Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Transaction Tuesday: Wisler, Blair, Medlen, and Wentz

In this weekly review of the Braves' transactions, we focus a good deal on the pitchers. Some are attempting to stay in the majors for good while others are trying to work their way back. Elsewhere, one of Atlanta's best young guns is back on the mound just a week after a liner had Braves fans holding their breaths after it struck him.

A note on this report - moves referenced today took place between May 23 and May 29. I no longer refer to Taxi Squad, but extended spring training which is what sending a player to Danville technically refers to this early in the year. Many of them don't actually head to extended spring, though. Prospect Numbers are derived from my preseason Top 50.

Staff Sgt. Jason Duhr via Wikipedia Commons
Recalled: Matt Wisler...Wisler the Reliever, Part 2. Earlier in the year, Wisler came up and had two good outings and two rough ones - one in which he basically had to "wear it" as the Braves were pummelled 16-5. In two outings since returning, he's thrown four perfect frames with two strikeouts. That, at least, is something to build upon. Wisler's Triple-A ERA was high (5.20), but his FIP and xFIP were much more reasonable at 3.75 and 3.92 respectably. At the very least, I'd much rather see him in long relief than the next guy.

Designated for assignment and outrighted to Gwinnett: Josh Collmenter...Well, that didn't take long. After 19 innings over three starts last September for the Braves, Collmenter can't even duplicate the innings output in 2017. The problem was fairly fundamental. The Braves bought into his brief success without looking at the obvious flaws. His FIP was a good two runs higher than his ERA over those three starts and that's ignoring two very troublesome seasons from 2015-16 as a whole. The Braves rolled the dice and quickly regretted it. Collmenter gave up one run for each of the 17 innings he pitched and often, those runs came on flyballs that haven't landed yet (7 HR!). According to the Braves transaction page, he accepted a demotion to Gwinnett.

Activated: Enrique Burgos...The often wild, but electric Burgos worked a quiet first frame as a member of the Gwinnett Braves after he was acquired last week. Despite prolific strikeout numbers, the last time Burgos had a better than 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate was back in 2014. He's a project and at 26, probably not a project the Braves will have a wealth of patience to wait on.

Outrighted: Anthony Recker...Rarely used in Atlanta, Recker was DFA'd last week after the flurry of trades and roster moves. He passed through waivers and elected to stick with the team.

Promoted from Mississippi: Wes Parsons...For the second time, Parsons is now a Triple-A ballplayer. The first time came on April 28 when he made an one appearance run with Gwinnett. It's been a long - often arduous - road for Parsons to get to this point. After a combined 142.1 innings over the last three years, Parsons had already reached 30.1 innings this year before the promotion. He's probably a bit miscast as a reliever, but he still flashes plus-plus control. He worked a tough inning in his return, allowing three singles and a run while striking out two.

Rehab: Adonis Garcia...So, Garcia had a four-hit game yesterday. He's definitely coming back and it's going to be pretty darn interesting what happens when he does. I have to believe that John Coppolella will wave off any lobbying by Brian Snitker and sent Emilio Bonifacio packing. When Garcia returns, he will likely settle into a platoon option, though knowing Snitker, we may get more of a timeshare than a platoon which ignores the best parts of Rio Ruiz and Garcia's game.

By Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff
Rehab: Eric O'Flaherty...Last week, O'Flaherty hit the DL after aggravating his back giving up a homerun to Jose Bautista playing on the Toronto turf. He'll likely join the Braves soon after already making his first rehab appearance with a perfect frame. But should the Braves really roll out the carpet to welcome back him? We were told that after having his elbow cleaned out last year, he was feeling better than he had in a few years. There were reports he was getting sink on his pitches once again. And then the data came rolling in and said otherwise. According to PITCHf/x, at his best, O'Flaherty was getting between 5.71 and 6.74 of vertical movement on his sinker. It's down to 4.45 this season, which is actually very similar to last year's 4.56. His fourseamer had between 8.11 and 9.27 inches of vertical movement. It's been between 6.23 and 6.47 the last two seasons. He's using his slider a lot more now and getting half of the depth as his best Braves years. In his favor is that he's still handling lefties so far. That might be enough to get him back on the roster. But he's not "back" in the deeper sense. Not even a bit.

