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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Random Prospect Sunday: Stephen Gaylor

How cool is playing in front of your home-town fans as a professional? That's what Stephen Gaylor is doing right now with the Rome Braves. The speedy outfielder is as big of a longshot as you might find in the system, but that also helps to make him one of those guys that it is impossible not to root for.

Gaylor was born in Rome on a pretty exciting day. Just southeast at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the Braves beat the Astros 5-2 behind Steve Avery's 18th win of the year. Out west, the Giants beat the Dodgers 4-1. These two events put the Braves into first place in the NL West with two games left. The Braves would clinch the division the next night. Gaylor would letter graduate from Rome High School and began his college education at George Southwestern State, hitting .270 as a freshman. However, he would soon transfer to Berry College in Mount Berry, GA. The transfer would prove to be a great decision as Gaylor was a two-time All-Southern Athletic Association selection with the Vikings and over a three-year stretch, Gaylor set the Berry record for stolen bases with 87. During his career with the NCAA Division III college, Gaylor hit .372 and walked more than he struck out.

But as the 2014 draft ended, Gaylor's name was never called. That led to a two-month period where Gaylor was done as a college player and didn't have a professional contract. This fortunately changed on August 11th of 2014 when Gaylor signed with the Braves. The scout that signed him was Brian Bridges, also of Rome, GA. Bridges would later be promoted to the scouting director after the season as part of the internal shake-up highlighted by Frank Wren's firing.

Gaylor would play in just nine games after joining the Gulf Coast League. He had 13 hits in 40 at-bats, good for a .325 average, while swiping a pair of bases. To open 2015, Gaylor was probably still in extended spring training with a likely spot on the Danville roster when he received a promotion in mid-May due to roster shake-ups. He would get a two-steal game in his second outing, but hit just .233 over ten games before getting "demoted" to Danville. I say that in quotes because the Danville season wouldn't begin for another month. Once it did, he faced the new Pulaski Yankees in their inaugural game. In his first APPY League game, Gaylor tripled and stole a base. He would play one more game with the D-Braves before he was promoted back to Rome. This time, he remembered to bring his bat. This was highlighted by a July 9th game in Augusta when Gaylor went 4-for-5 with a double and triple. He's raised his Rome average to .274 while his OBP is .349.

In the end, Gaylor is what he is. Of his 41 professional hits, three are doubles and three are triples. He has not homered. While he was a prolific base stealer in college, his stolen base totals since signing with the Braves have been modest (10-for-12 in 41 games). He shows pretty decent plate discipline. Overall, he's a speedy athlete who can play a decent enough center field and hit for average, but he has a long way to go to be a prospect.

Still, you want to hope he becomes a real prospect. An undrafted free agent out of Rome, GA who is playing for Rome? I just had an idea for a novel! You can follow Gaylor on Twitter.

More Random Prospects...
Tyrell Jenkins 
Tanner Murphy 
Britt Robertshaw

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Jeff Schultz Doesn't Believe in the Process

I don't always agree with the AJC's Jeff Schultz on baseball. In fact, I rarely do. He's a blowhard who too often doesn't understand baseball while sticking to cliches. I've wrote on here before that Schultz and I didn't see eye-to-eye on letting Tim Hudson go and signing Gavin Floyd the offseason before the last. It was the smart decision. But Schultz, who is far more comfortable analyzing football, only really focuses on names over facts. Typically, I don't think much of it, but Nick on Twitter pointed out an awful column Schultz wrote and after a few tweets where I was amazed by his remarks, I figured I might as well review it in blog form.

The article, which carries the title, "Reflecting on Braves' deals: Were they worth it?," hit the AJC website Tuesday afternoon. The odd thing is that Schultz concedes that grading trades which were heavy in minor league talent is difficult a half-season after the trades, but yet, he does it. As if he had an article quota to fill or something.

His first target: Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins

Schultz doesn't miss an opportunity to stick to Wren, who - in Schultz's mind - "botched the previous Heyward negotiations and signed him for only two years." Now, none of us were in the room with Heyward and/or his agent, but I imagine Wren tried the same thing John Schuerholz once did with Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur - similar offers to both Heyward and Freddie Freeman. But the AJC cadre of shills never miss a chance to attack Wren. To suggest the problem was created by Wren not giving Heyward a long-term extension after the 2013 season is just revisionist history. Heyward is a tough guy to value. Sabermetrics love him considerably more than more traditional stats. Regardless, the idea that not giving Heyward a long-term deal and buying out his free agent years is just piling on. Anywho, Schultz gives a B grade to the deal, ignoring Jenkins (I don't) and the injured Walden. He suggests the deal is win-win and it might be this year. But a running theme in Schultz's rush to attach grades is that these deals weren't made for 2015.

His next target: Trading Justin Upton (now known as The Good Wife Upton) along with Aaron Northcraft for Jace Peterson, Max Fried, Dustin Peterson, and Mallex Smith

Here's how I know Schultz doesn't care one bit about looking at these deals with much context. He saves all of six words for Mallex - "Smith was just promoted to Triple-A." Not a word about his .340/.418/.413 slash with Mississippi before the promotion. Yes, when you relegate this deal to J-Up for Jace, it looks pretty bad. Schultz gives the deal a C+ grade, which is damn near impressive considering his next two grades. While it took me time to warm up to this deal, it was a very good collection of talent for the Braves and they brought in four young, talented players for a guy who would be gone by midseason. Not too shabby. Would J-Up have made this Braves team better? Yeah, but who plays second? And would two more wins really help?

3rd target: Evan Gattis and James Hoyt to the Astros for Michael Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz, and Andrew Thurman.

Here is where Schultz begins to truly go off the deep end with his criticisms. He focuses on Gattis's homers and RBIs - because they are easy numbers for him to understand. He ignores Gattis's .268 OBP. Gattis has stepped up to the plate 340 times and made 255 outs. But you don't hear about that from Schultz. No, he focuses on Gattis's homers and RBIs because those numbers tell him more. He suggests that had Gattis been brought back, he would have played left and shared catching duties with A.J. Pierzynski considering Christian Bethancourt's struggles. This completely ignores that Gattis is kept off the field by the Astros because he can't really play either left field or catcher, but I digress. Gattis is a massively overrated player because of his story. The Astros are learning that. Of the 15 AL teams, only the A's are getting worse bWAR from their DH. Schultz gives this trade a D. Unless that D stood for DamnGoodTradeMr.Hart, Schultz is a boob.

