Monday, April 27, 2015

OOTP: Week 3

Many apologies for the lack of posting over the last week or so. No, it wasn't the Braves poor play that had me avoiding writing about them, but life's incessant need to throw curveballs, plus the hectic last minute planning that goes into a girl's fourth birthday party. Hoping next week works out far better. This column was meant to be posted on Friday, but better late than never.

As the title suggests, this is the third week of simming the 2015 season. For more information about this series, click here for what this series is looking at. There is also links to the first two weeks below this paragraph. Atlanta enters week 3 at 5-4, good for a four-way tie for first place with Miami taking up residence in last place, a game back. We head to Toronto for three before opening a three-game set in New York against the Mets.

Recent Results
Week 2
Week 1

Injury Report
Juan Jaime (no DL) - Elbow soreness (return sometime during Mets series)
Nick Markakis (no DL) - Petellar tendinitis (might miss this week)
Mike Minor - Shoulder Discomfort (Might be ready for rehab assignment this week)
Christian Bethancourt - Post-concussion syndrome (Mid-May Return?)
Josh Outman - General Suckage (Mid-May Return?)
Daniel Winkler - Elbow Surgery (June/July Return?)
Shelby Miller - Torn back muscle (August Return?)
Shae Simmons - Elbow Surgery (Lost for Year)

April 17 at Toronto
Actual Result - ATL wins 8-7
OOTP Result - ATL loses 5-4 (11 innings)

One of the stark differences so far between the real club and the OOTP one is that the simming Braves really, really miss Craig Kimbrel at the end of the game. Cody Martin, who OOTP Fredi Gonzalez utilizes as a starter, threw seven pretty awesome innings. Jim Johnson got the game to Jason Grilli, but with two outs and a runner on first, Grilli gave up three consecutive hits, including a two-run double that tied up the game. Andrew McKirahan saved him from more trouble, but in the 11th, he gave up a one-out triple and after an intentional walk, Brandon Cunniff came in. He got a flyout, but couldn't find the strikezone against either of the last two hitters, leading to a walk-off walk. It's better when we get those.

April 18 at Toronto
Actual Result - ATL loses 6-5 (10 innings)
OOTP Result - ATL wins 5-4

It was scary again in the ninth. Grill entered with a 5-2 lead, but gave up a single and a homer to tighten up things considerably with the heart of the Jays' order due up. OOTP Fredi went to Michael Kohn and like a stopper, Kohn came in, got a groundout, and struck out the final two he faced. Braves had fell behind 2-0, but that deficit was wiped out in the sixth when Kelly Johnson singled in two with the bases loaded. In the 8th inning, Jonny Gomes tripled in Cameron Maybin and scored on a double by Andrelton Simmons. Chris Johnson added what turned out to be the difference maker with a homer in the ninth - just the second homerun the Braves have hit so far.

April 19 at Toronto
Actual Result - ATL wins 5-2
OOTP Result - ATL wins 7-2

Braves take the series despite getting an 0-for-6 day out of the leadoff spot. Cameron Maybin had four hits, including a double and his first homer, and drove in three runs to increase his RBI output to four. Julio Teheran picked up his second complete game in as many starts, yielding a pair of solo homers, but walking just one and striking out seven. Simba had three hits, including two doubles, and Gomes had a pair of singles plus a pair of RBI.

April 20 - Idle. Juan Jaime should be ready for the Mets series, though Markakis will miss the series. On the plus side, Minor starts his rehab assignment this week. Unlike real Mike Minor, this one suffered no setbacks. He'll get a couple of starts at Gwinnett and looking toward an early-May return.

April 21 at New York Mets
Actual Result - ATL loses 7-1
OOTP Result - ATL wins 6-2

Braves get their third win in a row and Trevor Cahill throws six quality innings for his first Braves win. Braves banged out 13 hits, led by Simba's three hits and two doubles. He's now hitting .314 and with three more ribbies today, he is up to nine. Braves never trailed in this game and took the early 2-0 lead after a half-inning against Jacob deGrom, who the real Braves have "fortunately" missed.

April 22 at New York Mets
Actual Result - ATL loses 3-2
OOTP Result - ATL wins 6-5

Cody Martin struggled, giving up four runs in five innings, but was still on pace for the win before a Jace Peterson error in the eighth led to an unearned run that tied up the game. But the Braves got to Alex Torres in the ninth. With one out, three consecutive singles by Eric Young Jr., Gomes, and Freddie Freeman led to a sixth run. Grilli had a quiet ninth for his third save. Before the eighth inning, the Braves had led the game since the second batter. That's when Gomes hit a two-run homer. EYJ had singled in front of him and had a three-hit game to hopefully break out of his slump.

April 23 at New York Mets
Actual Result - ATL loses 6-3
OOTP Result - ATL wins 9-1

Much nicer to be doing the sweeping, Atlanta. Braves used a six-run ninth to turn the finale of the three-game set into a laugher. Before that, it was a great pitcher's dual between Eric Stults and Matt Harvey. Yeah, that's what I said. Braves scored three runs off Harvey over seven innings, but the Mets only got the one run off Stults over eight innings. In the ninth with Carlos Torres on the bump for the Mets, Jace got the ball rolling with a walk. After a single and a passed ball, CJ added on with an RBI single. EYJ added another RBI single to bring in Vic Black to stop the bleeding. He K'd Gomes, but gave up a base hit to Freeman to load them before Maybin took the first pitch he saw beyond the left-center wall for a Grand Slam that put things out of reach.

