Monday, June 26, 2017

Monday Roundup: Big Flies Lead to Big Week

A full slate of games last week as the Braves welcomed both the Giants and Brewers to town. Let's dive in.

June 19, 9-0 WIN vs. Giants
Mr. Ryan Cothran recently pointed out how R.A. Dickey's splits-by-month improve once the temperatures warm up. Last Monday, he made Cothran look really good with seven masterful frames. He yielded just three hits and walked one while striking out a half-dozen. The game was a close one heading into the eighth, but things got nutty as the Giants' pen imploded. Danny Santana had the big knock of the frame with a three-run pinch-hit homer that may still be in orbit. Matt Adams also hit a homer, his 11th, and was one of four Braves to notch multi-hit games.

Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
June 20, 6-3 LOSS vs. Giants
Like the previous day, the eighth inning saw a lot of action. Unfortunately, it wasn't the kind of action the Braves needed to see. Julio Teheran had breezed through seven innings before a Dansby Swanson error on what should have been a double play was immediately followed by a three-run home run. After another hit and a sacrifice, Ian Krol entered and another two errors (charged to Krol and Adams) helped to pad the Giants' lead. Atlanta got one back in the bottom half on a Matt Kemp ground-rule double, but the Braves couldn't scratch across any more runs across. Johan Camargo finished a homer short of the cycle.

June 21, 5-3 WIN vs. Giants (11 ING)
With former Brave Cory Gearrin on the mound, Matt Kemp delivered a two-run homer in the eleventh as the Braves won in walk-off fashion. The homer provided some solace for the Braves after wasting a 3-1 lead in the late innings. It was Jim Johnson's fifth blown save of the year when he surrendered a Hunter Pence game-tying solo bomb in the ninth. Atlanta won despite only managing seven hits because three of them went screaming toward the stands. In addition to Kemp's 12th homer, Matt Adams hit his 12th as well and Tyler Flowers smacked his sixth. Sean Newcomb's third start was solid. He scattered three hits, including a RBI triple which was the only blemish on his record. He walked just one and K'd a trio.

June 22, 12-11 WIN vs. Giants
A wild one was played after a nearly 90-minute rain delay to begin the night. Jaime Garcia got lit up to the tune of a half-dozen runs over 4.1 innings. Still, a crazy fifth inning gave the Braves just enough offense to win this one. Down 6-4, Brandon Phillips smacked the first pitch he saw of the frame for a homer. After a pair of singles chased Giants starter, Matt Cain, Matt Adams brought home a run on another single to tie it. The theme continued with a go-ahead RBI single by Kurt Suzuki. Johan Camargo made the first out of the inning count with a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded before Lane Adams gave the Braves their second pinch-hit three-run homer of the week. It was Adams' first homer of his major league career. Danny Santana, who entered as a pinch-runner for Matt Kemp earlier in the inning, finished the scoring with a RBI single to plate Phillips (who had walked in his second PA of the inning). All told, the Braves scored eight runs and sent 13 batters to the plate. It was nearly not enough as the Giants fought back to score three off Ian Krol (a costly Lane Adams error led to two of those runs being unearned) and added two more runs off Jim Johnson, but the Braves closer finished the game with his 14th save. The long night was even harder on the Giants, who had a game the next day at home. The rain delay kept the game from starting until 9:01 and it ended around 12:30 AM. They left the park about 90 minutes later and hopped a cross-country plane. Jet-lagged and exhausted, the Giants would lose to the Mets the next evening, 11-4.

June 23, 5-4 WIN vs Brewers
Braves built a pair of three-run leads but had to hold on for a one-run win without their closer available in this one. Mike Foltynewicz was good, though had some big-pitch innings. He finished with 9 K's in just 5 innings and only one run allowed. He walked three and threw 104 pitches. The Brewers scored a run off Sam Freeman and added two more against Jose Ramirez before Arodys Vizcaino pitched around a leadoff double for his first save of the year. The defense played a big role in the final two frames. With runners on first-and-second and only one out in a one-run ballgame, Jesus Aguilar rocketed a ball toward third where Johan Camargo fielded it cleanly and quickly got the ball over to second. Brandon Phillips turned a flawless double play from there to end the threat. In the ninth, following the leadoff double, Dansby Swanson ranged to his right to field a grounder and didn't hesitate on a strong throw to third to cut down the leading runner. The next Brewers hitter smacked a long fly ball that would have scored the runner. Swanson also caught a dying liner to end the game. Brandon Phillips homered for the second consecutive game, a solo bomb in the first. He added a RBI double later in the game to spearhead the Braves' attack.

June 24, 3-1 WIN vs. Brewers
Stay hot, R.A. Dickey. The knuckleballer tossed seven superb innings and the bullpen had an uneventful night for a change. Brandon Phillips did it again, homering for the third consecutive night. His two-run bomb broke a 1-1 tie and was all the edge Atlanta and Dickey would need. The first inning was a weird frame. It included a questionable balk call and an ejection of Milwaukee Brewers utility man, Nick Franklin, for arguing that the Braves were given too much time to decide whether or not to challenge a play. They ultimately didn't, but it still meant Franklin had an early night even though he wasn't playing. In all of the chaos, there was the Brewers only run, which scored on a bases-loaded fielder's choice. Atlanta would tie it in the first on a two-out single by Tyler Flowers. The Braves catcher was down 0-2 against Matt Garza, but worked the count full before rocketing a single through the infield to plate Phillips.

June 25, 7-0 LOSS vs. Brewers
Julio Teheran didn't have to wait long for his day to implode like he did earlier in the week. He retired just nine batters and was charged with all seven runs. He walked two and K'd three during his short day. Luke Jackson allowed one of those runs to score after he inherited it, but that was the only bad thing anyone could have said about Jackson's outing. He went four shutout innings, scattering two hits, and striking out four. He didn't walk a batter. Ender Inciarte had two of Atlanta's five total hits - all singles.

This Week's Record: 5-2
Season Record: 36-39, 2nd Place in the NL East, 9 GB

Minor League Week in Review (Briefly)
Gwinnett: 3-3...38-36, 2nd Place in the South, 7.5 GB
Mississippi: 2-2...2-2, 2nd Place in South (2nd Half), 1 GB
Florida: 2-4...2-2, 3rd Place in North (2nd Half), 1 GB
Rome: 2-2...2-2, 2nd Place in Southern (2nd Half), 1 GB
Danville: 2-2...2-2, 3rd Place in East, 1 GB
GCL: Opens play this week
DSL: 3-3...8-10, 7th Place in Northwest, 2.5 GB

Three Last Things
1) Things Are About to Get Tough

Sunday marked the 24th game of June. Atlanta has done well with a 14-10 record. All but six of those games came at home via a quirk in the schedule. Further, only a half-dozen of those games came against teams with a .500 or better record. That will change soon.

Following an off day today, Atlanta heads out west for six in California with the Padres and A's. Then comes a buzzsaw that includes 2 vs. HOU, 4 @ DC, 3 vs. ARZ, 3 vs. CHC, 4 @ LAD, and 3 @ ARZ. The Braves will finish July with four games in Philly. As they arrive in the City of Brotherly Love, we'll know a lot more about this team. To this point, only 20 games total have come against teams with a .500 or better record (they're 9-11). In July, they are scheduled to have 19 games against those kind of teams. They'll also play 21 games on the road between now and the trading deadline and are 16-19 on the road this season. For reference, the four-game set in Washington comes right before the All-Star Break.

Some people are buying in. They believe the Braves are better than advertised and will surprise some people. If they are right, July has to be just as impressive as June despite a much tougher slate of games. If you want the Braves to be buyers, they need to continue their recent success against the Astros, Nationals, Diamondbacks and so on. They'll need more games like Friday and Saturday when they took down an impressive Brewers club, and fewer games like Sunday, when their "ace" was blasted for seven runs.

2) Jose Ramirez is Finding Out Regression is Tough

Despite being one of the most trustworthy arms in the pen this year, many were slow to buy in on Jose Ramirez as a true asset. Those that waved off the bandwagon over-and-over may have made that right call. Over his last 14 games, Ramirez has allowed eight runs in 10.1 ING, blown two saves, and walked ten compared to just seven strikeouts. He's also allowed two homeruns.

