Saturday, July 20, 2013

Taking the Bait

Recently, MLB Trade Rumors spoke of trade bait for the many contenders, specifically saying that the Braves only had one notable guy who would grab the attention of other General Managers.  In the article, Marc Hulet contends that "the Braves haven't really made the amateur draft a priority in recent years and that has hurt the organization's depth."  I find that fairly absurd.  Recent graduates from the amateur draft to the major leagues include Alex Wood (2012, 2nd round); Andrelton Simmons, Joey Terdoslavich, and Evan Gattis (2010 picks); Mike Minor (2009, 1st round); and five members from the 2008 draft led by third rounder Craig Kimbrel.  Four of those five from 2008 were used in trades to better the major league team along with 2011 2nd rounder Nick Ahmed.  Certainly, the Braves are waiting for a variety of players they took in higher rounds to make good on their investment, but the notion that the Braves haven't made the draft much of a priority is preposterous.

That said, I do like the idea behind Hulet's article - listing trade bait.  And since only one Brave was mentioned in that article, here are a few more that might intrigue other teams, separated by level.

Atlanta

Alex Wood just started at Gwinnett, but for our purposes, we will include him with the major league roster because he has a good month of time with Atlanta.  A trade including Wood seems unlikely, but if the Braves feel they can make a masterstroke with a retainable player that could put them over the hump, it seems ridiculous to not consider it.  Cory Gearrin seems unlikely simply because he went down-hill fairly fast, but he does have nearly a strikeout an inning over 69.1 major league innings and can be tough on righties.  Joey Terdoslavich made the Hulet article and seems primed to make someone's wish list for his switch-hitting offensive skillset, but finding a place for Terdo is difficult because his defense is a weakness no matter where you go.  For an AL team seeking out cheap, major-league ready offense, Terdo could be a fine addition.  Tyler Pastornicky doesn't seem to have an abundance of trade value after falling on his face as a starter last year, but as a final piece for a team in need of an upgrade in middle infield depth, Pastornicky could be attractive, especially if the team that acquires him just send a utility infielder the Braves way.

Gwinnett

Todd Cunningham could have a career that mimics the one Reed Johnson has had.  Nice fourth outfielder, can play center, will be exposed in an everyday situation.  Still, you would like to think there is a team out there that would take Cunningham in a trade to enhanced their outfield depth with the switch-hitter.  Clearly, 2013 has not gone the way Sean Gilmartin would have liked.  He reached Gwinnett last season for seven starts after a tremendous run in Mississippi and was even considered a challenger for Julio Teheran in spring training.  Like Teheran last year, though, Gilmartin has not had a good season after failing to secure a roster spot in the spring.  Extra-base hits are plentiful and an increased walk rate from a pitcher who relies on control is not good.  Still, a team might be interested in the mature lefty who posted a 1.22 WHIP in 157 innings last year.  While Cory Rasmus looked bad in his limited action this year with Atlanta, his 11.3 K/9 with Gwinnett might be enticing.  Ryan Buchter is in a similar boat, though not as refined as Rasmus.  His ridiculous 14.7 K/9 stands out, but his spotty control only gives him a 1.86 K/BB rate.  Finally, there is Cody Martin, who is having a breakout season.  The righty, who was drafted out of Gonzaga in 2011, forced a promotion from AA in mid-June and has been good for his first six games, five starts, with the G-Braves.  The K's are definitely there.  Wondering, though, if the overall game is.  Could be a nice sell-high possibility.

