Saturday, January 21, 2017

Braves Go Older, Add Boyer and Suzuki

This tweet is pretty fair.
Yes, the roster continues to age as the Braves sign catcher Kurt Suzuki and right-handed reliever Blaine Boyer. The latter was announced a few days ago and is a minor league pact with a spring training invite. Suzuki's contract calls for a base salary of $1.5 million in 2017 with an additional $2.5 million to be earned through yet-to-be-named incentives.

Let's start with Suzuki because that's the bigger deal here - relatively speaking. After maturing in the uber-successful Cal-State Fullerton program, the native Hawaiian was a second-round pick by Oakland in 2004. Three years later, he was in the majors and had a pair of three-win seasons his first two full years with the A's. Since then, he's been in the 1-2 win area while often failing to reach 1 fWAR. In fact, since 2010, Suzuki has a triple slash of.248/.303/.360 with a .292 wOBA and 81 wRC+. Last year, his offensive numbers were pretty in line with that.
Keith Allison (CC by 2.0) via Wikipedia Commons

So, we can hypothesize that Suzuki continues to receive 300+ PA because of his defense, right? Kind of. Of the 24 catchers who have caught at least 2000 innings over the last three years, Suzuki ranks 19th according to Fangraphs' Defensive Component. For reference, Tyler Flowers ranks 22nd and A.J. Pierzynski ranked 23rd. Susuzki's rSB, which seeks to rank a player by how well he controls the running game, is -14 over the last three years - the worst mark of the sample I just cited. On the plus size, he is tied for fourth in rGFP, a stat that is a good sign of athleticism behind home play (the top three are Jonathan Lucroy, Buster Posey, and Welington Castillo). That suggests a catcher who is very capable of making the kind of play pictured to the right.

Pitch-framing wise, Suzuki's been below average in pitch framing since his rookie year according to Statcorner.com. Baseball Prospectus agrees - though has been a bit harsher than Statcorner. It should be said that Suzuki has been amazingly durable throughout his career.

So, if you are like me, you don't really understand this signing based on the information I have provided. On one side, I fully get the argument that Suzuki is likely a better choice than Anthony Recker and Tuffy Gosewisch, who were the current in-house options to play behind Flowers. That's a fair argument to make, too. Gosewisch has a career -0.8 fWAR because he can't hit while Recker's only had the briefest of success in the majors. And the Braves invested very little into Suzuki - who could turn into this year's Emilio Bonifacio. Signed to a similar deal last winter, Bonifacio was still cut with the Braves absorbing his salary at the end of spring training.

Personally, however, it does seem like an unnecessary addition. Suzuki might make the Braves better in 2017, but the difference between him and Recker is so minuscule that it's barely worth mentioning. Further, with Recker's recent success, you could argue that there is the slimmest chance he continues into 2017. The scene from Dumb and Dumber might be playing in your head - "so, you're saying there's a chance?" To be fair, it's not likely that Recker does that. Also in Suzuki's favor is that the team has another veteran capable of taking over full-time should Flowers falter into the mess that was the guy catching for the White Sox. Suzuki won't be much better than that version of Flowers, but is a stabilizing force.

That said, I would have preferred an open competition and a non-roster catcher or two with a chance to push Recker and Gosewisch.

Ken Lund (CC by 2.0) via Flickr
As for Boyer, you really ought to read Travis Sawchik's article at Fangraphs on Boyer. One of the true amazing things about Boyer is how through Statcast, we now are looking at him in a difference light. Boyer, who doesn't strikeout anyone, "allowed the lowest rate of barrels (1.0 percent), on the strength of an average 86.2 mph exit velocity that ranked 11th." What happens now is particularly interesting. How much control does a pitcher have on the quality of contact he allows and is it a skill or just luck based? Boyer might not get an opportunity to give us any sort of answer because he's not promised a spot. Again, this is a simple minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.

With that in mind, Boyer is battling some pretty interesting arms for a spot on this year's roster. He'll need a strong spring training and for whatever it's worth, Boyer has had some ugly limited samples in three of the last four spring training's. You have to imagine that a veteran who relies so much on control and feel would be particularly vulnerable to his spring stats going haywire quickly. Either way, Boyer is unlikely to be a major part of the Braves' 2017 bullpen even after the trade of Shae Simmons.

Both moves are meh in nature. That is to say that neither move will push the needle very much, though the limited commitments won't hurt the Braves any either. That said, adding a 33 year-old catcher and a 35 year-old pitcher during a winter where Atlanta has already picked up a pair of plus-40 pitchers does back up Szymborski's tweet.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Braves Top 50 Prospects, 2017 Preseason: #42-#31

Last week, I began my Top 50 prospects and almost immediately, the Atlanta Braves swung a deal for more prospects. So...thanks for that, John Coppolella.

I kid, but the trade forced me to change my Top 50 to a Top 52 as both players acquired jumped right into the list with one appearing in today's portion. To get me back on track, today's part of the list will be supersized to a dozen. Short of another trade, I'll release ten more next week and ten more the following week before splitting the Top 10 into two parts. I also must apologize for this post being so late. I've been sick the last few days and had trouble wrapping my head around this list. 

