Wednesday, January 29, 2014

See ya, Elliot!

How considerate for former crappy Braves utility infielders to do me the solid of giving me a quick, easy column to write as my wife gave birth.  I'm actually writing this two days before it posts, yet through the magic of words, I will make it seem like it's Wednesday.

Happy hump day, everyone!  Hope you are enjoying your January 29, 2014.  (nailed it)

Two days ago, as yesterday's star Paul Janish was signing with the Rockies, another former Brave headed elsewhere as well as Elliot Johnson inked a minor league deal with the Indians.  While Janish at least got a year-and-a-half to look awful as a Brave, EJ got two months, yet he still played a bigger role for the Braves than Janish ever did.

Also unlike Janish is that Johnson doesn't excel defensively anywhere.  His value is found in his flexibility and a gritty almost Ecksteinian approach to this thing we call baseball.  An undrafted free agent, Johnson originally made it to the majors with the Rays in 2008, but arrived to stay in 2011.  Well, he stayed for two years, playing nearly 200 games with woeful offensive numbers.  However, in his time with the Rays, he certainly wore many hats.  Well, no, he didn't, but it's just an expression meaning he played several different positions.  First base, second base, shortstop, third base, left field, center field, and right field.  Now, he didn't do any of these things particularly well, but it's decent value.  He also showed a nice ability to maximize underwhelming speed and steal bases, swiping 18 in 24 attempts in 2012.

Johnson was the player-to-be-named in the gigantic James Shields/Wil Myers trade during the offseason of 2012-13, going from the Rays to the Royals.  He sucked fairly hard in KC, slashing a Janish-worthy .179/.218/.241, though he was successful in all 14 stolen base attempts.  Surprisingly for a team that was willing to look past the miserable play of Jeff Francoeur, the Royals cut bait on Johnson and in a shocker, the Braves picked him up last August 21st.  Usually, it's the Royals digging through Atlanta's garbage like a stalker.

While Johnson would move around and start games in left, at third, and once at shortstop, his primary position with the Brave was at second, where he garnered much internet support as a replacement for Dan Uggla.  With the Braves, he had one of his best runs in the majors, slashing .261/.317/.359 in 32 games, including adding eight steals.  The Braves were so sad in stolen bases that Johnson was tied for third on the Braves in steals.

With Uggla's lazer-eyes still not working so well, the Braves made the controversial decision to start Johnson at second in the playoffs.  In his first 13 plate appearances, he was hitless with a walk, four K's, and he grounded into a double play.  In his 14th, he hit a one-out triple in the seventh inning of Game 4 and would score the go-ahead run.  Something happened later to negate the importance of that.  In his final plate appearance with the Braves, Johnson stranded a pair of runners with a flyout.  The odd, never discussed thing, is that after that at-bat, he was removed from the game.  Why, say Jordan Schafer, didn't pinch hit for him is pretty strange.  Oh, well.

I will not miss EJ.  I don't think anyone will. He was just a sign of how sad the once-deep bench regressed to.  Good bye Elliot and may the Indians need a guy who can't, can't really field that well, but can show grit and determination and all-around whiteness while playing several positions.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

See ya, Paul!

There comes a time in the life of every member of the Atlanta Braves baseball club where he must say good bye.  Sometimes, it's a forceful good bye.  We all remember the public shunning of John Rocker by sending him to Cleveland.  Other times, a member of Atlanta leaves on his own, often with money bags provided by other poaching ballclubs.  Rarely, there are tears as that member is headed off into retirement, which we all know means death.

And then, there is Paul Janish.  Sometimes, you forget that the player was even a member of the team last season.  Janish signed a minor league contract with the Colorado Rockies yesterday because in the mile-high environment of Denver, maybe he will be able to hit his first major league homerun since 2010.  Probably not, but there is a chance.

Janish joined the Braves in a 2012 trade that sent Todd Redmond to the Reds.  Janish had progressed quickly in the Reds system, reaching the majors during the 2008 season, but he was never a capable hitter in the minors or in the majors.  In 2011, playing in a career high 114 games, he posted a -0.6 fWAR.  That's difficult to do when you post a 7.9 UZR.  Not so difficult when you OPS .521 in over 350 PA, though.  Janish was demoted to AAA to open 2012 and that's where the Braves plucked him from after Andrelton Simmons suffered an injury.  The Braves had already given the Tyler Pastornicky experiment two months and the last thing they wanted to see was a regular occurrence of Rev at short.

Janish hit...well...like Janish during his run with Braves, slashing .186/.269/.234 in just over 175 plate appearances after the trade from the Reds in 2012.  Showing himself to be no fluke, Janish followed up his 2012 campaign with an even worse 2013 season (.171/.222/.220).  Again, injuries got Janish to the bigs as Ramiro Pena's bum shoulder brought Janish to the majors as a caddy for Chris Johnson's woeful defense.  Bad sign when you get to the bigs simply because of injuries and not your talent.

While a good defender, his defense is not Simmons' level.  Combine that with a bat that might as well be made out of that nerf material and you have a player you are not likely to miss.  However, it should be said that since this guy needs injuries to get to the majors, he made a good decision on employment.  I mean, it's not like Troy Tulowitzki has been the epitome of health.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Look Back: 2009 Draft

Let's continue to look back at previous drafts.  Not sure how far into the past I'll go, but I like looking back at how many players have contributed to Atlanta's success or soon were found to be a bust.  You can look back at recent drafts already profiled by clicking on one of the following links: 2012, 2011, 2010.

