Thursday, November 19, 2015

Minor League Signing: Willians Astudillo

Multiple-position flexibility is very important to a National League squad. According to Baseball America's transaction page, the Braves have added one with the fun caveat of also being a semi-regular catcher. That is a rarity because, usually, if you are a good enough catcher, that's where you stick. You don't move to first base, third base, and LF like Willians Astudillo did last season. Oh, and he's also played second base in his six year-career that began in 2009.

Venezuelan born, Astudillo spent his first three seasons in the Summer League down there where he progressed from .250 to .361 in batting average with some video game numbers in 2011, his final year. Not only did he hit .361, but he walked 15 times to two strikeouts. 2! And only grounded into 2 double plays. Weird. The season finally prompted the Phillies to take Astudillo to the states and he spent a season in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .318/.327/.419 in 45 games.

He would miss all of 2013, but came back with a vengeance in 2014, slashing his way to a .333/.366/.433 season with 4 HR and a 19/20 BB/K rate while playing for Lakewood, a SALLY team that often squares off against Rome. He followed that up by hitting well in a brief cameo in the Venezuelan Winter League in preparations for the 2015 season, which was spent with Clearwater, an advanced-A team. In 107 games, he slashed .314/.348/.384 with 3 HR and as many K's as he had walks (all of ten in over 400 PA). He took home the Florida State League batting title.

A minor league free agent, he became the second player the Braves signed this offseason after inking Reid Brignac earlier. Astudillo puts up some funny numbers and is a career .318/.360/.403 hitter, which is solid enough to deserve a look. His ability to catch and then move around allows wherever he lands options, but it's more a fun addition to his game that makes him valuable. He won't be much of a threat to other catchers in the system by any means. He's a throwback to an era that valued third catchers who could do a lot of little things.

Expect Astudillo, if he sticks around through spring, to either be in Mississippi or Carolina for 2016.

Thursday Throwback - Tommy Gregg

(This column used to be called Random Ex-Brave.)

The 1985 seventh round sucked. Of the 26 players selected, only 8 made it to the majors and baseball-reference grades them as a -1.8 overall. The worst player of that not-so-elite eight? Tommy Gregg, our Thursday Throwback. Sorry, Tommy.

Mitchell Layton | Getty
An athlete with a little pop, Gregg was drafted after attending Wake Forest University. It was the third time he was selected after going in the 1981 9th round and the '84 32nd round by both Ohio teams. It wasn't until the Pirates picked him that he signed and began his career in a pretty familiar spot for Braves fans - Macon. At the time, the Braves's SALLY team was in Sumter and they wouldn't switch to Macon until 1991. The '85 Macon Pirates weren't blessed with a lot of talent and finished 26 games under .500, though 20 year-old John Smiley would eventually turn into a serviceable pitcher in the majors. Gregg hit .313 that year with 16 steals so he was already a bit of a prospect.

Gregg honed his craft with both Nashua and its Eastern League replacement, Harrisburg, between 1986-87. His run with the latter was splendid with Gregg slashing .371/.465/.523 with 84 walks to his 47 strikeouts. Wow. He added 22 doubles, nine triples, and 10 HR along with 35 steals. He only stole 96 bases in his minor league career so that's pretty stellar. His big run even earned him a cup of coffee in the major leagues. His first hit came on September 30 during the second game of a double header when he hit a pinch-hit double off Jay Baller and scored the tying run (like a baller...), but the Pirates would fall 10-8 to the Cubs.

In 1988, Gregg spent most of the season with Buffalo and while he hit .294, his other numbers weren't nearly as eye-opening as his Harrisburg stats. He also filled in at different times for the Pirates, going 3-for-15 with his first career homerun off the Padres' Jimmy Jones. Gregg was back in the minors on September 1 when the Pirates announced that he was the Player to Be Named for the trade that occurred four days before which sent Ken Oberkfell to the Pirates. Gregg would get an extended look in Atlanta once he was added to the roster, starting 7 of the 11 games he appeared in. His 10-for-29 run to finish the year had the Braves excited for his future.

With the aging Dale Murphy and Lonnie Smith the only unquestioned starters for the Braves entering 1989, there was plenty of playing time for Gregg along with Dion James and Geronimo Berroa. The only problem was that none of the three produced. Atlanta would later add Oddibe McDowell to the team, moving Murphy to right field, and taking away even more playing time. Gregg added first base to his versatility to stay in the lineup a bit more regularly after McDowell was added, but during his rookie year, Gregg hit a paltry .243/.288/.337 in 298 AB with a 72 RC+.

Gregg would stick around in 1990, but with David Justice at 1B/RF and Ron Gant shifting to center, at-bats were even more difficult for Gregg to find. He did, however, carve out a semi-regular role as a pinch hitter. getting 51 pinch-hit ABs where he added 18 hits and 4 HR. Gregg would continue with the Braves in 1991, though injuries cut into his playing time. His overall numbers were a new low for him (.187/.275/.308), but he did go 9-for-39 in pinch-hitting appearances. In the postseason, Gregg was used 8 times, but managed just one hit and 4 K's. His one hit came before a Greg Olson single that gave the Braves a fighting chance to come back on the Pirates in a 1-0 game in Game 5 of the NLCS, but Mark Lemke and Jeff Blauser couldn't bring him home.

In 1992, Gregg would miss a majority of the season and spent more time in the minors than he did in the majors. He did have a big moment against the Giants on October 1. With the score tied at five, the Giants went to Michael Jackson to get them through the tenth. After a first-pitch ball, Gregg sent the Braves faithful home with his 14th career homerun, including a baker's dozen with the Braves. It would also be his last homer as a Brave. He would be left off the postseason roster and was waived after the season with the Reds picking him up.

Gregg would play in just ten games with the Reds that season despite destroying the American Association to the tune of .318/.398/.934. At 29 years-old, he just wasn't that interesting of a player anymore. After spending 1994 in Mexico, he got his final extended look in the majors with the Florida Marlins and tied his career high with 6 major league taters in 72 games, often back in his pinch-hit role. The Marlins brought him back for 1996, but he spent the entire year in AAA, hitting 22 homers and stealing 10 bases.