When I originally did my Top 50 prospect list, I had Kyle Kinman ranked #38. However, I realized he was actually 26 and I like to keep my prospect lists limited to 25-and-under and players designated as a rookie. With that said, I thought his placement was worth a mention. Lastly, please check out Gondeee's Top 30 Braves prospects that he published this week. As usual, it's a valuable read. 

42. Jonathan Morales, Catcher, 22 years-old, Grade: C 

It wasn't the season many had hoped for with Morales. After blitzing the Gulf Coast Lague (.304/.377/.511) the previous year, Morales jumped to Rome in 2016 and saw a 220 point drop in his OPS. Included was a long stretch of 41 games where he hit .151/.241/.212. That month-plus really impacted his numbers, though even if you take those games out, it was still a far cry from his 2015 run after he was a 25th round pick.

Morales has decent pop and won't strike out much. The flipside of that is he's so aggressive that he's unlikely to take many walks. Offensively, the right-handed hitter needs his hit tool to stand out and it simply did not in 2016. Defensively, though scouting reports aren't high on him, he's had solid metrics and has impressively gunned down half of the 106 baserunners that attempted to steal on him. He also played a little third and had a three-inning cameo in right field, though that was likely more for emergencies.

With the depth behind Morales, he'll be pushed up to Florida in the spring and will need a bounceback season. Obviously, by the fact I ranked him so high, I think he's capable of it. While I don't think his ceiling is nearly as high as other catchers in the system, he is part of a much-improved catching depth that was non-existent two years ago.



41. Steve Janas, RHP, 25 years-old, Grade: C 

Holy groundballs! Janas has maintained a groundball rate in the minors of over 55% during his young career. In nearly 300 innings, he's given up just 14 homers. However, what holds back Janas is that he lacks a true pair of plus pitches or the velocity to push him higher on prospect lists. Nevertheless, this is a results-driven business and the results aren't too shabby for Janas.

Though he won't blow you away with heat, he can hit mid-90's. The downside of doing so is that it makes his fastball straight and easy to both see and pound. As a result, he'll sit in the low-90's with his sinker and cutter. He also has a plus changeup and an inconsistent breaking curveball. Janas was a starter until last season when he got pushed to the bullpen. 

His control and ability to generate groundballs will get him looks and his fearlessness on the mound makes him a wild card. However, the lack the stuff and strikeout ability may limit him to Quad-A filler/organizational depth similar to one of his most common comparable pitchers according to Clay Davenport's projection system - Zeke Spruill. Strangely, both righties went to high school in Marietta. Janas will get a look this spring, but with Josh Collmenter already on the team, Janas is likely going to provide long relief/swingman depth behind a talented Gwinnett rotation.



40. Chad Sobotka, RHP, 23 years-old, Grade: C 

Similar to A.J. Minter, the Braves drafted Sobotka in 2014 knowing that he wouldn't pitch until the next season. As opposed to Tommy John surgery like Minter had, Sobotka was coming back from a stress fracture in his back, which put an ugly end to his collegiate career with the University of South Carolina-Upstate.

His 2015 season was limited to just 37 innings and they were rarely good, but the 6'7" righty bounced back in 2016. His numbers with Rome look poor (4.26 ERA, more hits than innings pitched), but the Braves still liked what they were seeing and promoted him to Carolina. In 13 games there, Sobotka finally started to perform with a 2.04 ERA/1.51 FIP over 17.2 innings. He struck out 24 and walked just three - a far cry from the dozen he walked in just 19 innings with Rome to begin the year. By season's end, he had joined Minter in Mississippi for two appearances.

Sobotka's velocity is good, though not great. However, he gets great movement and his two-seamer can get a good number of grounders. His slider has plus-potential and while he has a changeup, he will mostly work off his fastball/slider. Sobotka could be in the majors sometime in 2017, though with just 75.2 innings as a professional, Atlanta might go slow with him. Either way, Sobotka looks like he has a shot to be a solid righty with high-leverage potential.



39. William Contreras, Catcher, 19 years-old, Grade: C+

Over two seasons, Contreras has shown that he could be capable of being a big sleeper in a system with rapidly improving catcher depth. Just 19 years-old, Contreras signed out of Venezuela and made his debut with the 2015 Dominican Summer League team. His triple slash of .314/.370/.413 was solid enough before you consider his age (17) and position.

Contreras moved up to the Gulf Coast League this year, where he shared time with Ricardo Rodriguez (acquired in the Christian Bethancourt trade) and 26th rounder Alan Crowley. His numbers took a bit of a dive to .264/.346/.375. He displays a quick bat and there is some power projection.

Scouts rave about Contreras's defensive ability behind the plate and how he handles pitchers. I like his offensive potential as well. He's the type of player who could easily have a breakout campaign and jump up this list quickly. While he'll be ticketed for a stop in Danville for 2017, I do hope he plays his way up to Rome, which would further cement his prospect potential.

38. Bradley Roney, RHP, 24 years-old, Grade: C+

For three years, Roney has both excited Braves fans with big K numbers and frustrated Braves management because he often doesn't know where his pitches are going. In 67.2 innings last year in the high levels of the minor leagues, Roney struck out 88 - the most strikeouts by a Braves reliever and tied for 15th in the entire system. That strikeout rate was actually down a tad from 2015. Unfortunately, his walk rate continues to be his Achilles' heel.