Today, we will look back at the 2009 draft.  Coming off a rough 2008, the Braves had the seventh overall selection.  The last time the Braves had a top ten pick was 1991, when they selected Mike Kelly.  That was the final year of six consecutive top ten picks that yielded guys like Kent Mercker, Steve Avery, and 1990 first overall pick, Chipper Jones.  The last time the Braves had the seventh overall pick was 1968 and their selection, Curtis Moore, was a complete bust who never made it past Richmond.

Like we have seen in other recent drafts, the Braves continued to focus on college players, selecting just two guys in the first 20 rounds who didn't have some college experience.  However, the draft has, so far, provided the Braves with just two major leaguers.  Many draft choices didn't even make it through the 2013 season with Atlanta.  The Braves lost their second round pick to the Dodgers after signing Derek Lowe, though they would later add a second round pick from the draft when they acquired Billy Bullock from the Twins.

1. Mike Minor, LHP, Vanderbilt

A former 13th round selection by the Devil Rays in 2006, Minor stayed in Tennessee to attend Vanderbilt and ranked high on the Braves board before the draft.  The Giants, who picked sixth overall, selected Georgia high school hurler Zack Wheeler, who the Braves were also very high on.  That left Minor as the top player remaining on the Braves board, becoming the fourth pitcher selected and first left-hander.  The pick was lambasted as a low-ceiling, low-risk pick and Minor was likely going to anchor the bottom of the rotation.  He quickly unearthed some more velocity and after four starts with Rome in 2009, Minor conquered both Mississippi and Gwinnett in 2010, earning nine games in the majors (with little success).  Baseball America ranked him the 37th best prospect in the game heading into 2011.  He split the year between Gwinnett and Atlanta, though he looked considerably better in Gwinnett.

Established in a young rotation during 2012, Minor got off to a poor start and his ERA stood at 5.97 through his first 16 starts.  However, from there, he turned it on.  His control was a big reason as he went from a 1.95 K/BB rate to 4.19 K/BB in the final 14 starts of the year.  The better control allowed him to give up 12 fewer HR in the second half while his ERA was a sparkling 2.16.  He continued his strong finish with a wonderful follow-up year in 2013, setting career highs in nearly every category.  He heads into 2014 with a chance to get the opening day assignment.

2. No pick

3. David Hale, RHP, Princeton

While Hale was smart enough to get into the Ivy League, he was still a Georgia boy, born and raised in Marietta.  Still, he had a good fall-back position if baseball didn't work.  He was an operations research and financial engineering major at Princeton and could have put his hat into the ring for an entry-level Wall Street job paying six figures.  Instead of returning to Princeton, Hale signed and began his professional career with Danville and in 2013, graduated from Princeton.

The Braves weren't sure what they had with Hale and he worked as much as a reliever as he did as a starter at Danville, Rome, and Lynchburg over his first three years in the organization.  The results were not great and not bad.  He was transitioned to a full-time starter in 2012 and started to make his name known, posting a 3.77 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 7.7 K/9.  However, a bad walk rate muted his numbers.  He hit Gwinnett the next year and gave up a lot of hits, but improved his control.  With Atlanta needing a starter, Hale was promoted and threw five scoreless innings against the Padres on September 13th while striking out nine.  Nearly two weeks later, he got a second start and picked up his first win, allowing a run in six innings against the Phillies.  Awarded with a postseason roster spot, he appeared in the 13-6 whipping the Braves got in Game 3, though Hale retired Juan Uribe on a grounder that stranded two runners to end the 8th.  Hale will compete with Alex Wood and Freddy Garcia for the fifth starter gig this spring and could still make the team as a reliever if he doesn't win a starter job.

4. Mycal Jones, SS/OF, Miami-Dade South Community College

Jones looked like a possible quick riser after his 2010 campaign here he slashed .262/.327/.421 with 15 HR and 22 steals between three different levels, but he has stagnated since, playing 239 games at AA over the last three years with a demotion to Lynchburg in 2012 mixed in.  In addition, he was moved from shortstop to center field.  He is a great athlete and an hilarious twitter follow, but at 26, he has already lost whatever luster he had back in 2010.

5. Thomas Berryhill, RHP, Newberry College

The Braves love college relievers and believe they can provide quick return on their investment.  Berryhill struggled with control and didn't miss too many bats once he was close to the strikezone.  He made it to Myrtle Beach for ten games in 2010, but after nine forgetful games with Rome in 2011, he was released in early July.  He hooked up with the Blue Jays system, but was cast away after 2011 and hasn't played organized ball since.

6. Ryan Woolley, RHP, University of Alabama

Another reliever option, Woolley would choose to not sign with the Braves and returned to Alabama, where he would be drafted in the 39th round the following season by the Rangers in the 13th round in 2011 by the Tigers.  He finally signed and the only reason I still mention him is because he was released from the Tigers system after 2012.  The Braves came calling and finally signed their former sixth round pick.  He appeared in 15 ugly games with Lynchburg and three uber-ugly games with Mississippi before the Braves were thankful they didn't sink sixth-round money into him and released him. He finished up in the Frontier League last season.