Final target: Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr. to the Padres for Cameron Maybin, Matt Wisler, and company

Let me start by saying that he grades this an A in economics and an F in baseball. His journey to that grade is pretty horrific. "The loss of Kimbrel destroy the bullpen because Hart had no time to prepare for the deal by acquiring other relief help." This is bad analysis even for Schultz. Before this trade, Hart had signed both Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson, took a flier on Josh Outman, and added other low-risk, high-reward guys. To suggest that trading Kimbrel wrecked the pen is a stretch. It made it moderately worse, but it was the poor performances by others that wrecked the pen - performances the Braves couldn't really foresee. Now, Schultz, in his haste to make a point, glosses over Maybin's first half ("a nice surprise, but he's not a long term answer"). Why not dive into Maybin's performance a little bit? For that matter, why not mention why he's not a long-term option or do you think guys in their age-28 years are preparing for retirement. For some reason, Schultz doesn't even touch on Wisler, who has a 3.10 ERA in five starts after entering the year ranked in the Top 40 by Baseball America. Not a single word in the trade analysis. His grade is cute and all, but ultimately lacking in context. Would Kimbrel have made the team better? Not even sure. At his best, he's a 2-to-3 win player. Maybin can be that and more. As can Wisler. The Braves used one trade to upgrade their CF and eventually, their rotation and all it cost was a luxury they didn't need (an expensive closer). Grilli filled in nicely before his untimely injury. Again, Kimbrel would have made the pen better and maybe, just maybe, the team. But it would have cost them offense. It would have cost them starting pitching. Those two are more important than a shutdown guy in the ninth. Don't cut off your nose to spite your face, Schultz. And getting rid of Melvin and not paying his salary? The only possible grade for this deal is A+. Unless you're Michael Scott and you grade it an A++.

I get that not every Braves fan is going to know all the in's and out's of the Braves' moves. From a simple stand point of giving up A for B, the Braves might look like losers. But Schultz knows better than to appeal to this fan. The goal of any good journalist, of which I am not, is to both inform and entertain. This article does nothing to inform because it neglects several key points that better explain the deals. Its entertainment factor? Ehh, he mentioned Jimmy Buffett. Way to stay with the times.

If he's not going to seriously approach baseball analysis, Schultz ought to steer clear of it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Once a Brave, Always a Brave - NL Central

I considered doing a special version of this series with the All-Star Game, but that would have been pretty short with, by my count, just two former ex-Braves in the All-Star Game. So, let's move on to this week's target, former Braves in the NL Central. As usual, this list should not be considered exhaustive. There might be - and probably are - a few misses. If you notice them, feel free to comment below.

Chicago Cubs
P James Russell - Released shortly before the season because the Braves liked their options in-house better and Russell had displayed reverse splits last year, the Braves could have used Russell after all. He quickly hooked back up with the Cubs and after a short run in the minors, he has been a pretty decent option out of the pen for Chicago. His peripherals don't look so pretty, but it's hard to put a negative spin on a 1.71 ERA.

P Rafael Soriano (AA) - Nobody was anxious to bring Soriano on board last winter and now, he's working himself into game-shape for an eventual promotion to the Cubs' pen. So far, he's appeared in four games for Tennessee. I assume he'll be in the mix once the MLB schedule gets going again.

C David Ross - There were a lot of people who wanted to bring Ross back this offseason. In the first half, Ross has hit a miserable buck-89 with no homers. That said, he has always been good behind the plate, though his caught stealing percentage has been well under 30% the last two years. He does remain a great option at pitch framing and Statcorner ranks him sixth among catchers. That's pretty good considering he's caught 2000 less pitches than the top five. He also tossed a scoreless inning earlier this year.

2B Tommy La Stella - He's missed most of the year with an oblique/ribs injury that he suffered after just two games. Considering how Jace Peterson has effectively replaced him, TLS had no place in Atlanta. With young Cubs firmly entrenched at second-and-third, TLS will likely be stuck playing backup whenever he is able to get back.

Cincinnati Reds
P J.J. Hoover - After a rough sophomore year, Hoover has bounced back to be the best Reds reliever not from Cuba this year. He's done something new this year, though. I personally watched him three or four times when he was a Myrtle Beach Pelican a few years ago and the one reason I never bought into him was that he routinely got the ball too high, where it got blasted. This year, he has a GB% of 43% which is about a 15% climb over his previous work. It's cost him in terms of strikeouts and SIERA hates him for it, but I like it.

P Jason Marquis - Unfortunately, Marquis is no longer a Red. His return to the bigs after missing 2014 lasted nine starts. If you'd like to read more about Marquis's career, read my Random Ex-Brave report on him from May.

OF Jason Bourgeois - Hard not to love a guy like Bourgeois. He's never logged more than 252 PA in a season in the majors, has played in 257 games in parts of eight years in the majors, and turned 33 last January. But here he is...still struggling to stick. He never played for the big-league Braves, but did spent 119 games with Richmond in 2005. If I recall correctly, he had a decent spring and some thought he could stick, but he didn't. The only positions he hasn't played professionally are pitcher, catcher, and first base.

OF Jose Constanza (AAA) - Yeah, the bat licker lives. He's hit just .256 in 41 games with Louisville after the Braves cut him before the season. Before that, he had spent four years with the franchise - mostly spent at Gwinnett. He did get into 112 games in the big leagues and routinely played ahead of Jason Heyward in 2011.

Milwaukee Brewers
P Jaye Chapman (AAA) - A long, long time ago, or 2012, the Braves traded Arodys Vizcaino to the Cubs for a pair of major league veterans in the form of Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm. Joining Vizcaino was Chapman, a 16th round pick back in 2005 who was a draft-and-follow (meaning he signed the next year). Chapman got into 14 games down the stretch for the Cubs and posted a 3.75 ERA. He hasn't been in the majors again since. Instead, the reliever missed most of 2013 with injury, pitched 50 games with Bridgeport of the Atlantic League last year, and has gotten the call 36 times over two different levels this year.

