Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Braves 2016 Rule 5 Preview

On December 8, Major League Baseball will have its annual Rule 5 draft. For years, the Braves were a backseat spectator for the draft, but over the last couple of seasons, they have selected Daniel Winkler and Evan Rutckyj while also acquiring Rule 5 pick Andrew McKirahan off waivers. While the 2017 version of the Braves should be better than the previous two years, there is a good chance the Braves may increase the competition pool with a Rule 5 pick - or maybe even two? Who's a fit? Here's a few I like.

Yimmi Brasoban, RHP
The Good: Electric stuff from a 22 year-old righty. He brings 98 mph heat and a knockout slider and despite how deep the Padres' system has become, it's still surprising that Brasoban was left unprotected (I'll get to that in a second). He had a 3.10 FIP in 35.2 innings at Double-A last year with a 8.8 K/9 and 24% K%. Gets his fair share of grounders and has allowed just 25 homeruns in 360.2 career innings. Regardless if he's taken, he profiles as a reliever as he lacks a competent third pitch. However, those two pitches should get him to the majors if he can harness them.

The Bad: "If he can harness them." That's the rub. While a move to the bullpen has been great for his strikeout and walk ratios, he's still prone to lose the plate from time-to-time. A bigger concern right now is that Brasoban "received a stem-cell platelet-rich plasma injection in his elbow" after being shut down in the Dominican Summer League. That could scare off teams as Brasoban may eventually need surgery if the injection doesn't deal with the problem. Either way, Brasoban might not be ready for opening day, which is probably why the Padres bet that he wouldn't be taken.

Final Thoughts: Definitely worth the consideration. With his stuff, he could be trouble on right-handed batters and induce his fair share of double plays in clutch situations. He's been his own worst enemy in the minors and might click with the right pitching coach. As for the injury concerns, 2016 was the first time he landed on the DL so, presumably, if the injection clears up things or even if he ultimately needs surgery, he has a good chance to return and thrive. The Braves have shown that they don't mind waiting on talent.

Nick Delmonico, IF/OF
The Good: If you are looking for a possible left-handed bat off the bench, Delmonico might fit the bill. The 24 year-old hit 17 homeruns between Double-A and Triple-A last year with an overall .279/.347/.499 slash. He could compete with Rio Ruiz for playing time as the left-handed portion of a potential platoon with Adonis Garcia at third base. Delmonico carries solid enough defensive grades, according to Clay Davenport's site. He's going to strike out a quarter of the time, if not more, but has above-average walk numbers and with his power, that's a profile for a solid bat.

The Bad: Delmonico strikes out a ton, which is a problem that may only be exacerbated by a promotion to the majors. However, his biggest problem is that he's never been particularly noteworthy until last season and while there was much to like about his year at the plate, the numbers weren't jaw-dropping - especially when you take away the 38-game run at Double-A which really pushed up his overall numbers. Further, there is something to be said about defensive grades because, while Davenport's defensive metrics look good at third base, the White Sox didn't seem sold on him playing the hot corner. In their defense, Matt Davidson, a prospect they have slowly waited on, did play 66 games at third for Charlotte as well.

Final Thoughts: It's slightly surprising that the White Sox didn't protect Delmonico considering how shallow their system is. That said, the Braves would have to grade Delmonico has a both a better option than Ruiz and someone they feel has a great shot of sticking on the roster. I'm just not sold Delmonico is that guy.

Ismael Guillon, LHP
The Good: Lefties will always be intriguing options in the Rule 5 and Guillon is no different. The Venezuelan will turn 25 just as a pitchers-and-catchers are reporting to camp and has mostly been used as a starter in the minors. He may still have a shot to stick in that role, but if the Braves drafted him now, it would likely be for bullpen work. He works off a low-90's fastball that likely would be bumped up to the 95 mph range while mixing in a plus-changeup. His curveball remains a work-in-progress and whether or not that pitch develops into an above-average pitch will decide whether or not he fits in as a starter or bullpen piece. For now, the latter is sufficient. Further, and this may be important considering the freedom opponents felt to run on the Braves last year, Guillon's pick-off move is considered elite and only 16 dared to even try to run on him (9 were caught). He K'd 116 in 93.1 innings last year (11.2 K/9) while allowing a video game-like 50 hits. Lefties were completely useless against him with a triple flash of .133/.233/.222.