7. Robby Hefflinger, OF, Georgia Perimeter College

Hefflinger has plenty of power, but will he ever hit enough to take advantage of it?  In his first two and a half seasons after signing, Hefflinger belted 21 homers, but couldn't get his OPS out of the .670 range.  He finally broke through in 2012, slashing .284/.362/.483 with Rome before finishing up the year with a month-plus in Lynchburg.  All told, he hit 16 HR and OPS'd .810.  He began 2013 with the Hillcats and destroyed the Carolina League for the first three months, hitting 21 homers with a .917 OPS.  The praise was slow to come because of 49 previous games with Lynchburg and his age of 23.  He finished the year with Mississippi and the hammer fell on his breakthrough season as he slashed .170/.227/.319 in 53 games.  He still finished second in the Carolina League in HR (in nearly 300 less PA than the leader) and finished second to Ernesto Mejia for most homers among Braves farmhands (28-to-27).  The power's there, but barring something magical, Hefflinger is unlikely to knock on the door for a major league promotion anytime soon.

8. Kyle Rose, OF, Northwest-Shoals Community College (Muscle Shoals, AL)

A speedster with some raw talent, Rose hit the prospect radar shortly after signing with the Braves when he hit .293/.397/.354 with 27 steals in 31 attempts while playing all but one game in the Gulf Coast League.  Injuries shortened his 2010 season, but the magic was gone.  He OPS's a miserable .647 and was caught stealing 23 times to just 29 steals.  An even-more-miserable 2011 followed where he OPS'd .522.  Rose received a promotion to Lynchburg and two months with the Hillcats were just as sad as the last two seasons and about three years after joining the system, Rose was sent packing.

9. Matt Weaver, IF, Burlington Community College (Pemberton, NJ)

A year later, in the 12th round, the Braves would select Barrett Kleinknecht, who has became a super utility player for the Braves.  Weaver is in the same mold as well.  He has never OPS'd better than .723 and has played the last two seasons in Lynchburg.  He has also pitched four times, including twice last season.  During the second game of a double header on August 29th, Weaver started in center field, moved to right field, and in the 12th, he got the call to pitch.  The last batter he faced, Todd Hankins, struck out looking (and K'd five times in the game).  In the bottom half, Matt Lipka doubled and scored on a botched double play to give Weaver the win.

10. Aaron Northcraft, Meter Dei High School (Santa Ana, CA)

The first high school selection, Northcraft has made his way up the latter slowly, but effectively.  With the exception of a four game run in Rome during 2010, he has spent an entire year in one minor league stop before moving on to the next.  He gets heavy sink on his pitches, leading to a low of grounders.  During a double-header against the Salem Red Sox on June 22nd, 2012, Northcraft threw seven hitless innings with a pair of walks, a hit batter, and ten K's.  Because double-header games are usually shortened to seven innings, Northcraft got credit for a no-hitter.  With a career 7.9 K/9 and a three-quarters delivery that induces a lot of grounders, Northcraft could become a solid bullpen piece.

Other interesting picks...

-14th rounder Cory Harrilchak out of Elon looked like he would be a good hitter with gap power and enough speed to possibly climb the latter quickly, but after a .737 OPS with Mississippi in 2010, he struggled badly during 2011 and was cut.  He put up good numbers with Southern Illinois in the Frontier League while playing with a fellow Braves 2009 pick, 21st rounder Matt Crim.

-In the 16th round, the Braves selected Riaan Spanjer-Furstenburg out of Nova Southeastern University.  RSF, who was born in Pretoria, South Africa, was a bit of a 2009 cult hero after slashing .359/.411/.543 with 8 HR for Danville.  His Rome numbers were underwhelming and after a month with Lynchburg in 2011, RSF was cut and has been out of organized ball since.

-19th rounder Ty'Relle Harris and 20th rounder Jeffrey Lorick were both used in the 2010 trade that brought over Derrek Lee.  Haris made it AAA with the Cubs in both 2011 and 2012, but never got to the bigs and spent last season in Bridgeport of the Atlantic League.  Lorick, a lefty, has gotten more time, but has yet to make it into AA.

-Selected in the 22nd round, Ryan Weber remains in the system and has great control (career 1.6 BB/9), but has yet to make it to AA.  Amazingly, despite pinpoint control (15 walks in 93.2 ING with Lynchburg last season), he hit 11 batters.

-Finally, 47th round pick, Colby Holmes, is a fun story.  He was drafted out of Conway High Schoool despite a commitment to South Carolina.  As it happens many times in the late rounds, the Braves were not able to sign Holmes, who enrolled at South Carolina.  He was often a starter, including getting one start in the 2011 College World Series, but Holmes was never that great, including just 3.68 career ERA with 69 BB and 211 K's in 247 innings.  With a less-than-amazing college carer behind him, Holmes went undrafted in last June's draft.  The Braves came calling and four years after drafting him, they finally signed him.  He finished the 2013 season with a pair of stops at rookie ball.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Welcome Back, Freddy!

Usually, when the Braves sign a guy, I do a Howdy column about that guy (provided I'm actually updating this blog).  However, I'm not sure I can say Howdy to a guy who is returning to the Braves because, I guess, nobody else was anxious for his services.  Freddy Garcia inked a minor league contract with the Braves that includes an invitation to spring training.  Presumably, Garcia will have an opportunity to enter the fifth starter battle with the two other top contenders, Alex Wood and David Hale.