Weekly Results
Actual Win-Loss Record - 2-4
OOTP Win-Loss Record - 5-1

Yearly Results
Actual Win-Loss Record - 8-7 (4.5 GB)
OOTP Win-Loss Record - 10-5 (1.5 Games Up)

A Look Ahead - Braves finish what has so-far been a great road trip in Philly with three games. They will then head home for a lengthy home stand beginning with our first look at the Nats this year. We'll also see the Reds in next week's update as a four game set starts next Thursday.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Random Prospect Sunday - Tyler Jones

You take chances with strikeout arms. You never really know when they will be able to put it all together and turn their obvious potential into positive results. If they can provide some organizational depth, all the better. That's why the Braves inked Tyler Jones to a minor league contract before the season. Cut by the Minnesota Twins in the final week of spring training, he was not unemployed long as the Braves swooped in. Whether he becomes a surprise or not and depresses Twins fans on the "what could have been?" is unknown.

Born in Milwaukee on September 5, 1989, Jones was born on a day that ended like many days in 1989 - with the Braves losing. John Smoltz got the start at home against the Padres that day and the double play combo of Jeff Treadway and Andres Thomas led to three unearned runs. Jones attended Marquette High School and helped pilot them to a pair of state titles while also being All-Conference in football. His measurables were enticing. He would grow to be a 6'4" right-hander with velocity above 90 mph. But he wasn't drafted out of high school and attended Madison Area Technical College to play with the WolfPack. After a freshman year that was spent largely as a reliever, Jones came into his own in 2010 with 14 games and 10 starts, seven of which he completed with his first collegiate shutout. He K'd more than a batter an inning.

His success in 2010 garnered both bigger college offers and MLB interest. With a chance to play in the SEC at Louisiana State on the table, Jones was selected in the 21st round by the White Sox. He ultimately did not sign and headed south to LSU. He started the season strong, including a three-hit shutout of the University of New Orleans on May 17, 2011 that included 15 strikeouts and just one walk. He was even named Player of the Week for that dominant performance. He remained a positive for the Tigers until conference play began when the hits just kept coming. At that point, he was shifted to the pen and finished the year with less than 40 innings as his struggles couldn't be hid by the Tigers.

Still, there was something to like and the Twins spent an 11th rounder on Jones to woo the philosophy-religion major away from a return to LSU. The $105,000 bonus also helped. The 11th round of the 2011 draft has produced just one major leaguer so far (Seth Maness). The Braves selection that year came two picks before Jones when they picked Seth Moranda, who the Atlanta cut last June. Jones would pitch four times for Elizabethton in the Appalachain League after signing to underwhelming numbers.

In 2012, the Twins gave Jones one year as a starter. The K's were impressive (102 in 86.2 ING) and the control wasn't too concerning. The fact that he struggled to put away batters was. His stuff led to a good number of hits and those baserunners too often scored, leaving Jones with an ERA of 4.67 for the year. The Twins decided Jones was better suited for the bullpen after 2012. He played for both Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers in 2013, looking much better in the former. Overall, the Twins were happy with the numbers that included a 1.09 WHIP and 11.4 K/9 over 52.1 ING. He was often used as the closer and saved 13 games for the Twins, good for third in the organization in saves.

Returning to Fort Myers in 2014, Jones struggled with control for the first time and his K numbers fell. He remained too hittable and his ERA climbed to 3.73 with a 1.42 WHIP, numbers that won't entice much of a look. He did save 13 more games, which ranked second in the organization, but overall, it was the kind of year that won't get you pushed along.

Former Twin and possessor of a strange last name, Doug Mientkiewicz, had this assessment of Jones from last year.
“I don’t have much for him, personally. I mean, what has he done?” Mientkiewicz said of Jones. “Hopefully we get him out of here soon. That would be nice. With his stuff, he should be doing a lot better than what he is. Too many walks. There are a lot of little things that go into pitching late in the game. It’s got more to do with stuff. You’ve got to hold runners. You’ve got to field your position. You’ve got to do things that we as a team have definitely struggled with. His stuff is too good to be hit.”
That's why it wasn't surprising when the Twins cut him at the end of camp. Jones was probably one of those bubble guys who needed to make the AA roster in spring to stick and once that didn't happen, younger guys were kept over another return trip to Fort Myers. That kind of thing happens all the time in spring training. In our minds, we only seem to care about what's happening in the major league camp, but people are fighting for their jobs up-and-down the system.

As I said, the Braves came calling. Needing help at their advanced A-club in Carolina, the Braves found a guy with the kind of resume you take a flyer on - mid 90's fastball and the ability to induce groundballs. It wasn't long ago that Jones was a borderline prospect in the Twins system after all. He has been employed as the Mudcats closer so far, saving two games in three outings and striking out five in 2.2 ING. He's worth keeping an eye on this season.

Friday, April 17, 2015

OOTP Week 2

Six games are on tap for this week's OOTP Update. Last week, I began an on-going simulation of the 2015 season with the assistance of Out of the Park 16, the most recent update to the OOTP series. While the real-life club opened the year with a sweep of the Marlins, my club won two-of-three. This week, the Braves open their home slate with a half-dozen games against the Mets and Marlins. Chris Johnson, who suffered a thigh muscle strain in his first at-bat of the year, will miss the Mets series, but should return when Miami comes into town. Unlike the real-life Braves, OOTP Fredi has Trevor Cahill as his number 4 starter with Cody Martin in the five spot. Eric Stults has been relegated to long relief.

Injury Report...
Chris Johnson - Thigh Muscle Strain (Will miss weekend series)
Christian Bethancourt - Post-concussion syndrome (Mid-May Return?)
Shae Simmons - Elbow Surgery (Lost for Year)
Daniel Winkler - Elbow Surgery (June/July Return?)
Mike Minor - Shoulder Discomfort (Maybe less than two weeks if no set-back)
Josh Outman - General Suckage (Mid-May Return?)