DL'd: Aaron Blair...Two years ago, Blair flashed plus-plus control with some newfound ability to induce his fair share of grounders. It made the Braves anxious to acquire him. Since coming to Atlanta, his control has never been worse (12.6 BB% this season), his strikeouts have never been worse, and his groundball rate has fallen ten points. Did the Braves rush him to the bigs last year? I don't think so. Blair's not making adjustments and that's not the fault of the Braves. He quickly fell into the habit of nibbling last year after he got to the majors. It reminds me of how Mike Minor pitched once he got to the majors from 2010-2012. His fear led him to give up baserunners in bunches until he finally started to trust his stuff. When that happened, Minor posted a 3.5 fWAR during 2013. Will Blair follow a similar path or will he continue to regress? Hopefully, it will be the former. I'm not sure why Blair hit the DL, by the way.

DL'd: Joel De La Cruz...He's spent more of the season on the DL than on the active roster. When he has been healthy, the results have been pretty miserable. Remember that this was a guy who threw 62.2 innings for last year's pitching staff.

Promoted from Florida: Kris Medlen...After turning some heads with a six shutout innings in his 2017 debut, Medlen was roughed up by Clearwater last week for five runs in 5.1 ING. Nevertheless, he received a promotion up the ladder as he tries to work his way back into the picture. The control has been suspect, which you might expect from a guy working off the rust. The Braves could use all the help they can get and if Medlen does make it all the way back, he'll certainly force Atlanta to make a potentially tough decision.

Activated: Stephen Gaylor...The left-hand hitting outfielder has played in just a dozen games this season and is off to a 3-for-30 start with two walks. An undrafted free agent back in 2014, Gaylor showed a decent enough hit tool until arriving in Carolina last year. It's gotten much worse at Double-A.

Activated: Danny Reynolds...Picked up after becoming a minor league free agent this offseason, Reynolds' fourth season at Double-A has been a mixed bag. His groundball rate has shot up and his control is a bit improved compared to the previous two seasons, but his strikeouts have declined. His 5.48 ERA is a bit misleading - his LOB% is 56% - but his FIP and xFIP tell two different stories (3.33/4.56).

Demoted to Extended Spring: Connor Lien (#36)...It's hard to be too disappointed with Lien this year. With a deeper system than two years ago, he was no longer a borderline Top 20 prospect. Of course, his injury-riddled 2016 was also a factor. Though, even if he wasn't a major prospect anymore, this season has been tough to watch Lien go through. He was hitting .187/.268/.343 at the time of his demotion with 59 K's in 149 PA. That comes out to a nearly 40% strikeout rate - about 15% higher than his 2015 campaign. He has looked lost and unable to turn it around. Perhaps sometime at extended spring where he can clear his head will help.

By Jeff Morris. Follow him
on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff
DL'd: Bradley Roney (#38)....It's been a tough campaign for Roney, whose talented by wild arm had him pitching meaningful games in the International League playoffs last year. After opening the year on the DL, he headed to Florida in late April before a promotion to Mississippi. He was actually doing okay there and unintentionally walked just four of the first 36 he faced while striking out a dozen, but he's now back on the DL.

Promoted from Rome: Matt Gonzalez...Picked in the sixth round last year out of Georgia Tech, Gonzalez missed the first month of action while in extended spring training until a call-up after the first week of May. He then spent just 16 games in Rome, hitting .300/.355/.329. He picked up starts at third and in left and made a cameo at second base. It's second base that might help Gonzalez find some playing time in Florida as Alay Lago has underwhelmed to this point.

Demoted to Extended Spring: Andres Santiago...Often one of the names that fluctuates on-and-off the roster, Santiago has appeared nine times this year, including seven games with Florida. The results haven't been there for the eleven-year veteran, though the strikeouts look great (21 in 14.2 ING).

Released: J.B. Moss...To make room for Gonzalez, the Braves cut Moss, a seventh-round selection last year. Moss had blitzed the Appalachian League after being drafted, but the former Texas A&M star struggled with Carolina and then this season in his brief twelve games with Florida. Moss's value with the Braves was tied into how much money he saved them by signing under-slot last June. It's the tough thing about being signed less for your potential and more about allowing the team to sign the guys they actually want.

Activated: Joey Wentz (#14)...Good to see the southpaw Wentz back out there on Memorial less than two weeks after taking a liner off his leg. He tossed four innings of one-run ball in his return with a walk and three strikeouts. On the year, Wentz has a 3.18 ERA and over a strikeout an inning.

Promoted from Extended Spring: Ramon Osuna...With Rome getting little-to-no production from Anthony Concepcion and Kurt Hoekstra at first base, Osuna will get a chance to see if he can help out. A 14th round pick out of Walters State Community College in Morristown, TN last year, Osuna hit .276/.342/.423 with four homers in Danville. He struck out a ton (29%) and the former corner outfielder in college struggled with his new role at first base. Hopefully, an offseason of fine-tuning his skills will help him look more comfortable at first base.