Garcia was acquired by the Braves last August 23rd for cash.  Yes, the Braves traded cash for a player.  When he signed, I wrote the following:
"Whether he comes in as a reliever or starts a few games in September, he doesn't have a prayer of reaching the postseason roster.  He sucks, we know he sucks, he knows he sucks...but he's getting a prorated veteran minimum so what does he care?  And the Braves have another veteran arm they have no desire to have back in 2014 so what do they care? 
Watch him be lights out for two weeks in September now."
Yeah, so about that...Garcia made one start in Gwinnett (where he gave up eight runs in 3.2 ING), but got the September call-up just the same and was *gulp* lights out.  In six games, including three starts, Garcia seemed to think he was a 24 year-old for the Mariners again.  He threw 27.1 ING in the final month with a pretty good 4/1 K/BB rate and a 1.02 WHIP.  The desperate Braves, who only a few months before had starting pitch depth out of their rears, chose to not only add Garcia to the postseason roster, but he notably started Game 4 against some guy named Clayton Kershaw.  He worked around eight hits and two walks, but was lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh.  That pinch hitter, Jose Constanza, singled in Elliot Johnson, who had tripled, and the Braves had a 3-2 lead.  Let's review...in a do-or-die game, Constanza pinch-hit for Garcia and singled in E.Johnson to give the Braves the lead.  Talk about an odd turn of events.

Of course, in the bottom of the 8th, with his best pitcher watching, Fredi Gonzalez decided to go with David Carpenter and two batters later, the Dodgers were in the lead and the Braves season ended with a whimper and three K's in the top of the ninth.

Garcia had an impressive month-plus with the Braves and obviously hoped it would be enough to garner a major league contract.  Instead, he returns to the Braves hoping to continue his brief career resurgence.  As you may have heard, Garcia can only do one thing.  He "just make pitch."  Whether that pitch is a fastball, splitter, sinker, slider, curveball, or change-up is unknown and part of Garcia's mystery.

My expectations are minimally low for Garcia.  He is Phillies-old so I guess he has experience and would that be enough to help him get a spot on this team provided he doesn't get blown up this spring?  Maybe.  With Eric O'Flaherty officially out of the discussion and Jonny Venters sidelined for the first couple of months, Luis Avilan is looking pretty lonely as far as entrenched lefties out of the pen goes. Could that push Wood to the pen?  Possibly.  Garcia steps in with a chance to pitch himself into the rotation until, at least, Gavin Floyd's return.  The odds are not in his favor, but my gut says Garcia has a great chance to make the team, even if I would probably not like to see it happen.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Golden Phils

How old are the Phillies?

Their young star Domonic Brown turned 26 last September.  He's about a week and a half younger than Braves veteran Justin Upton.  Other younger veterans on the Braves include Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and Mike Minor.

The prized new addition of the Phillies is Bobby Abreu.  He made it to the bigs the year after Chipper Jones's first full season in the majors.  Alex Wood was five years old.  Abreu's first major league hit came against the New York Mets' Bobby Jones.  Abreu had pinch hit for Todd Jones.  There was no relation between the two Jones, nor with Chipper Jones.  Derek Bell, who famously originated Operation Shutdown, had a double against Bobby Jones, one of just four hits Jones gave up in a 119-pitch shutout.

Wil Nieves, who the Phillies had to hunt down in order to find a backup catcher older than their starter, was a rookie when he caught Bobby Jones.  I link to baseball-reference and I'm fairly sure Bobby Jones has been mentioned more in this blog than he has been mentioned in the last five years. In 2002, Nieves also caught Trevor Hoffman, former Braves Steve Reed and Alan Embree, and a completely different Bobby Jones.  Nieves even played on a team that Ron Gant played 102 games for.

It is very difficult to lose 37 year-old Michael Young and get older.  But the Phillies, who are estimated to spend close to $160M this season, are likely to accomplish this.  In addition to Abreu, the Phillies signed 36 year-old Marlon Byrd to a two-year contract and brought 33 year-old Roberto Hernandez aboard for the ride.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. hasn't played since 1998.  That was Abreu's first season with the Phillies.  Abreu is the only player from that team still playing.

In his first full season, Jimmy Rollins was a young star on a team that included youngins' such as Johnny Estrada and Pat Burrell.

Jayson Werth is younger than 2/3's of the outfield that he left before 2011.  Werth, who will turn 35 in May, would also be younger than three other expected starters from the eight that will make up the starting squad and is only a half-year older than Ryan Howard, who is due at least $85M over the next three seasons.

Their young gun, Cole Hamels, is already 30.  Gavin Floyd is the only starter the Braves have who has already celebrated his 30th birthday or will during this season.  In fact, the Braves's current 30 year-olds include a second baseman who might not even start this season, a catcher/outfielder who is being counted on to provide a bat off the bench, a backup catcher, and the aforementioned Floyd.  Oh, and Jose Constanza, but we don't count him.

In the bullpen, the Phillies have, you guessed it, a good deal of experience.  Amazingly, it's very young for this team despite employing 33 year-old Jonathan Papelbon and 35 year-old Mike Adams.  New Phillie Chad Gaudin got a minor league deal and might be the fifth starter, but if not, the 31 year-old likely has a job by just being old in the Phillies pen.  Johnny Venters is the old guy for the Braves bullpen.  Old Faithful turns 29 on March 20th.  Anthony Varvaro is already 29, but since Fredi Gonzalez likes to forget about him, I figured I might as well ignore that tidbit.

The Phillies are on the hook for $112M in 2014 already, including three players making at least $22.5M.  They were also in on Masahiro Tanaka before the pitcher signed with the Yankees.  According to Amaro, they weren't willing to give him anything beyond five years despite giving Carlos Ruiz a new three-year contract with a fourth-year option.  Tanaka will be 25 all next season and would be younger than almost every expected member of the Phillies next season.  But, he was too much of a chance to go beyond five years with.