April 10 vs. New York Mets
Actual Result - ATL wins 5-3
OOTP Result - ATL wins 8-7

What a wild one this turned out to be. After seven innings, the Mets held a 4-3 lead and Cahill had been chased after 4.2 ING. But in the bottom of the 8th, the Braves got to Mets starter Rafael Montero. With two one, A.J. Pierzynski tied it with a double and after an intentional walk, Eric Young Jr. brought home the go-ahead run with an infield hit. The Braves would use a single, walk, and HBP to increase their lead to 8-4, but would need every bit of that to hold on after Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli struggled in the ninth. With the tying run on first, Grilli struck out John Mayberry Jr. to end the game.

April 11 vs. New York Mets
Actual Result - ATL wins 5-3
OOTP Result - NYM wins 3-2

The real Braves haven't missed Craig Kimbrel so far, but the OOTP team has. Cody Martin threw five innings of one-run ball, though the Mets squandered a lot of baserunners. In the 8th with the game tied at one, EYJ led things off with a single and scored on a Nick Markakis double. The Braves wasted a chance to add on and that would prove huge as Wilmer Flores hit a two-run homer off Grilli in the 9th. The Braves closer had walked Lucas Duda to open the inning.

April 12 vs. New York Mets
Actual Result - NYM wins 4-3
OOTP Result - ATL wins 4-3

Braves open the year with back-to-back series wins. They were down 3-0 early, but scored two in the third and in the seventh, Jonny Gomes drove in Jace Peterson with a pinch hit single after Jace had singled, advanced on an error, and stole third. After a sacrifice bunt, Alberto Callaspo broke the tie with a pinch hit single of his own, plating Pierzynski who had reached on the previous error. Jim Johnson secured his first save of the year. Juan Jaime was actually closing in on the save before leaving with one out in the ninth. His diagnosis is pending.

April 13 vs. Miami
Actual Result - ATL wins 3-2
OOTP Result - ATL wins 7-1

Julio Teheran was staked to a six-run lead in the first and went the distance from there. He yielded just two hits in the game, walked two, and struck out four. Of the last 17 batters he faced, only Mike Morse, who drew a walk, reached base. He didn't need much help, but got plenty from both the offense and Miami's defense. Jace drove in two and leads the Braves with seven RBI.

April 14 vs. Miami
Actual Result - MIA wins 8-2
OOTP Result - MIA wins 10-2

The score was ugly enough, but more pressing was the injuries. Markakis left with a knee issue in the first inning. The Braves will finish off tomorrow's game and decide then if a roster move will be needed. The far more pressing injury, though, was Shelby Miller. Don't let the score fool you. It was 1-0 Braves when Miller finished the third, but he left with an injury. The Braves bullpen was roughed up with Johnson and Grilli especially looking bad. Fingers crossed that Miller won't miss much - if any - time.

April 15 vs. Miami
Actual Result - MIA wins 6-2
OOTP Result - MIA wins 4-1

Before we talk about the game, the diagnosis is in on both Miller and Jaime. The former provided a piece of miserable news as Miller tore a back muscle. A move will be made before the Toronto series to replace him. Jaime will miss the weekend and maybe a little into next week, but his elbow should be fine. Kinda want him and Miller to trade. For today, at least, Michael Kohn will replace Miller on the staff with the bullpen tired. As for the game, Atlanta managed just four hits and trailed from the second inning on. Cahill was much better this time out and worked six pretty good innings. Some bad defense led to a pair of unearned runs that made the game a bit more difficult for the Braves to come back, but considering they had just one baserunner after the sixth, a comeback wasn't in the cards anyway.

Not the best week for the real-life Braves or my OOTP version as both finish the week 3-3. Still better than more loses than wins, though. Looks like I might miss a week of Markakis, but unless forced to do so, I'll keep him active. A series in an AL park will limit the need for a full bench for three of those days. Plus, it looks like Stults will, for the time being, be my fifth starter.

Random Ex-Brave: Nate McLouth

One of the strange things to hurt Frank Wren as general manager was the inexplicable fall from grace by several players that he either traded for or signed as a free agent. Melvin Upton Jr. and Dan Uggla might stand out the most, but Nate McLouth can't be overlooked. He was supposed to be the guy who brought stability to center field - where there was none. He was supposed to provide some production at the top of the lineup, which was lacking in the wake of Kelly Johnson struggling. McLouth, at worst, was supposed to be decent. And he was...in 2009 right after the trade. The two years that followed, though? Woof.

Hey, look! The Ineptitude
Otto Gruele Jr | Getty Images
McLouth was a 25th rounder by the Pirates out of Whitehall High School in Michigan. Born three days before Halloween in 1981, McLouth was a late signee. One thing I find interesting is that McLouth, who did sign late and missed all of the 2000's minor league season, never played rookie ball. He went straight to Hickory in the SALLY League in 2001 as a 19 year-old and posted an .836 OPS with 12 HR and 21 steals. Not surprisingly, he moved up the next year to Lynchburg and this is where I remind people that Lynchburg was once a Pirates farmhand for over ten years. It took two years for McLouth to produce with the 'Cats, but he made up for a lack of power with his best stolen base season of his career in '03. In 44 stolen base attempts, he was caught four times. McLouth moved up to AA in 2004 and was very solid before another good year in 2005, though he never approached the 12 homers he hit in his first year. However, 2005's minor league season was cut short by a promotion to the majors.

Never a big prospect, McLouth was originally a fourth outfielder with enough speed and pop to be interesting. He started to break out in 2007 when he posted a .351 OBP, 13 homers, and 22 steals in less than 400 PA. Finally, the Pirates felt he was ready to assume a full season's worth of starting and when the Braves acquired him, they were looking at these 2008 stats as a hint of what was to come. He slashed .276/.356/.497. Those are good numbers for a corner outfielder - stellar for a center fielder. He added his first and only 20/20 season of his career with 26 HR and 23 steals. McLouth also led the league with 46 doubles, which helped him come three total bases short of 300. For you baseball card people, he filled out the counting stats with 113 runs scored and 94 RBI. Naturally, he was an All-Star and despite average defense in center, he was awarded the Gold Glove (largely because hitting stats nonsensically affect who is named the Gold Glove winner).