Demoted from Mississippi: Joe Rogers...The late-spring cut by the Tigers has shown up a number of times in this series as he cycled on-and-off the Mississippi roster while only pitching three games.

Demoted to Extended Spring: Raymar Navarro...The Cuban righty has been limited to just five games with Rome this year. They have been successful for the most part, but the 26-year-old is not progressing up the depth chart despite pitching 67 innings last year at High-A.

DL'd: Oriel Caicedo...There have been two Oriel Caicedos in professional baseball. Both were signed out of Panama by the Braves. One is 26 and hasn't played since 2011 while the other recently hit the DL. Caicedo is no spring chicken at 23 years-old and made his debut in 2011...where he played with the other Oriel Caicedo. Seriously, this is something for me to obsess about. New Caicedo has impeccable control (just 71 unintentional passes in 411.2 innings), but also won't pick up many K's. He's been a swingman throughout his career and this marks his third year with Rome. Not sure what sent Caicedo to the DL.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday Roundup: Trade Johnson?, Cumberland's Run, Bullpen Issues

Welcome to another week of Braves baseball as we say goodbye to May and head into June. The end of May is often a time in which teams start realizing what they have - and don't have - and start to make more frequent adjustments. With the Braves continuing to disappoint, might a player or many be in their final days with the team?

That question will certainly be answered, but in the meantime, here is a brief rundown of the week.

Ramirez | Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff
May 22, 5-2 WIN vs. Pirates
-Mike Foltynewicz pitched around a lot of trouble and the Braves got homers off the bats of Brandon Phillips and Matt Adams to pull away 5-2. Adams' two-run bomb was his first since joining the team. Ender Inciarte went 5-for-5 (all singles) while Phillips, Adams, and Tyler Flowers all had multi-hit games. Folty went five innings and allowed both of Pittsburgh's runs, though one was unearned. He walked two and K'd 5. Jason Motte, Jose Ramirez, Arodys Vizcaino, and Jim Johnson each tossed a hitless frame.

May 23, 6-5 WIN vs. Pirates
In one of the weirdest games of the year that included Pirates manager Clint Hurdle being ejected and a 3-hour rain delay, it was Matt Adams who was the hero. Adams doubled and homered before the delay, but it was his walk-off base hit that won the game in the ninth that mattered the most. The Braves were losing 3-2 before the delay, but soon after play resumed, Atlanta pulled ahead with two runs in the seventh. In the ninth, Jim Johnson couldn't hold the lead, though it wasn't all his fault. With the bases loaded and two outs, Johnson was a strike away from ending it when Mercer foul-tipped a ball that Kurt Suzuki couldn't hold onto. On the next pitch, Mercer put the Pirates ahead with a base hit. Luke Jackson got out of the inning and got the win when the Braves came back in the bottom of the ninth. In addition to Adams' three-hit barrage, Suzuki and Inciarte had three hits while Brandon Phillips and Nick Markakis each had two.

May 24, 12-5 LOSS (10 ING) vs. Pirates
For the second consecutive night, the Braves were an out away from winning the game in the top of the ninth, but couldn't close the deal. This time it was Jose Ramirez, who was pitching as Johnson and Vizcaino received a night off. The normally reliable Ramirez gave up three hits, none as big as the two-run Jose Osuna single. That came after a two-out walk. In the tenth, Josh Collmenter earned a DFA by giving up back-to-back-to-back jacks on his way to surrendering seven runs. It ruined a good night for Julio Teheran, who gave up three runs - all unearned - in six innings. Four Braves - Inciarte, Phillips, Matt Kemp, and Rio Ruiz - had two-hit games.

May 25, 9-4 LOSS vs. Pirates
Bartolo Colon gave up five runs in the second and seven overall during yet another disappointing outing. Ruiz would lead the offense with three hits, but the big hole was too much for the Braves. Matt Wisler, who replaced Collmenter on the roster, threw a pair of scoreless frames in relief.

May 26, 2-0 WIN at Giants
The Braves get their first shutout and Jaime Garcia plays a starring role. On the mound, he went 6.2 innings while allowing four singles, a pair of walks, and picking up five strikeouts. More importantly for Garcia was that he got two groundouts for every flyout. At the plate, Garcia picked up the slack for a punchless offense. With Tyler Flowers and Dansby Swanson on base, Garcia rocketed a single to left. Flowers scored easily and after Belt's throw got away, as did Swanson. Garcia was only credited with one RBI, but he'll take it. After Jose Ramirez stranded a runner by retiring the only batter he faced, Arodys Vizcaino and Jim Johnson shut the door from there.

