Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Transaction Tuesday: Thayer, Shae, Parsons, McCreery

These moves cover May 24 to May 30. Check out the previous week's recap.

Gwinnett Braves
Signed: Dale Thayer...For three years, Thayer was an above-average reliever for the Padres, but his numbers fell off the map last year. This year, he appeared in seven ugly games with Tulsa in the Double-A Texas League. Worth a shot, but Thayer is in his age-35 year and unlikely to find much more success during his professional career.

Promoted (from CAR): Stephen Gaylor...A regular in this column, Gaylor picks up a lot of singles and not much else. In 34 games over a trio of minor league stops this year, he's on-based .360 wth 9 steals. He is a fill-in option around the minor league system as needed.

Promoted (from DAN): Jose Ramirez...His demotion to the taxi squad was simply to give him some rest after a 2.2 inning, 46-pitch outing on the 20th. He's turned the corner a bit over his last nine games for Gwinnett with 11.1 inning, one run allowed, and 14 K's. However, his control has been an issue.

Promoted (from DAN): Braeden Schlehuber...Taxi squad move. Nothing more, nothing less.

Optioned: Dario Alvarez...I talked about Alvarez when he was claimed off waivers.

Optioned: Casey Kelly...In three outings this year in the bigs, Kelly has taken it on the chin as a fill-in/long relief option. He's allowed many of the 56 batters he's faced on the year to reach, but he's also done nothing to hurt his chances to stick around. His numbers with Gwinnett have been a mixed bag to this point.

Outrighted: Joel De La Cruz...Twice this season, De La Cruz has been called up to the bigs. Twice, he's been outrighted off the major league roster after never being used in the majors. The righty's numbers this year have not really earned a promotion, but it's still a bit odd to bring up a guy twice and never use him to at least get him a game in the bigs under his umbrella.

Outrighted: Reid Brignac...A long time ago, Brignac was an interesting option. His ability to play multiple positions has kept him in the bigs for nine straight years, but because he has no bat, he has done played more than 46 games in the majors since 2012. This season's 13-game cameo did little to keep Brignac in the majors.

Rehab: Jim Johnson...The Braves chose to not expedite Johnson's arrival in the bigs after trading Jason Grilli Tuesday. Friday looks like his target game. In three rehab outings (twice with Gwinnett), Johnson has thrown three scoreless innings with 3 hits allowed and 3 K's.

DL'd: David Peterson...An 8th rounder in 2012, Peterson had a solid 2015 after opening the year in Carolina and ending the season in Gwinnett. 2016 has not been nearly as positive, though. In 15 games with Gwinnett, Peterson has been hit hard and often (9.17 ERA, 1.5 HR/9) and struggled with his usually pinpoint control (7.1 BB/9 vs. 2 BB/9 last two years). Maybe injury has played a role? Regardless, Peterson is not much of a prospect.

Paternity List: Sean Kazmar...Congrats to Kazmar, who has played 300 games with Gwinnett over the last four years. The nearly 32 year-old appeared in the majors 19 times during 2008 for San Diego and has not been able to get back since.

Mississippi Braves
Rehab: Shae Simmons...The reliever landed with Mississippi seeking his fourth game back as he returns from Tommy John surgery, but some forearm tightness set him back.

Demoted from GWI: Brandon Cunniff...A big find out of the independent leagues, Cuniff pitched 39 times in the majors last year. However, after being a non-factor this spring, he has struggled greatly this year. He's never had great control, but he was always able to get enough K's to carry a 2+ K/BB rate. This year, it was even with Gwinnett (13 of each) in 20.2 innings. Maybe a demotion will be a catalyst for him. In his first game, he gave up a hit and walked one while striking out 4 in two frames.

Carolina Mudcats
Promoted from ROME: Taylor Lewis...A ninth rounder last June, Lewis had a lot of K's, but his numbers weren't overwhelming this year with Rome. Still, the 22 year-old was promoted and in his first two games, he's K'd three in 3.2 scoreless innings while allowing just two baserunners.

Demoted from MIS: Michael O'Neal...A fill-in option for Mississippi, O'Neal returns to Carolina where he has thrown 10 innings with this season. O'Neal spent two years in the Frontier League after being undrafted out of Auburn.

DL'd: Wes Parsons...For while, Parsons looked like the next Brandon Beachy. Undrafted out of a small school, Parsons had a 4.8 K/BB rate over 109.2 innings with Rome in 2013. Unfortunately, since drawing some prospect coverage, Parsons has both struggled when on the mound and struggled to even stay on the mound. He had appeared in eleven games with Carolina so far this year, including 3 starts, and had been hit around a good deal.

Rome Braves
Promoted from DAN: Adam McCreery...Acquired in the Jhoulys Chacin trade, McCreery finally made his 2016 debut with two innings out of the Rome bullpen. He struck out three and walked one. As I mentioned in my previous column about the trade, McCreery has some potential as a left-hand specialist, but with very little upside.

Released: Matt Tellor...It was only a matter of time for Tellor. A tenth rounder in 2014, Tellor had hit .224/.271/.331 as a professional over 607 PA with 170 K's. Limited to only first base, he needed to show a bat - but it never came.

Danville Braves
Demoted from CAR: Zach Quintana...Acquired for Kyle Wren last offseason, Quintana was a nice swingman with Rome last year, but has struggled with Carolina this year. He surrendered just one homer in 2015 and has given up 5 this year.

Demoted to DAN and re-promoted to GWI and re-demoted to DAN: Kanekoa Texeira...Taxi squad central.

GCL Braves
No moves.

DSL Braves
No moves.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Worst 5 Braves Drafts Since 2000 - #4

So far in this series, I've looked at the fifth worst and fifth best drafts since 2000 for the Atlanta Braves. Today, I'll head back to the bad side with a look at the fourth worst Braves draft.

Best/Worst Drafts since 2000
Worst: #5, 2009 | #4, 2004 | #3, 2013 | #2, 2011 | #1, 2001
Best: #5, 2010 | #4, 2015 | #3, 2007 | #2, 2002 | #1, 2000
By elemenous on Flickr (Original version) User
UCinternational (Crop) [CC BY-SA 2.0],
via Wikimedia Commons

4th Worst Draft Since 2000...2004

From a talent standpoint, the 2004 draft may be the worst draft Atlanta has had since at least 2000.

