Monday, October 3, 2016

2016 Player Reviews: Jesse Biddle, Aaron Blair, Emilio Bonifacio

I'm back. That was the longest shower of my life.

In all truth, a few personal issues have taken much of my focus away from baseball and the Braves over the last few months. I will not be going into it here, but I miss writing about the Braves and a lot has happened since I last updated my blog: the Matt Kemp trade, the promotion of Dansby Swanson, the international signing period, closing time for Turner Field, and playing spoiler over the last few weeks of the season.

To reacquaint myself with the team, I figured a player review series was appropriate. Each player in this series could return to the Braves in 2017 (though some definitely shouldn't). I will be covering two-to-three players each article and will head down the roster alphabetically.

*All ages are as of opening day, 2017.

Jesse Biddle, LHP, 25 years-old

2016 Review: Who that? Oh, you probably forget all about Jesse, didn't you? Picked up on waivers last March 19th after a month-and-a-half stay in the Pirates organization, Biddle was a consensus Top 100 prospect until the 2014 season. Before coming to the Pirates, Biddle was with the organization that drafted him back in 2010, the Phillies, and he was a fairly intriguing prospect before he went under the knife for the dreaded Tommy John surgery about a year ago. He spent 2016 rehabbing and was not included in this fall's instructional league roster for the Braves.

2017 Projection: Biddle was a big prospect once for a reason and could be a sleeper if the Braves can both right the ship with him and develop his skills. He throws a heater in the low-90's and also possesses a nice curveball. His changeup is good enough to make him a three-pitch pitcher and if he can bring along his slider, he'll have another weapon to confuse hitters. The problem for Biddle is two-fold. First, he's in a system with younger, better prospects who need innings and chances to show their worth. The other issue with Biddle is found in the business side of things. Biddle must be re-instated from the 60-day DL after the World Series concludes. If the Braves choose not to do so, I'm not positive of what happens next. My best guess is that he would be designated for assignment and moved through waivers. Provided he made it through, he could be outrighted to the minor leagues with a likely destination of Mississippi to begin 2017. That is...if another team doesn't pick him up in the Rule 5 (which is unlikely if he already made it through waivers). That's a lot of words, I know, but hopefully it was clear enough. Biddle still has potential, but he's not going to be a big piece that the Braves are going to try extra hard to hold onto.

By Editosaurus (Own work) [CC0],
via Wikimedia Commons
Aaron Blair, RHP, 23 years-old

2016 Review: Acquired in the Shelby Miller trade, Blair looked decent to begin his career, but things unraveled quickly for him in his fourth start and his ERA stayed over 7 for pretty much the rest of the season. In late June, the Braves sent him to Gwinnett for further seasoning. Unfortunately, his minor league numbers were not that good, either. In his defense, a .358 BABIP isn't easy to deal with and his FIP was far more acceptable at 3.38. He returned for a spot start in late August and received a three-start run over the final two weeks with the big-league club where he was decent, bad, and pretty good - in that order. In the season's penultimate game, Blair mowed down the Tigers with a career-best 10 K's. Before that, his personal high was 5.

2017 Projection: Ending the year on a positive note helps - just ask Matt Wisler from last year. It gives you a bit of a leg up, but Blair simply looked meh outside of that outlier final start. Even when he was good, it wasn't all that much to write home about and too often when he was bad, he was really bad. Most of the time, he nibbled, walked too many batters, and got himself in situations where major league hitter thrive - facing a rookie pitcher trying desperately hard to throw strikes rather than focus on pitching. Of the 14 homeruns he served up, eight came with at least one runner on base and just as many came with Blair trying to hold onto a lead. Blair has a lot to clean up before 2017, but again, ending the year on a positive note could be a catalyst for the right-hander. His spot on next year's roster is far from assured, but fortunately for him, I can say that about many starting pitchers in the mix. The Braves will almost certainly add at least one starter for 2017 and Blair will have plenty of competition for any open spots in the rotation, but he's earned a long look.

Emilio Bonifacio, UTIL, 31 years-old

2016 Review: After returning to the Braves last offseason, Bonifacio was cut in the spring before being brought back for minor league depth. He was solid for Gwinnett and gave them someone capable of playing center field (although, not very well). Gwinnett used eight guys in center field and only three probably should play the position so Bonificaio wasn't a terrible option for them. Along the way, he received two different stints with the Braves where he played left-and-center and was used often as a pinch hitter because that's what you do with a career .258 hitter with no power.

2017 Projection: One of the few Braves free agents, Bonifacio will likely catch on somewhere, though a triple slash of .242/.290/.320 since 2013 and just two steals over his last 70 major league games won't help him attract much of any attention. He could return on a minor league deal and share a room with Kelly Johnson this spring because that's a thing the Braves do.

Well, that's it for my first post back. I can't promise I will get back to posting every day, but I hope to make it through the roster by the time the World Series concludes and get started on a Top 50 Prospect list as well - along with the usual opinion and analysis of Atlanta Braves decisions and possibilities. Hope you guys enjoyed and remember to like and share through social media if you did. Thanks for reading!

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