But we had to see this coming, no? His xFIP heading into June was above 4.00 despite strong WHIP numbers. The belief was that he had been very lucky to this point with a super-low BABIP helping to hide some of the warts. In June, those warts have come out in full force with a 9.02 FIP/7.84 xFIP. While short sample size concerns negate too much value being placed on those numbers, Ramirez has struggled considerably with his control and after some early-season success in inducing weak contact, he is no longer able to rely on that.

Ramirez needs to adjust quickly. He's walked a batter in each of his last seven games, which resembles the guy who was cast to the minors during the first few games of the 2016 season.

Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
3) Oh, Julio

I've always been a big fan of Julio Teheran. Back in 2010, when he climbed from Rome to Mississippi, I was anxious to see him dominate in the majors. I even stayed positive during his iffy 2012 campaign where he struggled as the Braves tinkered with his delivery. And I was rewarded for my patience with four seasons and a solid major league pitcher.

Sure, he wasn't an "ace," but he was still very good. His 9.9 fWAR between 2013 and 2016 ranked 35th in the game. He was a durable second starter who simply needed an ace to team with. The Braves were never able to find that, of course, as they cycled through Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, and Shelby Miller. Nevertheless, if you are rebuilding and putting a focus on starting pitching, the reasonable belief is that one of those flamethrowing kids would take the ace mantle and run with it. That would push Teheran back and the Braves could roll with a solid rotation.

But...this season happened.

I don't really know what is wrong with Teheran. There's nothing in his release point or movement that really stands out. His frequency of using one pitch over another is not too far removed from last year, though I've never understood why he stopped featuring his curveball as much after 2014. His velocity is about where you expect it to be and he can still reach back and hit 96 mph when he wants to. If you ignored the actual results on the field and just scoured the pitch data, you wouldn't come away thinking anything was too out of the ordinary. But nobody pays a pitcher for a consistent release point or velocity. They pay them to take those things and turn them into positive results and right now, there simply is none to speak of for Teheran.

And it's really difficult to understand why his numbers are just so awful. The strike% is right there. His first-strike percentage, the pitch we are told is so important, is at a career-high. About a quarter of his strikeouts end in the backwards K, a career-high. He's pitching ahead as frequently as ever with only 31% of his matchups ending with the batter ahead in the count (right in tune with his career).

Perhaps he's hurt. Perhaps he's in his head. Perhaps he's throwing rather than pitching. Perhaps the dismissal of Roger McDowell has had an effect. Perhaps it's mechanical. Perhaps SunTrust Park just doesn't work for him.

Whatever the case may be, the Braves aren't going very far this year with this version of Teheran. And it's just damn ugly to watch.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Random Prospect Sunday - Chad Sobotka

Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
In what would become Frank Wren's final draft with the Atlanta Braves, the team went pitcher-heavy early with college arms. They took the freakishly tall Max Povse in the third round and in the fifth round, landed productive Miami Hurricanes lefty Chris Diaz. Between those picks, with the 133rd overall selection, the Braves went with a righty from the small University of South Carolina Upstate, Chad Sobotka. A year later, the Braves would make a similar selection - though with much higher expectations - when they picked A.J. Minter. Both pitchers were coming off significant injuries, but each had the potential to be big bullpen players for future Braves' teams.

Born July 10, 1993, Sobotka was raised in Sarasota, Florida, where he attended Riverview High School. After not receiving much of a look coming out of high school, he landed with the Spartans under Matt Fincher. The righty quickly impressed with plus-velocity and a pretty good idea of where the ball was headed - especially for a freshman - and became the team's closer. In 25 games, the youngest pitcher on the team notched 12 saves with a 1.74 ERA and over a strikeout an inning. The following season wasn't as impressive as he ran into a few control issues, but he still saved seven more games. That may not seem like a lot, but after just two years on campus, Sobotka was one save away from tying the school record.

After his sophomore season, Sobotka went to the Cape Cod League and impressed scouts with his power. He returned to campus with hopes for another big year and possibly a saves record, but a stress fracture in his back put him on the mend. He would miss his entire junior season. That didn't stop the Braves from using the 133rd overall pick on him, though, and unlike many Wren-era picks, this was not a safe selection nor a pick the Braves failed to get good value on. The injury concerns alone were an issue for the Braves, but the value on drafting Sobotka was solid with Baseball America attached a 115th overall ranking for the righty while Keith Law ranked him the 66th best prospect coming into the draft. Sobotka remains the highest-selected player from South Carolina Upstate.

Sobotka would only rehab during his first professional season. When 2015 hit, the then-21 year-old opened the season in Rome. He was given extensive work as a starter with little success. The belief among fans wasn't that the Braves felt Sobotka was a starting prospect, but were trying to give him innings in an easy-to-regulate manner. His first taste of professional ball was interrupted twice by DL stints - one two games into the season and the other coming in mid-June. That one put him on the shelf for two months. Overall, including three rehab games with GCL and Danville, Sobotka's first season was a disappointment. He appeared 15 times with a 6.32 ERA with as many walks as strikeouts (22).

But that wasn't disheartening. After all, Sobotka was able to stay healthy enough to log 37 innings. That was 37 more than the previous year. When 2016 came, Sobotka was given a return assignment with Rome. The season got off to a rough start as he left his first outing after just three batters with an injury that would keep him out a month. Returning in May, his put up seven consecutive scoreless appearances and ten innings in total before getting off to a poor start in June. He was able to turn the corner for a pair of outings in the final few days of the month where he K'd 5 batters in three innings. He earned his promotion to Carolina where he would pitch wonderfully. He had one iffy game in which he gave up three runs, but outside of that, he was nearly untouchable. His control, which wavered from time-to-time in Rome, was spot-on in Carolina (three walks in 17.2 ING). He even clinched his first three professional saves and after two months in Carolina, Sobotka was promoted to Mississippi. He pitched twice there with a pair of perfect frames and stayed with the team for the playoff run, where he tossed 5.1 scoreless innings.

A lot was hoped for in regards to Sobotka as 2017 opened. He was one of many relief arms looking to open some eyes and push their way into the major league picture, but this season just hasn't gone his way. He's been scored on in just over half of his 18 appearances with Mississippi and over his final eleven games in Double-A, things got really bad. He allowed 17 runs in 16.2 innings with more walks (12) than strikeouts). His last three were especially ugly. He retired just nine batters while allowing seven runs to score. His struggles came to a head on Friday when he was demoted to Florida. His first outing there was a good one. He gave up a single, but struck out two over one inning.

Sobotka throws out of a high 3/4's delivery and definitely has the velocity to be a power reliever with a mid-90's heat. He throws both a two-seam and four-seam fastball with the latter allowing him to uncover some added velocity and the ability to pitch up-in-the-zone. However, his bread-and-butter is a two-seam fastball that while it doesn't have a lot of movement on it, because of his height (6'6") and high release, the ball has the impression of some good sink on it. The slider, which is featured on the GIF to the side from a game a week ago, seems to drop off the cliff as it reaches the batter when he's on. When he's not, it gets very flat. Sobotka also has a changeup from his starter days, but most of the time, he's humming fastballs into the zone to set up the slider.

The big righty lacks the press that his current teammate A.J. Minter has. Both had similar beginnings with the Braves, but Minter has higher grades. Just the same, Sobotka has a good chance to rise in this system. He's got the arsenal to develop into a high-leverage reliever. All it will come down to is consistency in his delivery, trusting his stuff, and maybe most importantly - staying on the mound. If he can do that, he'll be back on track and moving up the system.

More Random Prospects
Randy Venutura (6/4/17)
Evan Phillips (5/28/17)
Kevin Josephina (5/14/17)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Few Braves Notes

The Atlanta Braves were in a rain delay so I wanted to get a few random notes out to you guys and both come courtesy of Braves Option Guy. You know, BOG - the one guy ALL Braves fans follow. Or should, at least.

Today, the Braves optioned Rio Ruiz back to Gwinnett and brought Jace Peterson back. Ruiz has received an extended stay in the majors due to an Adonis Garcia injury (and re-injury), but has struggled to take advantage of what playing time he was getting. As he heads back to the minors, Ruiz is hitting a paltry .175/.264/.288 with three doubles, two homeruns, nine walks, and 25 strikeouts in 91 PA.