After the season, McLouth was arbitration-eligible for the first time, but the Pirates and McLouth agreed on a three year, $15.75M extension that looked like a smart deal for a front office that was often criticized for its poor ones. The deal included an option year for $10.65M, which was a reasonable sum for a CF with McLouth's profile. At the time. Possibly trying to live up to his contract, McLouth hit .219 in the first three series of the years, but found himself a bit against the Braves with a big home series. That may have helped endear him to Wren, who by June, had grown sick of watching Jordan Schafer in center. In a pre-deadline deal, the Braves sent a trio of players to the Pirates to get McLouth. Gone were Charlie Morton, who was a borderline prospect at the time, and Gorkys Hernandez, who notably joined the Braves as part of Wren's first move as the Braves GM. Also going to the Pirates was Jeff Locke, who would help the 2009 Lynchburg Hillcats win the Carolina League. Oh, did I mention I am a big 'Cats fan?

Because of how awful McLouth would play over his final two seasons in Atlanta, we forget that he was pretty good after the trade. Not great - not by any means great - but when a center fielder slashes .257/.354/.419 with 11 HR and 12 steals, you don't really complain even if McLouth probably should have been playing left field to hide his range issues. Still, heading into 2010, there was a lot to like about McLouth. His three-year sample was a solid .265/.353/.467 with an average of 20 HR and 25 steals. If anyone tells you Wren should have known McLouth would fail, they're lying. If they tell you THEY KNEW McLouth would fail, they think you're very gullible.

It started in spring. McLouth had always been a pretty good spring training hitter, but with the Braves in March of 2010, he simply looked like a guy who forgot how to hit. In 51 AB's that spring, he reached base via a hit just six times. He had ten total bases. He struck out 16 times. He was a miserable player whose OPS of .413 made Braves pitchers sympathize with him. Everyone wrote it up as a terrible spring and he'll be alright. He'll shake it off.

He didn't. Not even a little. In Jason Heyward's debut game, McLouth batted 8th and did contribute a single and two walks as part of the 16-5 win. A single two days later kept his average over .200. On April 10, it fell under. It would take over a month to climb back over and after three games, it fell back under - this time for good. It's not that McLouth didn't have any positive moments in 2010. On April 20, with an OPS under .500, he led off the tenth inning of a 3-3 tie with a walk-off homer off Jose Contreras, which led to a notable home-run non-celebration. Between May 14 and May 17, he had a four game hit streak. So, there was that. But by June 6, the Braves had began to finally get the hint. This was not the season that everyone expected McLouth capable of. Four days later, he collided with Heyward and the Melky Cabrera Plays Center Field Experiment was on. It was as awful as you can imagine. McLouth briefly returned a little more than a month later, but was demoted shortly there after and the Braves added Rick Ankiel to fill the void (and spare us the miserable sight of Melky in center).

To McLouth's credit, he never stopped working and when he returned right before rosters expanded, he seemed to find himself a bit. Over his final 68 PA, he slashed .263/.358/.509 with 3 HR and 3 steals. He increased his .168 average to .190 by season's end and added about 80 points to his OPS. This led to him making the postseason roster and appearing in the NLDS with the Braves. While Ankiel had the biggest hit of the series for Atlanta, McLouth added a base hit in one of his two total PA. Either way, with Ankiel a free agent - plus the release of Melky - things looked up for McLouth. The Braves only threat to his playing time was the disgraced Schafer and minor league free agent Jose Constanza. It looked inevitable that McLouth would reclaim his spot.

A torrid spring training where McLouth hit .290 with 10 walks to just three strikeouts certainly helped cement McLouth as a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. The scene was set. But McLouth started slowly and by April 26, he was down to a slash of .233/.313/.302. Hits in six of his next seven games, including four multi hit games, briefly got his OPS over .801, but the return to form was brief. His numbers continued to nosedive and even as Fredi Gonzalez bounced him around the order, it didn't appear McLouth would ever be the guy the Braves thought he would be. An oblique strain that cost McLouth three weeks between May and mid-June also didn't help McLouth much, especially when the Braves were reminded that Schafer wasn't an option either. McLouth would return to finish off June and was the regular starter in July, but hit the DL on July 29 with a lower abdominal strain and was later diagnosed with a sports hernia. His last at-bat with the Braves came on July 28 against his former friends on the Pirates with his final at-bat being a popfly. A year to the date of acquiring Ankiel to replace McLouth, the Braves acquired Michael Bourn to do the same task.

Unsurprisingly, the Braves declined McLouth's option for 2012. He would return to Pittsburgh on a minor league deal and looked great in spring training, which helped him secure a spot on their roster. That lasted two months before the Pirates cut McLouth for hitting a buck-forty. Shortly thereafter, the Orioles would pick him up and he would experience a bit of a resurgence. In 55 games with the O's down the stretch, McLouth helped propel Baltimore to the playoffs with a .777 OPS and 12 steals. Both parties were happy to try their luck at a return in 2013 and McLouth slashed .258/.329/.399 while getting nearly 600 trips to the plate for the first time since 2009. He homered 12 times and stole a career-high 30 bases. But overall, it was a less than thrilling campaign.

Still, the Nats are going to Nat and they inked McLouth to a two-year, $11.5M contract to be their fourth outfielder. It was a confusing move for the organization and it has yet to pay off. In 162 PA in 2014, McLouth hit just .174 with one homer. He hurt his shoulder this spring and missed the start of the year. He was recently cleared to start throwing.