The Phillies will spend $60M more than the Braves next season.  With that money, the Braves could have brought back Tim Hudson, Brian McCann, and Eric O'Flaherty and got into the Robinson Cano bidding.  That is pretty crazy when you consider how much money the Phillies will be spending and for how little.  Last year, former Phillie Werth said the biggest challenger to the Nationals repeating in 2013 was the Phillies.  A year later, you start to think that the Phillies might not even be the Nationals' biggest challenger to second place.  Ruben Amaro Jr. was basically handed the job in Philly.  Maybe they might want to consider an actual general manager next.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

See ya, Eric!

The news wasn't exactly surprising.  Eric O'Flaherty is headed to the Bay Area after inking a 2-year, $7M contract with the Oakland Athletic People.  There was some increasing hope back in December that O'Flaherty would return to Atlanta, but those hopes stagnated over the last few weeks with reporters who follow the Braves commenting that the Braves and O'Flaherty weren't even talking anymore.

O'Flaherty was the kind of pickup that when your team makes it, you don't even remember it by the time spring training comes.  Acquired off waivers from the Mariners on November 20th of 2008, there was little thought that O'Flaherty would help anchor the Braves bullpen over the next few years.  A former sixth round pick out of Walla Walla High School, he signed quickly with the local Mariners.  He began as a starter, but quickly transitioned to the bullpen and got to the majors in 2006.  Oh, to be left-handed.

He was rushed to the bigs by an organization that likes to speed guys through the minors and the results weren't very promising.  He struck out just six of the first 57 batters he faced.  He did give up 18 hits, including two homers, and was charged with nine runs in just 11 innings.  But good news - only five were earned!

Nevertheless, O'Flaherty was back in the M's bullpen for 2007, spending all but the first couple of weeks in Seattle.  While the numbers were definitely better, he was still not pitching well enough to earn a spot in the O'Ventbrel trio.  His ERA did look a lot worse than his FIP (4.47 to 3.55), though his K/9 would rank worse than O'Flaherty's four full seasons and his BB/9 would have ranked worse than three of those seasons.  Still, all in all, it was a successful year.  He began the following season with the Mariners, but pitched poorly and was banished to the minors within a couple of weeks.  His season came to a close in early June due to back injuries and the Mariners gave up on him.

Cue the Braves and four wonderful years, including a 0.98 ERA in 73.2 ING during 2011.  He joined with Jonny Venters to terrorize left-hand batters and plenty of right-handed ones as well.  One of his frequent victims was Ryan Howard, who went 2-for-18 against O'Flaherty with a double, two walks, and eight K's.  Chasey Utley was 4-for-20 while Jimmy Rollins was 1-for-15.  Recently retired Todd Helton managed a hit in ten plate appearances, which was one more hit Jayson Werth could get in eight trips to the plate.

O'Flaherty warming up was a depressing sight for opposing hitters.  But entering his final year of arbitration before last season, expectations were high that 2013 would be it for O'Flaherty.  His torn UCL that ended his 2013 season early brought talk of return trip and a chance to "make good," but that was not to be. The pending return of Venters and ascension of Luis Avilan also limited a chance for a return trip. Now that he is definitely gone, We'll miss EOF and good luck with the A's.  If he suffers no setbacks, O'Flaherty should be ready when the A's come to miss Turner Field August 15-17.  I bet Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman are hoping to not see you, though.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Look Back: 2010 Draft

Time to once again visit a recent draft.  While the 2011 and 2012 drafts have yielded just one major leaguer, the 2010 draft has given the Braves a  tremendous influx of talent, including 22% of their expected starting lineup next season.  Much like 2011, the Braves focused on college players, though not nearly to the same extent, even going so far as selecting a high school student with their first pick.  The Braves did not have a first round selection after losing it for signing Billy Wagner.  However, the Orioles' signing of Mike Gonzalez did give them a supplemental pick (35th overall) and an extra second round pick (53rd overall).

Again, I will go over the top ten with some extra picks highlighted if they interest me.  One pick outside the top ten will definitely hold a good deal of interest.

1. Matt Lipka, SS, McKinney High School (McKinney, TX)

Lipka was considered a great athlete with raw talent when the Braves made him their first pick of the draft.  Many were already unsure if Lipka would stay at shortstop, but his potential pop and speed made him a borderline first-round talent.  Lipka was a quick sign and played 52 games in 2010, almost all in the Gulf Coast League.  Production was very solid (.288/.344/.723, 21-of-24 SB) and Lipka quickly rose to full-season ball at 19.  In three years since, the last two at Lynchburg, Lipka's numbers have languished.  He was limited to just 51 games in 2012 due to injury, but he strikes out too often (19%) and doesn't walk enough (5%) to be much of a prospect.  He turns 22 in April and shifted to CF before 2012's season.  He still might become a good prospect, but appears limited to a ceiling as a nice utility player.

2. Todd Cunningham, OF, Jacksonville State University

Cunningham as a high-floor guy who scouts had a good idea about.  At his best, he would play decent enough defense and get on base.  At his worst, he would be a good enough fourth outfielder.  So far, that idea has remained.  After posting a .676 OPS at Rome after signing, Cunningham posted a .700 OPS while limited by injuries with the Hillcats in 2011.  Cunningham reached prospect status the following eason, slashing .309/.364/.403 with 24 steals while with Mississippi in 2012.  The season garnered him a spot on the 40-man roster to avoid exposing him to the Rule 5 draft.  His numbers fail considerable (outside of his OBP) during 2013 while playing 116 games in Gwinnett and going 2-for-8 in eight games with the big league club.  His defense seems good enough to play left field and he could easily be Reed Johnson-lite.  He will have a chance to impress for a spot on the bench next season.