But the draft gets a bit of pass because Atlanta's hands were tied by some decisions by John Schuerholz and the big league club. Coming off a 2003 in which Atlanta bashed their way to 101 wins while surrendering 740 runs, the most since 1990, Atlanta tried to reverse course. They waved goodbye to Greg Maddux, but unlike the previous year, they did not offer him arbitration. They also didn't offer arbitration to Gary Sheffield, losing each without any sort of compensation. Meanwhile, they added Paul Byrd and John Thomson on the free agent market. The latter was especially painful as it cost them their first rounder, the 30th overall selection. It's unknown who they would have selected, but my money is on J.P. Howell, taken 31st by the Royals. Atlanta had originally drafted him out of high school in 2001 with a second round selection, but failed to sign him. The next ten picks included lefthander Gio Gonzalez and reliever Huston Street, but very little beyond them.

When all was said and done, Atlanta didn't draft until the final pick of the second round, 71st overall. They went with third baseman Eric Campbell out of Gibson Southern High School in Indiana. A different Eric Campbell would later play for the Mets, but the Eric Campbell the Braves selected failed to make it to the majors during a rocky minor league career.

Every thirty picks, Atlanta added another player - mostly guys you've never heard of. LSU second baseman J.C. Holt was their second rounder followed by righty James Parr, infielder Van Pope, and catcher Clint Sammons. Picks like Johnnie Wiggins, Derrick Arnold, and Jeff Katz were added to the haul, as unimpressive as it was. They finished the first ten rounds with southpaw Brady Endl out of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

14th rounder Mike Rozema, a shortstop out of St. John's, never hit, though his accomplishments of making it to AAA is rare with this group. 17th rounder and Georgia prep start Jon Mark Owings hit .293 with 13 homers for Danville in 2005, but struggled to stay healthy and when he finally did, he struggled to reclaim the glory of his coming out party. Righty Jaime Richmond was selected in the 31st round out of Canada and signed the next season. In 2006, he owned the Appalachain League with a 1.21 ERA in 67 innings with 52 K and 4 BB. Two years later, he was part of the Mark Kotsay trade and by 2010, his career was essentially over.

Atlanta did draft Tyler Flowers in the 27th round out of Blessed Trinity High School (Roswell, Georgia). He declined to sign and attended Chipola College. A year later, the Braves would draft him in the 33rd round and signed him the next season as a draft-and-follow. The Braves also drafted a pair of players near the end of the draft, but each went to college and became richer for it with higher draft spots (Sean Doolittle and Eric Farris).

From the 2004 draft alone, Atlanta drafted just two players that they signed who later reached the majors. Parr pitched 13 times and Sammons played in 31 games. That's it. Again, they get a bit of a pass because they drafted just twice in the first 101 picks and none in the first 70 picks, but that's a pitiful amount of talent to add to the organization. For awhile, Campbell looked like he might develop into a good offensive player for the Braves and possibly save this draft from being such an ugly show. In 2005, he dominated the APPY League, belting 18 homers over 66 games.

But Campbell had a problem. He just didn't give a damn - at least not enough of a damn to put the effort in. He was sent home from his winter league team in Hawaii after what seemed like a solid campaign with Rome in '06 (.296/.335/.517). His numbers flatlined in 2007 with Myrtle Beach before he was suspended and sent him home early. He looked improved in 2008, but dealt with injury issues. After an ugly campaign at the plate in 2009, the Braves cut the cord. Campbell would bounce around for a few years before his career came to an end following a run with Fargo-Moorhead in the independent American Association to end 2012.

Neither Holt or Pope developed into much. Holt was a decent contact guy with average speed while Pope was a great defender without a bat. In 2010, Pope tried to re-invent himself as a reliever, but wasn't able to throw strikes. Even the guys who did get to the majors were never that exciting as prospects. Parr's minor league numbers were never that great, but with bad pitching staffs in need of arms, he made cameos in both 2008 and '09 with the Braves. Last year, he pitched 42 times for Sugar Land in the Atlantic League. Sammons was an all-glove catcher who looked horribly overmatched when he did spend time in the majors.

Overall, 2004 was a failure by the scouting and coaching team, but it's not all their fault. They weren't aided by signing Thomson, nor were they aided by what was a shallow draft. Matt Bush's recent arrival in the majors withstanding, the talent was pretty poor. Only three first rounders have reached 20 bWAR in their career, 3 more in the second round, and not another until sixth round pick Ben Zobrist. It was not a pretty draft and the Braves couldn't help that. Because of that, I only rank this awful mix of players as the fourth worst since 2000.

Still, Parr and Sammons? That's just awful, Schuerholz and Roy Clark.

Friday, May 27, 2016

"It feels like every move has backfired."

By Arturo Pardavila III on Flickr (Original
version) UCinternational (Crop) [CC BY 2.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
Today, The Hardball Times published an article by Alex Remington titled "How to Lose Fans and Alienate People: The 2016 Atlanta Braves." It's a long look into the current team, with many fans chiming in with their assorted disappointment. "I hate these guys," one suggests. "You wonder if they know what they're doing," ponders another. And then there is Jim Tremayne, "the editor of DJ Times magazine," who says, "It feels like every move has backfired."

Fans are fanatical because they love the team hard and let their failures cloud their judgement. It's easy to focus on the negative especially when you are essentially writing a column about how awful things are right now. But there is little thought given to the other side of things during the column. Actually, that's wrong. There is NO thought given to what the Braves are doing outside of the things that aren't working.

I get it. A lot of bad things occurring together makes it difficult at times to support the franchise. The move to Cobb County was a curious one given Turner Field's age and the location of the new ballpark, but on the other hand, is anyone making an argument that Turner Field was a benefit for the Braves? Not really. Instead, we are given the old standby that a team from that city should be based in that city. The Giants and Jets don't even play in the state of New York, but somehow, no one cares about that.

The article focuses so much on the negative, but where it really loses me when it suggests that "fans who have been with the team for years may not be with them" when they do start to win and fill up Suntrust again. While certainly some have given up on the Braves for good, most fans will forget their misgivings over this rebuild when the team wins. Every rebuilding team makes the bet that they may struggle with attendance and might even lose some fans in the process, but the result will be worth it. Do you need to watch how fans passionately followed the Royals last fall for that to ring true?

One other small tangent before I focus on my bigger theme. One fan, Chris Nicholson, said that he thought "Bobby Cox cried the day he traded Dale Murphy. Well, okay! That’s my general manager. He feels the way I feel. I think [GM John] Coppolella traded Simmons to show everyone he could do it." Ignoring the absurdity of the last point - and that Remington repeats it - what is ignored is that people are far more cynical than they once were. Since Cox's trade of Murphy and the alleged tears that followed, our society has lived through a Strike, a steroid scandal, the rise of sabermetrics, and that doesn't even get into the things that have robbed us of much of our innocence unrelated to baseball. We don't expect the general manager of our team to cry when he makes a trade. We expect him to do his job and build a better team. By the way, the trade of Simmons does that, but we'll get back to that, I'm sure.