McLouth should have been, at worst, a good offensive player with overrated defensive ability that the Braves sacrificed little to acquire. But Wren had some awful luck with guys who simply forgot how to hit. McLouth's three-year stats with the Braves looks better than it ought to be considering how disastrous he was in his two "full" years. Ignoring his .773 OPS after the trade in 2009, McLouth slashed .210/.322/.328 in his final 609 PA as a Brave. He was bad in every facet of his game. McLouth is a pretty efficient basestealer with an 85% success rate. That rate would increase tremendously if he wasn't successful in just 70% of his stolen base attempts as a Brave.

As much as Wren probably regrets this deal, I wonder how much McLouth wishes he had stayed in Pittsburgh. Maybe things would have been different if the Pirates had kept him. Maybe things would have turned out better. Maybe. But they didn't and Wren was forced to make two more deals just to try to replace McLouth.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Once a Brave, Always a Brave - The Indies

Last week, I looked at the former Braves players who opened up the season with another major league team. This week, I'm going to shift gears and look at the independent leagues and what former Braves are scattered around. This proves quite difficult because rosters aren't even finalized and these leagues aren't quite as interested in updating their websites in a timely manner. This makes this list not nearly exhaustive, but I believe it's a fun look at trying to see who is still around kicking it in towns like Laredo or Lancaster.

American Association
P Winston Abreu (Joplin)
C Yenier Bello (Joplin)
...Cuban defector signed last year, but cut near the end of spring training.
P Billy Bullock (Sioux City)
...Braves acquired him in exchange for Scott Diamond.
1B Ian Gac (St. Paul)
P Ty'Relle Harris (Grand Prairie)
P Kerry Ligtenberg (St. Paul)
...No, he's not playing. He's their pitching coach.
OF Byron Wiley (Laredo)

Atlantic League
OF Brian Barton (Sugar Land)
2B Brooks Conrad (Sugar Land)
...Hit a homer for the Padres last year, but is headed to the Atlantic League to try to prolong his career.
OF Brandon Jones (York)
...Was once a pretty good looking prospect, but the last time he played regular season ball in organized ball was with the Milwaukee organization in 2011.
3B Mat Gamel (Somerset)
...Not technically a Brave. Never even played a spring training game. Was cut by the Yankees this spring training.
P Anthony Lerew (York)
...Remember how we were high on this guy?
P James Parr (Sugar Land)
...Things were desperate in 2008. This guy started five games.
P Cody Scarpetta (Bridgeport)
...Kind of sad that Scarpetta isn't still around. Last season, he was part of the back-to-back no-hitters by the Hillcats. Would have loved had he got another shot to see if he could put it together.
OF Daryle Ward (Southern Maryland)
...How amazing is baseball that Ward, who played twenty games with the Braves in 2006, is still trying to stick around?

Frontier League
IF Matt Weaver (Joliet)

Pacific Association
OF Chase Fontaine (San Rafael)
...Back in 2006, the Braves selected Fontaine in the second round. He played with the Rays and Royals organizations, but since 2010, has bounced around between the Can-Am, Frontier, and Pacific Leagues. Not positive he's back with San Rafael as their rosters haven't been introduced for 2015.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Breaking Down the First Week of Baseball

Fresh off the presses at About.com...well, maybe not fresh off the presses in the literal sense...anyway, just added today is a Monday Recap of the first week of the season for the Atlanta Braves. It was a pretty good week that saw Andrelton Simmons return to a more controlled swing that leads to liners, Jason Grilli showing that closers might just grow on trees, and that the Braves smallball looks much better when it includes a lot of extra base hits. 24 players of the 25-man roster played last week and only two of them were on last year's team (I kid).

To catch back on what you missed if you blinked and a week passed, click here.

Bill Shanks Gets It Wrong On How Ken Rosenthal Gets It Wrong

It's important when you write up an article to directly attack another article's findings to understand the scope of the latter article. After all, when you muddle the issue with a variety of findings that have nothing to do with the original article, you are destroying your credibility to simply focus on what is at hand. Today's example - Bill Shanks, of Scout.com, recently penned "Ken Rosenthall Gets It Wrong on the Braves." By its own description, it's a response to Rosenthal "defending the previous front office."

To start, there are perfectly reasonable things to attack in Rosenthal's column from Thursday titled "Eyes on new front office to spark Braves renaissance." That is actually a pretty strange title to the findings that follow. Rosenthal suggests that the Braves were not nearly as bad at developing talent that the current front office has made them out to be. Rosenthal cites a number that the Braves have produced the second-most players who have reached the major leagues over the last five drafts. Whether that is an important stat is debatable (many players reach the majors with the help of circumstance), but it surely is evidence that the awful farm system that John Schuerholz has bemoaned as reason enough to can Frank Wren may not be as awful as previously thought.

Where Rosenthal loses focus is when he questions other trades made this offseason, or as he puts it, the "lesser trades." While being fully supportive of the trades of Justin Upton and Jason Heyward - "neither of whom the Braves intended to re-sign" - Rosenthal attacks the trade to acquire Manny Banuelos, among others. I get the premise. The Braves bullpen, which despite its start, has considerable question marks attached to it could have used David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve, but relievers are, as Shanks does say, often "interchangeable." The trade was the equivalent of winning a hand of poker but going double-or-nothing. The Braves had something good, but cashed that in for the chance for something better.

Rosenthal also humorously questions the trade that sent David Hale to the Rockies, suggesting that without it, the Braves may have been able to avoid trading for Trevor Cahill. This ignores a key fact - the Braves never needed to trade for Cahill. Sure, he's a high-reward guy who the Diamondbacks are largely footing the bill on, but it was essentially like taking a salary dump to also get a draft choice, which Rosenthal mentions but doesn't expand on. Other deals Rosenthal attacks are the Tommy La Stella trade (it's unlikely La Stella would be starting over Jace Peterson), the trade of Kyle Kubitza to the Angels for Ricardo Sanchez, and losing J.R. Graham in the Rule 5. The first two moves were calculated risks. Trading TLS opened up some more international money and Sanchez is a high-value prospect whereas Kubitza ultimately profiles as a second-tier starter (who was replaced by Rio Ruiz anyway). Losing Graham was questionable, but Graham's chances of major league success took a significant hit over the last two seasons. If all he becomes is an okayish reliever like J.J. Hoover, I doubt anyone in Atlanta will be upset about losing him.