The Bad: The problem with that slash line is that he was a 24 year-old in the Florida State League (A+ ball). That meant that he faced just 71 batters older than him throughout the season. He should be expected to handle that league in his seventh year (minus a 2015 lost to a lat injury). Further, while 2016 was impressive, his career numbers paint the picture of a guy who gets K's, allows too many homeruns, and has struggled with his control. And, for the Braves' purposes, the fact that he hasn't thrown a pitch above A-ball is a potential problem. While he has the stats, the pedigree, the left-hand arm, and two plus pitches that can play at the major league level, will that be enough considering his complete lack of experience above A-ball and his overall lack of impressive numbers?

Final Thoughts: He's a lefty and he appears to be a weapon when utilized as a LOOGY. While the lack of high minors experience is concerning and you'd like to see him repeat his success at a more challenging level before considering him for the big leagues, Guillon could be a dominant reliever in the majors within the next few years if used properly and if he is successful in transitioning to the majors. Actually, he could (and I stress could) be a dominant reliever in a specialist role in 2017. I'm not saying the Braves would be dumb not to draft him because the questions about him still exist. However, if they do draft him, I can't blame them.

Tyler Heineman, C
The Good: It's a good time to be a defensive-first catcher. The first pick of the 8th round of the 2012 draft, Heineman has climbed the ladder and in 2015, made it to Triple-A for a 56-game run in which he slashed .271/.312/.370. The switch-hitter had his playing time limited by a higher-rated prospect, Max Stassi, but still posted a .322 wOBA in 2016 over 73 games this season in a return trip to Triple-A. For Heineman, however, it's about his defense. Baseball Prospectus has done well in adding minor league catching metrics for their subscribers and Heineman ranks extremely well here in pitch framing, which just so happens to be a focus of the current front office. His overall game behind the plate is good, but pitch framing is where he excels.

The Bad: Defensive-first catchers are usually defensive-first because their offensive game is so limited. Heineman is no different. He's hit 20 career minor league homeruns and 13 came in one year when he took advantage of the hitting friendly environments of the California League and especially his home park of Clipper Magazine Stadium, which has a 3-year HR Park Factor of 164 for LHB and 140 for RHB. Heineman does do a good job of making contact and walks enough to help supplement his OBP, but probably won't do much at the plate to be more than a backup.

Final Thoughts: Even though the Braves just signed Tuffy Gosewisch to a deal for 2017, Heineman could be worth the investment - especially because Gosewisch isn't exactly known for pitch framing, something the Braves desperately are seeking to improve. Of course, Atlanta can keep their options open on the free agent market, but Heineman could be a nice addition for a position that could use some beefing up.

Joey Krehbiel, RHP
The good: You want strikeouts? Two years ago, Krehbiel K'd 96 in 68 innings. Last year, as he moved up to Double-A, Krehbiel saw his K/9 fall from 12.7 to 10.7 per nine innings. Nevertheless, that's still a pretty good mark. Following the season, the righthander went down to the Arizona Fall League and K'd 20 of the 51 batters he faced while walking just six. Krehbiel has a 95-96 max mph fastball that has a lot of life on it. He also uses a changeup and a developing slider. That change-of-pace is good enough to keep lefties at bay.

The Bad: He repeated High-A in 2015 and has yet to play at AAA. Control seems to leave him at times, which isn't unusual for young pitchers. Groundball rate has fell in each of the last two seasons, though his line drive rate climbed last year. His secondary pitches are good enough to get to the majors, but will need refinement to rely on Krehbiel to pitch in high leverage situations.

Final Thoughts: The Diamondbacks originally obtained Krehbiel from the Angels in the 2014 Joe Thatcher deal. He's pitched well at each level and had a 3.23 FIP last year in Double-A while playing in a park that is fairly forgiving for hitters. He has limited upside as a reliever-only, but could be a valuable middle reliever in 2017.