In 2016, Roney issued 54 unintentional walks - a rate of about seven every nine innings. His strike percentage was about 6% below the league average. You can't survive for long doing that no matter how good his curve is - and it's really good. It's a major league quality pitch, but without pitching ahead in the count more frequently, hitters can let the curve dart below the strikezone.

Last year at this time, we looked at Mauricio Cabrera in much the same way as Roney. Sure, Cabrera had 100 mph heat and some good secondary stuff, but will he throw strikes? Cabrera was a higher rated talent, but Roney can have a similar impact on the major league roster if he can only throw strikes. No better time than 2017 to start.



37. Thomas Burrows, LHP, 22 years-old, Grade: C+

Acquired last week in the Mallex Smith trade, Burrows was the #117 pick of the 2016 draft. Before that, he became the all-time saves leader at the University of Alabama. It's easy to look over Burrows when the Braves also acquired Luiz Gohara in this deal, but Burrows has a good chance to get to the majors - and soon.

Burrows pitched in the short-season Northwest League after he was drafted and blitzed the circuit with 37 strikeouts in 24.2 innings. That comes out to a third of all batters he faced. He gave up a lot of hits, though a .367 BABIP will do that to you. The walk rate wasn't good, but competent enough to help Burrows earn a 2.88 FIP.

Burrows gets good sinking movement from his low-to-mid 90's heater and his slider improved dramatically in 2016. Lefties have a very difficult time even picking up the ball and that will likely continue to be an asset for the southpaw. Whether he can be a full-inning reliever and high-leverage asset will be something to watch as he moves up the ladder.

36. Connor Lien, OF, 23 years-old, Grade: C+

It was not the season many had hoped for Lien in 2016 - least of all the outfielder himself. In 2015, Lien burst onto the scene with a .285/.347/.415 clip in the pitching-friendly Carolina League with 36 extra-base hits and 34 steals. The season was awarded with a trip to the Arizona Fall League, which is where the video below came from

However, an early season hand injury put Lien on the shelf for over two months in 2016. The 22-year-old also struggled when he was in the field, slashing just .233/.320/.408 with a 33% strikeout rate. On the bright side, he continued to display tremendous defense in center field.

Lien possesses good pop and his defense includes an elite arm and great instincts and range. However, his bat still needs a bit more refining. The plus side is that even with his negatives last year, the .175 ISO and 9% walk rate help to put an optimistic spin on the season. He'll likely repeat Mississippi to begin 2017 and try to trend positive once again.



35. Jesse Biddle, LHP, 25 years-old, Grade: C+

After a lost year to Tommy John surgery, Biddle will be given the chance to return and flourish in 2017. A former top prospect for the Phillies who the Braves acquired from the Pirates after the latter tried to sneak him through waivers. 

I recently wrote a scouting report about Biddle so I would rather not spend too much time rehashing it here so here are the highlights. Biddle is a former Top 100 Prospect who struggles with his release point. If he can find more consistency with it, he can get over his fastball and let the pitch work for him. His curveball has exceptional bite and is his best pitch. 

Biddle will have a shot to compete for a spot in the bigs this spring, but I imagine the Braves see 2017 as a year for Biddle to work on things rather than pressure himself with a big league assignment. A decent spring and a bill of health will allow him to begin the year in Gwinnett. If not, he could start a level lower. Regardless, Biddle could be a sneaky-good move by the Braves front office if he's able to rebound.



34. Caleb Dirks, RHP, 23 years-old, Grade: C+

After a year in the Dodgers' system, Dirks returned last year to the organization that spent a 15th round pick on him back in 2014. Not that it has mattered much to Dirks - he continues to dominate opposing hitters every step of the way.

In 143.1 innings, Dirks has a beautiful 1.32 ERA and an FIP under 3.00. He won't put up ridiculous strikeout numbers - especially for this system, but he's been close to a 30% K-rate regardless. What makes Dirk especially good is his control. He had about a 20% difference between his strikeouts and walks - an elite number worth celebrating.

Dirks doesn't have the best stuff and his velocity won't wow anyone, but he knows how to throw his pitches and hits his spots. Last year, that was especially true because about 43% of his pitches came with Dirks ahead in the count. The average is roughly 6-7% lower. Dirks may lack the ceiling of some relieving prospects the Braves have, but as long as he continues to pitch like he has, he'll have his opportunity to impress.

33. Ricardo Sanchez, LHP, 20 years-old, Grade: C+

Year 2 of Ricardo's time with the Braves was much healthier than his 10-start 2015 campaign, but the results remained underwhelming for the teenager who won't turn 20 until April 11. The last fact gives the Braves hope that 2017 will be the year Sanchez begins to scratch the surface of his talent.

Talent and stuff-wise, Sanchez can excite you on a good day with low 90's heat and a very good curveball. His delivery is smooth and he adds a developing changeup that often can make or break him on any given day depending on his feel for the pitch.

Sanchez is trying to put it all together. He's prone to a big inning and can sometimes lose focus. Undersized, Sanchez can resemble a bulldog when in trouble as he tries to get out of jams. He's a competitor and a strong worker - he just needs to be more consistent. It's hard to get noticed in this system if you weren't a #1 pick, but Sanchez has the stuff to be a sleeper in 2017.