2B Pete Orr (AAA) - Orr has been around so long that he played for the Jamestown Jammers back when the Braves had a short-season A ball team. Orr was part of the Baby Braves movement in 2005 when he hit .300. Subsequent efforts over the next two year were steadily worse and Atlanta released him following 2007. Unlike a lot of AAAA filler, he hasn't been in a new uniform each year. He spent three years in the Nats' system, three with the Phils, and is in year 2 of the Brewers organization. He is a career .266 hitter in the minors and stole his 200th career base last year.

OF Kyle Wren (AAA) - Traded away because he had Wren Stink all over him, Frank's son hasn't homered since 2013. But after hitting well in AA, he was promoted to Colorado Springs. Despite hitting in what is a hitter's league with the thin air of Colorado Springs, Wren has struggled over his first 23 games in AAA. Still, he is a career .298 hitter with 106 steals in 268 games so I imagine he'll get it going.

Pittsburgh Pirates
P Jeff Locke - While his All-Star season was impressive (at least until after the break), Locke has been pretty average since then. He still walks too many and the arbitration-pending southpaw will be an interesting decision for the Pirates to make. They'll probably give him a long-term deal like they gave to...

P Charlie Morton - Morton is still owed at least $9M. He's good enough when he can stay healthy, though he has never made 30 MLB starts in a season and won't buck that trend this year. Now 31 years-old, Morton has pitched in parts of eight years in the majors. It really doesn't feel like it's been that long. Guess I'm getting a little old.

UT Wilkin Castillo (AAA) - One of Jose Constanza's teammates on the 2011 G-Braves, Wilkin is an interesting guy to have around. Over a career that began in Missoula as part of the Diamondbacks organization in 2004, Wilkin has played every single position and finished the feat this year with Indianapolis as he pitched for the first time. With Gwinnett, he hit just .262 being mostly utilized as a catcher, though he did play 1B, 2B, 3B, and LF as well.

3B Edward Salcedo (AA) - Maybe the biggest international signing bust during the Frank Wren era, Salcedo was traded to the Pirates after Wren's firing. He's hit just .233 with ONE homerun this year. He has added 1B, LF, and even pitcher to his positional flexibility. He walked three (included one intentionally) and surrendered a one while retiring one of five batters. Unlike most hitters who pitch out of need, it wasn't a bloodbath Salcedo was finishing. It was an 18-inning game on June 11th where both sides were out of pitchers. Getting the win was Brock Stassi. He's usually a first baseman, but he did throw three innings that night.

OF Gorkys Hernandez - The final player the Braves gave up for Nate McLouth in 2009? Gorkys. He would make his debut with the Pirates in 2012, but was soon traded to the Marlins, who traded him to the Royals, who sold him to the White Sox. Anywho, last offseason, he signed with the Pirates and recently was promoted to the majors where, for the first time, the Pirates have all three of the guys they got for McLouth on the roster at the same time. Baseball's fun!

St. Louis Cardinals
P Adam Wainwright - Tore his achilles back in April, but he apparently wants to pitch again this season, especially once the Cards head to the playoffs. That's a tough guy. The Cardinals obviously need him...with their 2.71 ERA this year and all.

P Jordan Walden - He got off to a good start, pitching in 12 games where he allowed just one run, but bicep inflammation has had him out of action since the end of April. He has yet to appear in a rehab game, but might be back before the end of July.

OF Jason Heyward - More of the same for Heyward, though he has been healthy. Great defense in right field, amazing speed on the bases where he also adds smart baserunning, and just okay offense at the plate. Some of the power is back (two homeruns off last year's total), but some of his walks have been sacrificed for power. Overall, the soon-to-be free agent is going to have a tough time convincing someone he deserves $200M without a 2004 Carlos Beltran-like postseason.

Recently Profiled in Once a Brave, Always a Brave...
NL East
AL West
AL Central

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Random Prospect Sunday - Tyrell Jenkins

In January of 2010, 17 year-old Tyrell Jenkins made the kind of decision that, for many of us, is one of the most important decisions of his life. The Henderson, Texas native decided that he would pursue higher education at Baylor, accepting a scholarship to play both baseball and football. A quarterback who could run and throw, Jenkins had a shot to stick at the position in a post Robert Griffin III world at Baylor. Rivals ranked him as a 3-star QB who attracted attention from Texas, TCU, and even Michigan. But five months later, Jenkins was drafted with the 50th overall pick of the MLB draft and the Cardinals wooed him away from a potential life in football. Baylor did okay, though.

Getty Images Sport
Jenkins started two games for Johnson City after signing and would return the next year for a full season with the Appalachian League team. He gave up a few too many hits, but struck out 55 in 56 innings and was playing, as an 18-19 year-old against mostly college draftees. The season and Jenkins's tantalizing collection of tools made him a prospect in the eyes of Baseball America, who ranked him 94th as the 2012 season opened. Jenkins made 19 starts in Quad Cities and his season was limited by both pitch count and injuries, but he flashed the same electric arm. His 5.14 ERA backed off Baseball America, but Baseball Prospectus bought in, ranking him 94th as well.

However, injuries would limit him the next two seasons. He threw just 59.1 innings in 2013 and 74 innings the following year as he pitched for both Peoria, which replaced Quad Cities in the organization, and Palm Beach. His biggest individual highlight came in first win of 2013, which was in his fifth overall game. Facing the Fort Wayne TinCaps of the Padres organization, Jenkins threw his first complete game and only shutout of his career, limiting the visiting TinCaps to three hits and a walk while striking out five. He induced 15 (or 16) groundballs that day depending on the source.

After an injury-shortened 2014, Jenkins was sent to the Arizona Fall League to finish the year. It was there that Jenkins seemed to improve his prospect standing. His ERA was 2.22, though that's certainly not a be-all end-all number. However, he threw well and closed in on 100 total innings for the year. Future major leaguer Dalton Pompey was toyed with in this video.

Following the season, the Cards were left with a choice. Put Jenkins on the 40-man roster or certainly lose him in the upcoming Rule 5 draft. They did neither, of course, trading Jenkins along with Shelby Miller to the Braves for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden. It was a sudden change for Jenkins. He went from an organization that was pushing toward another title run to one that looked like a squad that was starting over. Great thing about starting over franchises - they are a great proving ground for young players.