May 27, 6-3 LOSS at Giants
Bad Foltynewicz was on display as the righty surrendered five runs over four innings. The Braves never threatened from there. Tyler Flowers, as he tends to do, had another multi-hit game and Ruiz and Kemp each doubled. Sam Freeman pitched a scoreless inning while Luke Jackson worked two scoreless. Ian Krol struggled again in the ninth, giving up a run on a hit and two walks.

May 28, 7-1 LOSS at Giants
A theme of this week was a starter that crapped the bed early. R.A. Dickey became the latest Braves starter to do just that as he gave up seven runs over the game's first three innings. He pitched well enough from there to throw six innings, but the damage had been done. He walked five. Matt Wisler worked another scoreless two-inning frame. Kemp had three singles in the loss while Nick Markakis went 2-for-3.

This week: 3-4
Season: 21-27, tied for 2nd in NL East, 8.5 GB

Upcoming Schedule: The Braves end May with three games in Anaheim against our old friend Andrelton Simmons and the Angels. Mike Trout will likely miss the series and perhaps more time due to a thumb issue. After a day off on June 1, the Braves head to Cincinnati to end the week with a night game on Friday and then two day games during the weekend.

Three Last Things

1) Jim Johnson on the Move?
Could the Braves already be fielding calls about their closer, Jim Johnson? That might be the case, according to the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo. Should the Braves entertain this?

Are you kidding me? Absolutely, they should. That's not a slight on Johnson, by the way. Ignoring his woeful 23-game run with the Dodgers after that trade we don't talk about anymore, Johnson has been wonderful with the Braves to the tune of 2.5 fWAR since 2015. Again, if you ignore his time with the Dodgers, Johnson's fWAR in that time would rank him tied with Koji Uehara and Kelvin Herrera for 23rd in baseball. Compared to the market, Johnson is also pretty cheap at $4.5 million this year and next.

But the market has recently paid handsomely for closers. Last season, acquiring Mark Melancon cost the Nationals an excellent controllable reliever in Felipe Rivero and an intriguing C+/B- lefthander in Taylor Hearn. That's probably the weakest deal I'm going to mention. Aroldis Chapman cost the Cubs a consensus Top-10 prospect in baseball right now in Gleyber Torres among the four players the Cubs surrendered. To acquire Craig Kimbrel, the Red Sox has to give the Padres a tremendous four-player package including Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra (who, granted, forgot how to hit). The Cubs gave up a bat with unlimited potential in Jorge Soler for Wade Davis. Ken Giles cost the Astros, among others, Vincent Velasquez. Finally, the Yankees surrendered Andrew Miller for four players, including Clint Frazier who has been among the Top 25 or so prospects in baseball.

Now, all of these trades were different and do not imply that Jim Johnson will receive X amount of value in a trade, but for all the things I mentioned in the second paragraph (great success, cheap price), that drives up the Braves' asking price for Johnson. The fact that they have another year of control over Johnson also means the Braves can be patient. They never have to deal him. But if a team is offering a Torres or Frazier, you better believe Arodys Vizcaino will be the new closer.

Until he's traded, of course.

2) Cumberland's Climb
Cumberland | Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff
At this point, it wouldn't surprise me much to hear Brett Cumberland went 4-for-4 with four homers and a pair of plate appearances where he was hit by a pitch. The former Cal-Berkeley star got off to a rough start, but has been one of baseball's hottest hitters since hitting his first homer for Rome on April 20. Since then, he's hitting .312/.505/.662.


My apologies for yelling. He's doubled six times, hit seven homers, and walked 19 times to 23 strikeouts. Plus, he's been hit 13 times by a pitch. Extrapolated over a full season, Cumberland would get hit 84 times. That's probably a record of some sorts.

To be fair, the question involving Cumberland was never "will he hit?" He had the bat, the plate discipline, and the pop to be a real asset at the plate. It's his work behind the plate that continues to lag behind. Here's the good news about that - he's got time. I recall another catcher who had the tag "he'll hit, but can he catch?" attached to him. Funny enough, he became a plus defender and a poor hitter - until he came back to Atlanta before the 2016 season and suddenly re-learned to hit. Hopefully, it won't take Cumberland so long to hit in the majors like it did Tyler Flowers, but I'll take the defense (minus the throwing issues).