2. Andrelton Simmons, SS, Western Oklahoma State Junior College

The Braves weren't positive what they had with Simmons.  Most teams preferred him at pitcher where his 98 mph fastball could thrive and possibly make him a stellar reliever.  However, Simmons wanted to be an everyday player and the Braves were willing to give that a shot.  Guess they figured they had a fallback option and Simmons could use that arm at shortstop.  After 62 games with Danville, Simmons entered prospect lists after a .311/.351/.408 season with the Hillcats in 2011.  MLB.com ranked him 62nd entering the 2012 season while Baseball America had him 92nd.  His numbers again improved, posting a .293/.372/.420 slash with Mississippi.  At the beginning of June, with Tyler Pastornicky struggling badly, Atlanta called up Simmons to take over.  Though he missed time with an injury, Simmons posted a .751 while playing other-worldly defense.  The following season, the other-worldly defense became defense unique to this universe, but his offensive production split.  Though he powered his way to 17 homers, he hit just .248 while on-basing .296.  For too long, he was the team's leadoff hitter.  Nevertheless, he took home the Platinum Award as the game's best defender and finished 14th in the MVP ballot.  With a better offensive year, Simmons will be recognized as one of the premier players at his position.

3. Joe Leonard, 3B, University of Pittsburgh

I did a Prospect of the Day look at Leonard in 2012.  With his profile (6'5"), there was expectations that Leonard's power would come and he would develop into a good option at third base, especially in a post-Chipper Jones world.  In college, Leonard was a guy who hit for a high average and played great defense.  It took some time before he would sign, but once he did, he appeared in 39 games, all but ten with Rome, and OPS'd .749.  So far, so good.  Since, he has posted OPS's of .689, .733, and .568 while playing year at all three spots along the way.  Things were so bad in Gwinnett last season that Leonard failed to homer.  By sheer accident, you assume he would homer.  He made some offensive improvements with Mississippi during 2012, but after an ugly season with Gwinnett last season, Leonard has definitely fell out of favor.  He remains a great defender at third, but without considerable offensive improvement, Leonard won't be getting to the bigs any time soon.

4. David Filak, RHP, State University of New York at Oneonta

Filak had some hope and he posted 22 solid innings with Danville after signing.  Control was bad (10 walks), but Filak pitched well enough to head to Rome in 2011.  The result was ugly 7.54 ERA in 45.1 ING with 33 walks to 32 strikeouts.  He wasn't much better after being demoted back to Danville.  After 101.2 innings with Rome in 2012, the Braves saw enough and cut Filak.  He spent last season with New Jersey of the Canadian-American Association, though he only got four ugly starts.  Maybe pitching isn't in his future.

5. Philip Gosselin, 2B, University of Virginia

The Goose was a lot like Cunningham.  You had a pretty good idea of what the floor was and had very limited expectations on a ceiling. And as such, we have seen what you expect to see.  He was the only 2010 draftee to play with Myrtle Beach after playing six games there in 2010.  He spent 2011 with the Hillcats after the Braves relocated their A+ squad.  It was probably his best full season as he hit .264/.324/.392.  Since then, he has played 187 games with Mississippi (.627 OPS) and 58 with the Gwinnett Braves last year, where he slashed .266/.308/.324.  He also had a week in the majors last year where he went 2-for-6.  Organizational guy, but no expectations that he will be a long-term major league talent.

6. Joey Terdoslavich, 3B, California State University-Long Beach

Joey T had plenty of offense, but there were concerns if he had professional-worthy defense at third base.  Turns out, he didn't and quickly was moved across the infield.  After looking solid in 2010 offensively, The Big Terd exploded all over Carolina League pitching in 2011 while slashing .286/.341/.526 with 52 2B's and 20 HR.  With Chipper's pending retirement and Leonard not exactly lighting up minor league pitching, the Braves decided to revisit third base while jumping Terdo all the way to Gwinnett to open 2012.  The results were ugly and not just defensively.  He OPS'd .515 over 53 games with 22 errors.  Atlanta realized their mistake and sent J-Terd to AA, where he posted a .852 OPS to close the year.  In 2013, he moved to the outfield and slashed .318/.359/.567 until July 3rd when the Braves came calling.  His switch-hitting bat and versatility kept him in Atlanta, where he was a regular bench option for Fredi Gonzalez.  He didn't hit particularly well, but got on base nicely while starting games at first and in left and right.  Terdy might never be a starter for a major league team, but he can have a nice career coming off the bench.  He's essentially Eric Hinske with less power.

7. Matt Suschak, RHP, University of Toledo

After 34 games over a year-and-a-half, the Braves saw all the needed from Suschak.  He displayed next to no country and when he did get the ball into the strikezone, it often left the park far too quickly.  He didn't play in 2012, but played for a pair of Frontier League teams last year, though he logged just three games of work.

8. Kurt Fleming, OF, St. Christopher's School (Richmond, VA)

Fleming was headed to Army to play baseball and football there, but chose to sign with the Braves instead and posted a .701 OPS at rookie ball after signing.  He spent 2011 with Danville, but on-based just .290.  Still, he opened 2012 with Rome, but sucked there and was back in Danville.  He didn't hit so well there either and was released after the season.  Not sure what he did last year, but recently, he enrolled with Clemson and will walk-on for the football team next fall.