This year, Jenkins made his AA debut at the age of 22. He was the youngest pitcher on his team and one of the ten youngest pitchers in the league. With the Mississippi Braves, Jenkins started 16 games. The walks were a little high - especially for him - but Jenkins flashed the potential the Braves were hoping for when they acquired him. His ERA was 3.00, his FIP 3.86. We can definitely quibble about a high SIERA, but for Jenkins, the biggest takeaway was that he made each start. After his sweet 16 start on the fourth of July, Jenkins was given the news that makes players giddy - a promotion to AAA. Only one more step to go. Jenkins wasn't one to rest on his laurels. In his first outing with Gwinnett, he went seven scoreless innings with a walk and six strikeouts. Hello AAA, Tyrell has arrived.

On the mound, Jenkins throws a fastball that comfortably sits in the low-to-mid 90's range. He has the ability to rear back and add a few more ticks to his velocity, though a scouting report I saw suggested that when he does, it becomes obvious. He also throws a changeup about 10 mph slower that helps set off the fastball and when most effective, hitters drag their bat through the zone after being fooled. The slider has strikeout potential when he has a good handle on it. Jenkins uses a high leg kick that with the right throwback uniform, you might think you were watching footage from the 60's and 70's. He does go to a slide step when needed and can be fairly quick to the plate. Historically, he has been able to pitch down in the zone and get a lot of grounders.

For Jenkins, the results are hard to tell much from. He has missed so much action that not only is he often young for his level age-wise, but young experience-wise. In his sixth professional year, he has never come out of the pen, but only has 374 innings on the mound and he's already in AAA. To compare, Matt Wisler started two years later and has 462.1 ING in the minors and another 29 in the majors. Jenkins is why we still heavily value the opinions of scouts because the numbers won't overwhelm you - even when you take into consideration his age. There is a lot there for the future and we should be excited. He is starting the scratch the surface. The Braves have already burned an option on him this year so we could see Jenkins at some point, though he's probably on an innings limit so it's doubtful without another injury (*knockonwood*) that Jenkins will make his MLB debut until 2016. There are a lot of pitchers in the system and Jenkins might get pushed to the pen, but he has a shot to stick with the big guns.

Be sure to follow Jenkins on Twitter.

More Random Prospects
Tanner Murphy  
Britt Robertshaw
Ozhaino Albies  

Saturday, July 11, 2015

This Week at About.com

Things have been busy over at my second home, AtlantaBraves.About.com. Here is a list of this week's posts in case you missed them.

Braves Seek Young Catching

In this slideshow, I look at some of the young options the Braves could be seeking on the trade market for a long-term option at catcher. Andrew Susac would appear like a possible fit if the Giants decide he's worth giving up for Cameron Maybin. Other choices Texas's Jorge Alfaro, the Yankees' Gary Sanchez, and maybe even Toronto's Max Pentecost. Oh, and there are others. There's a decent amount of catching talent churning away.

Should the Braves Trade Cameron Maybin? 

As I investigate, that question is a loaded one. The Braves absolutely should make the move that makes them a better team. If that means trading Maybin, so be it. In this article, I search for what the Braves might look for along with arguing the pros and cons to trading the resurgent center fielder.

Pitch Framing Needs to Be Addressed for the Braves

Pop open the stats book and let's look at pitch framing for catchers. When Brian McCann was a Brave, the club was spoiled by one of the game's best catchers when it came to that skillset. But since he's left, it's been ugly behind the plate. The Braves have brought in Gerald Laird and A.J. Pierzynski over the last three years to both serve the backup role and be a mentor, both were poor at this art. Christian Bethancourt and any future catching acquisition need to work hard to improve this to the point where it's at least not a weakness.

Saturday Stats Pack for July 11

In the weekly wrap up article, I focused on team statistics and issues with the win-loss record. One big takeaway is how poor the Braves are doing against the contenders, or the teams who are at least at .500. These teams are handling the Braves with ease. This becomes problematic because over 50% of their second half games come against these teams.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Random Ex-Brave: John Thomson

It was the kind of smart, no-risk signing a guy like John Schuerholz built his career on. John Thomson's came to the Braves as a veteran expected to be steady at the bottom of the rotation. He played for five teams in ten major league seasons, started a postseason game, and was once traded for, among others, disappointing Mets outfielder Jay Payton. Thomson wore the journeyman label on his sleeve and ran with it. Unfortunately, injuries ultimately curtailed what probably wouldn't have been a better career - but certainly a longer one.

Thomson pitches during his short 2004 NLDS
start (Jamie Squire | (Getty Images Sport)
Born on the first of October in 1973 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Thomson would later go to high school in Louisiana and played for both Blinn College and McNeese State. He was selected in the seventh round of the 1993 draft by the Rockies - the second draft of the young franchise's history. Baseball-Reference ranks Thomson as the second-best player, according to WAR, that the Rockies drafted out of their first three drafts behind Craig Counsell. Lucky they got Todd Helton to open the 1995 draft because their early drafts were awful.

Thomson looked pretty good at times in the minors, though he was a little too hittable. Still, in his fifth year professionally, he was already on the cusp of the bigs and made his major league debut on May 11, 1997. He would throw seven innings with one earned run - at Coors Field - and wouldn't be going back to the minors again that season. He lost that game, by the way. He took the L in his first four outings before throwing his first complete game against the Marlins on June 1 to get his first win. His second came ten days later against the Braves, though a nine-run outburst definitely helped. On August 6th, Thomson tossed a four-hitter at Shea Stadium. It was the first of three shutouts for Thomson in the bigs. Overall, Thomson finished with a 4.71 ERA, but a respectable 4.02 FIP.