3) Bullpen Usage Needs Work
I've mentioned this before, but I can't say I'm a fan of the way Brian Snitker utilizes his bullpen. Snitker enjoys the idea of pitcher roles. Johnson, you get the ninth. Vizcaino, you get the eighth. Lately, it's been Jose Vizcaino getting the seventh. Sink-or-swim, this is your inning. Only the Reds have had fewer instances this year in which a reliever enters with no runners on. That says to me that Snitker likes the idea of a "clean inning" and not messing with double-switches too often. To be fair, not sure I'd like to do many double-switches with this bench either.

Nevertheless, Snitker likes the three-out full inning out of his reliever. The Braves are near the bottom of the NL in both games where a pitcher records more than three outs and games in which a pitcher records fewer than three outs. They are also third in the fewest amount of inherited runners, which is actually shocking considering how poorly the pitching staff has performed. Because Snitker is so dependent on roles, the Braves rely on guys to pitch back-to-backs at an unhealthy rate - especially for their top arms. Johnson and O'Flaherty each have seven outings where they are pitching on zero days rests. Johnson had 17 last year so he's well on his way to "improving" upon that. That's tied for sixth-most in the NL. Ramirez has five back-to-backs and Vizcaino has four.

I realize I'm picking on Snitker, but the eye test agrees with the numbers. He's not anxious to deviate from his assigned roles for pitchers - even when it would be better for the team. As the Braves consider management options beyond this season, his work with the bullpen could be something that will take him out of contention.

Prepping for the Trade Deadline: Part 2

(Written by Ryan Cothran, a contributor at Walk-Off Walk for the last few weeks. Previous columns by Cothran include one on BABIP, the bullpen, and reviewing the Braves' buy-low philosophy on Tommy John survivors. The first part of this series detailed possible fixes for the team should there be trades over the next couple of months. Remember to follow Ryan on Twitter.)

Last year, while writing for Tomahawk Take, I wrote a piece regarding organizational surplus and I found it a very enlightening exercise to help target surplus pieces in the farm to trade.

The term “Pipeline” rings true here: Where there’s a bulge in the pipe ready to burst, that’s where there’s surplus. Last year, the biggest bulge in the pipe was in back-end RHP starters...12 of them to be exact. I discussed that Coppy could trade 2-3 of the surplus and not think twice about it. He traded 5! And 2 more are no longer in the organization.

So, I completed the exercise of identifying the surplus talent inside the 2017 organization to navigate and find a few areas that the Atlanta Braves could use for trades without sacrificing the future of the farm system.

The problem with this exercise is that prospects are just that – the prospects of a forecasted future – and are therefore unpredictable. The player one chooses to keep might become a career Minor Leaguer while the player traded becomes a perennial All-Star. Dealing prospects is always a risk.

So, let’s look at the organizational depth chart, shall we? I listed most players who, at current projections, could be useful major league ballplayers at some capacity. Albeit, this is an incomplete list and even being the author, I understand that.

Most of the international prospects from last year are not listed here so just bear with the process.  It is not often that they are included in trades at their ages anyway.

By Arturo Pardavila III [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Frontline (#1-2 ceiling) RH Starting Pitchers
Frontline (#1-2 ceiling) LH Starting Pitchers

Mid-Back Rotation (3-5 ceiling) RH Starting Pitchers
Sanchez | By Jeff Morris. Follow @AtlBravesJeff
Mid-Back Rotation (3-5 ceiling) LH Starting Pitchers
First Base
By Jeff Morris. Follow @AtlBravesJeff
Second Base
Third Base
Now...after digesting that list, you’ll see that some depth charts are longer than others, but remember that pitching depth and outfield depth will naturally be larger as both require more players than, for example, first base.

But it’s not just the quantity, rather it’s the developmental level as well. If many are on the same developmental level, then VOILA!  Surplus.

Evaluating the Pitching
There’s never enough pitching depth is a theory the Braves have been challenging these past few years as the Braves could have 30 prospects that are just pitchers in the organization and it’d be a better list than ⅔ of other organizations. There are a few places I see a bulge that the Braves could deal a prospect or 2 and still be deep at said position.

Front-line RH Starting Pitching- Merely looking at age, Lucas Sims, Patrick Weigel, and Mike Soroka seem like they’re very different in regards to their projected MLB debut, but there’s probably only a calendar year’s difference as Soroka, being the baby of the 3, has far more polish than the other two. Dealing one of these would hurt as we’ve all grown fond of “our guys”, but it could be done without sacrificing too much.

Front-line LH Starting Pitching- Like Sims, Weigel, and Soroka, the foursome of Newcomb, Fried, Allard, and Gohara could be a calendar year apart in debuts as the younger guys are more polished than Newk and Fried. Trading one of these 4 would also hurt, but could be done without jeopardizing too much.