In 1997, the Braves brought back Gregg and he spent most of the season with Richmond, hitting a sweet .332/.402/.501. With the Braves never one to say "no" to an old friend, rewarding the Triple-A batting champ with a callup. In 13 games, Gregg had a handful of hits in 19 AB, but with the Braves desperately looking for a bat for their bench in preparation for their NLCS match-up with the Marlins, Gregg was kept on the roster. He went hitless in four at-bats, giving him a 1-for-11 career postseason line.

After a year back in Mexico, Gregg called it quits after the 1998 season and soon transitioned into a coaching capacity with the Braves, spending time with both Macon and Myrtle Beach. He would later work with the Cardinals and most recently, the Kansas City Royals organization. This summer, he finished his seventh season with the Omaha Storm Chasers as their hitting coach. He still lives in Georgia during the offseason.

Other Thursday Throwbacks...
Jerome Walton (1996)
Blaine Boyer (2005-09)
Juan Berenguer (1991-92)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Reviewing Hart's Trades: Gomes for Valenzeula

The Braves have been active in John Hart's first season at the helm to the tune of SIXTEEN TRADES! Sixteen deals involving major league talent going one direction or in both. Sixteen deals that include over 50 different players, a few draft picks, lots of cash, and two Uptons. It's been friggin unreal to see what the Braves have done.

With most of the season in our rear view, it's time to start reviewing each one of these trades. This series is going take a little while to get through, but hey, it gives me something to write about.

Trades Already Reviewed
La Stella for Vizcaino
Heyward/Walden for Miller/Jenkins
Varvaro for Kurcz
J. Upton for Jace Peterson and prospects
Carp/Shreve for Banulos
Kubitza/Hyatt for Sanchez
Gattis for Foltynewicz and Ruiz
Hale for Briceno
Elander for Cahill and Lots of Cash
The Craig Kimbrel Trade
Callaspo for Uribe
Gosselin for Touki
KJ/Uribe for Whalen/Gant
The Hector Olivera Trade
CJ for Bourn/Swish

The Trade
Johnny Gomes and about $380K to the Royals for Luis Valenzuela.

The Rationale
Kevin C. Cox | Getty
Gomes had been added before the season as a platoon/bench option, something he had historically been very successful at. The problem was that the Braves never really had a left-handed bat to platoon with him. Zoilo Almonte failed to make the team, Kelly Johnson was needed elsewhere, and Eric Young Jr. completely bombed. That left the Braves with Gomes getting the most starts in left field - 48. Perhaps had KJ stayed healthy and played more left field or had Eury Perez and Todd Cunningham produced, it would have helped. For his part, Gomes was pretty good. He hit just .240, but walked frequently and hit 5 of his 7 homers against lefties, giving him an .857 OPS against lefties.

However, there was no reason to keep Gomes for the whole season. The Braves were going nowhere and Gomes retained value as a lefty masher/clubhouse presence. The Braves tried to send him packing before the trading deadline, but nobody offered enough for them to make the deal. That was pretty good because it gave us a chance to watch Gomes pitch in late-August.

The Royals, meanwhile, were looking for a bat down the stretch to give them an alternative to Alex Rios, who sucked most of the season. Paulo Orlando wasn't doing much better, either. Adding Gomes was a smart addition and it cost them precious little. Luis Valenzuela hadn't flashed on anyone's prospects lists and with good reason.

Short-Term Results
Gomes would only play in 12 games, mostly as a RF, for the Royals. He had just five hits in 30 at-bats, which didn't influence the Royals to keep him on their playoff roster. Still, Gomes remained the great cheerleader and clubhouse presence he is known for. Plus, he does a great wrestling promo.

Valenzuela only played in a half-dozen games after the trade with Rome and nearly doubled the amount of hits Gomes had (9-for-21, 2B, HR. Overall, Valenzuela hit over .340 in A-ball this season, which should garner some attention, though he only played in 62 overall games (including 8 games at rookie).

Long-Term Outlook
The Royals won the World Championship and in this trade, were forced to give up precious little. How much Gomes helped them win is a complete mystery considering he did precious little on the field, but having Gomes around is, as we grew to know, an absolute joy. He didn't have Eric Hinske's timely hits, but it was hard not to feel the same thing about Gomes that we felt about Hinske. He enters free agency weeks before his 35th birthday looking for another team seeking a platoon guy with 162 career homeruns.

Valenzuela will get a chance to repeat his success from 2015. He had played precious little in 2012-13 before slashing .259/.306/.370 in 2014. On the high end, he's probably Pedro Ciriaco with less speed. On the low end, he's...I dunno...Tyler Pastornicky-lite?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Reviewing Hart's Trades: Johnson for Swish/Bourn/CASH

The Braves have been active in John Hart's first season at the helm to the tune of SIXTEEN TRADES! Sixteen deals involving major league talent going one direction or in both. Sixteen deals that include over 50 different players, a few draft picks, lots of cash, and two Uptons. It's been friggin unreal to see what the Braves have done.

With most of the season in our rear view, it's time to start reviewing each one of these trades. This series is going take a little while to get through, but hey, it gives me something to write about.

Trades Already Reviewed
La Stella for Vizcaino
Heyward/Walden for Miller/Jenkins
Varvaro for Kurcz
J. Upton for Jace Peterson and prospects
Carp/Shreve for Banulos
Kubitza/Hyatt for Sanchez
Gattis for Foltynewicz and Ruiz
Hale for Briceno
Elander for Cahill and Lots of Cash
The Craig Kimbrel Trade
Callaspo for Uribe
Gosselin for Touki
KJ/Uribe for Whalen/Gant
The Hector Olivera Trade

The Trade
Chris Johnson to the Indians for Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and cash. There's a review of this trade over at About.com.

The Rationale
Classic Johnson!
Scott Cunningham | Getty
I once pondered how big of a mistake Chris Johnson's extension was. Turned out it was a pretty big one. Frank Wren, with the assistance of John Hart and at least John Coppolella in the room, chose to extend Johnson at the wrong time. After a 2.5 fWAR 2013 campaign, the Braves seemed to think that would suddenly become the norm after posting a 0.8 fWAR in over 300 games in the majors before that. It was dumb. He followed with a 0.2 fWAR year in 2014 and was doing even worse in 2015. Some point to the BABIP and that certainly was a big factor, but every other metric declined except K% (it went up).