Let's focus on the one quote that really prompted to write this diatribe. "It feels like every move has backfired."

Disclaimer: I certainly realize that the statement is a generalization. It's an exaggeration of events built upon the Braves' failures this year. But that doesn't excuse the statement, only explain it away.

Has every move backfired? Last fall, I went over the many trades of John Hart's first year when he was "in charge." Of course, John Coppolella was mostly responsible for engineering the trades, but Hart had final say. Did trading Jason Heyward and Justin Upton backfire? It made the Braves worse in 2015, but it requires a leap of faith to believe that the Braves would have been able to scratch together a competent rotation to make having Heyward and Upton worthwhile in 2015. Have the deals backfired? Well, Shelby Miller was wonderful for the Braves and was cashed in for three highly valuable players (the article only mentions Aaron Blair and not in a positive light). Mallex Smith is the current starting leftfielder for the Braves from the Upton trade and while we still need to see if the other two prospects from the trade take off (Max Fried and Dustin Peterson), it is difficult to accept that either trade backfired for the Braves. Instead, they have helped the Braves.

Did the Evan Gattis trade backfire? Only if you believe Gattis should be a major league full-time catcher.

How about the Craig Kimbrel move? Matt Wisler's advancement this year and the dominance of Arodys Vizcaino (another trade acquisition) makes that clear. The trade also produced a draft choice, which Atlanta used to draft Austin Riley, and another player in Jordan Paroubeck, who Atlanta later traded for international bonus slots to avoid penalties for their two top pickups last summer from the international signing period.

The better question should be - what moves HAVE backfired? The Hector Olivera one, certainly. And?

Keeping Fredi Gonzalez around? I don't believe that holds water, but I'm struggling to come up with another move that really backfired. You could argue, as the article does, that it's the Andrelton Simmons trade that has backfired based on the play of Erick Aybar. But that implies the trade was made for Aybar, which it wasn't. Was Simmons' contract team-friendly as the article suggests? The point is debatable. From a WAR standpoint, certainly. But the Braves were on the hook for an additional $53 million through 2020 for a player who had hit .252/.301/.357 over his first three full seasons. Certainly, watching Aybar totally forget how to play baseball has been rough, but paying Simmons $6M this year to make a tremendous amount of outs and $47M for the next four years does little to help, either. Oh, and the Braves picked up two good pitching prospects in the trade.

The Braves of 2016 wouldn't have had Heyward and Upton, would be paying large amounts of money to Kimbrel and Melvin Upton, and still would be bad. The only real difference between that hypothetical Braves team and the current one is that the latter actually has a future. Sure, buying heavy into Olivera was a mistake - though it could be made better by whoever Atlanta drafts with the choice they acquired last July from the trade. Bringing back A.J. Pierzynski might have backfired, though adding Tyler Flowers didn't. And neither has - to this point - adding Gordon Beckham. Bringing back Jim Johnson and Eric O'Flaherty - yuck - but those moves get massively overshadowed by the additions of Dansby Swanson and Sean Newcomb to the organization.

Alex Remington sought to talk specially about the major league team in 2016. The problem is that focusing solely on the 2016 team misses the point. The Braves aren't trying to be good in 2016. They are trying to build a long-term successful team that can generate not just talent from their minor leagues each year, but impact talent. I agree that the team built is largely unwatchable. Some of that is awful luck, some of it was bad decisions. Mostly, however, it's that the focus of the organization is currently not on building a competitive major league team. We knew that coming in 2016. Teams interested in being a .500 squad or competing for a Wild Card spot don't include signing Emilio Bonifacio or Jeff Francoeur as their big free agent pickups.

The key to watching the 2016 team is to ignore the win-loss record and focus on the future. If you are going to ignore the minor leagues, that becomes increasingly difficult, but you can still watch Wisler and get excited. You can rejoyce when Mike Foltynewicz throws a good game and "gets it" a bit more. You can watch Vizcaino finally realize his potential that made the Yankees excited about him all those years ago. Julio Teheran is having a solid bounceback campaign and Ender Inciarte is a keeper. Oh, and you have to know that Mallex Smith is going to be better at swiping bases than we have seen so far.

"Diehards" may hate this team right now and certainly it's difficult to watch every game.

A rebuild happened. Whether it was right or not can be questioned, but once the rebuild started, losing perspective on why moves were made will only makes things worse. The Heyward trade was not made for 2016. Neither was the Justin Upton trade, the Gattis move, or even the Simmons trade. If you are a casual fan or even a "diehard" that doesn't consider why the moves were made and what the future can bring, you will hate the team more than you need to.

That's okay, though. More times than not, they come back when the winning does. Jim Tremayne and Chris Nicholson may hate the team right now, but the smart money is on them cheering as loudly as anyone when the winning comes.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thursday Throwback - Mike Mordecai

By self (self) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Atlanta had a lot of players come up in the early-to-mid 90's who played a variety of roles. Some were superstars; others were average fill-ins. Outside of 1995, Mike Mordecai was just a guy for the Braves. His biggest hit would come much later in his career well after the Braves had moved on.

Born 12 days before Christmas in 1967, the Alabama native became a star at Hewitt-Trussville High School in the mid-80's. The Pirates selected him in the 33rd round of 1986, but Mordecai balked on signing and honored his commitment to South Alabama University. Twice, he would be an All-American and was a routine fixture on the All-Sun Belt teams while he was with the Jacquars. On June 5, 1989, the Atlanta Braves made him their sixth round pick. Five days later, he signed his first professional contract. '89's draft only produced a handful of major leaguers for the Braves and Mordecai's selection was over-shadowed by the guy the Braves selected in the previous round - Ryan Klesko.

One word to describe Mordecai in the minors was "steady." He was steadily unremarkable in his climb up the ladder. Baseball still valued defense over offense from middle infielders at the time, which aided Mordecai's rise. He also played the infield corners, some outfield, and even embraced his utility role by doing some emergency catching with Richmond in 1993.