Back-end RH Starting Pitching- Would anyone really care if Bartolo, Dickey, Wisler, Blair, or even Luke Jackson were traded, especially if it landed a real prospect or a front-line starter under control for years? BIG BULGE! These 5 are surplus and I’d expect a few to be gone before this season has elapsed.

Back-end LH Starting Pitching-  Jaime Garcia seems replaceable in the Braves rotation by Newcomb, which likely won’t be an upgrade this year but could prove beneficial to Newcomb’s experience.  Mader, Harrington, Pike, and Sanchez seem repetitive as guys likely destined for the bullpen and around the same developmental level (albeit, Pike is throwing out some pretty righteous stats at High-A). Trading one of these guys doesn’t hurt the Braves from a depth perspective.

Evaluating the Position Players
Catchers- Should Alex Jackson emerge as a force as a catcher, the Braves could look at trading a few of their guys that could become positionless in the future. Until then, I don’t see a catching surplus.

1st Basemen- Matt Adams is the only surplus and he’s currently not even that with Freeman out. If he continues to hit, he’ll be a good bench spot, but a better trade chip.

2nd Basemen- Phillips, Albies, Demeritte, and Jace are surplus in a sense. However, if we’re projecting Albies as the starting 2nd baseman in 2018, Demeritte and Jace still make up good utility players. The real surplus here is Brandon Phillips, but he’s playing well and it’d be very hard for the Braves to trade him if they’re playing .500 baseball. At this point, I don’t see a surplus here.

3rd Basemen- Braves actually need more 3rd basemen in the system as the options at the MLB level are platoons at best and then it’s thin until Austin Riley. No surplus here.

Shortstops- Braves aren’t short on shortstops, but don’t really have any bumping into each other on the depth charts either. No surplus here.

Outfielders- While there aren’t guys that are knocking down the door for an MLB promotion, this is one to keep an eye on as both Dustin Peterson and Ronald Acuna could be begging to be in the bigs by the end of the season, with DP getting an October cup of coffee. If either of these guys solidify their place in the bigs, there’s surplus that opens in the form of Markakis at the MLB level and several guys in the minors that could project as starting OFers.  For now...no surplus.

To wrap it up, I’m not pushing for any of the guys in our organization to be traded, but it’s going to happen. It’s happened every year. The biggest bulges seem to be in RH MLB-ready back-end starting pitching with at least 1 surplus in each of the other pitching categories. Trades are going to hurt...but hopefully they help more.

Go Braves!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Random Prospect Sunday - Evan Phillips

Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff
When the 17th round of the 2015 MLB draft began, Evan Phillips was waiting for his name to be called. A right-hander out of UNC-Wilmington, Phillips had been promised by the New York Yankees that when the 18th pick of the round - and #513th overall - came up, it would be his name that would be called. You can imagine that Phillips had a moment where he imagined what it might be like to wear those iconic pinstripes and walk onto the mound in the new Yankee Stadium.

But something happened before that. With pick #510, Phillips received a call from Billy Best, an area scout for the Atlanta Braves, that it would be the Braves, not the Yanks, that would select the Clayton High School alum (NC). He quickly signed with the Braves and he was a professional.

Phillips, who also had been picked by the Kansas City Royals coming out of high school in 2012, was assigned to the Danville Braves to begin his professional career at just 20-years-old. A starter in college, Phillips was tabbed to be a reliever in the minors and immediately opened some eyes with a half-dozen games in Danville. He allowed a solo homerun, the only blemish during his 13.1 innings. All the while, he K'd 17 and walked just four. It was quickly apparent - and the Braves agreed - that rookie ball was beneath him. He spent the final month-plus in Rome. The results weren't nearly as dominant (4.41 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 4.41 BB/9), but considering he was just a couple of months out of college, Atlanta was pleased with the volume of work.

Rather than a return trip to Rome, Phillips was tabbed for a promotion to Carolina to open 2016. On one hand, he had a 1.27 ERA and eight saves over 21 games with a 2.54 BB/9, his single-best total anywhere. On the other hand, his strikeouts were significantly decreased and his .217 BABIP gave the impression of a pitcher who was getting pretty lucky. Regardless, by mid-June, the Braves again gave Phillips a promotion up the ladder and in just over a year since he was drafted, Phillips was already in Double-A ball. The rapid climb meant that Phillips was the first draftee from 2015 to make it to Double-A to stay (Trevor Belicek made a one-game appearance in April before returning to A-ball). Soon, A.J. Minter and Patrick Weigel would join Phillips in Mississippi from the Class of '15.