The Braves looked at his salary of $7.5M in 2016 and at least $10M in 2017 (including a $1M buyout for 2018). Yeah, 2017 - the magical season. No way were they on board with guys who suck getting paid in 2017.

But getting paid in 2016? Sure! The Indians conversely wanted financial freedom in 2016 and saw a chance to cut some salary (and get rid of a pair of veterans). Nick Swisher was super productive with the Yankees (124-134 RC+ from 2009-12) so the Indians weren't completely idiotic to sign him after the 2012 season. Nor were they totally stupid to sign Michael Bourn after a 6.2 fWAR year in 2012 with the Braves. Still...four years each with vesting options and a combined $104M? Here's a clip from Scrubs to explain my thoughts.

Both teams saw a way to get financial freedom. The Indians sent either $10M (if you believe Cot) or $15M (if you believe David O'Brien), giving the Braves essentially a free Swisher and when you take away what Johnson was going to make anyway, the Braves added $6.5M or $11.5M in salary for 2016. The Braves didn't add much provided the vesting options don't, ya know, vest. Meanwhile, they got rid of the disgruntled Johnson. The Indians didn't save much money, but did turn two roster spots held up by overpaid veterans into one spot...held up by an overpaid veteran.

Short-Term Results
Unsurprisingly, none of the players in this deal did much after the trade. Swish did belt four homers and walked a crapload in 149 PA, putting up a 99 RC+ compared to the 51 before the trade. He also gave the Braves a decent enough option at first base where he is historically an average defender.

Bourn actually played a little worse at the plate, but did play better in the field, albeit in small sample sizes. As good as Bourn played center in 2012, his defensive metrics have trended toward bad in Cleveland and with him not the speed threat he once was, Bourn might be limited to left field if you want him to be a competent defender.

Johnson got off to a fast start in Cleveland, but cooled off down the stretch. Some will look at his .289 average and say he was "back," but he needed a .391 BABIP to do that and even with it, he still posted a 87 RC+ in 27 games. With his defense, he needs 2013-level RC+ (127) to be a plus player in the big leagues. He did play more first base after the trade than third base and would have played in more games, but a spider bite kept him off the team for a few weeks. Unfortunately, it appeared to give him no spidey senses.

Long-Term Outlook
The Braves would love if another team wants to take Bourn and/or Swisher off their hands and with the investment by the Indians, they could conceivably add in some cash themselves to facilitate a deal, but they would have to find a team interested. Maybe they could take on a bad salary that's less than either player and pay the difference, but chances are there is little chance that a trade helps them in any way.

The early thought was that the Braves would platoon Bourn and Swisher in left field, which could limit at-bats and keep their vesting options for 2017 from vesting. But with Hector Olivera moving out to left field, that put another wrench in the plans. Cameron Maybin could be dealt, opening up at-bats for Bourn until Mallex Smith takes over. Of course, if the Braves completely self-destruct the roster with trades like sending Freddie Freeman packing, that would allow Swisher a bigger opportunity for at-bats.

Either way, neither player can be allowed to have their contracts vest ($14M for Swish, $12M for Bourn). This not only keeps the Braves from paying big salaries to veterans unlikely to deserve it, but if either is remotely reproductive, the Braves would retain higher trade value if the chances of a vesting option actually vesting is remote.

Meanwhile, Johnson could be traded himself though Cleveland doesn't have a wealth of better options either. Carlos Santana will likely either DH or play first base while 23 year-old Giovanny Urshela is well-liked, but OPS'd .608 in his rookie season. Right now, there would appear to be at-bats for Johnson if he doesn't get moved, but either way, I doubt we see his 2013 season duplicated. He needed a special set of circumstances to fall his way to achieve that success and to his credit, he cashed in on an extension while the Braves were handing them out like Oprah hands out cars.

It was a mistake to extend Johnson and the Braves' answer to that mistake may have not been a brilliant one. On one side, it's easier to deal players with one year-deals (the Braves needed to take two bad players to get rid of a two-year deal after all). On the other end, taking up two spots seems like an unnecessary evil to deal with one bad player. How this works out is anyone's guess, but from a fan's perspective, it was just nice to get rid of a problem that had exhausted patience.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Random Former Prospect Sunday - Matt McClendon

During the season, Sundays are set aside to take a look at a prospect at random, but with the minor league season over, I wasn't sure what to do for my Sunday article until this nugget of an idea came my way. How about we look at players who ranked in Baseball America's Top 100 while part of the Braves' organization, yet never appeared for the Braves? Over the next few months, I'll take a look at the prospects that were traded or simply faded away and just to keep up with my theme, I randomized the players.

Andy Lyons | Getty
Why they give the minor league
pitcher a bat?
The 2000 Myrtle Beach Pelicans had the worst offense in the Carolina League, but still finished with the most wins because of an amazing pitching staff. In 140 games, the Pelicans picked up shutouts in 27 of them, or 19%, or basically once every five games. Wilmington finished second with 12. The Pelicans gave up less than a thousand hits, which is ridiculous since 1100 was the next lowest amount. They walked 382 batters (or a rate of 2.9 per nine). In the Carolina League. With a pitching staff the weighted average age of 22.1, which was the youngest in the Carolina League despite 30 year-old Steve Avery making making seven starts as he tried to work his way back to the majors.

Despite how awesome the staff was, only two pitchers would go on to pitch in a hundred major league ballgames - Horacio Ramirez and Matt Belisle, who was the last person profiled in this series. Christian Parra, who was the best pitcher in the league that year, never made it beyond AA. Just goes to show you that pitching in an environment that benefits the pitcher tells us little about the ability of those pitchers.

Matt McClendon was a member of that staff, but only briefly. After a half-dozen starts, a 1.59 ERA, and over a strikeout an inning to go with 1.8 BB/9, McClendon was bumped up to Greenville. His numbers there were not nearly as impressive, though Baseball America still ranked him #51 in their Top 100 and the best prospect in the system not named Wilson Betemit. Oops.