Anthony Santander, OF
The Good: There is a lot going against selecting Santander, but let's focus on the good for the moment. Santander seems to lack any real weakness. He's came into his own over the last two seasons after a slow start to his career and finally stayed healthy for a full season in 2016. The results? Well, if you are wowed by traditional baseball stats (Hi Jeff, thanks for reading!), Santander had 42 doubles, 20 homeruns, 10 steals, and 54 walks over 574 PA last season with a .290/.368/.494 triple slash. If you want a bit more nuanced idea of his season, he posted a .388 wOBA and 137 wRC+ to go with his .204 ISO. Santander has spent most of his time in left field, but can range over to right field and even play a little first base. He's also a switch hitter who showed little preference for which side of the plate he was hitting from last year.

The Bad: Remember how I said there was a lot going against him? Let's start with the thing I tip-toed around. He did all of his damage in the Carolina League. That's high-A ball. He's never played at AA ball to this point. Further, we really have no idea what we might get with him after he spent most of 2013-15, when he was healthy, playing at Lake County in the Midwest League (A-ball). That's three years in the same spot, which hardly screams prospect. The Braves want to be better in 2017 - can they really keep a spot on the 40-man roster for Santander and, if he makes the roster, stash him for a full season?

Final Thoughts: Santander was pushed aggressively by the Indians when he jumped from one summer in the Arizona Summer League to the Midwest League and was still young for the Carolina League, where only 45 PA came against pitchers younger than him. Maybe he finally caught up to the game. The Braves would be taking a chance that Santander's performance last year was a sign of bigger things to come. They also could use some outfield depth. If they believe the bat is for real, maybe Santander jumping from high A-ball isn't such a stretch.

Wei-Chung Wang. LHP
The Good: Unlike most pitchers, Wang has already been through this before. He was a surprise Rule 5 selection of the Brewers before 2014 after pitching just one year of professional ball because of a  his original deal was voided after needing Tommy John surgery. That made him eligible to be drafted in 2014 and Milwaukee pounced on the lefty despite a shade less than 50 innings in the Gulf Coast League. He was predictably hammered in 14 games in the majors during 2014 before restarting in the minors two years ago with a 3.40 ERA/3.58 FIP at A+. He lost his spot on the 40-man roster in 2015 and responded with a 3.52 ERA/3.42 FIP at Double-A with a 5% hike in K%. Wang even got five starts in Triple-A before the season ended. The lefty won't blow you away, but is smart on the mound and has command over his pitches. Further, his changeup and slider both carry very solid grades and he handled lefties very well in 2016 (.256 OBP, 1 HR). Only 19 baserunners tried to steal on him last year and seven were caught.

The Bad: Every team in baseball passed on him in 2015 when the Brewers designated him for assignment. He lacks a plus fastball and righties were an issue for him last year (.281/.333/.414). While a veteran of 14 major league games (in which he was plastered), he's only logged 32 innings at Triple-A to this point.

Final Thoughts: Not many players get taken twice in the Rule 5 - especially after fulfilling the requirements of being a Rule 5 pick the first time, but Wang has had an odd career to this point. Though he turns 25 next April, he only has four seasons to grade him on. I think the jury's definitely still out on him progressing to the point where he can be a starter in the major leagues, but could he serve as a reliever? That's a question the scouts for the Braves can answer better than me.

Tyler Webb, LHP
The Good: There is little question - at least to me - that Webb will be drafted this year. As I've previously said, lefties do well in the Rule 5 Draft and Webb is going to garner some attention. Last year, spent mostly as a long reliever at Triple-A, Webb struck out 10.2 per nine while walking close to 3 per nine. While not an extreme groundball guy, he has a career 47% groundball rate in the minors. But what you really want to know is how Webb does against lefties. Lefties have on-based over .300 against Webb just once in his career.

The Bad: Now, righties on the other hand. They pretty much own him. A big reason for that is due to the fact that Webb doesn't have any real out pitch. He works off his low 90's fastball and curve while using a lot of deception to keep the ball hidden from left-handed hitters. Once you take that away by letting him pitch to righties, his limited stuff gets exposed.

Final Thoughts: Every team needs lefties and Webb is a problem for left-handed hitters. That said, he doesn't jump off the page like you might want from a Rule 5 target. What helps him is that unlike many pitchers on this list, he has over 125 innings at Triple-A and some pretty good marks - again, especially against lefties. If the Braves fall in love with his arm and want to put money on a guy with good odds to be in the majors in 2017, Webb might be their guy. If they want a guy who can stick in the majors and possibly help in more than one way, they probably should pass on Webb.

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