With Johan Camargo hitting well, Ruiz was limited to mostly bench work and that's not a positive for a 23 year-old who could still be a decent platoon hitter in the majors. Enter Peterson, who went to the minors earlier this month after hitting a paltry .194/.293/.259 in 123 PA with the Braves. Yes, I know I used paltry twice. Peterson raked in Gwinnett over 17 games, slashing a non-paltry .338/.450/.477 over 80 PA.

The reason I bring this up rather than wait until the next Transaction Tuesday is that the Braves could have avoided using an option this season on Peterson. He logged exactly 20 days with Gwinnett following his demotion, according to BOG. If an optioned player spends less than 20 days in the minors during a given season, the "option" won't actually be counted as an "option." Like BOG, I try to keep track of player options (though not as well as BOG) via this page and occasionally, I'll put a (p) next to a year indicating an option is pending. Peterson's pending option became an actual option as of yesterday. As it is his third option, he'll no longer have options after this season. Either the Braves lost track of that or simply do not care. I'm betting the latter.

In addition, BOG keeps track of draft signees. You can see his work to the right as of June 22. What I want you to focus on is the signing bonuses. This is one of those things that not all fans realize. From rounds 1-10, 100% of the signing bonus is counted. This is why the Braves inked so many players to - yes - paltry sums after the fourth round. Atlanta spent 87% of their available pool money to sign their first three picks after all.

While Bruce Zimmerman's signing bonus has yet to be announced - the same applies to many of the picks after the tenth round - we do know that the Braves spent $17K on rounds six thru ten. All 100% of that will be applied to the pool of money the Braves are allowed to spend to sign draft picks. But look at the eleventh round pick, Drew Lugbauer. The Braves gave him a $125,100 bonus - well over a hundred grand more than they gave the five draft choices before him combined!

This is because of a rule that only the money spent over $125,000 after the tenth round counts toward the draft pool. So, while the Braves gave Lugbauer a big bonus, only $100 goes toward the draft pool.

That, my friends, is called working the system and the Braves are better at that than most teams. Since dispatching Frank Wren, John Hart and John Coppolella have focused heavily on quality. They saw in Kyle Wright and Drew Waters, a pair of players that could be impact prospects. Now, the problem with that approach is the whole putting all of your eggs in one basket. If those two fail, the draft looks bad. The good thing, though, is that ceiling of both players are sky high. You can draft ten Todd Cunningham-type players and you'll have good luck that they'll make it to the majors. What you won't have is an impact player.

Walk-Off Talk 1.5: Finding A Partner (Part 2)

(Previously...on Walk-Off Talk...Ryan and I tried to find some interested teams for the two most valuable soon-to-be free agents on the Braves, Jaime Garcia and Brandon Phillips. Today, we look at four more pending free agent assets who don't have markets that aren't nearly as robust. Events occur in real time.)

Ryan,

@JMotte30
Last year, John Coppolella turned Hunter Cervenka into Michael Mader and Anfernee Seymour so we know the guy can find quality players for a reliever, but Jason Motte isn't Cervenka. He's not left-handed, he's not 26, and he doesn't carry a half-decade of team control. Is it even worth talking about Motte as a tradeable asset?

To be fair, Motte has been a nice find. He's kept his ERA around 2.00, picked up three holds, and stranded 11 of 15 runners he's inherited. But there are some issues here and that's not only related to the fact he turns 35 today. One, he's been about as lucky as a pitcher can be. The guy has an ERA nearly four runs under what his FIP is at. He's found a way to carry a negative WAR with a 2.14 ERA, which should be impossible. He has a 100% LOB%. His BABIP is a hyper-low .179.

Motte's going to crash and he's going to crash quick. And none of the numbers I cited are secret. While some teams are more stats-savvy than others, it's hard for me to accept that anyone thinks Motte has pitched as well as his ERA states. While we could certainly talk about some teams who are need of relief help, I see Motte more likely to be an added piece in deals involving Jaime Garcia or Brandon Phillips (or others we'll talk about later). Similar to how Jim Johnson was basically attached to the Hector Olivera (CHANGE TO He Who Must Not Be Named) deal. Am I wrong? Do you think there are teams that are going to actually target Motte?

------------------------------------------------------------------

Tommy,

No. Next?  Just kidding. I think you’re spot on when it comes to Motte as he’ll be a guy that gets attached to another player, if at all! He’s someone that the Braves fans should appreciate this year as he’s been brought in the midst of madness with runners galore and has stranded 11 of 15. Forget that some balls are hit so hard that they nearly take off the infielders’ gloves right before they double up the guy running back to 2nd, that’s a pretty remarkable feat. Velcro him to someone and let’s get another young flamethrower up here.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Ryan,

I think we will also have similar reactions to the next two players - R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon. Let's address the knuckleballer first. He is coming off possibly his best start as a Brave where he tossed seven quality innings against the Giants. I say it was possibly his best start because eleven days before that, he had a Game Score v. 2.0 of 82 against the Phillies, which slightly edges the 81 he put up against San Francisco. Unfortunately, those starts were sandwiched around an eight-run, three-homer affair against the Nats. Since the beginning of 2013, Dickey has a FIP of 4.68 and it's only getting higher.

The righty does carry a - relatively speaking - affordable $8M club option for 2018, but will anyone bite on Dickey (ouch)? It seems hard for me to find a match. Maybe a team like the Red Sox who like the versatility of having a knuckleballer who can serve as a swingman? They lost Steven Wright after all and kept Tim Wakefield around despite some gross numbers toward the end of his career. That's about all I can come up with at this point. A few more games like last weekend, though, and things could change in a hurry.

As for Colon, I know you are going to suggest the Mets and honestly, it's the only option I see as well. Though, I kind of look at it like Julio Franco in reverse. The ageless one left the Braves for the Mets and really struggled in '07. They released him in mid-July and three days later, the Braves added him for the remainder of the season. I see the Mets maybe pouncing on Colon (ouch?) should the Braves cut him, but hard for me to see them giving the Braves anything - even a non-prospect.

And by the way, I think I'm being optimistic here in including two teams that might have any interest whatsoever at this point in either Dickey or Colon.

-------------------------

Tommy,

Let’s talk about R.A. Dickey and the history of his knuckleball: it gets better with the age of a season. For his career, his ERA during months of March/April is over 5. In May, 4.41. From there?

  • June- 3.50
  • July- 4.14
  • August- 3.89
  • September/Oct- 3.45

If there’s a team that knows this about Dickey, he could most definitely be looked at as an innings eater that could keep them in the game. However, that doesn’t negate the current numbers and that his ERA is 4.91. I like your idea about the Red Sox and there could be a match there, but aside from some salary relief, I don’t think there’s reason to discuss return at this point as it likely will be a player of little to no impact.

As for Bartolo, I think it’s Mets or bust, and if the Mets have an underperforming player they’d like to give the Braves in return for Bartolo, that’d be fine with me. On Twitter a few weeks back, I suggested a Bartolo for Josh Smoker deal. Smoker would have to be inserted on the 40-man, but he’s a LH flamethrower that’s finding success in the minors, but hasn’t translated to the bigs yet. Send Mets Bartolo, pay all but 1MM of his salary, and get a lottery ticket in return.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ryan,

Smoker? I hardly knew her.

Sorry. I mean, I’ll take any assets as I can for Colon as long as it doesn’t add to the financial bottom line, though I have to admit that I don’t have a lot of faith there is much chance of a deal.

Keith Allison (CC by 2.0) via Wikipedia Commons
Moving on to the Braves’ final one-year contract, let’s look at Kurt Suzuki. Back when the Braves signed Suzuki, I was a little disappointed. I didn't see the point in handing over the backup catcher gig to Suzuki over going with an open competition between Anthony Recker and a cast of thousands. So far, though, Suzuki has been pretty darn impressive. I'll take a wRC+ of 91 out of a backup catcher especially when he's ninth in the league in outside-of-the-zone strike percentage according to Statcorner.com.

It wouldn't be the worst thing to bring him back for 2018 depending on how he finishes this season, but if another team is looking for stability behind the plate and is willing to serve up a prospect or two, I'm definitely going to consider things.