32. Lucas Herbert, Catcher, 20 years-old, Grade: C+

Kolby Allard's catcher in high school, Herbert was picked in the second round of the 2015 draft. Many assumed the Braves were hedging their bets in order to keep Allard from going to college rather than signing. However, I thought the Braves really liked what Herbert brought to the table and felt he was worth the pick. To this point, we haven't seen the results to support that contention.

It's early, yes, and Herbert was aggressively moved to Low-A Rome probably before he was ready. As a result, only 12 of the 367 PA he logged last year came against pitchers younger than him. Herbert struggled last year to find the right stance, the right setup with his hands, the right amount of batting gloves. He seems to me like a batter that really needs to rework much of what he does at the plate. If he can find consistency at the plate, his plus power will be a weapon and could be the difference between a starting and backup role in the majors should he get there.

Defensively, Herbert is a tremendous force behind the plate. He's incredibly athletic and shows great footwork along with great instincts at reading the ball. These skills will give him a chance to stick around even if his bat is still lagging behind, but I do hope the Braves show a bit more patience with him. He clearly did not appear ready for Rome and could use a return assignment. However, with so many catchers now in the system, finding at-bats for all of them is becoming a bit more difficult. Still, Herbert's power and defense are worth an extended look.


31. Ray-Patrick Didder, Outfield, 22 years-old, Grade: C+

The converted infielder had spent three years at rookie ball showing a good idea of the strikezone, but not much else. That changed in 2016 when the now center fielder settled into the position with Rome. In nearly 600 plate appearances, Didder posted a .361 wOBA with the aid of a .387 OBP. He added a .107 ISO to go with 37 steals.

One thing that stands out quickly about Didder is that he trusts his hands enough to crowd the plate. Last year, he was hit 39 times, the most in minor league baseball. While he has great speed, he's still developing an eye for when to steal. Defensively, he's a surprisingly rather good there despite being a middle infielder only a few years ago. He has the range to play center with a strong and accurate arm.

Up until this point, Didder has been about league average in age each year. That might change this year as a strong start with the Fire Frogs could get the 22-year-old promoted to Mississippi by summer. Such a move would cement his place as a strong outfield prospect. Either way, if Didder keeps developing like he did last year, the Braves will be very pleased with the Arubian native.


2017 Walk-Off Walk Top 50 Prospects*
5 Looking In (Honorable Mentions)
#52-43


The Walk-Off Walk Top 52 Prospects (to recap)
52. Jon Kennedy
51. Isranel Wilson
50. Yoeli Lopez
49. Carlos Castro
48. Dilmer Mejia
47. Anfernee Seymour
46. Bryse Wilson
45. Kade Scivicque
44. Yunior Severino
43. Abrahan Gutierrez
42. Jonathan Morales
41. Steve Janas
40. Chad Sobotka
39. William Contreras
38. Bradley Roney
37. Thomas Burrows
36. Connor Lien
35. Jesse Biddle
34. Caleb Dirks
33. Ricardo Sanchez
32. Lucas Herbert
31. Ray-Patrick Didder

*Top 50 was increased to Top 52 after a trade.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Scouting Report - Aaron Blair

Player: Aaron Blair
Date of Scouting Report: 1/16/17

Position: Pitcher
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Age: 25 on 5/26/17
How Acquired: Traded from Arizona (12/15)
Salary: Unknown
Years Before Free Agency: 6
Years Before Arbitration: 3

By Editosaurus (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons
Brief Bio:
The 36th overall selection of the 2013 draft out of Marshall, Blair became a hot prospect after a 2014 campaign that saw him log 154 innings with 171 strikeouts as he climbed from low-A ball to Double-A. He followed it up with a big 2015, though his strikeouts fell as he reached Triple-A. After the season, he was acquired with Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte in the Shelby Miller trade. He would go on to split 2016 between Triple-A and Atlanta, though he wasn't impressive at either spot.

Offensive Observations and Grades:
In three seasons since beginning to pick up the bat again, Blair has just four hits at the minor league level and one in the majors. He does have a minor league homer, though the frequency for turning a minor league plate appearance into a sacrifice bunt is slightly below the average you are looking for (8%-10%). He received 23 PA in the majors last year and struck out 9 times. Two of the three times he attempted a sacrifice bunt, he was successful. He's never attempted a steal and appears to lack athleticism to be anything but a bad base runner.
Ungraded

Pitching Observations and Grades:
From the windup, Blair keeps the ball about waist-high until a high leg kick. During this, Blair keeps the ball well-hidden by cocking his body at an angle. He pitches from the first-base side of the rubber and gets good extension with a high 3/4's delivery. He cuts things down from the stretch and gets the ball to the plate with good speed throughout his delivery. He rarely was ran on by opposing teams in the minors as a result. The two best things about his delivery are the deception he creates to hide the ball and how he effortlessly he repeats his motion. To this point, he's been very durable on the mound.

The Braves either attempted to tweak his mechanics or they were coming a bit out of whack as he was pitching out of a higher release point be season's end. The silvering lining is if it was intentional, it may have helped Blair throw his best major league start on October 1 where he struck out ten compared to one walk.