These observations by Rosenthal are perfectly reasonable to nit-pick with, but the thesis of the article, as told in the final line, is that while Wren and his team had missteps and may have needed to be replaced, "...when it came to producing young talent, the Braves’ previous one wasn’t so bad."

This thesis is then rationalized by Shanks in a variety of ways. He first cites where the Braves were ranked in Keith Law's system rankings when 2014 ended. I get why he does so - it certainly helps his argument. But Rosenthal doesn't argue that the Braves had a wealth of depth in the system. He only argues that they produced a lot of young talent throughout the years. So, let's look at that. Frank Wren took over as General Manager following the woeful 2007 efforts to make the playoffs in John Schuerholz's swan song. I'm including draftees and international signings that have either made the playoffs or are currently reasonably good prospects. I'm using Gondeee's Top 20 for prospects.

Drafted: Zeke Spruill, Craig Kimbrel, Paul Clemens, Brett Oberholtzer, J.J. Hoover
Signed: Christian Bethancourt, Brandon Beachy
2009 *
Drafted: Mike Minor, David Hale
Drafted: Andrelton Simmons, Todd Cunningham, Philip Gosselin, Joey Terdoslavich, Brandon Drury, Chasen Shreve, Evan Gattis
Signed: Mauricio Cabrera, Jose Peraza
Drafted: Sean Gilmartin, Nick Ahmed, J.R. Graham, Tommy La Stella, Cody Martin, Gus Schlosser
Drafted: Lucas Sims, Alex Wood, Shae Simmons
Drafted: Jason Hursh
Signed: Ozhaino Albies, Dilmer Mejia
Drafted: Braxton Davidson

*Important to note that this was Roy Clark's last year

Were there lean years? Absolutely. But that applied during Schuerholz and Clark's time as well. Now, Shanks attacks this in a few ways, but he does admit that the farm system was hurt in some ways by the Braves signing free agents and forfeiting first round picks. For the record, Schuerholz also forfeited first round picks for Class A free agents under the older system. It wasn't until the payroll started to decrease that became less frequent. What Shanks does a poor job of is saying who the Braves took over the next guy. For instance, the Braves chose Hursh over Aaron Judge and Ian Clarkin. Both Yankees prospects look interesting and surely the Braves would like either, but who knows who was #2 on their board at the time? Who knows if Hursh was ahead of either Judge or Clarkin for the Yankees? It's just not a reasonable argument to be made. Shanks makes the same mistake when bemoaning who the Braves took in 2011, Gilmartin, over who they could have taken, Joe Panik and Henry Owens. This attempt to smear the previous front office team is even more glaring because Shanks seemingly ignores that six picks separated the back-to-back selections of Gilmartin and Panik and the pick of Owens. Of those six, only Mikie Mahtook has made it to the majors or even been a decent prospect.

Let's look back at that 2011 draft for a second because Shanks focuses on it. He suggests that "to laud the 2011 draft is puzzling." The problem there, and the problem with Shanks' diatribe, is that he attacks Rosenthal for something Rosenthal never did. Unless I'm missing the special director's cut of the article, Rosenthal doesn't laud any particular draft over another. Shanks position is that the draft produced quantity over quality, which is fair but irrelevant. Rosenthal's overarching point is that the system produced major league talent. Whether all-stars or not, the 2011 draft and others during Wren's regime produced major league talent.

Shanks also tries to tear down the selection of Simmons. He argues that Tony DeMacio, the scouting director, wanted to move Simmons to the mound. He makes a confusing assessment that the Braves didn't know Simmons was going to turn out so well on defense because they were intrigued by his arm on the mound. Being able to hit 98 mph is pretty intriguing. However, he wouldn't sign unless allowed to play shortstop. So, the Braves were willing to allow that to happen as well. But Shanks argues that the Braves "lucked into it" rather than knew it would happen. Well, that's pretty common with all prospects, but Shanks suggests that had they known, they would have drafted Simmons in front of Matt Lipka and Cunningham. Seriously, Bill?

"There were more misses than hits in these drafts." Shanks is not dumb, but he does think his readers are when he makes a statement like this. Of course there were more misses than hits. That's the nature of drafts and Shanks knows this. He does the same thing with the international signings. Sure, Peraza looks good, but what about Edward Salcedo, Shanks argues. There were more misses than hits there. What about Glenn Williams? What about Luis Rivera? What about Wilson Betemit? What about Andy Marte? Prospects fail - it's kind of why they are prospects and not established major league players and Shanks is perfectly aware of that.

From there, Shanks leaves the scope of Rosenthal's article. That's depressing because Shanks wrote some 4300 words for this article and only half of which really covers what Rosenthal said and often, he stretched what Rosenthal said to make a point. The rest of the article is devoted to how difficult Wren was to work with, how he got away from "The Braves Way," how nobody liked him, and the many missteps of Wren. He could have called this article, "Why Wren Sucked," but lumps it into an article attacking Rosenthal for positions Rosenthal does not take.