  • Arizona - The Diamondbacks have the worst fWAR among their catchers in the majors. Chris Iannetta and Jeff Mathis are both underperforming veterans, though Iannetta has mashed eight homers. Finally, there is Chris Hermann, who hit well last year, but has returned to the third catcher status that followed his career in Minnesota. Both Iannetta and Mathis score well in pitch framing, though Hermann does not. I imagine the Diamondbacks would be more interested in a better solution than Suzuki, but the market is thin and Suzuki might be one of their best options should they seek an improvement.
      
  • Toronto - Russell Martin has underperformed, but Suzuki would not steal his playing time. Rather, this is about depth. Toronto started the season with our old friend Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate as the backup, but after he managed just a single in 26 PA (with 16 strikeouts!), the Jays moved on to Luke Maile, a 26 year-old in his third year who has hit .185/.211/.292 over 245 PA. The Jays could definitely use some help here.
      
  • Cleveland - Roberto Perez was a bit of a postseason name, but he's hit just .159/.235/.216 this season. Yan Gomez isn't exactly lighting it up, either. Both do provide good defense and Perez is a particularly gifted framer. They don't seem like a good match on paper, but they might be interested in adding some depth.
     
  • Washington - Matt Wieters' great start is a distant memory. He's reached 0.0 fWAR and nobody is talking anymore about how the Braves should have got him. Jose Lobaton, his backup, is a great receiver, but with Wieters cooling, might the Nats be interested in a better bat behind him? 

On one hand, the market isn't huge for Suzuki, though you could make an argument that half (if not more) of the league could use a better backup catcher and Suzuki is one of the better ones in baseball this season at providing just that. Do you think there might be abother player here I haven't listed?

----------------------------------------------

Thanks for asking, Tommy.

While I’ve had a few others that on the surface look like matches for Suzuki (Angels, Red Sox, Rockies), I think you’ve covered the main players. However….

I think the team that really could use Suzuki is a team you’ve discussed, and that is the Diamondbacks. They’re having a pretty good year and could use a fresh veteran presence behind the plate. There’s a LHP out of Vandy in their system that isn’t putting up great numbers at AA despite having great strikeout numbers: Jared Miller. He’s the perfect kind of upside for the Braves to take a risk on and he’s performing poorly enough to where the Diamondbacks would trade him.

But let it be known, I want to see the Braves extend Suzuki. I was of the same opinion as you when he was first signed, but his value as a backup to Tyler has been...well...valuable. I like 2 veteran guys catching our young guys going forward and I’d like to see these 2 back behind the dish in 2018. Obviously, the Braves could do both, trade him then re-sign him in the offseason, and that would be the best of both worlds as long as Suzuki is cool with it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Transaction Tuesday: Brothers, Albies, Winkler, and Four Releases

Busy week in moves for the minor league system, but the big league club was pretty quiet outside of that whole draft thing (for our review, click here). A pitcher goes on a rehab assignment while another gets his first shot in Gwinnett as he looks to return to the majors. Also, four players were officially released this week, including a recent third round pick. All this and more as I recap this week's transactions.

A note on this report - moves referenced today took place between June 13 and June 19. I no longer refer to Taxi Squad, but extended spring training which is what sending a player to Danville technically refers to this early in the year. Many of them don't actually head to extended spring, though. Prospect Numbers are derived from my preseason Top 50.

Atlanta
Outside of signing draft choices like Kyle Wright and Drew Waters, none.

Gwinnett
Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
Promoted from Mississippi: Rex Brothers...Afer ten fairly dominant outings in Mississippi (18 K's in 9.2 ING), Brothers is closing in on another shot at the majors. He appeared in his first game with Gwinnett on Monday after replacing Kris Medlen in the sixth with one out and pair of runners on. He allowed one run to score on an infield single but ended the inning by inducing a double play. Brothers hasn't been good in the bigs since 2013, but the Braves are likely going to see about giving him a chance to rediscover his former magic fairly soon.

Activated: Ozzie Albies (#3)...After a short trip to the DL, Albies returned in full force last Tuesday with a two-hit game. He followed that up with multi-hit games in three of his next six games. Overall, he's 11-for-34 since his activation (.344) with six extra-base hits. He was also turning his season around before the DL trip. Over his last 33 games, going back to May 8, Albies has slashed .297/.358/.471 with 7 doubles, 4 triples, and 3 HR. Reports of his demise as an elite prospect were greatly exaggerated.

DL'd: Caleb Dirks (#34)...Dirks showed up last week in the temporary inactive list. After three days off (I assume for paternity, but not sure), Dirks appeared once on the 14th and tossed a scoreless frame with a walk and two K's. The outing gave him a 3.06 ERA over 35.1 ING with 42 Ks. I don't know why he hit the DL, but hopefully, it's not too serious and he'll be back in action before too long. Dirks has earned a great deal of consideration should the big league squad need an arm in the pen.

DL'd: Emerson Landoni...This is the fourth time Landoni has landed on the DL this year. He's only played in nine games overall. This seems more like a misuse of the DL, which the Braves often do with Braeden Schlehuber.

Mississippi
Promoted from Florida: Jonathan Morales (#42)...He blitzed the Gulf Coast League in 2015 and held his own in the SALLY League last year while sharing catching duties. A lot was hoped for when he arrived in Florida, but he hit just .253/.300/.304 over 209 PA with only six extra base hits. So, why did he get promoted? Because sometimes, you can have too many catchers. Morales probably isn't going to be better off in Double-A where he'll face even tougher pitchers, but he got the short end of the stick here with the Braves having four legitimate prospects at their two Class-A squads.

Promoted from Florida: Omar Obregon...Obregon came into 2016 looking like he might develop into something of a prospect. He hit .274 in 2015 with a .336 OBP and 31 steals while playing all over the infield. However, injuries and a stagnant bat have left him to stick in High-A over the last two years. This is his first shot to play in Double-A and he really didn't earn it so much as he's being given a chance to replace some older utility types.

Released: Reed Harper...A 25th rounder out of Austin Peay all the way back in 2013, Harper has never been able to hit. Over 1104 PA, he has a career OBP of .294 - which is shockingly better than his SLG. He was a utility guy who was on borrowed time as better prospects shuffle through the system.

Released: Levi Hyams...I recently likened Riley Delgado, drafted last week, to Levi Hyams among others as guys without much of a bat, but who simply go out and get the ball. Well, Hyams will have to do that for someone else now. After nearly 500 games and exactly 1800 PA, Hyams was cut from the organization. A 19th round selection out of the University of Georgia back in 2012, Hyams did a decent enough job getting on base between 2013 and 2015, but his bat completely disappeared the last two seasons spent mostly in Mississippi.

Florida
Promoted from Rome: Alan Rangel...A bit surprising here. Rangel just made it to A-ball after starting the year in extended spring training. He threw 8.2 innings over his two starts and was hit up a good deal (17 hits seems excessive). Rangel was an international signing back in 2014 and looked decent last year in his second go-around with the GCL squad.

Sent on Rehab Assignment to Rome and then Florida: Daniel Winkler...It's been a long road back for Winkler after he fractured his elbow throwing a pitch last April. The 2014 Rule 5 selection had looked really impressive at the time, too. Finally, he began the road back to the majors - or at least forcing the Braves to make a decision - by giving up a run in one inning for Rome last week. Three days later, on Monday, he followed that up by throwing a hitless inning. He's walked a batter in each frame and hasn't struck out anyone, which is mildly surprising for the 2013 Minor League Strikeout Champion (175 K's). Winkler still falls under the Rule 5 rules for another 57 days so when his rehab stint is over, the Braves will have to decide whether to keep him or lose him. He'll likely use the full 30 days - or close to it - available for rehab assignments as the Braves try to make a decision on him.

Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
Activated: Alex Jackson (#21)...Wonderful news as Jackson lost a month of action after being red-hot to open the year with an OPS over .900 and ten homers. Considering he was coming off a career-high 11 homers last year, that was great to see. Jackson has been re-born since the Braves brought him back behind the plate after the Mariners shifted him to the outfield full-time after drafting the California native.