Blair has a five-pitch mix beginning with both a four-seam and two-seam fastball. Each averaged out at about 91-92 mph with max-speed of about 94 mph. He gets good downward movement from the four-seamer, but struggles to throw the pitch consistently for strikes. He abandoned the two-seam fastball as the season progressed and in the final few months utilized it solely to keep lefties off balance. It helped generate some groundballs, but he also struggled to entice enough hitters to swing at it.

His breaking pitches, the curveball and slider, aren't plus-plus pitches. The curve has little break from a 12-6 drop and averages about 77-79 mph. The slider was not used in the majors until he returned in August and was almost exclusively a weapon against right-handed batters. It averages around 80-81 mph and, like his curve, has not shown much bite.

Blair's best pitch is his changeup, though like his curve, we rarely saw it over his final four starts. At 85-86 mph, there is only about a 6 mph difference from his fastball, but that appears to help it confuse batters. None of Blair's pitches have better siwng-and-miss potential than his changeup, which is why it was confusing he abandoned it.

Grades from a 20-80 Scale...Velocity (55), Movement (55, Control (55)
Potential Grades...Velocity (55), Movement (60), Control (65)

Individual Pitch Grades...Four-Seam Fastball (55), Sinker (50), Curveball (50), Slider (45), Changeup (60)
Potential Individual Pitch Grades...Fastball (60), Sinker (55) Curveball (55), Slider (50), Changeup (65)

Other Grades...Holding Runners (60), Speed to the Plate (60)

Defensive Observations and Grades:
There's not a lot of information related to Blair's defense to this point. While he has a slow follow-through, his finish only takes him to the first base side slightly, which leaves him a bit vulnerable to balls to the third-base side of the mound. That said, he appears to field his position well.
Ungraded

Future Projection:
Blair's 2016 was pretty miserable and not only because his major league numbers underwhelmed. In the minors, he was getting pretty lit up (though his strikeout numbers were fine and his 3.38 FIP indicated future corrections). Worse, his control was as bad as it had ever been with walk rates 2% higher than normal. While he was able to get a number of swinging strikes, his ability to get ahead was very poor and he pitched far too often outside of the strikezone. Only 30% of the pitches he threw in the majors were with him ahead in the count - the average is 36%. Conversely, 22% of his pitches came with Blair behind compared to a 17% average.

These developments were a little new for Blair, who progressed through the minors as a strong strike-rate guy who's sum of pitches is greater than any individual pitch. The Braves tweaked with Blair last year and he'll likely return to Gwinnett in 2016 to continue to work on his issues. He still has some projection, but it's limited to a durable middle-of-the-rotation arm similar to the player Gavin Floyd was expected to be. To get there, he's going to have to hit his spots more frequently and use his changeup better.

Videos


Pre-Draft with Marshall (Baseball America)


2014 with Mobile, Arizona's Double-A team (Fangraphs)


Major League debut (MLB.com)


Final start of 2016 (MLB.com) 

I want to know your opinion/scouting report. Add it below and if it prompts me to alter mine, I'll credit you.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Scouting Report - Jesse Biddle

Player: Jesse Biddle
Date of Scouting Report: 1/14/17

Position: Pitcher
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Age: 25 in 2017
How Acquired: Claimed off waivers (PIT, 3/19/16)
Salary: Unknown
Years Before Free Agency: 5
Years Before Arbitration: 2


Brief Bio:
A former first rounder of the Phillies, the Philadelphia-native became a top prospect in their system before struggles in 2014 at the Double-A level soured some on him. Before that year, he garnered Top 100 Prospect love from multiple publications after a breakout 2011 in the South Atlantic League with a 2.98 ERA, 3.71 FIP, and 22.4% strikeout rate. He struggled again in 2015 before missing all of the next year with Tommy John surgery. The Phils moved him to the Pirates and shortly after, Pittsburgh waived him in hopes of sneaking him off their 40-man roster. Atlanta pounced and he spent the year on their disabled list.

Offensive Observations and Grades:
As a pitcher, opportunities are slim in the minors to do much of anything. In 48 plate appearances at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, he had seven hits (.167), including three doubles. He's also struck out 15 times to just two walks. With four sacrifice bunts, he's within the average of how frequently a pitcher turns a plate appearance into a sacrifice bunt (8%-10%). Unsurprisingly, he has never attempted a stolen base. Without a significantly higher sample size, I won't provide any grades.

Pitching Observations and Grades:
A left-handed pitcher, Biddle is tall at 6'6" and uses his height well to get good extension to the plate. His wind-up appears effortless and he keeps his ball well-hidden, especially against left-handed hitters. He incorporates a high leg kick out of the wind-up and with his extension, the ball appears to jump at the hitter. Biddle pushes his weight back to bring everything forward with a high 3/4's delivery. From the stretch, he holds runners well and is fairly quick to the plate.

Velocity-wise, Biddle sits in the low-90's with his fastball, which he does get good downward sink to. As a result, his groundball rate has hovered in the 46% area and climbed notably in 2015 after using more two-seam, sinking fastballs. Biddle's inconsistent command has kept his fastballs from flourishing as table setters for his other pitches. Though his delivery is effortless, he struggles to finish and consistently delivery the fastball from the same release point.

Biddle's curveball can be his path to the majors, though he can sometimes lose feel for it. It's a slow breaking pitch that the hitter can give up on too soon. Biddle has to locate it or it will get beat up badly. When trying to throw with more velocity, the curve loses break and gets smacked. Hitters locate it well, but if Biddle is on, the curve will still create a good deal of pop-ups and whiffs.

