Wednesday, August 30, 2017

TOT - Braves Finalize Deal for Neagle

Transaction of Today...August 30, 1996 - To complete an earlier trade on August 28, 1996, Jason Schmidt is named the player to be named later, joining Ron Wright and Corey Painter in going to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Denny Neagle.

The Braves went for it all in an effort to repeat as champions. It didn't really work out as planned, but fortunately for them, it went even worse for the team they traded with.

A year after beating the Cleveland Indians in the '95 Series, Atlanta was once again the elite team in the National League. The Big Three of John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine continued to dominate with Smoltz pitching himself to a Cy Young award. However, the rotation was beginning to show cracks. The 26-year-old Steve Avery was a pending free agent whose rapid decline was only continuing as his strikeout rate plummeted and his effectiveness waned. The Braves had promoted Schmidt into the fifth role, but by mid-July, the team demoted him to Richmond due to a 6.75 ERA. With Schmidt demoted and Avery struggling to stay healthy, the Big Three were joined by Brad Woodall, Mike Bielecki, and Terrell Wade in the rotation - hardly the level of talent Atlanta was happy providing depth to their rotation.

Atlanta grew anxious and anxious teams make moves. On August 28, the Braves finished the legwork on a trade to acquire Denny Neagle from the Pirates. In the trade was catcher/outfielder Corey Painter and first baseman, Ron Wright. There was also a player to be named later and it didn't take too long for that player to have a name. Jason Schmidt.

Let's talk about the bounty the Braves surrendered first with far too many words. Painter was another in the long line of toolsy prep bats the Braves preferred back in the 90's. Picked out of Waxahachie High School just outside of Dallas, the Braves made Painter the #46th overall selection of the '94 draft. It remains the highest selected draft pick out of that high school which has yet to produce a major leaguer. That might be a spoiler alert about Painter's career. Painter had good power and bashed 15 homers before the trade - mostly with Eugene of the Short-Season A Northwest League. He also had plus athleticism, which is why the Braves were giving up on the idea of Painter being a catcher. However, he struck out a ton and that was against pitchers who didn't have developed breaking pitches. After the trade, Painter languished for three years in A-ball. Finally, in 2000, he was pushed up to Double-A, but after 50 PA, the Pirates' patience was exhausted. His career was over at the age of 24.

Ron Wright seemed so much bigger than his listed height of 6'1". Perhaps that's due to his impressive power. A year after picking him in the seventh round of the '94 draft, Wright pushed his way onto the Macon roster and bashed 32 home runs over 594 PA as a 19-year-old in the South Atlantic League. He showed good plate recognition to boot just in case the power wasn't enough to make him an intriguing prospect. Wright hit mammoth home runs, including one measured at 515 feet at the old Luther Williams Park. He moved up to Durham the next year and was a Carolina League All-Star on a packed Bulls ballclub that also featured Andruw Jones. Wright didn't journey from A-ball to the majors like Jones did but did earn a promotion to Double-A at midseason. Over 129 games split fairly evenly between Durham and Greenville, Wright hit 36 home runs. He was a legit prospect and would be ranked as such in the 1997 preseason Baseball America Top 100 when he was named the #48th best prospect in baseball.

However, Wright's prospect status would take some bad turns. He was good in an injury-shortened '97 campaign that earned a promotion to the majors. Unfortunately, he didn't play that September because of a sore wrist and that was the first of a few harsh injuries that would derail the young kid. He played less than 50 games the next two seasons as a back injury required almost immediate surgery to remove a disc. Unfortunately, complications from that surgery would also sideline him as his sciatic nerve had been inadvertently clipped. Even to this day, his right leg continues to feel numb. Wright began to journey through the league, playing for the Reds, Rays, Mariners, Indians, and Tigers organizations. He continued to hit, but his power numbers were never quite as impressive as they were before his trade to the Pirates. While with the Mariners, he did receive a promotion in mid-April to the bigs and started one game at first base. It was one of those games you'd hear about if they made a sequel to Field of Dreams. Kenny Rogers of the Rangers got him looking in the second as he struck out. With the Mariners up 1-0 in the fourth, Wright stepped in after Ruben Sierra had doubled and John Olerud had singled. Wright hit the ball back to the mound and Rogers started a possible double play. However, Sierra decided he'd try to steal a run and came home. Alex Rodriguez, who caught the ball from Rogers, forced Olerud at second before firing home to get Sierra after a brief rundown. While that rundown was happening, Wright was prompted to go to second base. A slow runner even before the back troubles, Wright was dead meat after Sierra was eventually tagged out. If you were scoring at home, it went 1-6-2-5-1-4. A triple play.