A first rounder out of Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando in 1996 by the Reds, McClendon went to the University of Florida. It would be a bit of a mistake as three years later, he wasn't selected until the fifth round when the Braves came calling. After signing, McClendon would rank as the #10th best prospect in the New York-Penn League. Yeah, you probably don't remember that the Braves used to have a team up there, do ya? McClendon had great velocity and touched 96 mph that summer.

After his big 2000 season, McClendon looked like he might be the next big pitcher the Braves were trying to produce as they looked toward the post-Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine era. With lefty Damian Moss and righty Jason Marquis, along with the previously mentioned Belisle, the Braves looked stacked. As surprising as McClendon's addition in the Top 100 may have been, his selection by the Braves may have been a bigger surprise. The Braves had made a practice of selecting high school pitchers early, not college guys. He was the only college player picked by the Braves in 1999 in the first 11 rounds and as a fifth rounder, McClendon was the highest selected college player since University of San Francisco righty Joe Nelson was picked in the '96 fourth round.

But as 2001 began, the Braves had high expectations for McClendon. Things quickly unraveled, though. Injuries and just awful play marred his season as he stunk up ten starts in Richmond and 10 other games, including two starts, while pitching for Myrtle Beach and Greenville. Overall, he finished with a 7.27 ERA in 73 innings with 57 walks and 65 K's. The Braves decided that the bullpen was his best chance to reclaim glory. He had the hard velocity, after all. However, 2002 was another rough go as he struggled terribly with his control. In 17.2 ING back with the Pelicans, he walked 28.

After missing most of 2003 due to injury, he came back for a final try in 2004. The hope was that his April would begin like his 2000 April had and a strong run with the Pelicans would get him promoted back up the chain. It was not to be. His 3.26 ERA wasn't too bad, but his stikeouts were MIA and with unimpressive scouting reports coming in, the Braves released the righty before June. His career was over.

McClendon retired and went back to school, enrolling in the University of Texas School of Law. After graduation, he became an associate at Locke Lord, a gigantic firm with headquarters in Dallas. After nearly two years there, he returned to the world of sports by becoming an attorney for the Scott Boras Corporation in 2009, a position he currently retains.

Previous Random Former Prospects
Gorkys Hernandez
Matt Belisle

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Reviewing Hart's Trades: The Hector Olivera Leap of Faith

The Braves were active in John Hart's season at the helm to the tune of SIXTEEN TRADES! Sixteen deals involving major league talent going one direction or in both. Sixteen deals that include over 50 different players, a few draft picks, lots of cash, and two Uptons. It's been friggin unreal to see what the Braves have done.

With the season in our rear view, it's time to start reviewing each one of these trades. This series is going take a little while to get through, but hey, it gives me something to write about.

Trades Already Reviewed
La Stella for Vizcaino
Heyward/Walden for Miller/Jenkins
Varvaro for Kurcz
J. Upton for Jace Peterson and prospects
Carp/Shreve for Banulos
Kubitza/Hyatt for Sanchez
Gattis for Foltynewicz and Ruiz
Hale for Briceno
Elander for Cahill and Lots of Cash
The Craig Kimbrel Trade
Callaspo for Uribe
Gosselin for Touki
KJ/Uribe for Whalen/Gant

The Trade
As part of a three-team trade, Braves trade Bronson Arroyo, Luis Avilan, Jim Johnson, Jose Peraza, Alex Wood, and cash to the Dodgers for Hector Olivera, Paco Rodriguez, Zachary Bird, and a 2016 draft choice (35th overall, but subject to change) from the Marlins, who also sent Mat Latos and Mike Morse to the Dodgers for Victor Araujo, Jeff Brigham, and Kevin Guzman. Yep, profiled that trade.

The Rationale
Scott Cunningham | Getty Images
Crushes die hard. Last winter, as Olivera worked out for a number of ballclubs, the Braves were a surprise team that was looking to invest big on the Cuban import. A .323/.407/.505 hitter in Cuba, Olivera was considered one of the best hitters left on the island before his defection. He had a silver medal in the Olympics and was part of the disappointing Cuban World Baseball Classic squad in 2009 that finished sixth.

The Braves pursued Olivera hard, but their offer wasn't close to the Dodgers' $62.5M offer over six years ($28M was a signing bonus). Olivera had some medical issues (blood disorder before his defection and a minor UCL tear), but was still considered a stout offensive player.

Like I said...old crushes die hard. The Braves wanted Olivera and considered him a future cog in their lineup. They appeared willing to make it happen and paid a steep price. Jose Peraza was the Braves' top prospect heading into 2015. His game had actually regressed since his 2013 season with Lynchburg. His walks percentage was cut in half and with no power to speak of, he was completely dependent on his bat control to get on base so that he could use his best weapon - his speed. But even his stolen base numbers had declined from 64 and 60 the previous two years to 36 in 2015. Injuries were a factor. The Braves saw a guy who had not advanced and with Jace Peterson a stopgap at second and Andrelton Simmons a fixture at short (right?), Peraza was considered a guy who while useful, was maybe not the impact prospect many had felt he was.

Alex Wood had been very good since arriving in the majors in 2013, but there were some concerns. His fastball velocity had declined (though he never brought much heat). His herky-jerky motion had always been a worry and his strikeouts had fell from nearly a quarter of all batters in 2014 to 18% at the time of the trade. His WHIP had reached 1.41. With a plethora of pitching prospects on the way, the Braves saw Wood as expendable.