Biddle also has a slider that bites into right-handed hitters. It's not nearly as good as his curveball, but generates enough late movement to be useful in limited action. Finally, Biddle's fourth pitch is his change-up, which has plus potential. Some of the same issues with his fastball remain as he can struggle with the pitch's finish. Nevertheless, with a better feel and understanding of when to throw the change, it could be one of his best weapons.

Grades from a 20-80 Scale...Velocity (55), Movement (60), Control (50)
Potential Grades...Velocity (55), Movement (65), Control (60)

Individual Pitch Grades...Fastball (50), Curveball (55), Slider (40), Changeup (55)
Potential Individual Pitch Grades...Fastball (55), Curveball (65), Slider (45), Changeup (60)

Other Grades...Holding Runners (65), Speed to the Plate (60)

Defensive Observations and Grades:
A good athlete on the mound, Biddle's motion sends him third base-side, leaving him vulnerable to balls to the right side of the infield. It's impossible to grade his defense at this point, but it does not appear to be a negative.

Future Projection:
After a lost year to injury and rehab, it's difficult to project much from Biddle until we know how he comes back. That said, Biddle could carve out a nice career as a left-hand reliever on the low side or a bottom-of-the-rotation arm with some upside if higher-end projections are to be believed. Right now, he needs to re-establish himself as a prospect.

Videos





I want to know your opinion/scouting report. Add it below and if it prompts me to alter mine, I'll credit you.

Reviewing My 2015 Top 30 Prospects (Part 1 of 3)

Recently, I released the first ten players who made this year's Walk-Off Walk Top 50 Prospects. Of course, the Braves followed by adding two more prospects to the mix, but I forgive them. As I originally said about my prospect list, releasing these lists is a mix of talent, results, and hope. The hope comes in big when you look back at a list in a few years. Projection is one thing, but can they take the next step?

With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to look back at a prospect list. In 2015, I released a Top 30 in a similar ten prospects at a time method that I am doing this year. Let's take a look at the 2015's #21-30 prospects as graded and ranked by yours truly. Hope I did well.

30. Victor Reyes, OF, Grade: C....One of the last big international splurges for the Frank Wren era, Reyes is a switch-hitter who would be traded less than a month after I released the list to the Diamondbacks. In exchange, the Braves took on most of Trevor Cahill's salary. They also received the #75th overall pick of the 2015 draft, which was used to draft talented lefty A.J. Minter. Reyes has been productive since the trade, hitting a comebined .307 over the last two years. However, the power projections have yet to happen for the 22 year-old, who had a .113 ISO in the hitter-friendly California League last year. Still, not a bad start to the list.

29. Wes Parsons, P, Grade: C....At the time, others ranked Parsons higher than me. He was coming off a 23-start campaign with Lynchburg in which he struggled with a 5.02 ERA. None of us, however, could foresee the troubles Parsons would have the next two years due to injuries, which have limited him to 86.1 innings. Parsons still made my 2016 Top 50, but didn't make this year's list as he tries to jumpstart his career this spring.

28. Max Povse, P, Grade: C....In March of 2015, I called Povse "a sleeper in this system" and said "I like his chances a lot." Well, he turned into that sleeper with back-to-back productive seasons where he displayed great control, a tendency to induce many groundballs, and the ability to be a workhorse. In November, he was dealt to the Mariners in the Alex Jackson deal.

27. Shae Simmons, P, Grade: C....When I ranked him in March of 2015, he had just been given the news that he was destined for Tommy John surgery. It took him well over a year to get back to the Braves. Recently, he was sent packing to the Mariners to join Povse.

By Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA [CC BY 2.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
26. Williams Perez, P, Grade: C....The Braves liked Perez probably more than they should have. Surprisingly kept over a bigger prospect like J.R. Graham, Perez was a groundball artist who relied on location. In Atlanta, the location was often not as spot-on as it had to be. A month ago, he was released on the final day of the winter meetings so the Braves could open up a 40-man roster spot and draft Armando Rivero in the Rule 5 draft. He's been on the market ever since.

25. Tanner Murphy, C, Grade: C....At the time, Murphy was receiving some high marks for his defense and on-base skills. I was quickly a fan, but his bat has become an even bigger liability and his defense has received some poor reports since 2014. Like Parsons, Murphy made my Top 50 last year, but fell off this year.

24. Dilmer Mejia, P, Grade: C....Before the Braves began to acquire every left-handed pitching prospect on the planet, Mejia was a hyped teenager in rookie ball who looked like he might be a force to reckon with. Injuries have sapped some of the hype, but he still made my list this year at #48 and I believe he can once again surprise some people.

23. Cody Martin, P, Grade: C....A 7th rounder out of Gonzaga in 2011, Martin was a veterab of over 200 innings at the Triple-A level heading into 2015. The numbers were there, but the projections weren't. He would pitch in 21 games out of the Braves' bullpen in 2015, but was prone to gopher balls. In July, the Braves sent him to the A's for some international slots so that they could sign their prospects. Since then, he has spent most of his time in the Pacific Coast League with 34.2 innings in the bigs, spent mostly with the Mariners after Oakland waives him.