Activated: Wigberto Nevarez...A 20th round pick back in 2014, Nevarez hasn't shown much of a stick since he was drafted (career .259 OBP), but the Braves like him and despite having a lot of catchers in the mix, Nevarez has stuck around.

Assigned to Extended Spring and Brought Back: Tanner Murphy...Playing time has been difficult to come by for Murphy since being promoted from Rome. Minus six days spent "with Danville," Murphy has been with Florida for nearly a month and has played just six times. Murphy finished strong last year with Carolina, but with Jackson, Morales, and others in the picture, catching has suddenly become very crowded.

Demoted to Rome and Promoted to Florida: A.J. Minter (#19)...This happened because Florida was bombarded with rain last week and had nearly an entire series with Daytona canceled To avoid having Minter's schedule altered, the Braves brought him up to Rome where he tossed a scoreless frame while allowing a hit and picking up a K. He quickly returned to the Fire Frogs and appeared in Monday's game to stick with his current schedule. On the year, Minter has appeared four times while striking out eight over four frames.

Rome
Promoted from Danville: Jaret Hellinger...I wondered if Hellinger was going to be a part of the Danville rotation when their season began, but he was promoted back to Rome. The southpaw struggled in six outings for Rome after a mid-May promotion. He started once and overall, he surrendered 14 runs (13 earned) in 12.1 innings with nine walks. Hopefully, his second stint in Rome will go much better.

Danville
Released: Gabe Howell...A 20th rounder last June, Howell hit a buck-50 for the GCL squad last year with a steal. Howell was about to arrive in spring training when he was slapped with a 68-game suspension for testing positive for Hydrochlorothiazide, which sounds exactly how you might think it does. The PED had Howell on thin ice and the Braves decided to move on.

GCL
Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
Released: Anthony Guardado...Sometimes, things just don't work out. Not even ranked by the Minor League Ball Top 400 or MLB.com Top 200 before the 2015 draft, the Braves took Guardado in the third round with the 89th overall selection. They were able to convince him to come to the Braves rather than attend Long Beach State, though they still got Guardado at about a hundred grand under slot. He was coming off a football-related shoulder injury which wiped out most of his senior year of high school. He appeared once in 2015 and eight more times last year (for a total of 8.2 innings), but simply couldn't stay healthy enough to warrant the high selection.

DSL
Signed and Assigned: Brando Hernandez...He came from the east to do battle. His name...is Brando. Actually, I don't know a thing about this signing, but I was a little surprised to see (1) a signing this late in the 2016-17 period and (2) the near-immediate assignment in the DSL. Brando is a bit on the older side at 19 so he must have impressed a scout somewhere.

I again want to give a special shoutout and thanks to Jeff Morris. All three pictures used in this entry come from him and he does a great job attaching faces to the Braves' bevy of prospects. Make sure you follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff.

Walk-Off Talk 1.4: Finding a Partner (Part 1)

Ryan,

We’re back again for the fourth iteration of this well-received series. By well-received, I mean my kids. They can’t read, but they think Daddy is doing a bang-up job.

Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
This week, I want to look at finding trading partners for the Braves involving individual teams. I know John Coppolella doesn’t need our help, but just in case he’s procrastinating, here is some legwork for the Braves’ GM ahead of next month’s trading deadline. Last month, you wrote a pair of articles on this subject (here and here) but I want to focus a bit more this week on where we might trade players.

Let’s start with Jaime Garcia. The lefty has been a mixed bag of late. He's K'd a sweet sixteen batters over his last two starts after just striking out 17 over five April starts. On the other hand, runs have been scoring a bit more against him of late with six runs scored by the Marlins last start. Might be time to push the effort to find a trading partner for Garcia into hyperdrive before he regresses much more. Of course, he might throw a no-hitter next time out. Baseball's weird like that.

Garcia has been the closest thing to a stable starter for the Braves this year and losing him could hurt - especially if you want the Braves to hold out hope for a Wild Card slot. But losing him for nothing at the end of the season seems short-sighted and extending his contract also appears short-sighted considering his career to this point. So, who would be a good trading partner for the Braves with Garcia?
  • Baltimore - Dylan Bundy has been their most consistent starter and his FIP is 4.63. Only the Reds have a worse starting rotation ERA or FIP than the Orioles, but unlike the Reds, the O's are still very much in the race. Further, the three teams ahead of them (Rays, Red Sox, Yankees) have a combined 22-31 record against left-handed starters.
     
  • New York Mets - They can't get healthy in the rotation, but I'm iffy on them getting involved here. While their record is similar to the Braves, people think the Mets are going to be buyers. They might be, but I imagine their front office is going to need to see some improvement between now and the deadline. But even if they get hot, the chances they'll pony up a prospect or two in the division is hard to believe - especially when they aren't even acquiring Kelly Johnson.
     
  • Seattle - The Mariners are slumping of late and are expecting both Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma back, but even with them in the picture, they could use some help. James Paxton is their one starter with a sub-4.50 FIP (that included Hernandez and Iwakuma). Atlanta pulled off two trades with Jerry Dipoto last winter. Could a third be in the works?
     
  • Texas - Similar to the Mariners, the Rangers' pitching staff has issues. It doesn't help that 3/5's of their planned rotation is on the mend, but with them struggling of late, I could see the Rangers trying to grab some rotation help.
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Tommy,

I’d say I’ve been a bit anxious for the Braves to get on with trading Jaime. His health’s always been iffy and his ERA was low-3s prior to the last outing. Still, it’s mid-3s and there are teams that need that. Add that he’s a lefty and we might actually get a decent piece in exchange for him.

The question I always ask myself when discussing a trade is this: Who will the traded piece be replacing? There are some teams where the answer is quite easy, but others it gets murky and those are the type of hypotheticals I stay away from. Now, let it be known that while it seems like a smart thing to do on the surface, some GMs are desperate and will make moves that give the team surplus then deal with the surplus at a later time. With that being said, here’s what I see.

Not Matches:
  • Mets- I don’t think they’ll be calling for Jaime as I don’t think they’re going to make a run this year, but I wouldn’t doubt if they would take Bartolo should Braves pay a chunk of change, meaning nearly all of it. The need to get some positivity back in the clubhouse seems to outweigh the need to win ballgames, and Bartolo outweighs everybody.
     
  • Mariners- Tough call on the M’s, but like you stated, with King Felix and Iwakuma coming back soon, and  likely getting Drew Smyly back in late July, I think the M’s roll with what they have for now.
Matches:
  • Orioles- As you stated, their pitching is a huge dumpster fire and it doesn’t seem helps coming.
     
  • Cubs- While you didn’t talk about the Cubs, they are a  team that I think might be interested in adding Jaime. The reigning World Series champions and their starting pitching, including their big 3, has been pedestrian at best. With the magic of Eddie Butler wearing off, and the Cubs sitting at .500, quality starts are needed NOW!
     
  • Rangers- It’s hard to look for rotation help when the top end is Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels. With Andrew CashnerTyson RossMartin PerezA.J. Griffin and a few others that can fill out the 3-5 spots, I'd imagine they would be looking for a higher-end talent rather than a middle-of-the-rotation component. That said, there might be a deal here.
     
  • Twins- A team that is surprising everyone with a pretty good offense, good defense, decent relief, and absolutely horrid starting pitching. Tasting a bit of success, they might want to find a veteran that can step in and provide some quality innings.
The return? If I’m Coppy, I’m looking for a very specific return. The club’s window for success is vast, but 2018 needs to be a statement. With that in mind, I’m looking for a catcher, 3rd baseman, or even an outfielder to plug in for next year, or in 2019.