1994 marked the third year Mordecai would play at Richmond. It also marked the year he started to show something with the bat. He slashed .280/.340/.461 with 14 homeruns after hitting 15 dingers combined since signing with the Braves in 1989. He also swiped 14 bases and picked up 25 doubles. His year with Richmond would be sandwiched around a brief run with the big league team in mid-May as an injury fill-in. Three times he was used as a defensive replacement, but on May 10, the Braves had him pinch-hit for Rafael Belliard down 8-1. He flied out, but his day wasn't close to being over. In the ninth, the Braves opened the inning with five consecutive singles to cut into the Phillies lead. They would get a hell of a lot closer when Mordecai added to the rally with his first big-league hit: a three-run homer on a 1-2 pitch. to get the Braves within a run. Later in the inning, Atlanta would tie the game. In the 15th inning, with two outs and Deion Sanders 90 feet away from home, Mike Stanton bunted him home for the walkoff. Yeah, 15-inning games just get weird.

Once the 1994 Strike was settled, Mordecai became a "last guy on the bench" for the 1995 Braves. With Belliard hogging much of the playing time behind Mark Lemke and Jeff Blauser, there wasn't many at-bats to be had for Mordecai, but he was productive when used (.280/.353/.480 over 87 PA). That includes a 7-for-29 performance as a pinch hitter with his only pinch-hit homer of his career - a solo shot off Randy Myers in a losing effort at Wrigley. Mordecai stuck around for the postseason and had a go-around RBI single in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the NLDS against the Rockies. He would play in six more games that postseason, going 2-for-7 with 2 K and a sacrifice.

Mordecai's offensive numbers would slip the next two seasons from their 1995 levels. Combined, he hit just .212/.267/.291 over 211 PA. With arbitration on the horizon, Atlanta chose to cut costs and non-tendered Mordecai after the 1997 season. He would land in Montrael and over the next four seasons, he was a regular 10th man for the squad, playing all over the infield with a brief cameo in right and at catcher.

He was in his fifth season with the Expos when he was included in a seven-player trade that sent the utility infielder to the Marlins with Graeme Lloyd and Carl Pavano while Cliff Floyd returned to Montreal. His biggest knock with the Marlins and of his career came the next year. After a bad season at the plate, Mordecai was kept around for October baseball and led off the top of the 8th of Game 6 of the NLCS with a flyout. The Cubs were five outs away from reaching the World Series. And then...some of the most inexplicable things to ever happen on a ballfield took place. With a runner on, Luis Castillo lifted a flyball toward the left field foul territory seats. Moises Alou leaped for the ball, but Steve Bartman reached for it and deflected it away. And then...things got weird. A walk, a single, an error on a potential double play, a double, an intentional walk, and a sacrifice fly. After another intentional walk, the bases were loaded for the guy who began the inning. The Marlins had plated four runs since Mordecai last came to the plate. They added three more on a double by the utility infielder. Florida won the game 8-3 and would go on to beat the Cubs the next night to reach the postseason and force the city of Chicago to blame a fan for doing the same thing all fans do.

It was Mordecai's most meaningful hit. It was also probably his last important one. He slashed just .226/.278/.298 the following year with the Marlins and retired to take a job as a manager at the rookie level squad for the Marlins. Later that year in September, he un-retired to come back long enough to reach ten years of service. After going 0-for-2, he retired for good at the end of 2005. He worked a variety of jobs in baseball after that from coaching positions ranging from the majors-to-high school. More recently, he has settled into minor league instruction position for the Blue Jays.

Recent Thursday Throwbacks...
David Ross (2009-12)
Ryan Langerhans (2002-03, 2005-07)
Special - Rafael Furcal's Near-Signing (2008)
...or view ALL of them.

Braves Claim Dario Alvarez from Mets

By slgckgc on Flickr (Original version)
UCinternational (Crop) [CC BY 2.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
For Dario Alvarez, yesterday's news opens yet another opportunity for the Dominican-born lefty to finally get a sustained look. For the Braves, it's another example in the long line of throwing enough junk against the wall in hopes that some of it will stick.

Alvarez has been around for a long time. 27 years-old, Alvarez first appeared in professional ball with the Phillies' Dominican Summer League team in 2007. He spent three years trying to break through, but ultimately wore out his welcome and was cut after the '09 campaign. For three years, Alvarez languished in baseball purgatory before finally landing a job with Caribes de Anzoategui of the Venezualan Winter League. He didn't get much work there, but two months later, he was signed by the Mets for the 2012 season.

Already 23 with three years of experience in rookie ball, but none since 2009, finding a spot for Alvarez was not easy. The Mets started him with Brooklyn of the Short-Season A New York-Penn League. He looked good in a dozen starts, though you should do well when 97.8% of all batters you face are younger than you.

2014 was a big year for Alvarez. He opened the season with twenty stellar games in mostly relief work with Savannah (Sally League). Mixed in was a little work with St. Lucie before spending mid-August with Binghamton. His quick rise up the chain was highlighted by a September callup to the majors. Two years before, it looked like his career was done. Now, he was in the Show. He was used as a lefty specialist three times to some success (retired two-of-three batters) before being given an inning of work in his fourth game of the year. With the Nats blowing out the Mets, Alvarez struggled to put away the visiting team in the ninth. He gave up a double, but got the next two. However, Denard Span homered - which about says all you need to know. After another hit, Alvarez was removed and his season came to a close as he was not used again. He did get some action in the Arizona Fall League.

Alvarez would spend much of 2015 in the minors, split between Double-A and Triple-A. He continued to display great strikeout numbers, occasionally spotty control, and avoided homeruns. That was until he got back to the bigs to close out the year. Alvarez was utilized in a game against the Braves in which a runner was already on in a tie game in the 8th. After a sacrifice, Alvarez hit Nick Swisher. He got the second out, but Daniel Castro singled in a run. After a walk loaded the bases, Alvarez was removed but his ERA would take a hit when Adonis Garcia singled in a pair off Bobby Parnell. In true Braves fashion, with the Braves one out away from beating the eventual NL Champs 7-4, the Braves bullpen imploded and the Mets tied it on a three-run homer and won it with three runs off the immortal Edwin Jackson and Danny Burawa in the tenth.

Alvarez would give up homers in two of his next (and final) three outings and rather than get time as a left-hand specialist, he was a used in losing efforts. He wouldn't get much of a look this spring, appearing in just two games and walking five. He was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas where his problems only worsened. While he struck out 27 over 15.1 innings, he also walked ten and gave up three homers (or 33% of his career total in the minors). Las Vegas and the PCL in general are terrible places to pitch, but this was really bad. Needing room on the 40-man, New York waived and designated Alvarez on the 23rd. Two days later, the Braves claimed him.