Thomson's numbers took a step back in 1998 as he finished the season with a 4.81 ERA, 4.47 FIP, and spent a little time on the DL. That would become a pretty common thing. In 1999, Thomson was awful and finished the season with a 8.04 ERA in the majors, a 9.41 ERA in the minors, and an arm injury that would limit him to four minor league starts in 2000. He appeared in 26 games total in 2001, though it wasn't until August that he was able to stick in the majors. His two highlights of the year came in the season's final two games. Against the Brewers in Coors Field, he tossed a five hitter with 9 K's to win 10-0. He would strikeout 12 against the Padres six days later, which would serve as his career high. His efforts were a little overshadowed, even though he got the win, by an event in the bottom of the first. Rickey Henderson hit a double to right field and would later score. He was removed after the first. He had already made history and probably only played to reach his 3,000th hit. This game also served as Tony Gwynn's final game. He pinch-hit in the ninth and grounded out. To put a final bow on this...Juan Uribe, playing shortstop, hit a pair of homers in the win and drove in 5. Uribe's been around for awhile.

Thomson opened 2002 with the Rockies and started 21 games, but the thing about fifth starters - you aren't that anxious to keep them and contending teams with a hole at the bottom of their rotation absolutely love them. With that in mind, the Rockies sent Thomson to the Mets and away from the organization he had been a part of for nine years. Four other players were part of the deal, though Jay Payton's the biggest name. At the time this trade happened, the Mets were 55-51 and while the East was a pipedream (they trailed by 13.5 games on July 31), they hoped to get in the playoff hunt. A 12-game losing streak in mid-August killed any chances the Mets would make the playoffs. Thomson started two of those games and lost both.

After the year, Thomson signed with the Texas Rangers and did something he didn't do a lot of in his career. He stayed healthy. He started 35 games and eclipsed 200 innings for the first time. His 4.13 FIP was the best since his rookie year and he hit free agency at the right time. Atlanta was closing the door on Greg Maddux and was looking for someone to bring a little consistency to the bottom of the rotation. Thomson finished second on the team in starts and innings pitched while setting career lows in ERA (3.72) and FIP (3.90). The Braves faced the Astros (as they seemed to do every year in the playoffs). After the Braves failed in Game 1, they came from behind to beat the Astros on a walk-off two-run homer by Rafael Furcal. Game 3 was in Houston. Thomson's big moment was short-lived, though, as he left after facing just three batters and getting one out with a strained muscle. The Braves would go on to lose 8-5 and ultimately lost the series in Game 5.

In the Baby Brave year of 2005, Thomson got off to a good start and tossed his only complete game in a winning effort against the Astros on May 5, but by May 16th, he was headed to the DL. He returned that August and was steadily inadequate down the stretch. In his defense, he did do his best to make up for his early exit the previous year against the 'Stros in the playoffs and tossed two scoreless in Game 4 of the NLDS - exactly a year after his injury. It was his only postseason appearance of the series, the last of his career, and when Chris Burke happened in the 18th, it was the last time I believed in God. Only half-kidding.

Injuries (surprise, surprise) limited Thomson to 80.1 ING in his final season with the Braves, but even when he was on the mound, he wasn't too good. He signed with the Jays after the year, but didn't make it to the majors for them and was ultimately released. What did former Braves do back then? They signed with Dayton Moore and the Royals. Thomson would start two games with the Royals - one good and one not so good. Kinda mimics his career. His outing against the White Sox on July 1 was his final game in the majors.

After retiring, Thomson returned home to Sulphur, Louisiana. I haven't seen much in terms of post-retirement happenings. He has taken part in some charity softball events, but that's about it. Which is sad because Thomson's just not that interesting.

More Random Ex-Braves
Kent Mercker (1989-95, 2003)
George Lombard (1998-2000)
Jason Marquis (2000-03)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Once a Brave, Always a Brave - NL East

In today's look around the league at former Braves, the focus is on the NL East. Because teams to not deal with their divisional rivals often, there aren't a lot of ex-Braves in the NL East - though most of the ones that are populate major league rosters. As usual, this list cannot be considered exhaustive and there is a better than average chance I'm missing a player or two. If you know of one, please comment below.

Miami Marlins
P Mike Dunn - He only spent 25 games with the Braves back in 2010 and walked way too many batters, but Dunn has been a solid reliever for Florida/Miami since arriving in the trade we try not to talk about involving a current National. He's been a little iffy this year for the Marlins, posting a 1.43 WHIP to go with an ugly 1.0 HR/9. But sample sizes involving just 26.2 innings can be problematic. He's signed through next year and here's a fun fact...his only experience in the postseason came as a Brave. He retired four-of-six Giants he faced in 2010 during three scoreless outings.

1B Jeff Baker - There are currently two players in the majors who were born in Germany. Edwin Jackson of the Cubs and Baker of the Marlins. He appeared in 14 games with the Braves after they picked him up in 2012 and had just two singles in 19 AB. Oddly, the Braves sent the Tigers Greg Ross to complete the deal. Ross, a pitcher, was cut at the end of spring training in 2013 without appearing in a game for the Tigers organization. He then resigned with the Braves and has spent the last year-and-a-half in Mississippi.

3B Martin Prado - Go ahead, name a Brave who was more beloved than Prado over the last five years. Freddie Freeman? Maybe. Craig Kimbrel? Possibly. But Prado was impossible not to like. A non-prospect who was supposed to have a best-case future of being a utility guy, Prado pushed Kelly Johnson to the side in 2009 and was an All-Star the following year. A trade moved him to left and over two years, he remained a pretty solid option out there. However, the Braves moved him to the D'Backs for Justin Upton as Prado wanted more money than the Braves were willing to give up. He has also played for the Yankees and now Marlins since leaving Atlanta and his numbers just don't look nearly as impressive as they did as a Brave (.280/.324/.407). He's on the DL with a shoulder injury.

New York Mets
P Buddy Carlyle - Last year, when Carlyle signed a minor league deal with the Mets, I looked at what Carlyle did for the Braves. In a certain way, Carlyle mimics Prado in that it's impossible not to like him, though that didn't make Carlyle beloved by any means. Carlyle was drafted in 1996 and despite making it to the majors in 1999, he has just one year where he has thrown 100 major league innings in a single season - 2007 with the Braves. If anyone bitches about how awful the Braves pitching has been at times this year, I point them to 2007. When Carlyle started 20 games, Chuck James started 30, Kyle Davies started 17, Jo-Jo Reyes started 10, and Lance Cormier started 9. I would mention Mark Redman's five starts, but I would have flashbacks that would send me under the desk in a fetal position.