22. Andrew Thurman, P, Grade: C....Acquired in the Evan Gattis trade, Thurman got off to a wonderful start with Carolina in 2015. However, his season and his team's season would be marred by a bus crash. Thurman never seemed the same after that. Thurman's woeful pitching in 2016 removed any prospect luster from him and he was released last August. He has since signed with the Dodgers and will try to revive his career out west.

21. Johan Camargo, SS, Grade: C+....A plus defender, Camargo has made prospect lists based solely on his skill in the field. The switch-hitter continues to struggle to hit, though. With a career ISO under .100 and a .304 OBP at Mississippi last year, Camargo is a longshot to become a fixture in the majors. However, the Braves do like him and added him to the 40-man roster this winter.

Of the first ten prospects released for the 2015 Top 30, six are no longer in the organization. Of those remaining four, only one made my Top 50 this season. That's both a testament to the system's depth and the struggles prospects have had since the original ranking.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Braves Add Micah Johnson to the Mix

Keith Allison via Flickr CC 2.0
Last night, I read that Micah Johnson had been designated for assignment and immediately, my first thought was that he might make for a good target. Before I attempted to pen an article or send out a few tweets on the subject, I thought better of it. After all, is he that different from Jace Peterson?

Well, the Braves clearly liked him because today, they acquired the young speedster for either cash or a player to be named later. In addition, they agreed to arbitration with Arodys Vizcaino ($1.55M) and Ian Krol ($900K), which means the Braves will avoid an arbitration hearing.

So, who is Johnson? Born a week before Christmas in 1990, Johnson spent much of his life in Indiana. Undrafted out of high school, Johnson was selected in the ninth round in 2012 out of Indiana University-Bloomington and signed three days later. Quietly, he became a nifty prospect for the ChiSox with a big 2013 campaign that saw him play for three minor league squads and slash .312/.373/.451 with 24 doubles, 15 triples, 7 homers, and 84 steals. Those numbers were pretty legit as he played in the South Atlantic and Carolina Leagues for the majority of the season, which hardly boost your offensive numbers.

After a short-lived run in the Arizona Fall League, Johnson was off to a great start in the Southern League in 2014 before a promotion to Triple-A Charlotte of the International League. His numbers took a bit of a dive there as his struggled to get on base once his average dipped below .280. Whatever power he has shown the previous year all but disappeared as well. Injuries also limited him to just 102 games on the year.

Whatever troubles he had in 2014, he put them behind him with a big spring to beat out Carlos Sanchez for the opening day second base job. While he would maintain a .270 batting average through the season's first 30 games, his issues at the plate continued to haunt him. He walked just five times compared to 17 strikeouts. With his OPS hovering in the .630's, Johnson was sent to the minors. Back in Charlotte, Johnson was able to right the ship with a .315/.375/.466 run with 8 homers and 28 steals. He was brought back in September, but couldn't find any holes and struck out in 13 of 31 PA.

Just a few months after believing Johnson could be the answer at second base, the White Sox included Johnson in a three-team deal with the Dodgers and Reds which sent Todd Frazier to Chicago, Jose Peraza to the Reds, and Johnson and two other prospects out west. Injuries got him to the majors for a second consecutive season, but Johnson spent nearly all of the season in Oklahoma City. The results weren't much to write home about despite the hitter-friendly environment of the Pacific Coast League.

His .261/.321/.356 slash with 26 steals in 37 opportunities would eventually lead to being designated for assignment when Los Angeles needed a 40-man spot.

Johnson's minor league numbers are solid (.292/.357/.414), though his isolated slugging is all over the place. Some have suggested that his approach at the plate is inconsistent. When he's posted .137, .151, and higher isolated slugging marks, he does so in a way that might remind Braves fans of Marcus Giles. He loads his weight back, brings his front leg down, and torques his bottom half to maximize his power (first video to the right). That version of Johnson could bring some serious value to the table. At the same time, there is another Johnson who relies on bat control and a quick bat so that he can slap the ball (second video to the right). When watching video of the two swings, you might be convinced they are two different players.

Perhaps, White Sox coaches saw a fast player who should leg out grounders hit the other way and convinced him to cut down on his swing. Personally, I think that's a waste. While Johnson will never be a 20 HR/60 extra-base hit player, he has the potential to post double digit homerun seasons given the right amount of opportunities.

A left-handed hitter, Johnson does have traditional platoon splits with at least a 71-point difference in each season according to OPS in favor of facing right-handed pitchers. It's been especially pronounced the last two seasons.

Defensively, Johnson is a right-handed second baseman who has graded out average during his minor league career according to Clay Davenport's defensive metrics. It's been a bit ugly in the majors, but that's likely sample-size hurting him. Regardless, despite impressive speed, it appears that Johnson is going to max out as merely average defensively. Last year, similar to their attempts to turn Peraza into an outfielder, the Dodgers utilized Johnson as an outfielder and even gave him a little time at third base. His numbers in the outfield appear decent, but there's not enough data.

Johnson just turned 26 so he won't be on my prospect list, but he's got an intriguing skill set - especially if he's loading up for power. Where does he fit on this Braves roster? Well, he's a better bench option that Emilio Bonifacio. If the Braves don't add a fourth outfielder, Johnson could be part of the hybrid bench with either Sean Rodriguez or the aforementioned Jace Peterson as guys who can play both the infield and outfield. Johnson would also fit a role I liked for Mallex Smith - speedster off the bench for late-inning replacements. On the other hand, a less-than-overwhelming spring could ticket Johnson for a return to Triple-A, which would exhaust his final option.