Alvarez throws a four-seam fastball and a slider pretty much all the time, though a cut-fastball and a changeup have been charted by Brooks Baseball (but only 11 times between the two). The fourseamer typically comes humming in at about 91 mph with Alvarez having a max giddy-up of about 94 mph. The slider slips into the low 80's. The fourseamer gets a little sinking action, but is not his strikeout pitch. The slider has a sharp cut at the end that bites into right-handers and away from lefties. Neither pitch are plus pitches and righties will feast on him if his control isn't pinpoint, making him a much better option against lefthanders. He telegraphs his pitches a bit in the follow-through, though that helps us - the viewer - much more than the batter. He too often gets a whip-like follow-through on his fastballs as if he's trying to overthrow it. This herky-jerky addition to his delivery seems like something he may have adopted to increase his average velocity as footage of Alvarez before signing didn't have much of a difference between his delivery on fastballs or sliders.



Like any number of fringy southpaws, Alvarez's game could be tweaked and he could find success. Clearly, the Mets had seen enough, but Atlanta can take a chance that something clicks. He'll be worth a look this summer in Gwinnett to see if he takes to Braves' coaching and starts to get outs.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Braves Need to Consider Dumping Markakis

By Keith Allison on Flickr
[CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I despise the label "professional hitter." Aren't they all? Even Julio Teheran is a professional hitter since he gets paid to do it. And even if you roll your eyes at taking the literal meaning of the phrase, it's an entirely misapplied and pointless phrase that is often handed out as a consolation prize.

One Brave who receives the phrase is Nick Markakis. He is a career .290 hitter so I guess it's not the worst example. Nevertheless, even if Markakis is a "professional hitter" on a team that struggles to hit, the Braves ought to seek out a team that needs more "non-amateur batters." If Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo is to be believed, the Royals and Phillies might be interested. If they are, the Braves should be doing whatever they can to trade the right-fielder there.

It's not that Markakis is terrible. Granted, his fWAR has traveled south of zero this season, but he's a better hitter than he has shown so far and when he gets going on a hot streak, he'll have that WAR back over one in no time. The problem is that it won't go much higher. The other problem is the same problem that has been attached to Markakis since he signed with the Braves. Does he really even fit what this team is trying to do?

This is the right-fielder's Age-32 year. The smart money says that we have seen the best of Markakis already and can only expect a decline or stagnation if we are lucky. Markakis, for his part, has added some of the best walk rates of his career to supplement the lost power, but can the Braves expect more than they got last season (.296/.370/.376)? And let's be honest - Markakis didn't sign here with the expectation that the Braves would go belly-up and not even put together a competent ballclub. When he came to the Braves, they still had Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Andrelton Simmons, and had just added Shelby Miller. Sure, there were holes, but Markakis was a better match for that team. He's a complimentary player after all. He can help a team not have a weakness where he plays, but he won't do much more.

Let's not forget that this is Year 2 of a 4-year contract that runs through 2018. The Braves should be better in 2017, though it's unlikely they put it all together in one year to go from league laughingstock-to-contenders. 2018 is a much more reasonable expectation, though even it requires some of these young players to "get it" pretty quickly. It took the Royals' young nucleus time to start producing up to expectations after all. Markakis will be around for *maybe* one good year for the Braves and by that time, he'll be 34. He's a nice role model for the youngsters and a hard worker who can show the ropes to the kids, but so is Kelly Johnson or any number of veterans that have been around for awhile in the majors. Those type of players typically get one-year pacts for $2-$5 million, not 4-year, $44M.

Markakis might be a fit for a team trying to win right now. I say "might" because if I'm that team, he's not a target for me. Still, Markakis might make sense for a young team under the leadership of a traditional mindset of grabbing a #2 hitter with excellent bat control. Markakis is a constant. What you get might not excite you much, but he gives a team some leeway. He won't embarrass you in right field, though his range makes him a better fit for left. His power is non-existent partly because he doesn't pull the ball anymore, but he'll likely post a good average with a strong on-base. Those qualities fit a team with a hole, not a team looking for a difference maker. They certainly don't fit a rebuilding team.

If Atlanta receives an offer for Markakis, they ought to seriously consider it. If the other team will take on all of the remaining salary with no added salary beyond this year coming back for the Braves, done deal. If the Braves have to cover some salary, a prospect exchange can be considered. Either way, Markakis is not Chris Johnson or Melvin Upton Jr., two salary dumps by the Braves over the last 14 months. Markakis is still useful for one thing. If there is a team out there entertaining the thought of adding Markakis, Atlanta better be ready to pounce. Markakis makes a terrible Braves team a tiny bit better in 2016 and could help improving Braves' ballclubs in 2017 and 2018 be a wee bit better as well. However, consider how much better the Braves could be if they re-purpose the $21M remaining on Markakis' deal after this season.

Trading Markakis makes a bad team likely worse in 2016, but does that really matter? The Braves would have to go 20 games over .500 the rest of the way to finish 81-81. While they did that, they would sacrifice at least a dozen spots in the 2017 draft and still have an aging and replacement-level right fielder. They might not be any better at all with Markakis (they haven't set the world on fire with him after all) so it might be a moot point, but they could be better in 2017 and 2018 and have added payroll flexibility.

Signing Markakis in the winter of 2014-15 didn't make a lot of sense then. Keeping him if other teams want him now? That makes zero sense. If another team sees a better fit, make it happen, John Coppolella.

Best 5 Braves Drafts Since 2000 - #5

A little while back, I began the Top 5 and Worst 5 drafts for the Braves since 2000 with the fifth worst. However, I don't want to focus entirely on the bad because that would be both sad and really sad. With that in mind, today we go with the fifth best. Of course, the fourth worst draft is sitting waiting to be written after this one. I'll get to you eventually, Year to Be Announced.

Best/Worst Drafts since 2000
Worst: #5, 2009 | #4, 2004 | #3, 2013 | #2, 2011 | #1, 2001
Best: #5, 2010 | #4, 2015 | #3, 2007 | #2, 2002 | #1, 2000

Honorable Mentions go to the 2003 and 2005 drafts

5th Best Draft Since 2000...The 2010 Draft

Credit: Keith Allison via Flickr (Original)
Creative Commons License
A year after selecting a plethora of college-aged selections (20 of the first 22), the Braves attempted to strike a balance between an over-abundance of college and prep athletes. However, it was actually the college players they selected that made this draft what it was.