Braves Targets from Orioles for Jaime Garcia:
  • Austin Hays- 21 year old RHH outfielder putting up great numbers at High-A and should be getting promoted to AA any day now. Has played all 3 OF positions but mostly CF in 2017.
  • Cedric Mullins- 22 year old outfielder putting up great numbers at AA. Has also played all OF positions but focusing on CF in 2017. Will likely see AAA soon.
  • D.J. Stewart- A former 1st round pick OFer playing at AA. Numbers aren’t as good as Mullins and Hays but has pedigree and could be a buy-low opportunity ala Alex Jackson
  • Chance Sisco- A bat first catcher that’s not hitting entirely great at AAA, but has pedigree and dons BA’s, BP’s, and MLB’s top-100 list. 
Braves Targets from Cubs for Jaime Garcia:
  • Mark Zagunis- RHH corner outfielder putting up good numbers at AAA, albeit in the PCL. Has power, takes a ton of walks, and plays average defense.
  • Jeimer Candelario- Switch hitting third baseman at AAA putting up good numbers with elite defense (also in the PCL). He’s been donned by many MLB scouts and analysts as the guy most in need of a trade.
  • Victor Caratini- Switch-hitting catcher putting up gaudy numbers at AAA, but like Zagunis and Candelario, it comes with the PCL warning. Good defensive catcher that can also moonlight as a 1B.
Braves Targets from Twins for Jaime Garcia:
  • Nick Gordon or bust. They’re not going to trade him and personally, there’s nothing else out of that system that I’d really care to grab as most of their top guys are pitchers and Braves are bursting with them. Sorry, no way Jaime.
Braves Targets from Rangers for Jaime Garcia:
  • Joey Gallo or bust. The Rangers system has thinned out considerably, partly due to dealing with the Braves. Jaime wouldn’t nab Gallo on his own, but Braves could add a piece. With Napoli coming on the last month he’s seemingly blocked at 1B, 3B, and DH through 2018 at least. And since he’s only played 4 innings in outfield, it might be hard to find regular playing time for him. It’s doubtful…but it could happen.
Not counting the Twins or the Rangers because I think those deals are longshots at best, if I had my choice, I’d take Jeimer Candelario first (but it might take an extra piece to acquire him...Sims?).  From there, I’d go Austin Hays then Cedric Mullins.

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Ryan,

Way to rain on my parade. I want another Dipoto/Coppy trade where we send them depth and they give us a top prospect. It’s the new “call Dave Stewart.”

Gallo could be a study in how much the Rangers value the third baseman moving forward and what they might need to deal him. Garcia won't be enough like you said, but it could be the beginning framework of what could turn into a deal.

Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
Moving on, let’s talk about Brandon Phillips. Dat Dude has been dat good with the Braves since finally agreeing on a trade last winter. This week included back-to-back walkoffs and he's been pretty darn hot to boot. His defense has also looked better after declining from 10.4 UZR/150 in 2014 to -2.3 last year. It's sitting at about 3.0 this season. The rest of his stats either show him posting similar stats as 2016 or showing improvement.

The problem is...it's unlikely to continue all season. That's not to say he's trash and I have to condition that because too many Braves fans think reasonable criticism means you're slamming the guy. He's got a good shot at a 2 fWAR season especially if the defense maintains. That's a very good season for Phillips, especially at his age. But in short - he's definitely had his fair share of luck. His BABIP is .338, about forty points over his career average and roughly points higher than his recent two seasons. His batted ball metrics are pretty close to normal so a reasonable expectation is that his numbers fall. Not off the cliff - this isn't a Chris Johnson situation - but similar to Jaime Garcia above, his numbers are a bit unsustainable at his current production.

Phillips lost his 10-5 rights when he was traded to the Braves, but still retains a limited no-trade clause in which he can block a trade to twelve teams. We don't know who those teams might be, but let's hope they aren't contenders this season.

Because Phillips is position-limited, I looked at what teams are getting weak production at second and are in the mix for a playoff spot. The market is really small for Phillips unless a team that may not have a heavy need for him is enamored by the idea of a veteran-savvy bat. Still, I'm going to focus on the teams with a genuine need at second base.
  • Angels - No team is getting worse production out of their second basemen. Heading into Monday night's games, Angels' 2B were hitting .180/.255/.286. Mike Scioscia is even more appalled by the fact that they haven't successfully put a bunt down either. Danny Espinosa, who is an enigma has been Bad Danny this season while Cliff Pennington, his primary backup, isn't exactly known for his bat either. There is a desperate need here and the Angels almost make too much sense as a trading partner.
     
  • Rays - Tampa Bay is doing their best to compete with the Angels for worst second-base situation. Brad Miller and Daniel Robertson have shared most of the at-bats with next to no production between them. Tampa Bay is quietly good once again with a cast of nobodies. I'm not sure if Phillips would want to play down there in that empty abyss they call a ballpark, but like the Angels, the Rays are exactly what the Braves will be looking for in a possible new home for Dat Dude. And not for nothing, but with the Reds picking up much of the tab for Phillips, the always budget-conscious Rays can easily fit him into their picture.
     
  • Rangers - I mentioned them for Garcia and you poopoo'd all over the idea until you got interested in Gallo. You mentioned a possible bigger trade with more pieces. How about Phillips? The Angels are the only team in baseball with a worse OBP from their second basemen than the Rangers. Texas might be hesitant to pull the trigger here with Rougned Odor very much entrenched as the everyday second basemen, but with the team-wide issues the Rangers have at the plate, Phillips could make an appealing target.
What do you think? Is there a good trade here or will the Braves be better off keeping Phillips in the mix?

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Like you stated, this trade could be very difficult factoring in his limited no-trade clause, being limited to 1 position, and that there aren’t many contending teams that have a need for 2b. Also, factor in the part where Brandon would be a full-time problem if he was asked to be a part-time player, and it gets really limited. But he’s practically owed nothing and he’s been great for this club so I’m sure there’s someone out there that could benefit from him, but that creates difficulty as well: the Braves are not going to give him away.  An acquiring team will have to overpay for him.

I agree that the Rangers, Angels, and Rays are getting poor production from their 2nd basemen, but I don’t think the Rangers are in this conversation. Just like when Elvis Andrus struggled a few years back, they just made a big investment in Odor and they’re going to have to give him ABs, and they’re already having a hard time finding ABs for their DH types. Scratch them off the list.

So you’ve covered Angels and Rays, but here are a few others I think could be looking for a 2B upgrade:
  • Blue Jays- Horrible production from their 2-baggers and need desperately to start winning ballgames as their window is closing quickly with a cast of aging veterans.
     
  • Cubs?- I put a ? behind them because Maddon is so creative finding playing time for guys. Yes, Brandon is limited to 2B, but Ian Happ, Javier Baez, and Ben Zobrist have flexibility all over the field. It’s a long shot, but if Cubs were to go after Jaime Garcia, Brandon Phillips could be the extra piece to net a very nice prospect in return.
Pre-cursor: Because BP is only under control for this year and the fact that his market isn’t all that large, he’s not going to bring back an elite prospect so I think a B/B- prospect will be the ceiling return.

Braves Targets from Rays for Brandon Phillips:
  • Ryne Stanek- A flamethrower relief pitcher that tops out at triple digits but has had control issues. 
  • Garrett Whitley- OF, 1st round pick in 2015 that hasn’t lived up to expectations. Has serious speed and hidden pop. 
Braves Targets from Angels for Brandon Phillips
  • Taylor Ward- C that’s not very exciting but comes with some pedigree. Trying to find a real prospect in the Angels farm system is like trying to find a good Cardinals fan.
  • Andrew Heaney- Not a prospect but could be a buy-low guy since he’s recovering from Tommy John. I’ve really liked him in the past and he still has 4 years of control.
Braves Targets from Blue Jays for Brandon Phillips
  • Max Pentecost- C/1B/DH that I’ve been a fan of for quite a while, but man oh man this kid’s been hit with bad luck. Shoulder problems have really limited his time behind the plate and it’s not clear if he’ll ever be a full-time catcher again. Still, he’s a buy-low guy that could pay huge dividends or nothing at all.
  • Anthony Alford- OFer that had an awful MLB debut after being called straight up from AA.  Very toolsy and was in the middle of a breakout season in the minors.
Braves Targets from Cubs for Brandon Phillips
  • *Jeimer Candelario- He was discussed above, and I’d be willing to bet if BP were to go to the Cubs, it’d be in a package deal with Jaime Garcia and maybe even a reliever. In a trade to the Cubs, look for BP to be the cherry on top that lands a good prospect.
What do you think? Who might be a good trading partner for the Braves if they deal Garcia or Phillips? Or are you just tired of trades? Let us know in the comment section.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Walk-Off Talk 1.3: Recapping the Draft

In this new series, Ryan Cothran and I have a back-and-forth as we discuss a subject. It's informal and we hope you guys get something out of it. This week, we focus on the 2017 draft. At times, we’ll agree. Other times, we’ll disagree. Join the conversation and tell us where we are misguided in the comment section.

