Friday, December 9, 2016

Braves Wheel and Deal on Final Day of Winter Meetings

The final day of the Winter Meetings saw plenty of players leaving and even some coming to Atlanta. Let's recap the moves.

By Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Atlanta Braves release Williams Perez

The day got started with the news that the Braves were cutting Perez to open up a spot on their 40-man roster that would soon be used for a Rule 5 selection. Perez, a right-handed groundball machine, had came on the scene with a breakout 2015 in which he maintained a 2.91 ERA and 3.29 FIP at Double-A Mississippi. He never was a strikeout pitcher, but showed great command of the strikezone and a penchant for getting batters to smack the ball into the ground for easy outs.

Over the last two seasons, he has appeared 34 times in the majors with all but three as a starter. What we find out was about what we thought we knew when he was coming up. While capable of getting grounders, Williams lacked stuff and in the major leagues, it's almost impossible to get by as a right-handed soft tosser without having a weapon resembling a plus pitch to choose from. Just to add on, of all total pitches that Williams threw, a criminally low 5.9% became swinging strikes. The average is about 10%. Hitters bashed him and he wore his 4.85 FIP/4.75 xFIP deservingly. He's not bad Quad-A depth, but his ceiling was just too low for the Braves to keep him when they could re-purpose that roster spot on a higher ceiling option.

The Atlanta Braves select RHP Armando Rivero from the Chicago Cubs

Last week, I reviewed eight players I liked coming into the Rule 5 Draft. Only two were selected and the Braves' option wasn't on my radar. That said, I'm blogging in my boxers and they have a wealth of scouting reports so I'm confident they made a better selection than me. Rivero was a big signing by the Chicago Cubs in 2013 out of Cuba. Expected to be a quick riser through the minor leagues, Rivero has been on the cusp of the majors in each of the last two seasons. Overall, his minor league numbers are pretty studly with 303 K's in 220 ING (12.4 K/9). He can battle control issues and gives up a few too many homers. Unlike many Rule 5 picks, Rivero is up there in age and will turn 29 on the first day of February.

Rivero has mixed reports on his fastball velocity ranging from low 90's to the mid-90's. His best pitch when he was a star reliever in Cuba was his cutter. He also has a breaking ball that, had he been able to develop it into a plus pitch, might have pushed the Cubs to try him as a starter. That said, I've read that the pitch (which some call a curve while others say is a slider) can be a strikeout pitch, but lacks consistency. The bullpen is shaping up to have a lot of competition, but Rivero's Rule 5 status might help him claim a spot if not outshined by other options.

For more on Rivero - especially his defection from Cuba - read this article from last July from The Des Moines Register. New Braves minor leaguer David Freitas also has a quote in the article and I highly recommend it.

Minor League Portion of Rule 5 Draft Review

And then, there was the minor league portion of the Rule 5. While the Braves didn't lose a player in the major league portion while adding Rivero, they lost three guys in the minor league section along with gaining one. These players do not have to be offered back to their previous team if not kept in Triple-A.

The Braves selected Cesilio Pimentel from the Pirates in the First Round as they continue to absolutely crush the name competition. Signed out of the Dominican Republic, the lefty made his professional debut in 2011 and has slowly climbed the ladder since then. Last year, at 23, he pitched for West Virginia in the Sally League mostly in long relief. He's continued to show good control and adequate strikeout numbers, but really needs to be challenged at some point as he was just too old for the South Atlantic League. While he'll go to the Triple-A roster, my bet is that he'll start next season in Double-A.

The Second Round saw the Braves lose two players before a third went in the next and last round. First, left-hander Brian Moran went to the Orioles. He's been around for awhile now since the Mariners selected him out of UNC-Chapel Hill in 2009. He's also a veteran of the Rule 5 pick as he was picked in 2013 by the Angels, but missed the season with Tommy John surgery and was ultimately returned to the Mariners. He would pitch one more season with the M's before being selected last year as a minor league Rule 5 pick by the Indians. He was released at the end of spring training and played some in independent ball before the Braves added him last August for the stretch run with Gwinnett. He has good career numbers, but they don't really stand out, either.