Wright's third at-bat came in the sixth. Again, Sierra and Olerud began the inning with hits - both singles. Wright hit the daylights out of the ball, but it was on the ground for a 6-4-3 double play. In the 7th, the Mariners staged a six-run rally to take the lead 7-5. Wright was pinch-hit for. After the game, Bret Boone gave Wright the lineup card - when he still has - and Alex Rodriguez even signed it. Wright was on the roster for one more game with the Mariners, but he didn't play and was demoted to the minors. It was Wright's final day in the majors. He later went to the Idaho State College of Pharmacy for his post-baseball career.

And then, there was Schmidt. Painter was a wild card and Wright was a rising prospect, but Schmidt was the can't miss guy. Capable of throwing a heavy fastball with life along with plus secondary pitches, Schmidt was already one of the game's most promising prospects. While he struggled mightily with the Braves in '96, his quick rise from an '91 8th-rounder to a blue chip prospect was no fluke. He had the stuff to back it up and the Braves liked him a lot. However, they liked winning more and wanted to continue to build to their brand as the Team of the 90's. After the trade, Schmidt would pitch for Pittsburgh from '96 to '01. He was never the guy they had expected him to be, though the Pirates were a mess in the late 90's. The righty was still pretty young at 28 and closing in on free agency in 2001 when the Pirates traded Schmidt to the Giants. In San Francisco, Schmidt would turn his career around and became the ace the Braves foresaw him being when they were developing him in the minors. In five full seasons with the Giants, Schmidt was named to three All-Star teams and was the '03 Cy Young runner-up. He landed a mega deal with the Dodgers after '06 but pitched just 10 times while making over $45M.

Painter, Wright, and Schmidt was the price tag, but was Neagle worth it? You better believe he was. Neagle, who had once been traded for former Pirate standout John Smiley, had joined the rotation in '94 and was an All-Star the year after. He was a workhorse with a good curveball and an excellent changeup. And, perhaps most importantly, he was better than the 1996 version of Avery. He would finish 8th that season in the Cy Young Award voting and was solid for the Braves over four postseason outings - including two starts - in the NLCS and World Series, though he didn't factor in a decision. Neagle's best year with the Braves was 1997. That season, the Big Three+Neagle each had an ERA under 3.03, each started 33 games, and each threw 230+ innings. The '97 Braves didn't have a fifth starter (well, they had four, but none of them stuck) and frankly, they didn't need one. Neagle would pitch twice against the Marlins in the Erik Gregg NLCS. Notably, he threw a shutout in Game 4 with seven strikeouts.

In 1998, Neagle was part of a Braves rotation that had five pitchers win 16 or more games. However, that was a double-edged sword for Neagle, who was the least effective of the five and with Kevin Millwood now an unquestioned member of the staff, Neagle's pricey salary was considered a luxury the Braves could do without. After that season, they packaged Rob Bell (read more) and Michael Tucker with Neagle for Mike Remlinger and the aforementioned Bret Boone. After just a year-and-a-half with the Reds, Neagle was moved to the Yankees where he won a ring after the Subway Series that fall. A free agent after 2000, Negale landed a big money deal with the Rockies. He earned $25M over three years in which his ERA was 5.57. That's good work if you can find it. The Rockies actually owed him at least an additional $19M, but cut the pitcher following allegations of soliciting a prostitute. Citing a morals clause in his contract, the Rockies simply voided the rest of his deal rather than pay him. Neagle, who was married with a four-year old, avoided jail time, but not a divorce.

Neagle tried a comeback in '05 with the Rays, but never pitched for them because of injury. He would later be cited for a DUI and was part of the Mitchell Report as a steroid-user.

Well, this story got negative real quick. Let's circle back.

Twenty years ago, the Braves sent a promising pitcher to the Pirates to finalize a trade for an established lefthander at the height of his career. The deal didn't bring another ring, but Schmidt never helped the Pirates halt the string of losing seasons, either. Ultimately, it was a winner for the Braves.

Still, you have to feel for Wright. One game and you're "responsible" for six outs in three at-bats. Yikes.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

“Is Schuerholz running the club or are Hart and Coppolella running it?”

In an article for The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal points to possible dissension within the Atlanta Braves front office. The article is behind a paywall so I won't quote it word-for-word, but the general perception is that Braves general manager John Coppolella and John Hart, the President of Baseball Operations, could be in a bit of a power struggle with Team Vice Chairman - and former GM and Team President - John Schuerholz. Rosenthal cites unnamed sources in the organization that suggest a number of internal shuffling of Schuerholz hires like Roy Clark and Dave Trembley as a possible sign that Coppy is either trying to squash dissent in the front office or at least see how many changes they can push past Schuerholz, who seemingly retains a good amount of team control.