Kyle Wright's Twitter
Rhyno,

Neither one of us claims to be a draft expert, but you lose all the fans if you don't pretend to know what the hell you are talking about in regards to the draft so here we go.

On Monday, the Braves made Kyle Wright a millionaire provided he signs when they picked him with the fifth overall pick (and it looks like he all but has). This is an intriguing selection to me if only because we are talking about an organization that rarely takes college pitchers this high. They prefer to take the high-ceiling high schooler they can teach "The Braves Way" to rather than go with the more polished starter.

That said...to quote the classic film, Coming to America, that boy good. That boy being, of course, Kyle Wright. He started slowly this season, but he made some adjustments and crushed it from there until running into the juggernaut known as Oregon State. He's a big, strong kid with great, repeatable mechanics and dominated the SEC, which is hardly a league to sneeze at even when we're not talking football. On many draft boards heading into the draft, Wright was either #1 or #2.

Another thing I love is that Wright is the kind of guy who should have gone to college and thankfully, he did. He was a tall, lanky kid when he left for college and now has the strength to rear back and hit 97 mph on the gun. The curve and slider are both plus breaking pitches and lucky for him, he's going to an organization that can teach a good changeup. Not all pitchers are built the same. Some are better off going to college and refining their game without the fear of getting released. Wright fit the bill.

The Braves have had absolutely rotten luck when selecting college pitchers in the first two rounds. Alex Wood and Mike Minor are their best picks and neither has amassed 10 bWAR in their careers to this point. Does Wright have the kind of stuff that you think will change that?

----------------

Tommy,

I love reading Baseball America, MinorLeagueBall, Fangraphs, etc., to see all of the takes before and after the draft. Let’s just say that the experts are dumbfounded that Wright slipped to us as the 5th pick and many are predicting he’ll become the Braves number 2 or 3 prospect right after he’s signed. With a system that is simply bombarded with talent, this is remarkable.  I’ve got a tweett out there that’s getting quite a bit of attention, and while I did tweet it, that’s about all the credit I can take. It’s from a guy named Stu who’s a frequent poster over at Braves Journal. He’s an all things Vandy kind of guy and what he said about Wright really stuck with me:
“He’s really, really, really good. Throws hard, throws strikes — and not usually hittable strikes. Also has two good breaking balls and a changeup that flashes plus. Like I said, in my mind, he’s second only to Price in the likelihood-of-MLB-success department among VU pitchers I’ve watched over the past 15 or so years.”
Now let that sink in. There have been some great arms come from that system and a guy that’s watched him with regularity puts him behind only David Price. So, to answer your question, yes. I’ve been exchanging comments with Stu going on 15 years over at Braves Journal, and he’s been calling ‘em right when it comes to Vandy. So if Stu, BA, Fangraphs, and what seems to be the entire MLB community is on board, the Braves made the Wright move. Geez...I’ll see myself out now.

-------------

Ryan,

Drew Waters' Twitter
I have a feeling the right/Wright puns will be neverending as he pitches for the Braves for the next decade. When I read that Wright could jump over a number of elite prospects and a guy like Keith Law float the idea that Wright may be the best prospect in the system, I got really excited. That’s a testament to both the pitcher he is and the projection left in his right arm.

With the second pick, and #41st overall selection, the Braves went local and took Drew Waters out of Etowah High School...which is just a lot of fun to say. While the first pick was a bit out of the ordinary for the Braves, this one takes me back. A toolsy outfielder from the southeast? It's like John Schuerholz is back in charge. If the Braves can keep the switch-hitting Georgia commit from honoring his scholarship to the Dawgs - and I see no reason to think they won't - Atlanta has themselves an outfielder with five-star potential.

The hit tool is there, the potential power will likely come, and he might have the ability to stick in center field. I got to be honest - the name that keeps screaming out to me as I watch video and read scouting reports in regards to Waters is A.J. Pollock. Now, that might be the best case scenario, but I believe the potential is there for Waters. Hopefully, it's Pollock without the injury concerns.

There are concerns that he won't be able to stick in center field and the power tool has ways to go to be realized, but I love these type of picks. When you have a chance to grab a potential superstar, you take it. The Braves of a few years ago spent far too many high-grade picks on the Todd Cunningham's of the world. This is the type of choice you make.

So, what're your thoughts? Did the Braves make a splash with Waters?

Yeah, I went there.

-----------

Size 13. That’s what I keep hearing about this kid, Tommy.  His frickin’ shoe size. “But why does that matter, Ryan?”  Well I’ll tell you, voice in my head that goes by Randy. This kid isn’t done growing. He’s 6’2 right now and if you look at the correlation between foot size and height, Waters might end up in the 6’4ish range. Point being, a 6’4, 220 pound switch-hitting CFer that transitions to RF after 5-6 years in the bigs sounds dandy. Waters ranked as Baseball America’s number 7 position prospect and for good reason as he’s been donned with the beloved “5-tool talent” label. To put it mildly, take Nick Markakis’s game that he plays. He’s average at everything. Now imagine a guy that has the projectability to be slightly above average at everything. That’s 5 tools, but the best part is if he can continue to provide value from both sides of the plate, it’s like he’s got an extra monkey wrench hidden away in his 5-tool belt. If Waters reaches his ceiling he could be a 3-4 WAR player for a long time with peak years pushing 5-6. Wouldn’t that be swell?

But there’s a downside to Waters and that is some scouts see him as a Drew Stubbs type with tons of athletic ability coinciding with swing and miss potential. There’s no denying that would be disappointing as Stubbs had a decent enough career for 4-5 years, but was more of a burden in his late 20s and has been a roamer since.  However, with an organization that seems to be adopting a philosophy to cut down the strikeouts, I have no doubt that they can turn Waters into wine. There it is again...oh my.

Last point on these 2 guys. When an organization’s farm is as stacked as the Braves is and the pipeline is bursting from Gwinnett to the Dominican, these are the types of drafts that should take place. Take 3-4 guys that could be superstars, then go flier crazy on seniors in college. I liked the strategy and hope to see more of this thinking when it comes to trades at the deadline. Keep reaching for high ceilings. Many will fall, but some will float to the heavens.

-------------------------------------------------------------

Ryan,

Tampa Baseball's Twitter
Couldn’t agree with you more. Like I said, this is the opposite of the Frank Wren-era drafts where the Braves went high-floor and guys who are easier to sign. Their next pick continued that trend. The Braves stayed in the prep ranks for their third round selection, grabbing righty Freddy Tarnok. From what I've seen, he was a bit of a fast-rising prospect who topped out at #170 at Baseball America. In that sense, this could be called a stretch when Tarnok was the #80th overall pick. Of course, that's why the Braves pay their scouting team so much money.

One thing that is very intriguing about Tarnok - beyond his He-Man villain-sounding name - is that he only switched to pitcher from shortstop over the last two years. The switch turned Tarnok into an exciting prospect and led to the University of Tampa offering him a scholarship to take his talents there. You have to believe the Braves have a deal with Tarnok to have taken him this high.

He's got feel on the mound and great velocity that will become more consistent under the tutelage and aid of the Braves' coaching system. Will he be able to develop his curve and changeup enough? Again, you have to believe the Braves think so. This guy is very raw and probably a dream for pitching coaches provided he takes to coaching well. The sky's the limit and coaches have to love the idea of molding a high-projection arm like Tarnok?

This pick lacks the overwhelming excitement of Wright and Waters, but the ceiling is there. Can he reach it? What are your thoughts?

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Using their 3rd pick to grab Tarnok will most definitely be judged by the masses over the course of the next 3-4 years. Braves will either look back and pat everyone on the back for finding talent most looked over, or will be trying to figure out who thought it was a good idea to draft this guy. In the aftermath of Hector Olivera, it came to the public’s knowledge that the Braves scouting team was split on his talents ranging from “Superstar” to “Really? What are they thinking?”