The Dodgers also saw Olivera as expendable...at least when it came to winning a title with their bloated roster in 2015. With Justin Turner exceeding all expectations at third base and Corey Seager on the way (not to mention adding Peraza in this deal), the well-sought after Olivera felt more like an extra piece than one that would be a six-year starter. They may have also grew quickly tired of Olivera's hamstring and other concerns that kept him from making his debut with the Dodgers. Furthermore, they needed pitchers. While they had two of the top starters in baseball and a surprisingly durable Brett Anderson, the rest of the staff was unknown in the wake of Brandon McCarthy's early-season injury and Brandon Beachy's quick flameout shortly before the deadline. Adding both Wood and Latos solidified the staff while getting Johnson and Avilan was supposed to make the bullpen deeper. Johnson had been a great add for the Braves and had even filled in as closer due to Jason Grilli's injury, but his return to closer was short-lived. Avilan had went from surprising in 2012 to "how's he succeeding?" in 2013 to "ugh, he actually sucks" in 2014. He was closer to the better Avilan in 2015, but was prone to blow it and blow it big.

Back to Atlanta - they added a pair of pitchers in this deal with Bird and Paco. The latter would eventually need to go under the knife and we will have to wait until 2017 to see him pitch for the Braves. Good thing, too, because that 2017 team is going to be awesome (or so I hear). Bird is an athletic righty who is still raw. He's struggled with control, but has flashed strikeout potential.

Oh, yeah, the Marlins were in this deal. They shed some salary, got a few prospects, and gave the Braves a draft choice. Yay.

I almost forgot about Arroyo. I recently talked about how he came to the Braves. He's just a guy getting paid.

Short-Term Results
Olivera didn't impress in the minors, but when rosters expanded, he finally got a callup and...well, didn't impress that much in the majors either. Still rusty with the bat, Olivera looked damn near puzzled in the field. The Braves had hoped for a springboard September and got more questions than answers. Overall, he slashed .253/.310/.405 in 24 games and lost at-bats to Adonis Garcia.

On the farm, Bird was pushed to AA as the Braves are super aggressive with their prospects. He only started three games and struggled to throw strikes in each one. He was shut down after a 5-run, 5-walk two-inning outing against Mobile on August 13. He should be on schedule to resume his AA career when 2016 opens up.

The Dodgers acquired seven players in this deal and none of them were all that good. Dodgers did quickly pushed Wood to scrap his four-seamer and use his two-seamer along with more spiked curves. He got more grounders as a result, but didn't pitch any better. He appeared in one game in the NLDS and got lit up for four runs, including a three-run homer by Yoenis Cespedes which recently landed in Iowa. Avilan was used to get out lefties, which he does a good job against. He also appeared in the playoffs and retired all four batters he faced. Johnson went to hell in LA. He gave up three homers in 18.2 ING along with a ridiculous 32 hits. Now, he was unlucky to the most extreme degree, but that provided the Dodgers little solace. Peraza appeared in seven games, but hamstring troubles sidelined him ahead of the playoffs. He was the second youngest player in the NL last season.

I don't really care about the other players in this deal because they don't relate to the Braves much at all.

Long-Term Outlook
I know I call this series John Hart's trades, but this was John Coppolella's big money gamble. Even if the Braves were going to move Wood and/or Peraza regardless, doing so for Olivera took a lot of faith. While every scouting report has said that Olivera has the bat to be a productive major leaguer, scouting reports can and have been wrong.

The deal took a hit by the news that Olivera was moving to the outfield next season. Solidifying third base added value to this trade as finding plus-production at third base is not an easy task. Only a half-dozen qualified third baseman had a 120 or better RC+ in each of the last three seasons. The number isn't that different for left field, but it's considered an easier position to formulate a productive platoon than third base. Olivera's move to the outfield caused many, including myself, to re-question this deal and ask this question - just how wrong were the Braves about Olivera? If they were wrong that he could play a competent third base, are they wrong on his hitting?

Bird is a good lottery ticket. His fastball/slider suggests an eventual move to the bullpen, but if he can get either his change or curve to be a true #3 pitch, he could remain in the picture at starter as a bottom-of-the-rotation guy with the chance to progress a bit more. As for Paco, if healthy in 2017, he's a nice weapon. When he was at his best in 2013, he had an 82 cFIP. On a scale of 100, an 82 is 18% better than the league average and the exact mark that Noah Syndergaard had this year. However, he's only appeared in 37 games in the majors since. If healthy and back to his 10 K/9, 50% groundball form, he'll be a weapon through 2019, the final year of team control.

As an aside, it's difficult to preview the #35th overall pick and for that matter, I've seen others call it the #34th. Teams that sign players who were offered a qualified offer could lose their first round pick, which would make this selection even higher. For funsies, here's a list of selected players selected from #30-#35 over the last five years: Braxton Davidson, Jason Hursh, Aaron Judge, Brian Johnson, and Kevin Plawecki.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers will enter 2016 with Avilan, Peraza, and Wood and room for all three on their roster. The results immediately after the trade didn't benefit them, but while Avilan might be serviceable enough (the Dodgers could non-tender him), Peraza and Wood each could play a big role on the next Dodgers team. Or they could be trade bait.

This epic trade ultimately looks less important as we move toward the Hot Stove season just a few months later. The Dodgers made the playoffs, but lost to the Mets. The Braves were already a sinking ship and losing Wood only prompted them to give a guy like Ryan Weber a look. Peraza could have been useful as an alternative to Peterson, but with Peraza failing to advance as a player, maybe the best thing was to cut bait while his value was high. Olivera was going to be the third baseman, but he's not a third baseman. Paco's hurt even before he pitches.

Some call this deal stupid. I wouldn't go that far, but I remain unconvinced that it was the right deal for the Braves. However, if Olivera hits .285/.340/.480 next season, I'll be a bit more on board with the gamble.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Random Former Prospect Sunday - Matt Belisle

During the season, Sundays are set aside to take a look at a prospect at random, but with the minor league season over, I wasn't sure what to do for my Sunday article until this nugget of an idea came my way. How about we look at players who ranked in Baseball America's Top 100 while part of the Braves' organization, yet never appeared for the Braves? Over the next few months, I'll take a look at the prospects that were traded or simply faded away and just to keep up with my theme, I randomized the players.

Two picks after the Reds selected Adam Dunn in the 1998 draft, the Braves took Matt Belisle, a right-hander out of McCallum High School in Austin, Texas. The Braves got the pick as a result of Greg Myers signing with the Padres. Belisle was the first pick the Braves had that year and their only pick out of the first overall 100 selections. He would also become the best major leaguer selected from the 49 players picked that year. #2? Ryan Langerhans picked in the third round. What a rough year.