With the Mississippi Braves, the strikeouts returned. After falling under 20% with Carolina, it climbed back up to 28.5%. the control wasn't as pinpoint as it had been with the Mudcats, but Phillips continued to show an ability to get out hitters - though a .348 BABIP and 61.4% LOB% were his downfall ERA-wise. That mark went from 1.27 to 4.46. This is despite an FIP that dropped 10 points compared to Carolina and an xFIP that fell nearly a run. A deeper look showed a pitcher who was prone to giving up runs in a short amount of games. Between July 8 and July 24, Phillips was charged with five earned runs over 9.1 ING (5 games). Toward the end of the season, a three-game run saw him give up nine earned runs over 2.2 innings. Those three games jacked up his ERA from 2.20 to 4.60.

Phillips's 2016 was not finished. He headed to Arizona to play in the Fall League with some of the best minor league talent in baseball. He appeared nine times and though he did strike out a little over a batter an inning, he walked nearly as many. He was rather fortunate that he only gave up six hits in 10.2 innings because had he given up many more hits, his ERA would have looked even worse.

Unlike the previous two seasons, an iffy run down the stretch with a new team wasn't followed by a promotion to begin the next season. Phillips headed back to Mississippi to open 2017 and things...have not gone so well, but again, a deeper look into the numbers shows that things may not be what they appear.

Considered a strong possibility to close games for Mississippi, Phillips was blasted early-and-often to begin the season. Two big stinkers on April 13 and April 20 were ERA-ruiners. On the 13th, after Kolby Allard and Jesse Biddle had tossed a combined 7.1 scoreless innings, Phillips entered. He stranded a runner in the 8th and entered the ninth with a 7-0 lead after the Braves added four in the top of the inning. The wheels came off from there. He retired two batters in the inning, but allowed six runners to reach on five singles and a hit batter. When he left, the bases were loaded and three runners had already scored. That's when Danny Reynolds compounded the problem and despite a 7-0 deficit entering the ninth, Tennessee walked it off with an 8-7 win.

A week later, there was significantly less drama as Phillips replaced an ineffective Max Fried and was charged with five runs in just one inning of work. Since that game, Phillips has righted the ship for the most part. He did give up three homers in a pair of appearances in early May, but in 16 innings since April 20, Phillips has allowed just five runs (2.81 ERA), struck out 18, and walked seven. Of course, when you see that his ERA is 8.14, it's worth knowing that since April 20, he's brought his ERA down 17 runs from 25.20 to 8.14.

As for a brief scouting report, Phillips is 6'2" and about 215 pounds. He has a quick delivery in which he pushes his weight back an explodes to the plate. He's not gifted with plus-plus velocity, but can hit 95-97 mph with max effort, though he's more likely to be a few ticks under. He changes speeds well and appears to throw both a four-seam fastball and cutter. His slider is his best delivery and when he's able to get ahead on the heater, his slider has swing-and-miss potential with great late movement. Occasionally, he throws what looks like a show-me changeup, but it wasn't utilized frequently in the game footage I watched.

Phillips' biggest issue is with his delivery - or more specifically, one part of his delivery. Even in the short footage down below, you can see that everything looks smooth except where his landing foot is. Using the dug up scuff of dirt as a guide, check out the landing spot at 0.03, 0.10, 0.18, and 0.25. Benjamin Chase of Tomahawk Take also spoke about this during a scouting report. Consistency throughout the delivery is very important and right now, Phillips has issues there. When he's on, he's dominant as we've seen. When he's not, his control waivers. It'll be something to keep track of moving forward.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Prepping for the Trade Deadline: Part 1

(Written by Ryan Cothran, a contributor at Walk-Off Walk for the last few weeks. Previous columns by Cothran include one on BABIP, the bullpen, and reviewing the Braves' buy-low philosophy on Tommy John survivors. Remember to follow Ryan on Twitter.)

By Arturo Pardavila III [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Yes, the trade deadline is a little way off, but let it be known that Braves General Manager John Coppolella is always anxious to make a deal and a single date doesn’t hold weight on this trading stallion. Therefore, we need to be prepared, and this article will help us get there.

If 2017 is a mirror of the past 2 years of Braves baseball, it’s going to be an active trade deadline for Coppy and the crew. Whether it be buying, selling, or a little bit of both, you can bet your sweet pippy the Braves will be dealing.

Here’s a recap of trades orchestrated in the months of May-August of 2015. Note that at this time, Coppy was not yet named the GM, but most agree that these were Coppy's deals and John Hart was merely there to provide guidance and a helping hand:

And here’s a recap of trades orchestrated in the months of May-August of 2016:

What will 2017’s trade deadline look like for our beloved Braves?