I don’t think that’ll be the case for Tarnok for 2 reasons.  One, I’ve got a feeling that he’s getting a deal way under slot and that’ll help keep the guilt trip down. Two, I think this scouting department is much more in-sync than previous years and drafting Tarnok 3rd wasn’t pulling a rabbit out of a hat.  The Braves LOVE pitchers with athleticism and seeing as though he’s just converted from shortstop, there’s obviously a lot of athleticism there, and only upside from there.

Right now, there’s just not enough info out there that makes me go yay or nay on this one. I’m thrilled to hear he’s topping out at 96 being so young and Braves sure do seem pretty good at developing these guys. I hope it works out.

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Ryan,

The next several rounds of the Braves’ draft were all about saving money. Five of the next seven picks had a few things in common - all were college pitchers, easy to sign, and likely will cost significantly less than the assigned value for the draft pick they were selected. Of Troy Bacon, Bruce Zimmerman, Landon Hughes, John Curtis, and Jacob Belinda, who do you think has the best shot to surpass his pre-draft hype?

Hard for me to not go with Bacon if only because he's the top choice of the group. And I love bacon. He was originally a Florida Gator commit who later transferred to the junior college level. The heater has been clocked at 99 mph and the Braves might even try him as a starter first. The breaking stuff and changeup are both inconsistent but have plus potential.

Even though they are moving into the college ranks, I still see Bacon as one of those high reward guys the Braves are taking a shot on. Even while they are trying to save, save, save money, they are showing the ability to bring in a talent with a decently solid ceiling.

Is Bacon your highest rated selection of the five second-day pitcher selections or would you go with one of the other choices?

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My choice is Bacon, simply for the velocity. Also, he’s a slider/fastball guy from a Community College and the Braves have had pretty good success developing those kinds of guys. However, I don’t think that he’s going to be a rotation guy long term, or for even a full year. We have enough of those guys. I think he keeps with the fastball/slider combo and will be on the fast-paced to the back end of a dominant bullpen. And something I discussed above on Tarnok, Bacon is known for his athleticism and this seems to be something that the Braves covet out of their pitching draft picks. Bacon sizzling out of the pan...I mean pen? I’m all in, baby!

Honestly the other guys I’ve read up on and feel pretty meh about. However, there’s a pretty awesome story out there about Jacob Belinda who was scouted by Gene Kerns who lost a battle to cancer earlier in the year. Kerns was the scout that found Brandon Beachy under a rock. On the surface, Belinda looks like Bridges and the crew honoring a scout that everyone liked, but like Beachy, maybe there’s a diamond in the rough in Belinda.

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Ryan,

That is a wonderful story related to Kerns. He also found Brady Feigl, who looked like a possibility to break camp with the Braves in 2015 before injury removed him from the competition. He was later used in the Luke Jackson trade.

The Braves did draft two more players on Day 2, taking 3B Jordan Rodgers in the sixth round and SS Riley Delgado in the ninth round. Each went to school in Tennessee (Rodgers was a Vol while Delgado went to Middle Tenn. State) and both will be easy to sign as seniors who didn't have a whole lot of buzz before the draft.

Don't see Delgado doing much as a professional. He's going to step in as a senior sign with a lot of experience and, in all likelihood, a reputation for high work ethic and strong clubhouse presence. He'll go get the ball like Marcus Mooney or Levi Hyams before him and that's about it.

Rodgers, though, has some interest. Unlike Delgado, he made into Baseball America's Top 500 at #396 and was the 13th best prospect out of Tennessee (Wright was #1). Speaking of Wright, Rodgers spoiled a win for the Vandy ace by hitting a Grand Slam off the Commodores bullpen back on April 29. Once Rodgers became a starter in his junior year, he showed some pop (ISO around .180) and a decent enough hit tool.

He can move around the diamond a bit and profiles, to me, like a potential corner infielder/outfielder type with platoon potential from the right-side. Do you see that? And am I selling Delgado short?

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Of the 7 we have discussed after Braves first 3 picks, Bacon is the only one that perks me up a bit. If I was forced to pick a 2nd it would be Rodgers, but really I only see a Wes Timmons type of player. What I mean is I see a guy that could stay in the Minors for 5-6 years, maybe get a callup should someone go down with an injury, then spend the real bulk of his career coaching. From everything I’ve read, Rodgers is a guy that’s a team-first dude, will play anywhere, do anything, and that’s the way Timmons was when he played for the Braves minors from 2002-2010. And he was good, but just not next level good.

Outside of Bacon, I just don’t see any potential MLBers here, but I’ve been wrong all the time.

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Ryan,

Wes Timmons. There’s a name. I actually had him turn into a solid bench player for one of my Braves squads in Out of the Park several years back. But I can’t disagree.

I do like Drew Lugbauer a lot, though. As much as you can like an 11th rounder out of Michigan (ugh). Left-hand hitter with pop who might be able to stay at catcher? Where do I sign up? His numbers in college weren't Brett Cumberland-good and he strikes out a good deal, but if the power translates after the switch to wooden bats, I'm a big fan of what the Braves have added. Of course, if he can stay behind the plate, that makes this good as well, but I have to say that I like the idea of a Peter O'Brien type who can be a legitimate catcher (rather than an emergency one) and play first, third, and maybe some outfield.

Granted, O'Brien can't hit...

Well, I mean he can hit, he just doesn't hit the ball all that often. But when he does...

Anywho, another draft choice I really like is Justin Smith. Baseball America gave him a #117th ranking in Florida and he's a JUCO guy who could head back into the draft at a later date, but the kid hit .355/.486/.680 last season. That was enough to get him named the Mid-Florida Conference Player of the Year. I get that it's JUCO level, but that's pretty darn impressive. From the video I've seen, he has a quick, compact swing and plenty of power. When he came out of high school, he was a big prospect (ranked #43 by BA). It didn't work out for him at Miami in 2015, but he came on big last year at St. Johns River State JC.

I don't have a lot of rational reasons to think this, but I believe Smith could be pretty special.

Any guys on the third day that really pop out for you?

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I’m more generally excited that the Braves decided to draft 6 catchers on day 3. Get as many as you can, I say! Sure we have a lot of catchers in our system that could turn into great ballplayers, but both Alex Jackson and Brett Cumberland have defensive questions, Kade Scivicque has offensive questions (although he’s been making good contact for over a year now) and the other guys are just too far away to really know much about them yet. Stocking up on a position that could be troublesome is wise. Of those 6, I really like the profiles of Lugbauer and Hagen Owenby, but leaning more toward Owenby due to the ability to maintain the power with a low K-rate).

Justin Smith sounds exciting as he got a lot of attention coming out of high school by Baseball America as they ranked him 43rd best high school talent and gave him the “5-tool” label. It looks like he’s slowed down a bit, but the bat is still smoking. It’s a big jump from JuCo to the Minors so it’ll be interesting to track him this year.

Of the other picks, I’m going to say that Troy Conyers has caught my eye. Big, thick LHP, of course, already down a Tommy John so it likely let him slip quite a few spots in the draft. He had huge K-rates and can run it in the mid-90s...and I bet it could stay there if he can stay healthy.

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Ryan,

Conyers definitely took a big step in 2017 in returning to form after his 2014 TJS wiped out most of that season and 2015. Seemed to flourish in the closer role. Looks like another potential quick riser from the relief ranks.

Hagen Owenby put up some ridiculous college ranks. It wasn’t Big 10 baseball like Lugbauer, but Owenby was already drafted just last year in the 14th round, which shows to me a lot of interest in him. Going to be fun watching the catcher playing time for Danville and GCL as their seasons start up with so many added prospects and Abrahan Gutierrez, who is a better prospect than any of them, likely to make his debut with one of the rookie squads. And of course, there’s also Jake Taylor. Scouting report on him is mixed, but from what I’ve read, he has great leadership skills but some issues with his ex-wife that might affect him on the field. He enjoys the classics like Moby Dick and has been known to drop a bunt when the defense is looking for him to drive the ball deep. I like this pick a lot. Sadly, looks like he won't be signing.

And that’s the end of the Walk-Off Walk Draft Review. What did we get wrong? Did we get anything right? What choices do you believe could pay off big for the Braves beyond the first three? Let us know in the comments.