2000 Spring Training
Scott Halleran | Getty Images
Belisle wouldn't sign until the rookie season was almost over so he made his debut with the 1999 Danville Braves. It was an underwhelming effort, but Belisle had a big sophomore season. With Macon, he kept his WHIP under 1 and had 97 K's to go with 18 walks in 102.1 ING. That kind of absurd control would remain a hallmark of his ability. Around his 20th birthday, Belisle was promoted to Myrtle Beach where he remained on fire. For the year, the durable right-hander tossed 181 innings and finished with a 2.83 ERA. Baseball America took notice and ranked him #28th after the year.

Remember that I said he was durable? Well, that typically was true, but he would miss all of 2001 with injury. Baseball America ranked him #96 entering 2002, but he would struggle with Greenville. While his control only took a minor stumble, his strikeouts saw a decline of over a K an inning. He was getting the ball up more and without the velocity to get away it, he surrendered a team-high 18 homeruns. Returning for another go in 2003, Belisle got the homer part of the equation under control, but the rest of his game continued to lag behind the brilliant numbers he had posted in 2000. Nevertheless, Atlanta promoted him to Richmond in July. More so than anything, it may have been a move to showcase the righty. He was decent in 20 innings with the R-Braves over three starts and walked nobody. On August 14, two days after the Braves had acquired Kent Mercker, Belisle was announced as the player heading to the Reds to complete the deal.

Belisle would make four starts for Louisville before being promoted for six games out of the pen in the majors. In his first outing on September 7, 2003 against the Cards, Belisle gave up his first run and home run on a 1-1 pitch to future manager, Mike Matheny. Overall, he would give up five runs in 8.2 innings.

After not making the Reds in 2004, Belisle spent the year suffering through an ugly season with Louisville where his ERA was 5.26. He would bounce back to spend all of the following year in the majors where he started 5 of 60 games. The results weren't all that pretty and some back trouble led him to only pitch 30 games in the majors in 2006. The Reds still didn't know how to use Belisle and tried him again as a starter in 2007 and unsurprisingly, it was an ugly 5.32 ERA year. One more year with injuries and poor play as a starter convinced the Reds to non-tender him after the '08 campaign.

It would be the best thing for Belisle. He landed in Colorado and after a year of working to develop his pitches, he finally found major league success in his age-30 season during the 2010 season. In 92 innings over 76 games, Belisle had nearly a K an inning, picked up only 11 unintentional walks, and magically kept his ERA under 3.00 in a city that punishes pitchers. It would be the beginning of a durable five years and while he never again was as excellent as he was in 2010, he was always a study relief option for the Rockies. In fact, from 2010-13, Belisle averaged 76 games, 69 innings, 12 unintentional passes, and a 2.92 FIP. He became a force in the pen for the Rockies, though you rarely heard about him.

Things took a turn toward mediocrity in 2014, though. In the final year of an extension he signed before the 2012 year, Belisle's strikeouts dropped off the map and he struggled to avoid big innings. By the end of the year, his FIP was at 3.74 - nearly seventy points higher than it had been in any of his previous four years. He did log an emergency start on August 15, which was the first time he had started a game since 2008.

After the season, the Rockies waved goodbye to Belisle and he signed with the Cardinals. He would only appear in 34 games for the NL Central Champs, missing a big chunk of the season due to arm troubles. He returned in September, but wasn't on the postseason roster. He did earn an ejection on September 18 when he threw at Anthony Rizzo in retaliation for Matt Holliday being hit. His manager, Matheny, the first player who ever homered off him in the majors, was likely the guy giving him the orders. While he finished the year with a 2.67 ERA, his best ERA in the majors, other metrics were a bit less impressed. His FIP/xFIP/SIERA was 3.64/4.52/4.21 - a far cry from his prime Rockies days.

Belisle has appeared in 558 games in the majors to this point and at 35, could continue his career for a few more years. Mercker was superb when the Braves picked him up in 2003 for Belisle. All in all, giving up a prospect who maxed out in his 30's as a middle reliever for a LOOGY turned out not to be a big loss.

Previous Random Former Prospects
Gorkys Hernandez

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Reviewing Hart's Trades: KJ and Uribe for Gant and Whalen

The Braves have been active in John Hart's first season at the helm to the tune of SIXTEEN TRADES! Sixteen deals involving major league talent going one direction or in both. Sixteen deals that include over 50 different players, a few draft picks, lots of cash, and two Uptons. It's been friggin unreal to see what the Braves have done.

With the season in our rear view, it's time to start reviewing each one of these trades. This series is going take a little while to get through, but hey, it gives me something to write about.

Trades Already Reviewed
La Stella for Vizcaino
Heyward/Walden for Miller/Jenkins
Varvaro for Kurcz
J. Upton for Jace Peterson and prospects
Carp/Shreve for Banulos
Kubitza/Hyatt for Sanchez
Gattis for Foltynewicz and Ruiz
Hale for Briceno
Elander for Cahill and Lots of Cash
The Craig Kimbrel Trade
Callaspo for Uribe
Gosselin for Touki

The Trade
Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, and $500K to the Mets for John Gant and Robert Whalen. I looked at this deal at my other blog when it happened.

The Rationale
Scott Cunningham | Getty Images
Sometimes, it's difficult to really explain both sides of a trade - especially when you follow just one of the teams. In this case, this was a simple trade that comes down to one side wanting to better their chances to win now and the other looking to turn soon-to-be free agents into possible players for the future. The Braves weren't going anywhere and thankfully acknowledged that by dealing away two veterans.

KJ was a fun signing last offseason that actually turned into a big pickup. He had hit .264/.346/.430 as a Brave from 2005-09, but had been non-tendered following a .692 OPS in '09. He remained a regular starter through 2013 before transitioning into a backup role with three AL East teams in 2014. However, he hit just .215 with a .659 OPS. Those struggles allowed the Braves to swoop in with a minor league contract and a spring training invite. He got off to a poor start, but hit well enough over the final few weeks to make the roster. An oblique strain cost him some time, but KJ slashed .275/.321/.451 with 9 HRwhile playing a lot of left and filling in for an injured Freddie Freeman at first.