Either way, the Braves added a potential bench player with some upside for peanuts. We'll see how this one turns out, but the chances it hurts any is minimal.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Braves Trade Mallex, Get Stud Left-Hander

Twice this offseason, the Atlanta Braves have grouped major-league ready assets for higher-ceiling prospects. On Wednesday, they did it a third time as they acquired lefthanders Luiz Gohara and Thomas Burrows for right-handed reliever Shae Simmons and speedy outfielder Mallex Smith. The latter spent all of two minutes with the Mariners before being re-packaged in a deal to Tampa Bay. The two minutes might be a bit hyperbolic.

Much like the trades that saw the Braves acquire Luke and Alex Jackson (no relation), this trade is all about going for the elite prospect - in this case, Gohara. For years, the lefty made talent evaluators excited about his future, but the Brazillian southpaw struggled to find his way. While last year was his Age-19 season, it was his fourth year already in professional ball. It was also his best.

For the second consecutive season, he split time with Everett in the short-season A Northwest League and Clinton in the A-ball Midwest League - however, he flipped the script by spending the bulk of his time with Clinton after doing the opposite in 2015. The lefty set new highs in innings pitched (69.2) and strikeouts (81) while lowering his walk rate about 4%. His FIP in the 2.50's was nearly two runs lower than the previous year.

Gohara works off mid-90's heat and his secondary pitches took a step forward in 2016. His slider has strikeout potential at the major league level and his changeup could be good enough to keep hitters from being able to key into his fastball - which is not just fast, but comes with a good deal of movement. To this point, he has carried strong groundball numbers throughout the minors and in a superb pitching system, he won't get lost if he pitches up to his ability. In some ways, his acquisition reminds me of Ricardo Sanchez two years ago - except Gohara is more developed at the time of the deal.

Burrows essentially gives the Braves another 2016 draft choice. Picked #117 last year out of the University of Alabama where he is the career saves leader, Burrows spent his summer in Everett where he struck out 33.3% of opposing hitters. The walk rate will need to be cleaned up (10%), but all in all, it was a successful first year for the lefty complete with a 2.88 FIP.

A relief-only option, Burrows doesn't have big-time heat with low-to-mid 90's velocity, but gets great movement out of a 3/4's delivery which helps to create a natural sink to the pitch. The fact that he stands on the first-base side of the rubber also helps add sweeping motion. His second pitch, a low 80's slider, looked much better in his senior season, which helped to push him up the draft.

Make no mistake, though. This deal was about Gohara. It cost the Braves a pair of pieces that could have helped the 2017 team. Simmons came onto the scene in 2014 as a mid-90's pitcher with a solid breaking pitch. Immediately, he was compared to then-Braves closer Craig Kimbrel for his potential dominance on the mound. Injuries, including Tommy John surgery, limited the righty to just seven games over the last two seasons. Expected to compete for a bullpen spot, Simmons still had a chance to put himself in line to be a closer one day with the Braves before this deal was completed. Nevertheless, the Braves have a large collection of potential bullpen arms, which I recently wrote about. Losing Simmons, while unfortunate, won't change that.

By EricEnfermero (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], 
On the other hand, losing Mallex Smith could hurt - in the short term. Depending on who you talked to or read, Smith had a chance to be a top-of-the-lineup center fielder with good on-base skills. Or, he could be a solid fourth outfielder. The Braves may have counted on the latter and that's a fair assumption. They also probably looked at a fairly undeniable aspect of roster construction - regardless of his talent, Smith was not a good fit for the Braves. While he could be a more valuable player than either Matt Kemp or Nick Markakis - especially if he moved Ender Inciarte to a corner - Smith was not right for Atlanta when you consider how little power the team would have with Inciarte and Ozzie Albies joining Smith in the everyday lineup presumably at some point. While I did like what Smith could provide in a fourth outfielder/defensive caddy/late inning substitution role, it would have muted his potential value simply because the nature of the roster was against him.

It's a bonus that the Braves acquired a player of Gohara's stature, though. Further, this trade opened up a pair of spots on the 40-man roster without losing talent for nothing. That gives Braves general manager John Coppolella increased flexibility to make a move both via trade and free agency, which has seen the market crash for several 2-to-5-win players. They might be willing to accept some bargain prices and not having to worry about the 40-man roster only makes that easier.

This trade is not too dissimilar from another trade from earlier this offseason. Like Smith, Tyrell Jenkins was a well-liked youngster who was one of the first building blocks for a rebuilding team two years ago. And then, without an inkling of a rumor, Jenkins was traded. Since then, we have seen Jenkins' believed value plummet. I don't see the same thing happening to Smith, but Jenkins' case might be a good reminder that our objectivity in regards to our favorite team's prospects is often skewed. Smith has a good chance to have a solid major league career, but was he going to be a difference maker? It's unlikely. The same can be said for Simmons. While Gohara is a lot further away than those two, the Braves continued to side with upside over depth. It's a big reason the front office has remade this farm system into a talent-rich cadre of players and Gohara - and Burrows - only enhances that.