike Gohara and Demeritte, the Braves don't have to place Acuna on the 40-man roster this offseason. A similar thing happened in 2009. As the Braves struggled through a final couple of months with Garret Anderson, Nate McLouth, and Matt Diaz/Ryan Church playing the outfield, many wanted the Braves to call up Jason Heyward. He destroyed the ball with Mississippi before ending the year with Gwinnett. Certainly, he's a better option than watching a substandard outfield fail to produce.

The Braves stressed that J-Hey wasn't ready, but the bigger reason was the Braves could use the 40-man roster room. Heyward wasn't placed on the 40-man roster until right before opening day the next spring. That gave the Braves a little more room to make decisions that offseason. Calling up Acuna before the end of this season might make the fans happy, but it will also make choices after the World Series a bit tougher.

What do you think? Do you think the Braves should just put together the best roster regardless of 40-man and Rule 5 concerns or should the Braves give an appropriate amount of consideration to these factors to not compound the issues they will already have keeping this amazing collection of young talent together? I look forward to hearing what you have to say. As a fan, I want to see Acuna sooner rather than later. As a fan who tries to stay informed, I'll wait. The Braves have enough complicated decisions this offseason.


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One of my favorite parts of new players making their debuts is being able to look at their performances in brand new ways. Because of the technology it takes, several of tools or metrics we use to evaluate players are only available at the major league level. When guys come up, we get to measure what they can do

So when Lucas Sims came up Tuesday and made his debut I, being the nerd that I am, was not only excited about the game itself but the next day when I could look at a bunch of new metrics on how he's doing. Of course, this is the part where I throw in the obligatory small sample size qualifier and the warning about drawing any conclusions too fast and whatever whatever. You get how this works.


The first thing I usually look at for fastball/curveball guys is spin rates. I like spin rate because it’s something that’s hard to fluke and stabilizes pretty quickly. If you were around a few weeks ago I wrote about Sean Newcomb and his curveball, and even as we sit here today, the spin rate numbers from that piece are still accurate today.


So here are Sims' early spin numbers*:

4-Seam Fastball

2314 rpms

Curveball

2844 rpms


*data courtesy of Baseball Savant 

What jumps out first is that's some super impressive spin on his curveball. If you want to know why spinning a curveball is important, click on that Sean Newcomb link above. 

For context, here are some other RH pitchers who spin a curveball similarly:

2903 rpms

2856 rpms

Lucas Sims

2844 rpms

2795 rpms

2786 rpms



Yeah, so those are good names. Lucas isn’t on the same level of pitching as those guys but that is the level of natural talent he’s working with when throwing his curveball, and hey, having the talent is better than not. And having your curveball move that aggressively downward in the zone can be a tremendous weapon if you learn how to use it.


The other thing that jumped out at me was how low spinning his fastball was. This is one game worth of data so we aren’t going to read too much into this but fly ball pitchers, which Lucas has the reputation of being, usually spin their fastball a lot faster than 2300 rpms. For those of you who don’t know the faster you spin the ball the harder it goes in the direction it’s spinning. So fastballs have backspin when you throw them obviously, so the harder you spin it, the longer it repels gravity and stays up. That’s why high spinning fastballs are usually found in fly ball pitchers.


Here’s a table of the guys who spin their fastballs around 2300 rpms with their groundball rates:

Name

FB Spin Rate

Groundball Rate

2326 rpms

48%

Aaron Sanchez

2326 rpms

48%

Lucas Sims

2314 rpms

34%*

2304 rpms

63%

2294 rpms

50%


*Used Sims’ 2017 AAA groundball rates.


So again, these spin rates from Lucas represent one game so let’s not conclude anything yet but in game 1 he spun his fastball more like a groundball heavy guy than a fly ball heavy guy. It also needs to be pointed out spin rate isn’t the only variable that decides the type of batted ball profile you carry. Which of your pitches you throw most frequently has a big impact as well as where you most regularly pitch in the zone.


For instance, here’s Stroman’s zone heatmap:




 Now for comparison, here's Sims' from Tuesday:


As you can see Stroman is able to consistently keep the ball down in the zone while Sims left more than his share of pitches up. Controlling spin is great but it doesn't mean much without being able to locate and that's where Sims can see the biggest gains.



Obviously we're going to monitor all of this the rest of the year and, hopefully that's 9 or 10 starts worth of data. At that point we really can start to some trends and make some more definitive statements. This today is more of a first glimpse. But Sims clearly has tools. Velocity is good, looks like his spin rate is better than I would've guessed based on his reputation. Good frame, good size. He just has to learn how to command it better. Like about a billion pitchers before him.


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It’s no secret the Atlanta Braves have hitched their wagon to the back of young pitching. GM John Coppolella has mentioned several times that currency of major league baseball is pitching and if you were paying attention to what was the most expensive asset to acquire at the trade deadline, it’s hard to argue with John’s point. And one of the young pitchers the Braves are highest on is RH Mike Foltynewicz.