I looked at the Uribe deal a few days ago, but again, he caught fire with the Braves and slashed .285/.353/.464. Through a pair of deals, the Braves secured three young arms with the aid of Uribe. Pretty good haul.

We forget that at the time of this deal that the Mets were three backs at the end of July 24, which was the day this trade was announced. They were just a game over .500 and even trailed the Wild Card.

The haul they surrendered wasn't all that significant. We have heard a lot about their young pitching in the majors and with good reason. They are very solid. Trading young prospects like Gant and Whalen, neither a vital member of their projected future roster, was a pretty good exchange for them and also for the Braves because both pitchers had at least something that made them interesting.

Whalen, a 2012 12th round pick, was considered the better prospect of the two. Armed with a heavy fastball, Whalen is a control guy with the high-end ability of being a bit like 2015 Garrett Richards (20% K%, 9% BB%, 55% GB%, 12% HR/FB). Of course, that's the high-end. At the time of the trade, he was going through his second consecutive season of a K rate falling and a GB rate falling with it. Still, he had a 1.28 WHIP with St. Lucie and was young for the level.

A teammate of Whalen earlier in the year, Gant had made a half-dozen starts before being sent back to AA. He wasn't doing so hot there before or after the demotion to St. Lucie. The belief was that while Whalen had stuff that needed to be refined, Gant had guts and a deceptive delivery that kept hitters off balance. Gant was a guy you take a chance on, but it seemed like Whalen was the bigger get here.

Short-Term Results
Well, the Mets went to the World Series so there's that. KJ wasn't quite as good with the Mets, but he did provide depth at all four infield positions along with playing both corner outfield slots. He went 1-for-9 in the playoffs with 4 K's and a HBP. Uribe also saw his numbers decline post-trade, slashing .219/.301/.430 before missing a month with a chest injury that kept him out until Game 3 of the World Series.

But their value extended beyond filling in for injured Mets like David Wright if you read what the New York media focused on. Both players indicated to the fans and the team alike that the Mets were willing to add to their team in hopes of competing. While later pick-ups like Yoenis Cespedes and Tyler Clippard played bigger roles, it shouldn't be ignored what adding KJ and Uribe did for the culture and feeling around the team.

Meanwhile, Whalen headed to Carolina, but his time with the Mudcats was cut short by an injury in his third outing. He later posted a picture to Twitter about his injury and while I'm not sure exactly what the injury is, both knees were operated on and he pointed out later that he was glad to be running pain-free for the first time in two seasons. He'll be aiming for a return by spring training.

While Whalen went under the knife, Gant excelled. In seven starts for the Mississippi Braves, Gant struck out over a batter an inning and 3 K's for every walk. Meanwhile, he allowed just one homer and finished with a 1.03 WHIP and 1.99 ERA as a member of the Braves. Four of his outings ended with at least seven K's, including a 6 ING, 1 H, 9 K outing against Montgomery.

Long-Term Outlook
This trade completely shifts toward the Braves perspective now as both KJ and Uribe were granted free agency. Can Gant sustain his success to finish the year? He'll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft, though I imagine the Braves will add him to the 40-man roster to protect him. He could even be a darkhorse next spring, though it's far more likely that he'll be ticketed for a trip to Gwinnett.

As for Whalen, it's all going to be about health for him. He's avoided arm trouble and hand and knee injuries aren't typically that important, but not pitching 100 innings in a season four years into your career as a starter is. He'll likely return to Carolina, though he might be ready for Mississippi. Either way, if he's healthy and back on his game, Whalen gives the Braves another good prospect for the future to be used for trade fodder or as depth for the roster.

All in all, this was a good deal at the time and remains so. Neither Whalen, nor Gant, will be super impressive or garner a lot of prospect attention, but each is better than seeing KJ and Uribe produce for a bad ballclub.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Early Rule 5 Thoughts

We are still over a month away from the Rule 5 draft, but that won't stop us from taking a quick look. The basics of the Rule 5 draft are that any player who is not on the 40-man and fulfill one of the two criteria are eligible to be draft. 1) The player was 19 or older when he signed at least four years ago or 2) the player was 18 or younger when he signed at least five years ago. To simplify, college-age players who signed in 2012 or international/high school players who were signed in 2011.

The Braves have plenty of room on their 40-man roster after recent DFA's removed Todd Cunningham, Ryan Lavarnway, and Ryan Kelly among others. If you remove the soon-to-be free agents, I have the roster at 35 and 36 if Dian Toscano is finally re-instated. This includes guys that are on the 60-day DL - even Paco Rodriguez, who will miss all of 2016, but will need to be protected to keep him from being drafted this winter.

Here are some of the guys that will need to be added to the 40-man roster at some point before the Rule 5 draft or they will be eligible to be drafted. Spoiler alert, I don't see many. This list isn't exhaustive, but the guys who seem like good bets to garner some attention is pretty limited.

RHP John Gant - I missed this one before. Part of the haul the Braves got for Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, Gant was on fire after the deal, finishing with a 1.03 WHIP and a strikeout an inning over seven games with Mississippi. He's not very projectionable, but could surprise some people and is a worthy of a spot on the 40-man roster if there's room.

RHP Ryne Harper - He was actually eligible last year. Harper's been stuck at Mississippi and has made 112 appearances there over the last three years, though it has nothing to do with his performance (2.17 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 10.2 K/9). Nobody went for the bait last winter so the Braves probably don't feel the need to add him to the 40-man this winter either.

RHP Tyler Jones - After flaming out in the Twins organization, Jones was excellent last season for the Braves and made his AA debut with 39 games, 16 saves, a 1.39 WHIP, and 10 K/9. He didn't allow a homerun all of last year and his WHIP may have been high only because he gave up a decent amount of hits (though that has been his M.O. during his career). Braves could add him to the 40-man, but I think they see the many other options as better fits.