Unlike the previous season, the Braves didn't have a top pick in the first round. In fact, they had surrendered their first round selection in order to sign Billy Wagner from the Red Sox. However, they got back into the first round when the Orioles lost their mind and signed Mike Gonzalez to a big deal. Gonzo would pitch just 78 times for the Orioles over two years, but they still surrendered their second round pick (their first was protected) to sign a player who saved just two games for them and served up eight homeruns.

The compensation for Gonzalez meant they would select four times in the first 101 picks with #35, #53, #70, and #101. In 2009, they only drafted twice in the first 101 picks so Atlanta was looking forward to getting more talent even if they didn't have a marquee selection like they did the previous year. In another sign that the Braves were trying to straddle the edge between what they had done so often over the years with the safe & conservative new approach, Atlanta selected Matt Lipka with the #35 overall pick. An infielder out of McKinney High School in Texas, Lipka was an all-state wide receiver with gamebreaker speed. On the baseball diamond, he was a big athlete with a lot of toolsy potential. He was a callback to the days of drafting George Lombard and Andre King over more polished hitters.

With Lipka in the fold, the Braves went back to their college ways over the next seven picks. Highlights included Todd Cunningham, drafted 18 picks after Lipka, along with UVA's Phil Gosselin and Long Beach State Dirtbag Joey Terdoslavich. While they developed into AAAA/bench fodder, the Braves third pick and #70th overall became the class of the draft for Atlanta - shortstop Andrelton Simmons out of Western Oklahoma State College. The first round of 2010 included Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Matt Harvey, and Chris Sale in the first 13 picks, but there is a good argument that Simmons is the top non-first round pick from the draft. While a superb shortstop, it was his high heat on the mound that intrigued teams. However, Simmons wanted to stay in the field, which dropped him on many team's boards as his signability was a concern. Not for Atlanta, though. They told the young man to go play shortstop and prosper.

The Braves had big hopes for David Filak, a righty out of SUNY Oneonta. Keith Law gave Filak a second-round grade, but injury concerns chased off some teams from taking him higher. Atlanta spent their fourth rounder on him, hoping for gold. Other notable selections were 11th rounder Chasen Shreve along with Grants Pass, Oregon shortstop Brandon Drury, selected in the 13th round with the 404th pick. Ten rounds later, when the #704th pick was on the clock, Atlanta selected Texas-Permian Basin catcher and former Dallas-area janitor Evan Gattis.

It would be Gattis and Simmons who would play a big role in the Braves' chase for the 2013 NL East Title. Terdoslavich also received nearly a hundred plate appearances for that squad, but it was Gattis and Simmons who were prime players for the squad. Atlanta even moved Gattis to left field to try to get his bat in the lineup more. Meanwhile, Simmons was in the midst of maybe the most impressive defensive year in the history of baseball.

Where this draft falls short is in depth. While Simmons developed into a superstar (with his glove at least) and Gattis has popped 74 homeruns, the draft lacks an impact player beyond the duo. Gosselin is a fine bench player while Shreve is a competent left-hand reliever, but the only hope this draft has of producing another 2-to-4 win player comes in the form of Drury. Dealt in the Justin Upton trade, Drury made his major league debut last year and has been excellent this year for the Snakes in Arizona. It is very early, but if this draft is to look better than it already does, it rests on his shoulders.

Of the 51 players drafted in 2010, only two remain and both play outfield for Mississippi. Lipka, the first player selected, and 9th rounder David Rohm are still trying to realize their dream of being a major league player. Well, there is a third, but who knows if the Braves will ever give Richie Tate a second second chance after testing positive for PED for the second consecutive season?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Braves "Steal" A Draft Choice

Credit: Keith Allison via Flickr
Creative Commons
"A steal."

That's what ESPN's Keith Law called the deal in which the Braves acquired lefthander Brian Matusz and the 76th overall pick of the 2016 draft for pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. I don't always agree with Law, but on this one, he nails it right on the head. This was such a no brainer for the Braves you have to wonder what exactly the Orioles were thinking.

Both of the pitchers the Orioles acquired are worth a look, but neither will thoroughly impress you. Each were the last two 16th round selections by the Braves (which makes the 76th overall they received all the more amazing). A righty out of Mercer, Barker finished his first full season in AAA-Gwinnett after climbing the ladder in quick order. Barker gives up his fair share of line drives, but not many homers. He relies on controlling the strikezone and not exacerbating matters with walks. I'd like his chances for future success more if he could induce more groundballs. I'd also like him a lot more if he could miss more bats. All in all, Barker is a C-grade prospect who could become a bottom-of-the-rotation figure, but has a higher chance of bouncing around the league collecting his fair share of AAA uniforms.

Belicek has some absurd stats - highlighted by a 32K-to-1BB rate over 28.1 innings spent mostly at Rome. He spent last year as a starter after the Braves plucked him from Texas A&M-CC. A lefty with good size, Belicek could have nice value as a left-hand reliever. I'd like to see him pushed aggressively considering this is his Age-23 year and he's in low-A ball. The O's are apparently moving him up to the Carolina League for another challenge. As is the case with Caleb Dirks, a reliever with great metrics the Braves sent packing in a small deal, the Braves might have given up a potential solid major league piece in Belicek. That said, despite how difficult the Braves make it seem, finding quality arms for a major league bullpen isn't the most difficult thing.

The Braves received the lefthander Matusz, who was only the marquee name of the deal, and then immediately designated him for assignment. He had struggled tremendously to begin the year, though I would have preferred seeing if he could right the ship this year and repackage him in a trade. That said, Matusz is a woefully unremarkable reliever. The Orioles were dumb enough to give him $3.9M in arbitration before the season and it didn't take them long to have buyer's remorse.

But the players in this deal and even the salaries are inconsequential for the Braves. The salary relief may have aided the Orioles and getting a pair of minor league pitchers with good stats probably helped, but the Braves saw one thing: $839,900 in bonus slot money. That's how much money the Braves gained in available slot money for their draftees in this year's draft, giving them a total of $13,224,100. The Braves can go under-slot with their new pick, giving them extra money to allocate to other drafted players who are seeking overslot to sign. On the flipside, Atlanta can add another Top 100 player in this draft. Atlanta now selects #3, #40, #44, #76, #80.

The added selection gives Atlanta increased flexibility to utilize a bigger pool of cash. That's why this trade was a no-brainer. Atlanta essentially cashed in a pair of 16th rounders who didn't rank among their Top 30 prospects into a guy that could be a Top 30 prospect within a year. And you don't have to go too far back to find a #76th overall selection that blossomed into a superstar. Ten years ago, it's where Giancarlo Stanton was selected.