2015 was all about selling off the veterans, dead money, or debt consolidation for wild card prospects. The team was dead in the water and had no chance to compete. We knew it. Braves knew it.

2016 was much the same, rather the prospects were better, the deals were riskier (acquiring Matt Kemp), but most worked out in the Braves favor.

2017...if only we had a crystal ball. What will the Braves record be like approaching the deadline? If the last few weeks are any indication, I’d say that this team will be hovering around .500 come late June and that is lightyears better than what we’ve had these last 2 abysmal years. In dissecting Coppy’s track record, we can see who’s most likely to be on another team come July: 1-year veterans.  Here’s a list of players that have 1 year of control on their contract:

Brandon Phillips
Bartolo Colon
Jaime Garcia
Jason Motte
Kurt Suzuki
Emilio Bonifacio
Eric O’Flaherty
*I’m not including R.A. Dickey or Tyler Flowers on this list even though they are both on 1-year deals, but have reasonable options.

Of the players above, Phillips, Garcia, Motte, and Suzuki are the 4 that have established some value this year.  Colon could be bought based on reputation alone, but I don’t think there’s any team that would even take O’Flaherty or Bonifacio for free at this point.

However, if the Braves are looking competitive AND their best hitter in Freddie Freeman is set to return, one has to weigh the +/- of trading any of the vets that have value. The biggest question to answer would be “Are there suitable replacements?”  That, my friends, is a hard question to answer.

Replacing Traded Pieces

Replacement for Brandon Phillips? Ozzie Albies has taken to adjusting at AAA Gwinnett. In his last 20 games, he has a .296/.367/.432/.799 slash-line with 3 doubles, 1 triple, 2 HR, 6 SB and 0 CS. He’s younger and at this stage of Brandon’s career, will provide better defense. But Brandon’s on pace for a 2.5 fWAR year, is putting up solid numbers across the board, and has been a really nice addition to a Braves lineup that’s lacked good production from 2nd base. If Braves are competing, I think it’s hard to pull the trigger.

Weigel | Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff
Replacement for Bartolo Colon? Lucas Sims and Sean Newcomb have both taken their lumps of late, but Bartolo has taken his the entire year up until last start. There’s no doubt that having Bartolo on the team has a positive effect on our players, especially Latin Americans, but from a player’s perspective, his production seems replaceable on the surface given either of the two above could get the call - along with guys like Kris Medlen, Luke Jackson, or even Patrick Weigel.

Replacement for Jaime Garcia? It sounds weird to “sell-high” on a starting pitcher that’s sporting a 4.07 ERA, but that’s what the Braves could do with Jaime Garcia.  Left-handed pitchers are coveted in the MLB and Jaime’s peripherals tell a different story than his actual production. I’m afraid that if the Braves don’t move him soon, his numbers could balloon or his injuries pop up again. Insert same guys for Jaime’s replacement with more emphasis on Newcomb for handedness.

Replacement for Jason Motte? There are plenty of candidates for a Motte replacement, but all seem to come with the dreaded taint of being walk-heavy.  Motte’s great start has been a bit smoky and mirrory as his LOB is a crazy 94.8%, but make no mistake he has been effective. Luke Jackson, Mauricio Cabrera, and Akeel Morris seem like logical fits should any of the three find their control.

Replacement for Kurt Suzuki? At this point, I think the Braves would rather extend Suzuki for another year rather than trade him. There aren’t real replacements at Gwinnett (David Freitas, maybe?) and Kade Scivicque is at Mississippi, but that’d be rushing his development, especially as a hitter. Trading Suzuki doesn’t seem wise unless the Braves can acquire their future catcher at the deadline.

Replacement for Emilio Bonifacio, Eric O’Flaherty? While this likely isn’t trade deadline stuff as I don’t think these three will be around by then, replacing these guys seem rather easy:
Lane Adams for Emilio
Rex Brothers for O’Flaherty

What to expect in return for these trades?

If the Braves are trading any of their 1-year veterans, the less the acquiring team has to pay, the better the return. With that in mind, a team in desperate need of 2B production could send a B/B+ prospect to the Braves. Prospects the Braves have acquired in the past 2 years that fit that description are John Gant, Robert Whalen, Touki Toussaint, Akeel Morris, and Travis Demeritte

For the rest, it depends on what Coppy has up his sleeve. There’s a lot he could do with excess cash at the trade deadline and filling holes with high-end cost-heavy talent wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.

Thanks for reading! Look for part 2 of this piece which will address Organizational Surplus.