Wren may have been ultra-difficult to work with, though what Shanks fails to attempt to do is to understand the other side of this, so allow me. One, Schuerholz hired Wren and promoted him to General Manager. You're telling me that Schuerholz didn't know what kind of person Wren was? That he didn't know how he would want to work? Wren's issue in Baltimore with "disrespecting" Cal Ripken Jr. is not difficult to find, though it was so blown over because it was Cal. But regardless, Schuerholz has to take responsibility for promoting Wren, does he not? For extending Wren last spring? Shanks reports on a few instances where Wren had dust-ups with both Schuerholz and Bobby Cox, leading the latter to "quit" in spring training of 2009 before Schuerholz talked him out of it. Yet, Schuerholz tabbed Wren as his guy. Schuerholz reportedly believed that firing Wren was three years into the making. Three years is a long time to make a decision.

Second, Schuerholz as president and overruling Wren is a double-edge sword. Wren reportedly wanted to fire Fredi Gonzalez, but Schuerholz, under the pleas of Cox, stepped in. Schuerholz also hired John Hart without Wren's involvement. Schuerholz stepped in then, but where was he when the Braves signed Dan Uggla to a long-term extension? Where was he when B.J. Upton was signed? Doesn't he also have to own some of the credit for that? It appears that Shanks, who wrote a book that no one should ever read about Schuerholz, is still trying to get Schuerholz to betroth a daughter his way or something because his love affair with the former GM, current President, knows no end. Schuerholz was on board with Wren and thought Wren was his guy. Maybe he found out Wren preferred to do things his way rather than the way Schuerholz wanted them done. Regardless, Schuerholz oversaw everything Wren did and could have made the move at any point.

Third, Shanks contends, as others also do, that Wren was a micro-manager. He probably was, though I think it's easy to understand why. Apparently, his every move was scrutinized by his boss and sometimes overruled.

Finally, the Wren and Fredi disconnect. This, to me, is where the biggest problem actually lies. What made the Braves so good in the 90's was less Schuerholz's moves or Cox's strategy or Leo Mazzone's masterful handling of the pitchers or even Clark's drafting. It was that, as I mentioned last week, everyone was on the same page. While philosophies altered, the faces didn't and when they did, the replacements were quickly on the same page. The problem with Wren's run is that he had two managers who weren't on the same page as him, had to push out his scouting director to rectify that issue, and seemed to have a president overruling him. Regardless of Wren's good moves or bad ones, you can't have that kind of relationship. Something had to be done and since Schuerholz wasn't about to let Cox's hand-picked successor get the boot, Wren had to go so that the Braves could finally be on the same page. Again, if this was three years in the making, Schuerholz took his sweet time making it happen and prolonged this mess until it reached ridiculous levels.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I have no problem with the firing of Wren, restructuring of the front office, the rebuild that followed, and even keeping Fredi. I may not agree 100% with every step, but I understand them and to improve the team, they are reasonable steps considering the overarching decisions that were made (Fredi stays, the pending free agents wouldn't be resigned, the hitting philosophy was flawed).

Shanks contends that the 2014 Braves were the worst team in franchise history. Well, he actually said 2013, but I imagine that's a typo and I make plenty so I won't make fun of that. Regardless, Shanks is himself off-base. The 2014 Braves were not a great team, but they had their moments. They were misused by a manager who strived for more contact out of a swing-and-miss group, but they still had Julio Teheran and Wood and Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman and Simmons. I won't even say Shanks needs to look at the 80's to find a worse team. He can look at the final two years of Schuerholz in charge when the Braves trotted out, with regularity, Chuck James, Horacio Ramirez, Kyle Davies, Jorge Sosa, Jo-Jo Reyes, and Lance Cormier. You want to find an awful and dysfunctional team? There you go.

In the end, the Braves made drastic decisions. Rosenthal argues that the Braves were not in such bad shape to need the massive overhaul. There's a real argument to be made that they weren't, but there's an argument that they were. Both are reasonable positions to take. What Shanks fails to do is address Rosenthal's point that the Braves were still producing a lot of of young talent even as Schuerholz complained that they weren't. Instead, he blames-blames-blames Wren for the failures that led to last season. I'm fine with that, but next time you write an exhausting article about how someone is wrong, at least focus on the content of the actual article you are whining about. Like I just did.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Random Prospect Sunday - Daniel Castro

The Lynchburg Hillcats didn't have a lot of talent last season, especially in the second half. During the first few months, though, they had a sparkling double play duo. At second base, there was uber-prospect Jose Peraza, a player with the range to play shortstop but blocked by the presence of Andrelton Simmons. But the guy manning shortstop was pretty good, too. Mexican-born Daniel Castro, who would lead all High Class A shortstops in Assists/Game, benefited from the move of Peraza to the other side of second base. At the end of the season, Peraza was named the best defensive second baseman in the Carolina League and Castro was the top defensive shortstop according to the managers of the league.

Getty Images
Born November 14, 1992 in Guaymas, Mexico, Castro was a nice find by the scouting department in 2009. He might even make you think of a former lanky infielder out of Mexico the Braves once found - Vinny Castilla. Castro spent two years in the Dominican Summer League and forgot to hit (.191/.292/.236). Atlanta let Castro return to his home land and loaned him to Saltillo of the Mexican League for a year-and-a-half. Castro was playing against guys who were 10 years older than him in 2012, but the 19 year-old more than held his own, hitting .291 with 3 HR. He didn't walk. At all. Well, he did walk three times in 126 plate appearances, but that's the kind of discrepancy that makes Simba look like a patient hitter. Castro returned the next year and his numbers even improved to a triple slash of .312/.339/.472.

The Braves brought back Castro for the final month of 2013 and he hit .284 over 26 games with 7 walks and 6 K's with the Hillcats. It was an impressive comeback considering Castro's bat was completely not there when he first played in the organization in the DSL.