Transaction Tuesday: Shae, Yepez, Minter, Banuelos

Many apologies for disappearing over the last week. A slew of other commitments propped up and pushed many of the things I enjoy - like this blog - to the side as I tried to be an adult. I hope to address many of the things I missed over the coming days like Fredi Gonzalez's dismissal, yesterday's trade with the Orioles, and continue my recap of the 5 Best and 5 Worst Drafts since 2000. To get back into the swing of things, here is this week's minor league transaction recap. I missed last week, but this won't be a supersized version. Instead, this will be all of the reported moves from May 17 to May 23.

Gwinnett Braves
Signed: Lucas Harrell...After looking like a pretty interesting middle-of-the-rotation piece in 2012, Harrell's career has went off the tracks. Part of that was due to Harrell being really hit-lucky in his Age-27 year. Did I say only part? Harrell is a groundball guy who spent last year in Korea. He depends on location and being stubborn on the mound - not entirely terrible things, but unlikely to help him get back into the majors without some serious luck.

Signed: Rob Wooten...Second go-around with the Braves just this season. Wooten may have been cut before to seek other employment opportunities and when he didn't find them, indicated he was open for a return assignment. Thoroughly unimpressive reliever.

Optioned: Aaron Blair...What we saw with major league Aaron Blair was a guy who nibbled - a lot. He was behind the count on 30% of his pitches, which is not an easy way to make a living. Pitching behind leads to a 74% contact rate on pitches outside the strikezone as hitters can zero in on where they want the pitch and even if it's a "ball," it's where they want it. Blair got away with it for awhile, but it's just not possible to keep pitching behind as major league hitters tee off pitches that they can guess with a reasonable amount of confidence that they will see - as his 32.5% line drive rate can attest.

Optioned: Manny Banuelos...With his assignment last week, Banuelos took the next step in getting back into the Braves' good graces after succombing to more injuries last year. It's been his M.O. during his nine-year career. Excite, get hurt. Excite, get hurt. He made one start with Rome on a "rehab" assignment before being curiously optioned a day later.

Optioned: Joel De La Cruz...Seriously, Atlanta. Stop calling him up unless you plan on using him. For the second time this season, Cruz was promoted to the majors only to sit in the bullpen for a short time before being sent back down. Now in his ninth year (if you don't count 2007-08 when he didn't pitch), Cruz has not been good at all for Gwinnett this year.

Optioned: John Gant...I've never been too high on Gant like others. He's a flyball pitcher who relies on his herky-jerky delivery a little too much over having the skill level to throw balls passed hitters. That works in the minors - not so much in the majors. He could be a decent long reliever, but expecting more would be a bit too much in my opinion.

Released: Sean Burnett...The southpaw badly wants back in the majors. When a run with the Dodgers didn't get him to the majors, he tried the Braves. Growing impatient, he now heads to the Twins organization in his quest to wear all of the AAA jerseys in one year. Burnett has looked good in AAA and honestly, I would have preferred him over Eric O'Flaherty, but the difference between the two probably isn't significant enough to care.

Mississippi Braves
Promoted: Levi Hyams...Short of a small run in Gwinnett of 12 PA, Hyams has been in Mississippi this year and was simply being returned to the team after a brief assignment with Danville. He's hit worse this year than he did last year (.365 wOBA - .267), but keeps getting work.

Promoted (to AAA) and Demoted: Victor Mateo...Organizational arm went to Gwinnett to give them an extra arm if need be, but quickly was demoted back to Mississippi, where he has a 4.76 ERA in 11.1 innings.

Demoted (to Danville) and Promoted: Michael O'Neal...An independent signing last offseason, O'Neal has played at times this year for Carolina to the tune of four runs in nine innings. Was brought up to Mississippi for an emergency start last week and was actually quite decent (4 ING, H, 2 BB, K). If he has a future big league career, it'll likely be as a left-hand specialist.

DL'd and Activated: Matt Kennelly...Has played in all of six games in this, his tenth season. Did hit his first homerun since 2013 with Gwinnett.

DL'd: Kyle Kinman...Second trip to the DL for Kinman this year. Over his last eight games, he has surrendered five hits, five walks, and struckout six over 8.1 innings. A lot was hoped for with Kinman this season, but it's been slow to get going.

Released: Steve Rodriguez...Picked up in the minor league portion of last year's Rule 5 draft, Rodriguez hit just .210 at Mississippi last year and was hitting .209 at the time he was released this year. In 74 games with the Braves' organization, he had just six extra-base hits - all doubles. To remember all that Rodriguez brought, feel free to read my recent Random Prospect profile on him.

Carolina 
Promoted: A.J. Minter...Atlanta really likes what they have seen from the 22 year-old second rounder who made his debut with Rome earlier this month. It's worth mentioning (again) that Minter only tossed 58 innings in college so what the Braves have right now is fully based on potential rather than results, though Minter definitely looked good with Rome (6 ING, 2 H, BB, 6 K). He made his Carolina League debut last week and struck out 4-of-6 batters he faced in the two-inning outing. The lefty has a chance to be a quick riser at this rate. The demotion of O'Neal (covered above) to Danville set the stage for Minter to join Carolina.

Rome
Promoted: Carlos Castro...With a slew of injuries leaving Rome short-handed, the team brought up Castro from the Danville roster. Castro spent two years in the Dominican before finally hitting in 2014. Atlanta finally brought him stateside and he slashed .319/.340/.412 with Danville last year. He's a bit too old, is a first baseman without power, and doesn't walk. Still, he should make the Rome lineup better and possibly show the team that when those injured players return, Castro shouldn't be returned to Danville.

Promoted: Trevor Belicek...His placement in Danville was only temporary. Belicek had been one of Rome's most dependable relievers and often gave the team multiple inning performances. His almost robotic control comes through impressively in his stats (28.1 ING, 1 BB, 32 K). That includes a three-inning stint with Mississippi in April. Belicek would be traded Monday to the Orioles.

Rehab Assignment: Shae Simmons...Simmons had already logged a pair of innings with Gwinnett, but with Gwinnett playing in Charlotte as his next rehab game was on tap, the Braves moved him down to Rome so that he could stay close to Atlanta. Most teams do something similar, but with two minor league teams so close to the parent squad, Atlanta is usually able to avoid any case of sending a rehabbing player on the road. As for the outing, Simmons had his cleanest inning. He needed just 11 pitches to send Augusta into the field. He struck out one and 7-of-11 pitches went for strikes with 3 looking. He's close - real close.