Mississippi

The Braves have waited for Edward Salcedo for some time and the former shortstop has shown good power and speed with 10 HR and 13 steals on the year.  He also improved his walk rate to a small degree, tying his last season total of 33 walks in his 90th game, 40 fewer than last year.  The Braves have another year before they must make a 40 man roster decision with Salcedo.  If the scouts and managers still like him, chances are Atlanta won't put him up for sell.  Christian Bethancourt has stagnated in AA for 127 games since the beginning of 2012.  The defensive skills are there and the Braves were probably overjoyed he was selected to the Futures Game.  However, you have to hit.  He's still very young, but his future seems cloudy with Gattis in the majors.  In addition, Atlanta added him to the 40-man roster to avoid losing him in the Rule 5 and have already used one option on him.  The clock has started.  By the end of spring training 2016, Bethancourt, who will only be 24, must be kept.  Maybe the Braves see what others think before it comes to that.  Tommy La Stella has shown he can hit, posting a .905 OPS in 47 games this year.  However, the second baseman has failed to show he can stay healthy.  Still, a team might be intrigued by a .895 OPS in 200 minor league games.  Outfielder Robby Hefflinger hit 21 homers in 74 games at Lynchburg before his promotion.  But we knew he had dynamic power before the season.  His plate discipline is still questionable.  If a team has a false sense of how valuable he is due to his power, make the deal.

Gus Schlosser is in the Zeke Spruill mold.  You won't get the strikeouts that accompany big prospects, but he has a history of success at every stop.  Lefty Ian Thomas was signed out of the independent leagues last year and has good K numbers, but is already 26.  Juan Jaime is similar to Gwinnett's Buchter in that he picks up obscene strikeout numbers out of the bullpen, but also struggles to consistently spot his heat, which can reach triple digits.  J.R. Graham entered 2013 as a potential fast riser, but injuries have derailed him this season and he might not take the mound again until next season.  Aaron Northcraft has always seemed on the verge of a breakout campaign, but everyone is still waiting.  After a seven-inning no-hitter last year, I wrote about him here.

Lynchburg

Kyle Kubitza is having a strong season for the Hillcats, OPSing .821 with his ISO checking in at .190.  His strong walk rates and above-average defense at third might be more attractive for the Braves, who lack a long-term option at third base.  Kubitza only has Salcedo in front of him and while Salcedo has tools, Kubitza has the numbers.  Still, as a trade piece, Kubitza is only improving his value.  From the pitching side, Ryan Weber has yet to get away from Lynchburg despite playing for them in each of the last three seasons, but he has been considerably better this year with a 1.08 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, and absurd 5.1 K/BB.  Less than a month from his 23rd birthday, Weber seems prime to get a shot at Mississippi provided he is not traded before then.  Carlos Perez has been around for some time.  The 21 year-old made his state-side debut in 2009 in the Gulf Coast League and big things were predicted for him.  Injuries did him in, but he never pitched that well either.  Now a reliever, Perez recently finally got to the 'Burg after 20 games with Rome.  The lefty could be a nice final piece in a trade offer.

Rome

Only in his second season since he was selected as a 2012 sixth rounder out of TCU, outfielder Josh Elander forced his way to Lynchburg after spending most of the season with the Rome Braves, slashing his way to a .318/.381/.536 start to his first taste of full-season ball.  The Texan won't give you a lot of speed and he will strikeout, but his propensity to walk and hit for power makes him a sleeper.  Recently, I wrote about Jose Peraza.  He has the skills to remain at short and the potential to be a leadoff hitter in the majors with his combination of on-base ability and speed.  Former Georgia Bulldog Levi Hyams joined Elander in Lynchburg and the second baseman OPS'd .785 before the promotion with 12 steals.  Lucas Sims was the Braves' first rounder last season and the young hurler has been tremendous for Rome so far, posting a 1.09 WHIP and 9.7 K/9.  The righty could be a prime prospect in a trade, but the fact that he is some time away from making his debut in the bigs makes that notion unlikely.

While the Braves system does lack the guys that battle for slots on the Top 50 prospect lists, the Braves do have some pieces that will garner interest and scouting from other organizations beyond Terdo.  However, without impact potential following a number of graduations to the majors and trades, the Braves might have trouble matching the offers other teams may present for some targeted players.  This may keep the Braves from acquiring the top bullpen arms available, but don't be surprised if they still find some quality with their lot of good, often projection-able, young talent.

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