9. David Rohm, OF, Fresno City College

The Braves went back college for the selection of Rohm, who split time with both rookie teams after signing, posting a .784 OPS.  He followed that up with a good year at Rome where Rohm slashed .289/.330/.432 with 47 EBH.  A lot of the wind that entered his sails quickly left after struggling through injuries and rotten play with Lynchburg in 2012.  After repeating the level with a season that mimics his year at Rome in 2011, Rohm will be headed up the ladder.  So far, he has displayed some gap power, but has hit just 12 homeruns professionally.  He doesn't walk, nor steal bases.  As a corner outfielder, his offense doesn't project well.

10. Matthew Lewis, RHP, University of California-Davis

He walked 26 in 21.2 ING coming out of the Danville pen in 2010.  He pitched three times the following season, but was quickly discarded.

Some other highlights from the rest of the draft...

-12th rounder Barrett Kleinknecht isn't going to hit for much, but he makes for a nice utility option.  The last two years while playing for Mississippi, he has logged time each year at all four infield positions, catcher, and pitcher.  In fact, he was utilized three times out of the pen just last year, giving up one hit (a home) while walking two and striking out four.

-Third Baseman Brandon Drury, selected in the 13th round, was traded last offseason in the Justin Upton deal.  He looked really good last year at South Bend, slashing .302/.362/.500 with 51 2B and 15 HR.  I miss him already.

-William Beckwith was a Random Prospect of the Day last year.  The 21st rounder seems to have cut back on December 22 after a season cut short by a DUI.  Also a former Random Prospect was Ian Marshall.  He spent last year with Southern Maryland in the independent Atlantic League.  Here is his RPOD profile.

-30th round selection Kenny Fleming is 8th rounder Kurt's older brother.  He lasted a season less than his brother did.

-Finally, there is 23rd round selection Evan Gattis from the University of Texas-Permian Basin.  The story is fairly old at this point, but because of addiction issues, Gattis's career took a significant detour before he finally was drafted and signed with the Braves.  After slugging an un-Gattis-like .387 in 60 games with Danville in 2010, Gattis destroyed SALLY pitching in 2011 to the tune of .322/.386/.601 and 22 HR, though he was limited by injuries.  The following year, again, he dealt with a few injuries, but when he played, he conquered both Lynchburg and Mississippi, OPSing .995 for the year.

After a run in winter league baseball that saddled him with the El Oso Blanco nickname, Gattis headed to spring training with a lot of buzz and was truly excellent early in the season with notable homeruns off Roy Halladay and Stephen Strasburg.  The rest of the year was not as good and he was used way too much in LF in order to get his bat into the lineup.  That won't be a concern this year after Brian McCann signed with the Yankees.  Gattis was the 24th player selected by the Braves in June of 2010.  Only nine of the 23 picked before him are still in the organization.  The unlikely success of Gattis really does test logic.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

When Will Smoltzie Have His Day?

When this year’s class of the Hall of Fame was announced, the heavy representation of Atlanta Braves brought back memories of the good ol’ days.  The Streak has long ago faded into the past as an accomplishment of yesteryear, but the announcement of Bobby Cox, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine going into the Hall of Fame during the same year had to make even the most cynical Braves fans smile.

There was one possible way to add the proverbial cherry to the top.  The remaining member of “The Big Three,” John Smoltz, made a decision that cost him the opportunity of joining the other Braves in the Hall this season.  He pitched one forgetful season while playing for the Cardinals and Red Sox before finally hanging it up.  That took him out of contention to join Maddux and Glavine

But will his arrival in the Hall happen next season?  Probably not.

Smoltz will be a victim to two things, though the second has zero to do with him.  His career lacks the numbers that accompany people who often get into the Hall of Fame during their first year.  It’s stupid because if you are a Hall of Fame player, you shouldn’t have to be punished because you aren’t a good enough Hall of Fame player to go in during your first year.  Either you are Hall-worthy or you’re not, right?

It’s sacrilegious among Braves fans to mention this because Smoltzie is our guy.  He left it all out there.  But his 3.33 ERA will rank fourth among potential candidates next year.  His WHIP and strikeouts will rank fifth.  Now, one of the players ahead of him is Roger Clemens, whose involvement in steroids has him waiting yet another year, but the other players are “clean” and deserving of a selection.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that Smoltz’s career not only compares insanely well to Curt Schilling, but that Schilling has missed out for two years, receiving only 29.2% of the vote and that was nearly 10% less than he received in 2013.  Schilling lacks the Cy Young Award that Smoltz won, but his numbers are often as good, if not slightly better, than Smoltz and no one seems to think he was a roid-head.  He may have been a bone-head at time for his remarks, but if Smoltz has the numbers, Schilling has the numbers.

The only real difference between the two may have been the years Smoltz spent as a closer.  In roughly three years as a closer, Smoltz saved 154 games for the Braves.  The Hall voters don’t seem to put too much value in saves, though.  Lee Smith retired as the game’s leader in saves and in his 12th year of voting, Smith received .7% more votes than Schilling.  Nevertheless, Smoltz is the only player in history with 200 wins and 150 saves.  Maybe that would be enough to differentiate Smoltz from Schilling.

Beyond that, the Hall voters are very prickly about electing “too many people.”  We saw during the announcement for the Hall that voters specifically limited themselves even beyond the 10-person limit the Hall puts on voters.  It helps explain why Craig Biggio finished where he did.  If you combine “not first-time ballot numbers” with “can’t vote for too many people,” you get stuck with a very limited ballot where you need other-worldly numbers to get into the Hall on your first try.