DL'd: Matt Tellor...He's struggling to stay healthy and hasn't hit much when healthy. Of 84 possible plate appearances, he has 2 doubles, a homer, one walk, and 32 strikeouts. He's 24.

DL'd: Juan Yepez...It was good to see Yepez get some reps at third base last week and the 18 year-old was handling himself okay before hitting the DL. Yepez is going to hit. It's his calling card. The dream was that he would do so as a third baseman, but that might be too much to ask for. As a 1B, his value decreases.

Danville
Demoted: Jose Ramirez...Just a means to get a live arm on the Gwinnett roster. Ramirez had thrown 46 pitches in a 2.2 inning outing against Charlotte on May 20, so a demotion to Danville gives him time to rest. He'll be back (possibly today or tomorrow).

GCL
No moves.

DSL
No moves.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Foltynewicz giving the Braves a Lift

By EricEnfermero (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
How good was Mike Foltynewicz on Saturday?

His second-best four-seam fastball in velocity came in the 8th inning (97.28 mph). His sinker never wavered in movement throughout the night. He had confidence in all five of his pitches, using each over the final two innings. And while it deserves to be said that the Royals offense is not that good right now, Foltynewicz made them look stupid throughout the entire evening.

Which begs a second question - has he turned the corner?

When the Braves acquired Foltynewicz in a deal for Evan Gattis, he immediately jumped to the front-of-the-line as far as top Braves prospects go with only Max Fried and Lucas Sims around to challenge that title. Subsequent additions of Matt Wisler, Touki Toussaint, Kolby Allard, Sean Newcomb, and Aaron Blair have dropped Foltynewicz (side-note - that's a ridiculous amount of pitching) in prospect rankings, but Foltynewicz still had a number of things going in his favor. First - unlike all of the other arms I just mentioned, Foltynewicz had already appeared in the majors by the time the Braves acquired him. Second - his easy delivery masked the fact that he had such high-end velocity. For example, he hit 101.17 mph against the Rangers on August 9, 2014. Third - with his fastball/slider combination, he had the makings of a high-value reliever even if he failed as a starter.

That was what the Braves acquired and in 2015, they saw glimpses of all of that. They also saw a raw pitcher who despite some of the best stuff of the entire system, was simply not getting enough outs. Foltynewicz was hurt by a few things. He depended entirely too much on his fourseamer to get him ahead on batters because his other pitches simply were not getting by hitters - especially his changeup. What's that old saying that major league hitters can time a freight train if they know it's coming? Hitters laid off his slider and keyed on his fastball. The results were not advantageous for Foltynewicz. Some of that was due to luck (67.7 LOB% stands out) but a large part of it was that, and I hate to use this cliche, Foltynewicz was a thrower and not a pitcher.

A case of pneumonia and the development of blood clots in his right arm ended his season prematurely last September. He would need offseason surgery and had a belated time table this spring because of it. Foltynewicz would have a late run for a rotation spot, but ultimately headed to Gwinnett to begin the year. He struggled with his control over four starts in the minors, walking at least four batters three times. However, he also showed some of the nastiness the Braves wanted to see. Over his final three starts, he averaged 16 strikes looking and 14 strikes swinging. It was a short sample size, but other than the control bugaboos, he looked like a pitcher who was progressing.

That brought Foltynewicz to the majors. For Folty, it was a big opportunity. Unlike a lot of Atlanta's young arms, he does not have time on his side. While he's still young (won't turn 25 this October), Foltynewicz was at risk of being passed over as a starting option by those on his heels. Again, many felt his ultimate landing spot would be the bullpen. It was vital for Foltynewicz to come up and throw strikes and impress.

His first 30 pitches...could have gone better.

After a strikeout, Foltynewicz would give up homers to 3-of-the-next-4 batters he faced and was in a 4-0 hole quickly. With this offense, that was a death sentence. Foltynewicz did limit the Mets from there (though he still got hit hard) before being replaced with two outs and two on in the fourth. Six days later, Folynewicz got a shot to show his 2016 could be different from his 2015 and excelled against the Diamondbacks. Over seven quality innings, he walked none and struck out eight. Of his 68 strikes, 22 were looking. He gave up just two line drives and a homer on the day. Limit the amount of line drives, limit the damage done. The Braves ultimately lost in extras, but it was a sign that Foltynewicz could be better. He highlighted that latter fact six days later against the Royals on Saturday. Over eight dominant innings, he struck out four and didn't walk a batter. His last two starts are the first two times he has not walked a better when starting a game.

One of the big differences so far this season comes in his pitch selection. He's throwing his four-seamer less and his breaking balls more. He's also spotting them a hell of a lot better. 6% of all pitches thrown by Foltynewicz came right through the middle of the zone last year. Hitters are going to murder badly spotted balls at this level no matter how hard they are thrown. The 2016 season has seen him keep the ball more on the corners and when he attempts to bust a batter inside, he's actually getting the ball inside. As a result, he's pitching ahead of batters and putting them on the defensive. He's getting more groundballs and hitters are making "softer" contact.

Sticking with pitch selection, Foltynewicz is less predictable on first pitches. Last year against right-handers, he went to his fourseamer 57% of the time on the first pitch. It gave right-handed batters an advantage because no matter how hard Foltynewicz throws that pitch, hitters knew that they could bet it was coming when they stepped in. He showed more variety against lefthanders (42% four-seam, 33% sinker), but again - batters knew the hard stuff was coming on the first pitch. That's not too unusual, but it puts the pitcher in a tough situation of only having the location as means to fool the hitter. So far in 2016, he has been more diverse on the first pitch - especially since he uses his breaking ball more often. For instance, lefties are seeing the curveball nearly a quarter of first pitches while right-handed batters are seeing his slider 31% of all first pitches. Hitters are seeing these numbers and coming to the plate with the knowledge that Foltynewicz is less predictable. Right-handers especially are in a tough spot. Foltynewicz has used his slider against them at any moment in the at-bat, which makes his fastball more dangerous because the slider also keeps batter off-balance speed-wise.

All of these are golden. All of these are also based on a very limited sample size. We'll know more about how far Foltynewicz has progressed as we reach the dog days of summer. I'd like to see him use his changeup more and show an even higher commitment to his sinker. I'm also a little concerned about his number of swinging strikes. I expect more with his stuff. But those "complaints" are minor compared to the things that are trending in the right direction for the right-hander.

With so many young arms already in the fold and developing in the minors, the time is now for Foltynewicz to stake his claim to a spot in the rotation. So far - so good.