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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Transaction Tuesday: Swanson, Demeritte, Sanchez, Pena

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

Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
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
Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
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
Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
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.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Yet Another Ronald Acuna/Andruw Jones Piece - But This One is Different!

Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
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.

Finding the Braves a 3B

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 Castilla manned 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. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Braves Catching Turning Into a Strength

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
Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
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.

Putting Together a Justin Verlander Trade

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.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Hey Brandon, how 'bout a Retrospective Thank You?

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):



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.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Transaction Tuesday: Ventura, Winkler, Wright, Ramos

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.