When you look at 2015’s ballot, you see two automatic Hall of Famers named Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.  Add in Biggio, who finished .2% away from selection this year, and the chances that three people reach selection again seems very strong.  If Schilling can’t get in (not to mention Mike Mussina), does Smoltz stand a shot in 2015 when the Big Unit and Pedro get their chances at selection?  Especially considering what a travesty it would be to select “too many people.”

Smoltz stands a better chance in 2016, but first-timers like Ken Griffey Jr and Trevor Hoffman could make it very difficult during that ballot selection as well.  PED concerns could open up things for Smoltz in 2017 as first-timers include Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Vladimir Guerrero.

We will have a better idea where Smoltz stands in the mind of the BBWAA once the voting results are released next year.  I don’t foresee Smoltz getting in, but a 50% vote could go a long way to getting Smoltz into the Hall of Fame before people have to manufacture a movement in efforts to garner support for him (ala Bert Blyleven).  It would be fairly depressing to see Chipper Jones reach the Hall before Smoltz.

Monday, January 20, 2014

I'm Thinking Arby's

Friday was a big day for baseball nerds. 

While most baseball fans could care less about arbitration deadlines and what it means for both the budget of the upcoming season and the budgets for the years to follow, those of us who kept our twitter rolling were interested to see who settled and who didn’t.  Friday was the day that players and teams formally submitted what their different ideas on a “fair” salary might be for the upcoming season.  This does not mean the team and the player can’t continue to negotiate a contract, but if one isn’t reached by, at the earliest, February 1st, the Braves and the team will argue their perspective cases to an arbitration panel.

It’s rare that the Braves go all the way to an arbitration hearing.  So rare that the last time it happened was 2001 when the Braves went to “trail” with the mild-mannered John Rocker.  They have gotten close from time-to-time and seemed likely to head to a hearing with Martin Prado last season, but ultimately traded him before the hearing. 

While teams can sign players beyond the day where they formally exchange figures, Frank Wren made it public that negotiations were over and hearings will definitely be in the future for three significant members of the Braves.  Let’s look at Atlanta’s chances of winning those hearings, starting with the most unlikely win.

Braves offer $5.2M, Heyward wants $5.5M

On the surface, this seems like a ridiculous case to go all the way to trail over.  Whether you believe the Braves are being petty or Heyward is being selfish, facts are that a difference of $300K seems like a difference that the player and team would simply cut the difference in half and agree to a $5.35M contract. 
However, I do believe it is worth mentioning that we can’t be sure that these final figures were ever offered by either party.  For example, the Braves may have started at $4.5M, arguing that a .776 OPS and a decline from 21 steals to just two were not enough to warrant a significant raise.  Heyward would argue that his defense remains as good as anyone’s and once moved to the leadoff spot, he began to explode.   Maybe before Friday, the difference between the two was greater than $300K.

Even if it wasn’t, the Braves are not likely to win this one.  Heyward made $3.6M last season and added value by playing good defense in center while posting the second-best OBP of his career.  While it clearly was not the year he, nor the Braves, expected after 2012’s 6.4 fWAR campaign, it was still good enough to ask for the raise he wanted according to the market. 

More importantly, does going to an arbitration hearing over a $300K difference end up causing dissent long-term between the Braves and Heyward?

Braves offer $4.5M, Freeman wants $5.75M

In my first post of the New Year, I spoke of how I would like to see the Braves sign Freeman, along with Mike Minor, to a contract extension this offseason.  Well, that isn’t happening and now, the Braves will head to arbitration over a million apart on a new contract.  According to different projections, the Braves’ offer to Freeman was well within the projected price tag for the leader of Hug Life, but that still didn’t keep the Braves from going to a hearing.

Freeman exploded last season for a .897 OPS and 4.8 fWAR, a huge difference from the 1.8 fWAR the previous season.  But he plays a position with many excellent players.  A better player, Joey Votto, never went to arbitration.  He posted fWAR’s of 3.6, 4.5, and 6.8 in his first three years.  He earned $5.5M in his fourth year as part of a three year extension.  That was just three years ago and to believe that Freeman should earn more than Votto did in his fourth season…it just doesn’t make sense.

I believe the Braves should win this case, though I would not be completely surprised if they lose it because of the ridiculous money floating around.

Braves offer $6.55M, Kimbrel wants $9M

Hopefully, we see where slightly low-balling Kimbrel wins.  I could have seen an agreement in the $7.25M range, but I think Kimbrel went too high too early.  Now, it’s very difficult to find a similar case as Kimbrel, but maybe the most similar guy is Aroldis Chapman.  The Cuban Missile filed for $5.4M while the Reds countered with $4.6M.  The situations aren’t entirely the same (Chapman made $2M last season, Kimbrel made near the minimum), but is Kimbrel worth almost double what the Reds believed Chapman was worth? 

My gut and my knowledge say that there is not a chance the first-time arbitration-eligible guy wins.  Kimbrel is the best at his position and there is no argument there.   It makes it very difficult to find a suitable comparison outside of Chapman.  Huston Street was not nearly as dominating, but settled for $3.3M in his first year of arbitration before the 2008 season.  Brian Wilson settled for $4.4M in 2010.  Jonathan Papelbon got $6.25M in 2009.

For Kimbrel to make it to $9M already would be a significant surprise and unprecedented.  I mean, if Kimbrel can get that much in his first year of arbitration, what could a guy like Mike Trout get?  Now, this probably means there is a declining amount of time before we see Kimbrel traded.  But Atlanta definitely should win this case.