P Sean Gilmartin - I remember someone getting upset we traded this guy for Ryan Doumit. Now, Doumit was an utter failure, but Gilmartin wasn't much of a prospect. Unfortunately, he's been pretty decent this year as a Rule 5 LOOGY for the Mets. I'd like to suggest it's all smoke and mirrors, but it's not. He might not ever be a major league starter, but he's got a shot to be good in limited bullpen action.

2B Brooks Conrad (AAA) - With Conrad, you get two memorable things that show the highs and lows of being a professional athlete. There were his two pinch-hit Grand Slams in 2010, including the one that made the Braves walk-off winners on May 20 against the Reds - still one of the coolest moments since The Streak ended. But...that kind of gets overshadowed by one of the worst postseason efforts in history. Not only did he managed just a single in 12 AB, but he was a nightmare in the field. His total four errors for the series was bad...especially when three came in Game 3, including on a grounder right between his legs that led to the go-ahead run in a 3-2 loss. Oh, his second led a to a run, too (though Jason Heyward should have called him off). 2010 should have been the best season of his career. Anyway, he has hit .205 for Las Vegas this year.

Philadelphia Phillies
P Aaron Harang - Harang has seen his strikeout rate fall a tick and his homer rate go up due to the park he plays in, but he's continued to show that he's not finished. Sadly, the Phillies are and have lost 11 of his 17 starts, which saddles Harang with the Senior Circuit's most losses. He hit the DL last week with plantar fasciitis.

OF Jeff Francoeur - After a year mostly spent in the minors, the now 31 year-old Francoeur is back in the majors and receiving significant playing time for the Phillies. He's hit about how you'd expect him to. He also got a chance to pitch this year and threw two innings against the Orioles on June 16, giving up two runs, walking three, and striking out Nolan Reimold, the first batter he ever faced.

Washington Nationals
P David Carpenter - His first name is actually Darrell so we have the REAL David Carpenter now. OldCarp flamed out in the Bronx and was shown the door after just 22 games. So, again, they gave up Manny Banuelos for Chasen Shreve and 22 games of OldCarp. Thanks! The Nats sent a minor leaguer to the Yankees for OldCarp and in his first eight games, he looked kinda better. He's currently on the paternity list so congrats!

2B Dan Uggla - At this point, Uggla's value is kind of the same as Jonny Gomes. You can use him against a starting lefthander and left-handed relievers, but you have to hide him against righties. Uggla has actually struck out as a lower rate than each of the last three years so maybe he's seeing the ball a bit better.

OF Reed Johnson - Another guy limited to only platoon advantage at-bats, Johnson spent a year-and-a-half in Atlanta and was pretty decent, though he posted better numbers as a Cub. He spent last year with the Marlins and now continues his NL East journey with the Nats. Well, except that he has been on the shelf since the 13-12 comeback win over the Braves that sent many a Braves fan in a downward spiral. The "big pop" in his foot required surgery and he is not expected back before rosters expand in September.

Recently profiled in Once a Brave, Always a Brave...
AL West
AL Central
AL East

Monday, July 6, 2015

Trying to Explain The International Signing Period

This whole mess has been confusing from the get-go. I tried to explain it a little the other day, but I want to focus a bit more on how much money the Braves could spend, how much they have spent, and why the Braves traded a half-dozen players away to be able to spend it.

Initial Bonus Pool = $2,458,400
Where does that figure come from? Each team is assigned four slots and each slot comes with a signing bonus value. This is not too dissimilar from the MLB draft where the first several rounds come with signing bonus values for each pick (this is where the idea of signing for slot comes from). The slots are assigned, again much like the draft, by reverse order of last year's standings. That gave the Braves the 15th, 45th, 75th, and 105th slots.

Note that you don't have to use all four slots. It's just a method to assign a team an initial bonus pool from which to sign from. You could sign 20 players for $20K each if you wanted to. You are limited financially by the slots, but no player will be "picked" or signed for their individual value. They're just placeholders.

Maximum Bonus Pool = $3,687,600
Here is where the idea of trading for international slots comes into play. The Braves agreed upon four different trades. They traded Cody Martin to the A's for the 53rd slot, Jordan Paroubeck and Caleb Dirks to the Dodgers for the 87th slot, Garrett Fulenchek to the Rays for the 73rd and 103rd slots, and today, the Braves moved Aaron Kurcz to the A's for the 113th slot.

So, let's add that up.
53rd - $388,400
73rd - $299,000
87th - $249,000
103rd - $195,200
113th - $167,000

Those five picks give us a total of $1,298,600. Let's add that to the initial bonus pool of $2,458,400 which gives us a total of $3,757,000. Wait, something doesn't add up, right? I underlined maximum bonus pool so it must be important, yet the Braves, according to my math, have more than that. What gives?

Your maximum bonus pool is actually decided when your initial bonus pool is allotted. How's that? The maximum is found by taking the initial bonus pool and adding 50% of that bonus pool. That means you start with $2,458,400 and you cannot go beyond that total plus half. Atlanta essentially added nearly $70K in theoretical money that they cannot use.

Except that they kinda can in a different sense...

Maximum Bonuses Without Future Penalties = $3,871,980
Okay, what the hell is that? We just decided a maximum on completely arbitrary means and now we're moving the goal posts?

You may know that some teams have spent so much money in international bonuses that they are limited to a maximum individual bonus of $300,000 to any given player in this year's signing period. Why that total? Because the whole system is made up. But anyway, Arizona gave Yoan Lopez $8.27M last signing period. That's went well beyond their maximum pool. So despite having four slots worth nearly $3,36M to start with this signing period, they weren't going to come close to reaching it because all they could offer any player was a signing bonus of $300K and not a cent more.

The Braves do not want to have to deal with a similar problem because they are already preparing to blow by whatever their allotment is next year with the signing of Kevin Maitan, a prospect some have compared to Miguel Cabrera.

But they can go over their maximum bonus pool. Just not very far. 5% actually. Again, I don't make up the rules, I'm just reporting how ridiculous they are. Call this a grace period if you want. A team can spend 5% beyond their maximum bonus pool and not suffer similar penalties like Arizona is. This additional bonus-bonus pool for the Braves is $184,380 added onto their maximum bonus pool. The caveat to spending beyond your max is that you have to pay an overage tax on each dollar you go beyond that maximum. I'm not real sure where the money goes. But I digress.

