Friday, January 9, 2015

Braves Keep Dealing, Get Young Lefty

It's the offseason of turnover for the Atlanta Braves. While it was necessary following the disappointing 2014, this level of change has been shocking for an organization that has leaned on handing off power to hand-picked successors (Frank Wren, Fredi Gonzalez, even John Hart). Their most recent trade occurred Thursday when the Braves send a pair of minor leaguers to the Angels for an even younger minor leaguer. Let's dive in.

Left-hander Ricardo Sanchez is as young as anyone who has been or will be traded this offseason. Signed just last season for $530,000 by the Angels, Sanchez made his state-side debut last season in the rookie-level Arizona League (similar to the Gulf Coast League). Of particular note, Sanchez was only 17 and was the youngest player in the league. Despite that, Sanchez held his own, striking out over a batter an inning. He did walk a good deal (22 in 38.2 ING), but also kept the ball in the park.

Unlike so many his age, Sanchez has a smooth delivery that lacks the typical violence we have grown accustomed to from pitchers looking for velocity over longevity. Nevertheless, Sanchez can bring it in the mid 90's, though he has been advised to surrender a few ticks in heat for better control. His best pitch is probably his curveball, which he can bury to unsuspecting hitters. Whether or not he projects as a starter will largely depend on how much he is able to improve his changeup, which comes in about 10 mph slower than his fastball. 

Sanchez is a long-range prospect. Even an aggressive time table will have him appearing in the bigs, if everything goes smoothly, at no earlier than late 2018/early 2019. Of course, a lot can happen between now and then. The Braves are banking on not losing much for Sanchez to overcome the considerable risk that goes with such a young age.

So, who did the Braves lose? Well, a pair of guys who theoretically could have helped the Braves in 2015. Kyle Kubitza was a major fan favorite and had improved notably in AA last season, posting an OBP over .400 and an OPS in the .875-range. Typically, that kind of production at third base would make you a pretty exciting prospect, but naturally, there were flaws to Kubitza's game. A very patient approach led itself to a lot of walks, but also a lot of strikeouts. He also was vulnerable to late movement because of a hitch in his swing. 

But those are minor complaints, really. He's not a prospect with an A-grade, but he was an exciting future player with potential. Some have commented on his defense, but scouts have felt he has the potential to be an above average defender due to his soft hands and plus-plus arm. With his quick wrists and let's be honest, better and more consistent umpires in the majors, Kubitza could turn himself into a solid major league 3B similar to Chase Headley or Todd Frazier with better on-base skills.

Also going to the Angels was Nate Hyatt. Another in the long line of college relievers the Braves have targeted and developed, Hyatt was picked out of Appalachian State four years ago and has became a productive minor league pitcher capable of excellent strikeout numbers. He mixes an improving splitter with a mid-to-high 90's heat, along with a bulldog demeanor on the mound. The control was improving and he was awarded with some Arizona Fall League experience after the season.

Overall, this deal could go a lot of ways. Sanchez is the prospect who projects the best out of these three players which is why the Braves targeted him and gave up two prospects for one. On the negative side, he has less than 40 innings of professional experience. In addition, Kubitza looked like a possible platoon partner or replacement for the underwhelming Chris Johnson, though his strikeout totals may have scared off a front office that abhors strikeouts now. Basically, the Braves are essentially saying the chances of Kubitza flourishing in the majors is not as high as some believe and they would rather take the high-risk, high-reward option.

That plays into Atlanta's M.O. this offseason. The Braves have banked a lot of their future in Tyrell Jenkins, Max Fried, and Manny Banuelos - guys who carry high risks, largely due to injury. Hart and his team have seemed to value the high-reward as the important part of the equation and paid considerably to get players who have as much crash-and-burn possibility as any. It'll take a few years to figure out if the moves pay off, but this most recent one hasn't won me over yet. Considering the struggles of the Braves offense, dealing with Kubitza for a 17 year-old pitcher with little professional experience strikes me as a move that just didn't need to be made. I don't doubt that Sanchez has some excitement with him, but so do many international prospects each year. While Sanchez could conceivably be turned into a good hitter at some point through a trade either through trading Sanchez or trading a pitcher Sanchez is replacing, the Braves have given up a hefty price for that long-range possibility.

No comments:

Post a Comment