Three picks later, the Rangers picked Zachary Bird. The righty had been acquired along with *gulp* Hector Olivera in 2015 from the Dodgers. He was praised for his athleticism and reports were thathe had a big arm that and some high-celing potential. However, last year, he looked completely lost in the Carolina League. Despite that, there was some rumblings that Bird might be selected in the major league portion if the Braves didn't protect him. That was probably due to the fact that his Dodgers pre-trade hype is still attached to him according to MLB Pipeline as very few - if any - experts had Bird as a Top 30 prospect for the Braves outside MLB's official prospect guys. Bird has a shot to be something for the Rangers, but not shocked the Braves didn't try to protect him.

The final selection of the day came with Texas again raided the Braves' system for righty Fernando Miranda. In 2015, he made a cameo in my Random Prospect Sunday series. He spent last season on loan to the Mexican League where he had decent K numbers, but not a lot else. Miranda had only pitched 78 innings over three seasons before 2016 in the Braves' system. This sentence might sum on the choice of Miranda - you didn't know the Braves had him and there was good reason for that.

By EricEnfermero (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
Braves Trade Tyrell Jenkins and Brady Feigl, Take Chance on Luke Jackson

This is one of those trades where all you can say is "Uh, alright."

It wasn't hard to like Jenkins. He had an engaging personality on social media, was one of the first real young pieces the Braves acquired after axing Frank Wren, and had posted some pretty decent numbers over two years. The problem with Jenkins was pretty simple. While the Braves were able to squeeze the two healthiest seasons of his career, his metrics never climbed out of the "Meh" range. His K/9 fell under 6 an inning, his control never wavered far from 4 walks per nine, and while he always induced a lot of grounders, his stats never seemed to match the hype.

Like Zach Bird, Jenkins is an athletic righty who needed refinement. So much so that last year, the Braves pushed Jenkins to the pen. But whereas Bird headed south this season, Jenkins did enough to earn a callup to the majors. He walked more batters than he struck out and like a player the Braves cut earlier that day, Williams Perez, Jenkins couldn't get hitters to swing-and-miss. Since Jenkins has never displayed excellent control, that led to major league hitters elevating his pitches and sending them to the bleachers for souvenirs way too often.

That's not to say that Jenkins is a lost cause. Only that he had plateaued and was not improving. With better prospects reaching Triple-A or knocking on the door, Jenkins was expendable.

Feigl was a fun story during the 2015 spring training as a non-drafted free agent who Gene Karns, who had found Brandon Beachy, signed. Feigl pitched well in 2014 and with no lefties stepping forward in the spring of 2015, Feigl was beginning to look like a possibility to break camp in the majors before being a late cut. Soon after, he complained of soreness and later would need Tommy John. He missed almost all of the last two seasons before a late return to three rehab games in the Gulf Coast League last summer. I had big hopes for Feigl before his injury and for more on his strange path to nearly making the Braves in 2015, read this article.

As for the guy the Braves got, Luke Jackson heads to Atlanta. Selected five picks before Jenkins in the 2010 draft, Jackson has shown some strikeout ability in the minors that only got better after his 2015 move to the bullpen. It's the rest of his game that the Braves coaches will look to refine. His delivery occasionally comes out of whack, his breaking pitches aren't always thrown for strikes, and he can be a bit homer prone despite a real weapon in his fastball.

Much like how Jenkins had plateaued as a Braves prospect, it appears that Jackson has reached a level where he's just not getting any better pitching for the Rangers' organization. The Braves will work with him on getting his breaking pitch(es?) thrown for strikes and more consistency on the mound, which should make him better able to handle the strikezone. Jackson is armed with a 95-97 mph fastball that will buy him long looks with the Braves.

This deal can be summed up in one word: Ceiling. As we saw with the Alex Jackson trade (and many others before that), the Braves have no problem with dealing quantity for the highest ceiling in the trade. With 94-95 mph heat, electric stuff, and developing secondary options, Jackson represented the best bet to be more than just a bit player in the majors of the three players involved in this trade. Now, he has to prove it. Luckily for him, the Braves are building a who's who of pitching instructors and coaches.

I understand why some fans hated this trade. Part of that was overvaluing Jenkins, part of it was the underwhelming return. This trade needs time to allow the pieces to develop and mature before judging. That said, I like this aggressive front office that values ceiling over floor. This trade only reinforces that.

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