C Jose Briceno - He had an awful 2015 and has not appeared above A-ball so the Braves will probably be safe not protecting him. A catching desperate team might consider Briceno, but Briceno's not the can't miss prospect you try to hide for a year on your bench.
Stacy Revere | Getty Images Sport

OF Mallex Smith - He'll be an easy keep for the Braves, of course. The Braves will probably add him in the days leading up to the draft. The only intriguing thing is what shape the outfield looks like by the time he gets added. Will the Braves have traded one or more of the veteran trio of Cameron Maybin, Michael Bourn, and Nick Swisher? Will Eury Perez, who is out of options, still be around? Will Dian Toscano be added to the roster? Without a move, the Braves will have six (seven with Toscano) outfielders on the 40-man, plus guys who might shift there for whatever reason like Adonis Garcia, Hector Olivera, and Joey Terdoslavich. That's a lot of depth to be centralized in the outfield.

As you can see, not a lot needs to be done here, though deals between now and then could muddy up the waters a bit.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Reviewing Hart's Trades: Gosselin for Touki

The Braves have been active in John Hart's first season at the helm to the tune of SIXTEEN TRADES! Sixteen deals involving major league talent going one direction or in both. Sixteen deals that include over 50 different players, a few draft picks, lots of cash, and two Uptons. It's been friggin unreal to see what the Braves have done.

With the season in our rear view, it's time to start reviewing each one of these trades. This series is going take a little while to get through, but hey, it gives me something to write about.

Trades Already Reviewed
La Stella for Vizcaino
Heyward/Walden for Miller/Jenkins
Varvaro for Kurcz
J. Upton for Jace Peterson and prospects
Carp/Shreve for Banulos
Kubitza/Hyatt for Sanchez
Gattis for Foltynewicz and Ruiz
Hale for Briceno
Elander for Cahill and Lots of Cash
The Craig Kimbrel Trade
Callaspo for Uribe

The Trade
Philip Gosselin to the Diamondbacks for Touki Toussaint and Bronson Arroyo

The Rationale
This one is easy to explain from Atlanta's point-of-view. They turned a backup infielder who had a .665 major league OPS to go with a minor league OPS of about .735 into a Top 100 prospect. The trouble is rationalizing this from the Diamondbacks' perspective.

Kevin C. Cox | Getty Images
On one end, the Diamondbacks shed about $10M in salary with this move from the roughly $5.5M Arroyo was owed for the remainder of 2015, plus a $4.5M buyout for 2016. So, there was some payroll flexibility here. And maybe Arizona had second thoughts on Toussaint a year after drafting him with the #16th overall pick of the 2014 draft. At the time of the draft, you could argue that Toussaint had as high of a ceiling as any other pitcher in that draft. The question was how far was he from reaching it because he was so raw.

But even with those potential concerns, the Diamondbacks essentially sold a great prospect to the Braves and in an environment where there are caps on draft slots and international bonus money, acquiring a guy a year removed from being a first round pick without having to pay from any of the pools of money that go to draft picks and signings was a coup for the Braves.

Losing Gosselin only hurt because Goose was a likeable high-effort guy who made the most out of not having a lot of talent. He had hit .266 the previous year while spelling Tommy La Stella against lefties and had got off to a good start in 2015 before fracturing his thumb about a month before this trade was completed.

Short-Term Results
Gosselin did make it back for a 24-game run to finish the year and hit the cover off the ball (.303/.382/.545). Chances are not good that 17% of his flyballs continue to leave the park, though Gosselin did do a better job at elevating the ball when he returned to live action.

Arroyo never played for the Braves and was later traded to the Dodgers in a mega deal that will be discussed soon enough. That one's going to take a lot of words.

Only 18, Toussaint continued to pitch A-ball after the trade. In ten games with Rome, he struggled with his control (6.1 BB/9) and gave up too many homers. There were times where he showed his A-game, though. On July 20, Toussaint faced Lakewood and shut them down over six hitless innings where he walked four and struck out eight. However, his next start was a nine-run stinker where he pitched just 3.1 ING. He was shut down for precautionary reasons in late August, which only cost him a start or two. His last game was a six-inning quality start where he gave up just one run and struck out five.

Long-Term Outlook
I suppose Goose could surprise us all and continue to hit, but I imagine he'll see his numbers travel toward a .700 OPS. He's got value as a super utility guy who can play short in a pinch and has moved out to left field. He even played some center during spring training. He's a guy who it's easy to root for even if he plays for the Diamondbacks now.

Arroyo has some post-2015 effect on the Braves depending on how their accounting works. As part of the Dodgers covering all of Hector Olivera's contract, the Braves chipped in to pay all but $500K of the remaining $3.4M on his 2015 salary. The Braves are also responsible for the $4.5M buyout for 2016.

But this trade comes down to Touki. Dave Stewart, when he defended this deal, balked at someone saying Touki could get it up to 96 mph. Maybe he was mad that someone short-changed Touki, who reached 98 with Rome. While he remains incredibly raw and won't have his training wheels taking off any time soon, the Braves have a lot of reason to love Toussaint and what he brings. He has ace potential in his right arm, but control will determine how close he comes to reaching it. One promising thing is that his pitches show flashes of greatness. The hard velocity with his fastball will get outs if he can control it. His changeup has a mature deception to it where he maintains his arm speed, but it too often misses high (translation: ball go far when that happens). His third pitch, a curve, has great biting action when he controls it and might become his best strikeout pitch

Regardless if Touki becomes a middle reliever or a starter at the major league level, this deal was a win by just taking a chance on him. He's got a chance to be tremendous and the Diamondbacks just gave him away. If the Craig Kimbrel trade wasn't the best deal the Braves completed since Frank Wren's firing, buying Touki off the D'Backs was.

As an aside, if you piggy-back this onto the Travor Cahill and Victor Reyes trades (the latter I didn't profile), the Braves effectively turned Josh Elander, Reyes, Gosselin, and about $15M in cash into Cahill, Arroyo, Touki, and the 75th overall pick of the 2015 draft - A.J. Minter, who missed his first season coming back from Tommy John. To put that into another streamlined way, they turned depth players into a pair of high-end prospects. You do that every day of the week if you can.