So, to recap...based on your record from the previous year, you are assigned four slots with the other 29 teams in baseball. Those slots each carry a signing bonus value. Once you add those signing bonus values together (oh, and add $700K for reasons unknown), you arrive at your initial bonus pool available to sign international prospects during the year.

You can add "money" to that initial bonus pool by acquiring slots that belong to other teams. You can acquire as many as you want, but the cap on your maximum bonus pool is limited to the sum of your initial bonus pool + 50% of that initial bonus pool.

If you spent beyond the maximum, you will be penalized. If you spend up to 5% beyond it, you will be charged an overage tax for the money you went over. If you spent beyond 5%, you will be limited during the next TWO signing periods to a max individual signing bonus of $300K.

NOW, back to the Braves...Atlanta could spend up to about $3.87M. They spent $3.85M. They will not suffer any restrictions for next season, but they will owe an overage fee of $162,400 to the MLB Overlords.

Braves Pick Up Minor League Southpaw

I'm a NASCAR fan. Not a fanatic, but a fan. So I was at my computer checking Twitter instead of sleeping while the rain-delayed race continued well into the night. As tweets about the race occupied a lot of my feed, a story about another Braves acquisition showed up. News broke last night that the Braves had pulled off a trade with the Astros. No, they weren't acquiring Jacob Nottingham, though he made my recent article posted today at About. Instead, they had picked up Mitchell Lambson. They will send the Astros cash considerations. That term has always amused me.

So, who is this Lambson guy? Born in Oregon in July of 1990, Lambson went undrafted out of high school and attended Arizona State. It was there that he was drafted in the 19th round of 2011. Nobody from that round and year has made it to the majors just yet. Also, if you just can't help be fascinated by weird things like me, you might ponder just who was the Braves pick that year in the 19th round? Troy Snitker. If that last name sounds familiar, it's because Troy is Brian Snitker's son. The elder Snitker was then the third base coach and is the current manager at Gwinnett. Ah, nepotism. To tie this up, the younger Snitker has returned to his alma mater of North Georgia University as a graduate assistant coach.

Lambson skipped rookie ball and headed to short-season A Tri-City after signing. He appeared in 22 games out of the pen and gave up a few too many homers, but struck out over a batter an inning. With his great control, the lefty posted a 4.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. As we found out later, that wouldn't be abnormal.

Over his career, Lambson has steadily climbed the ladder toward the majors. On May 23rd, he made his AAA debut and has held his own in a much more difficult league to pitch in than the International League. In 150 games - all in relief - Lambson has ratios such as 9.9 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, and 0.6 HR/9. A deeper dive into his numbers highlights a few interesting things, courtesy of minorleaguecentral.com.

At first, and you know this if you follow me on twitter (and you should), Lambson appears like a pitcher without any platoon preference. It could even be argued he has reverse splits. This is what happens when you cycle through each year's splits while focusing on things like opposing OPS for a simple reference. A bigger look unlocks some better information. Lambson does show a platoon preference (though not a huge one) and it's how you would expect a lefthander's numbers to go. Here is a few career numbers of interest.
Split FIP SIERA GB% BABIP K% BB% WHIP
vs. L 2.21 2.49 39.6% .352 27.3% 3.4% 1.19
vs. R 2.91 2.96 33.6% .275 27.2% 7.5% 1.10
Simply put, the more you know, the better you are to make an observation. My quick observation from last night was lacking. What stands out to me (along with this person you should also follow) is that BABIP against lefties is ridiculously high. But sample size probably has a lot to do with it. It's weird that he's ran a high BABIP every season against lefties, but several instances of something does not in itself make a trend. It does make us wonder, of course. I'm inclined to believe a higher LD% rate is the bigger culprit and a 5% difference between splits there can lead to a lot of balls falling to the ground rather than harmlessly into someone's glove. Still, the deeper numbers push us toward believing he is more dominant against lefties.

Speaking of dominance, that's all that can be discerned regardless of the split. There's a lot to like in these numbers so did the Braves get someone ultra cheap? Let's look at the scouting report.

While his numbers scream dominance, his stuff doesn't. He stays in the high 80s and has to bring it to crack 90 mph. That's odd in today's world of triple digit velocity. To make up for that, Lambson uses his changeup often to both get ahead and get out hitters and it's a damn good one. For someone of his limitations to get by with a changeup like that, you have to believe he's both repeating his delivery and showing no sign of a changeup leaving his fingers which in itself is an accomplishment for young pitchers. As you might notice with the pic I used and a look at this one, the southpaw hides the ball well, which only adds to the batter's difficulty. Lambson depends on intelligence and deception, which should not be taken to mean he doesn't have the stuff and control to get out batters. But because he lacks that awe-inspiring velocity or excellent breaking ball, Lambson won't make many prospect lists. He probably should - especially organizational reliever lists. He has been superb throughout his career and at this point, you can't argue that it's just pure luck.

Atlanta certainly could use a lefty for their pen. They currently are relying on Luis Avilan who, for what it's worth, is a lot better against lefties than fans want to believe. But that's all Avilan is - a decent, but not great, option against left-hand batters who is substandard against righties. Andrew McKirahan, the Rule 5 pick that he is, showed good numbers in the minors regardless of split and is due back from suspension shortly after the All-Star Break. The Braves have every reason to see what they have with McKirahan and whether he can build on a decent enough three-game start earlier this year to potentially be a part of the 2016 picture. With Lambson, they have another option. They could even go to three lefties when McKirahan returns (or when they decide to bring up Lambson). Either way, getting Lambson was a smart low-cost, high-reward deal for the Braves front office and I think this may be one with John Coppolella's fingerprints all over it. If so, I feel good about what happens when John Hart cedes control to Coppy.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Random Prospect Sunday - Tanner Murphy

The Braves have a catching problem and that's pretty new.