Folty has basically been here since the beginning of the rebuild, coming over to Atlanta before the beginning of the 2015 season. Mike was acquired from the Houston Astros along with 3B Rio Ruiz and SP Andrew Thurman, for C Evan Gattis and SP James Hoyt. The Braves immediately fell in love with the big right-hander because of his big-time fastball that was able to hold its velocity in upper 90’s through seven or eight innings of work. Mike went through the typical growing pains any young pitcher experiences but starting around the second half of the 2016 season, really started figuring it out and the Braves enter the 2017 season thinking they had potentially found a frontline starter.


After watching him dominate more than a few times this year, I’ve heard and read very reasonable, very smart baseball men claim Mike has everything you need to be a one or two in major league rotation, and the potential to be true ace. At the same time, I’ve read and heard equally smart, equally reasonable baseball people call Folty a potential back-end starter whose most likely long-term position is still a reliever.


How can one guy cause such a great divide in evaluation? What is Mike Foltynewicz? I decided I wanted to dive in for myself and see what we can see.

To start with, the “stuff” is real. Mike’s four-seam fastball has maxed out at 99 mph and sits at an average 95.54 mph which is the 5th highest in the national league. Mike also throws what Brooks Baseball describes as a sinker, but very well could be a two-seamer. The movement of those two pitches is very similar so what it actually is isn’t as important as what it does. And what it does is very impressive. Folty throws his “sinker” at an average of 95.49 mph and maxes it out at 99.78 mph. That’s simply an incredible amount of velocity for a pitch that moves as much as it does.


He rounds out his repertoire with a slider he throws around 86 mph and maxes around 90, a curveball that sits around 79 mph and the infrequent change-up that usually comes in around 85 mph. On stuff, Folty is one best pitchers in baseball as very few starters can hit these numbers once, much less continue to hit them in 7th and 8th innings of games. It’s easy to understand the Braves affection for him. It’s a special arm.


But pitchers don’t make their living on stuff  or radar gun readings but on the results that follow and that’s where we start seeing a different story for Folty.


Despite the incredible velocity Mike has been blessed with, he’s never posted anything other than league average strike-out rates. League average usually sits around 20% and for his career, Folty is at 20.2%. He is having more success in 2017, but it isn’t because he’s striking more guys out. His 2017 strikeout rate is 20.5%. His incredible stuff has just never equated to big strike-out numbers.


Because Mike doesn’t strike out many guys, he success or failure depends largely on what happens once the ball is put in play. Against right-handers this year, Folty has managed the quality of the contact against him really well. RH are slashing just .234/.313/.385 against him with a .304 OBA. And it’s not hard to figure out why. When RHs put the ball play against him, they’re hitting the ball on the ground 45% of the time and in the air just 33% of the time. That’s a quality ratio and no doubt contributes to why RH have had such little success against him.


The trouble comes, as it always has for Mike, when a left-handed batter steps in the box. LH this year are slashing .296/.367/.498 with a .367 OBA. And again, if you go to the batted ball data you see why. Against LH, Mike allows fly balls at a 43% clip and only gets groundballs 32% of the time. His Fly Ball/Groundball ratio basically flips when his facing a LH vs a RH. It shows up in his home run numbers to. Against RHs, Mike allows a 1.16 HR/9 innings. Against LHs, its 1.71 HR/9. Simple put, Mike Foltynewicz is a really good pitcher against right-handers and a replacement level pitcher against left-handers.


And because of the quality of contact LH make against Folty, and consequently how many LH he sees, Mike’s career BABIP sits at .317. League average is .300. This is a big problem for a guy who carries league average strike out rates. The 4.08 ERA he's put up this year is respectable but it comes with a 4.66 FIP and a 79% left on-base rate showing that ERA is probably due for some regression.


The other big problem for Mike is how he fares after multiple times through the opposing order. The first time through the order for his career, Mike gives up a .303 OBA, which is very good. The second time through the order, he gives up a .358 OBA, which is not so good. The third time through, it’s a .366 OBA.  If you look at just his 2017 numbers it’s no different. Folty is elite for the first nine batters and then starts falling off the cliff. This is why there a more than a few people who view Mike as a reliever. And with his stuff, probably an elite one.


For me, and I know this won’t be popular, I’m in the reliever camp. The value of dominant reliever has never been higher in baseball and I think Folty serves the Braves best as multi-inning, dominant reliever. I remember what Andrew Miller did last year in the playoffs as a guy who came in to get 3, 6, or even 9 outs and how valuable that was and that’s what I see for Mike.


The Braves are going to give him every opportunity to start, as they should and there’s absolutely no doubting the arm talent. But in order for him succeed there long term, there are big hurdles to clear. He has to figure out LHB and he has to learn how to pitch to the last 18 batters with the same effectiveness as the first 9. 

I think he’s a reliever but we need to stop thinking of that as such a negative. The game has changed. Look at the trade deadline. Look at the playoffs. Relievers change the balance of power now. And being a great multi-inning reliever can be just as valuable if not more so than being an average starter. There's no such thing as "just a reliever" anymore.



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