2014 was an opportunity for Castro. When the Braves moved Peraza to second base, it opened up time for Castro to not only stay at shortstop, but thrive there. He struggled some during the first month, but lit up the Carolina League for a .327 average during May. He continued to produce in June, including getting his first homer. At the end of June, Castro was given the news that he was going to rejoin Peraza, who had been promoted to Mississippi a couple of weeks before. Castro reached base a little bit less in Mississippi, but did find some power with a quartet of homers. Overall, he slashed .286/.312/.398 with 5 HR, 9 steals, and 15 walks to 38 strikeouts. He ended the year with a number of accolades, some that I've already mentioned. He also played for Peoria in the Arizona Fall League and was the only Brave to be named to the AFL's Fall Stars Game.

Castro would get an invite to spring training this season and had a few hits before getting reassigned and beginning the year back with Mississippi.

So, what kind of player is Castro? Well, he didn't make my Top 30, but I have seen him toward the end of other lists. I did include Castro in my epilogue article where I expanded my list to one extra player at each position. I mentioned that his glove could get him a look. That might be a little drinking the kool-aid based on the numbers and accolades because scouts seem to believe that Castro lacks the range to ever be more than average at the position. On the other hand, he does have a powerful arm and unlike many young shortstops, he is not plagued by errors. Will he ever hit enough? I've seen a few people bring up the name Martin Prado as a high-end projection for Castro. With his arm, he could be able to shift around a bit, but hard to see him matching Prado's offensive capabilities. Prado was a near .300 hitter in the minors and then added more pop when he got to the majors. Castro doesn't seem like that kind of player, but he could surprise some people.

Overall, Castro is a borderline prospect at this point in a system full of middle infield options. He could very well surprise some people and it's easy to like him, but he's going to have a tough time getting noticed when there is Simba, Jace Peterson, Peraza, and oh, Ozhaino Albies a couple rungs lower on the ladder.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Ranking The Top 9 Outfielders in Franchise History

Over at About.com, I have added a new post that ranks the nine best outfielders in franchise history. Originally, I was going to do a Top 5 LF, CF, and RF, but considering so many played more than one outfield position, that proved a little difficult. Do I go by games played, by their best individual performance, by how I might remember them (if I do?). Ultimately, it became too much of a hassle. That led to Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy, Andruw Jones, David Justice, and Rico Carty all being included on the same list.

Interestingly, had I updated this list after the upcoming season, the final player likely would have bumped off and Jason Heyward would have made it on the list. WAR loves Heyward for his remarkable defense so that should not be too surprising. With a completely new outfield in 2015, nobody's even close now.

If you're interested, please head on over to the About.com page and give it a read. Feel free to reach some other posts there and subscribe to the newsletter and/or newsfeed. Thanks!

Friday, April 10, 2015

OOTP for Week 1

The rain delay has oddly given me enough time to get this accomplished before the Friday game starts. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I plan on simming week-by-week the 2015 season with the help of Out of the Park 16. I've already called an audible. Originally this series was to run on Saturday, but I much prefer the idea of recapping the previous Friday to Thursday and releasing the results on Friday. Most weekend series begin on Friday after all. With that in mind, this series will be short with only the Marlins series to recap.

Once again, I am doing this only in the form of a general manager. I have very little input on the lineups, bullpen usage, and starters. I can force Fredi Gonzalez to start someone daily, though, and that has already happened. OOTP Fredi wanted to platoon Jonny Gomes with Nick Markakis. Not happening. However, there's no easy way to get him to platoon Gomes in left field and OOTP Fredi wants to start Eric Young Jr. in left nightly with Cameron Maybin in center. Yikes. He also wants to platoon Jace Peterson and Alberto Callaspo at second with Kelly Johnson and Chris Johnson at third. Not much I can do short of taking over the management position. Trevor Cahill is the 4th starter over Eric Stults and that reminds me to mention that the late spring moves are all in this. The game didn't have Carlos Quentin designated for assignment, but I took care of that. I was hoping to try to turn him into something, but Dave Stewart and the Diamondbacks claimed Quentin off waivers. Oh well.

I got some odd news even before the season began. This e-mail hit the mailbox over a week before the season was set to begin. "Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt will be sidelined for 2 months with a concussion. It occurred while falling off his roof. "Obviously we are disappointed," said the Atlanta manager. "Let's just hope he gets back as soon as possible." Ouch. Not happy with the available options in house, I went to the free agent market and re-signed Yenier Bello. He'll share time at catcher until Beth's return.

By the way, John Malone and Liberty Media have a funny expectation for us this year. "you should be able to achieve a winning season, playing better than .500 ball." Thanks, guy.

With all of those things said, let's look at the week in review.

April 6
Actual Result - ATL wins 2-1
OOTP Result - ATL wins 6-1

Unlike the real version, Alex Wood got the opening day nod and after giving up a first inning run, he was dominant. The Braves finally solved the Mat Latos problem in the sixth with a five-run inning. Jace Peterson had a two-run double for the big knock and Wood even added an RBI single. Freddie Freeman hit a seventh inning homer to help ice the game a little more.

April 7
Actual Result - ATL wins 12-2
OOTP Result - MIA wins 12-2

Ugly turn of events there. Julio Teheran lasted four innings and Brandon Cunniff and Andrew McKirahan each gave up four to make the game a route. Chris Johnson left the game with a thigh muscle strain, but won't miss significant time.

April 8
Actual Result - ATL wins 2-0
OOTP Result - ATL wins 7-6

Well, we twice gave up more runs in the opening series than the real Braves gave up for the entire three games, but winning a series on the road is always nice. In this one, the Braves fell behind 2-0 before a half-dozen runs in the fourth. Eric Young Jr. capped the inning off with a two-run triple. EY, Markakis, and Jace all had two-hit games in the win. Shelby Miller struggled, but was bailed out when McKirahan retired Christian Yelich to end the fifth with a pair of runners on. That made him a winner. A Cunniff error led to two unearned runs, but Luis Avilan, Jim Johnson, and Jason Grilli finished it off from there.

There you have it. The first week of the season in all its OOTP glory. Any thoughts?