Since the mid-90's, they could count on Javy Lopez or Brian McCann behind the plate with only Johnny Estrada separating the two. But once McCann left for the Bronx after the 2013 season, the Braves tried Evan Gattis for a year and found his ability to be a catcher nearly non-existent. Next, they handed the job to Christian Bethancourt, but the young catcher struggled with the bat, which wasn't all that unexpected. Reports of work ethic issues was thoroughly disappointing, though. And if you buy into the rumors, the Braves are at least showing interest in finding a long-term option behind the plate from outside the organization.

Elsa | Getty Images Sport
Atlanta has a couple of interesting catching prospects, though neither have set the world on fire this year. Jose Briceno was picked up with Chris O'Dowd in the David Hale trade with the Rockies. He was expected to build on a .812 OPS with Asheville in the South Atlantic League last year, but has slumped to a sub-.600 OPS with Carolina. Braves are still hopeful, but he's six years into his career and age-appropriate for the level. Another catcher and today's Random Prospect, Tanner Murphy, is the other prospect. A right-handed hitter out of Malden High School in Missouri, Murphy is the only other catcher that we even refer to as a prospect in the Braves system who has made his full season debut. Sadly, his OPS is slightly worse than Briceno.

Born on February 27, 1995, Murphy's parents was born as the strike forced replacement players to join the Braves spring training camp. Anyone else remember old Cubs catcher H├ęctor Villanueva playing for the Braves as a scab? Anyway, Murphy became a rising prospect ahead of the 2013 draft. He was on his way to Southern Illinois before the Braves picked him in the 4th round. He became the second catcher the Braves picked that year behind Victor Caratini. Murphy hit a cool .600 with 10 homers his senor year and was good on the mound with a fastball capable of hitting the low 90's, but he was considered a much nicer catching prospect. By the way, the 2013 draft has yet to produce a major leaguer and Murpny and Alec Grosser might be the best - and only - prospects. Ugly year for Frank Wren's scouting department.

Murphy would sign for $250,000 and join the Gulf Coast League as an 18 year-old. He didn't homer in 32 games, nor hit that well, but he did do a good job of getting on base and swiped five bases. But with minor league catchers, it's just as important for them to hold up behind the plate and show you something. He cut down 42% of basestealers in 2013.  With Danville the following year, the average didn't come up much, but the plate discipline improved and he finished the season with an OBP of .361. He also flashed some pop throughout the season, picking up eight doubles and five homeruns in 50 games. While the caught stealing rate tumbled, he handled his second year as a professional catcher.

The Braves rewarded Murphy with an invitation to spring training. Now, most catchers get invited to spring training - there are a lot of pitchers and without catchers, they are just throwing to the screen. But, Murphy was just 20 years-old and yet to play in his 100th professional game so that made the invite a little notable. Former Braves catcher and current bullpen coach Eddie Perez immediately highlighted Murphy as a guy to watch. About Murphy, he said, "you know something good is going to happen." Murphy would go on to receive just one at-bat during spring training before being reassigned.

A lot was hoped for Murphy this season, but Murphy managed just two singles in his first 36 at-bats. Since this, he's only been moderately better, though he opened July by ending a homerless draught. In his favor is that of his 193 at-bats this season, only 13 have come against pitchers that were younger than Murphy. That gives us some perspective that he might be struggling to adjust against pitchers more advanced than him. Not every prospect hits the South Atlantic League at a .331 rate as an 18 year-old like Ozhaino Albies. Some prospects need time.

Atlanta would love nothing more for Murphy to finish strong. It would allow them to progress Murphy to Carolina to open 2016. Without a strong finish, Murphy looks like a good bet to repeat Rome next year. Murphy's not really being pushed by rising talent from Danville. The next catching prospect, Lucas Herbert, just suffered a torn meniscus three games into his professional career so chances are that Herbert won't be nipping at Murphy's heels just yet. Still, it would be good for Murphy to get going and finish better than he has played so far this year. I'm sure Murphy would also like that. You can follow Murphy on Twitter and also learn more about him at his own website.

Recent Random Prospects
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Saturday, July 4, 2015

This Week At AtlantaBraves.About.com

I've been blogging at About.com since January about our favorite team. I missed some action because of a bad storm that knocked out my internet, but I've been getting back into the swing of things at the other blog. I think a good usage of Saturday here at WOW is to bring light to this week's articles that you may have missed at About.com.

Atlanta Braves Enter July Looking Like Sellers

Many may disagree this idea with how close the Braves are in the NL East, but this is a flawed team with too much to fix in my view. I look at in this article several different players that might bring back a prospect or two such as A.J. Pierzynski, Jonny Gomes, Juan Uribe, and even Jason Grilli. Veterans with value in the right circumstance.

Jace Peterson: A (Nearly) Midseason Review

Who knew what the Braves were getting in Jace Peterson? So far, the results have been pretty good - though Jace is struggling of late. Is Peterson a long-term option at second? I'm being won over to the idea that there is a chance he could be.

All-Star Possibilities for the Braves

I looked at each position for the chances that there may be an All-Star on the team. Freddie Freeman certainly had a chance, but right now, I think the only two Braves with an argument are Grilli and Shelby Miller. For the record, I have not - nor will I - vote in the All-Star Game. Sorry, but the system as currently constructed frustrates me greatly.

Braves Sign Two Major International Prospects

If you missed Thursday's news, Atlanta jumped deep into the international signing period and came away with two of the top prospects out of the Dominican Republic. To do so and avoid penalties, the team had to orchestrate three different trades. In this article, I looked at some basic details involving the signing period, the two players the Braves signed, and some of what's it come. If you don't know the name of Kevin Maitan, you might want to.

The Game That Wouldn't End

July 4, 1985 is known for many things, but in Atlanta, it may be best known for the night that residents were concerned that the Soviets were bombing Atlanta. After a marathon game that included numerous rain delays and a pair of two-out, two-strike, extra-innings game-tying homeruns by the Braves, Atlanta would eventually fall in 19 innings. Rick Camp joined a select group including Bill Buckner and Bernie Carbo for being more known for one game than their entire career.

Saturday Stats Pack for July 4th

In a regular column, I looked at a number of observations and stats involving the Braves, including how many players that have been utilized this year, Pedro Ciriaco and Nick Markakis's dueling streaks, Jake Brigham's road to the majors, and Chris Johnson's utter suckage.

Thanks for reading and remember to favorite this and the About.com blog!