One unnamed team official offers this particularly worrisome quote:
“It’s a power struggle over who is running the club...is John Schuerholz running the club or are John Hart and John Coppolella running it?”
If true...this is a bad sign for the Braves' organization. Worse - it's nothing new.

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It can be difficult for guys who are used to calling the shots to move to the side so that new decision makers are given the proper autonomy to lead an organization. That seems to run especially true for Schuerholz, who spent nine seasons at the helm of the Royals before 17 years as the Braves general manager. Rather than retire at the age of 67 when he finally moved aside for Frank Wren after the 2007 season, Schuerholz simply moved to a different position as the Team President. For an additional eight years, he held that spot before being promoted (?) to his new position of Team Vice Chairman in March of last season. The new role was created specifically for Schuerholz to keep him in the loop, but also keep him at an arm's reach as Schuerholz entered his late 70's.

It was supposed to be the Hart/Coppy show for the Braves with Hart providing leadership while Coppy handled the day-to-day grind that would likely make the young general manager lose his hair - if he had any to speak of, that is. However, things don't appear to have actually moved in that direction. And again, this is really nothing new for Schuerholz and "The Braves Way" culture, which has a stranglehold on the Braves' decision-making.

When Schuerholz moved up to the Team President role, he handpicked his successor in Frank Wren. Despite a contentious previous run as the Orioles' GM, Wren was lauded for his baseball mind and had spent a number of years providing support to Schuerholz in an assistant role. You couldn't blame the Braves for valuing consistency over a new direction of the franchise which had run off division title after division title from 1991 to 2005. The team still had Chipper Jones, John Smoltz, and Bobby Cox in the fold along with a young nucleus led by Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur. Wren was given the keys, but Schuerholz's watchful eye was never far away.

According to many reports, Wren was difficult to work with and the culture shock soon grew hard on longtime Braves employees. Many, like Roy Clark, left the organization in droves. The most high profile defection would have been Cox himself, who nearly quit the Braves during their first spring training with Wren in charge. It took Schuerholz smoothing things over to keep the future Hall of Fame manager in charge. Major league managers with the kind of pull Cox had have often used the threat of their resignations to enact change. It took Jim Leyland blowing up and threatening to leave to avoid a Barry Bonds-to-the-Braves trade in March of 1992. Cox, known for a short temper, was agitated by what he felt was a micro manager trying to butt his nose where it didn't belong. Of course, considering that Wren joined the Braves eight years before becoming its general manager, why was his style such a surprise for so many people in the organization?

Despite the problems, the two put their differences aside and Wren eventually gave Cox a team that was playoff worthy in Cox's final year and third year with Wren calling the shots. Moving forward, whether Wren made the choice of who replaced Cox is debatable. Considering how much dissension would develop between Wren and Fredi Gonzalez, I tend to believe it wasn't Wren's choice - or at least it wasn't his choice alone. Instead, Schuerholz and Cox intervened with Cox essentially afforded the opportunity to select his successor in Gonzalez. Just 48 hours after Cox's final game as Braves' manager, the team had already named a new manager without even pretending to perform a search. Both the Schuerholz-to-Wren transition and the Cox-to-Gonzalez one were reflective more of a college football team replacing coaches with "coach-in-waiting" picks rather than a professional team seek out the best possible candidates available.

Wren and Gonzalez were not a good mix. The team that Wren wanted to build was one of power and pitching. The team Gonzalez wanted to coach was more traditional - one that put down bunts and put the ball in play. This was never more evident than in 2013 when Wren built the All-or-Nothing Braves, a team capable of big home runs and offense - and a lot of strikeouts. This was simply not the kind of team Gonzalez ever felt comfortable with. The two forces were never meant to co-exist and as the Braves collapsed in 2014, Wren wanted to fire Gonzalez for a manager better suited to take the young-and-talented mix he had built into contention for 2015. It was Cox who stepped in and saved the job of his handpicked successor by appealing to Schuerholz. Instead, it was Wren that fired.

What happened next was another sign that the Braves' organization was not too interested in radical change. Instead, they sought reverting back to "The Braves Way," something they felt Wren was never interested in following. Before announcing John Hart as the future choice to lead the Braves, the organization staged a GM search with Cox, Hart, and Schuerholz as the search team. It was a sham as Schuerholz and Cox simply convinced Hart to take the job full-time while they organized a power-sharing agreement with John Coppolella. The system was simple. Hart would take the hit as the organization blew the team up. Gone would be popular members of the Braves like Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, and Craig Kimbrel. The deals would have Hart's name on it, allowing the Braves to protect Coppy, who was the guy actually putting the trades together for Hart to sign off on. It was a convoluted process from the beginning.

Even before announcing the Hart/Coppy grouping, the Braves began to reshape the front office with Schuerholz calling the shots. He brought Roy Clark back into the mix, named Clark disciple Brian Bridges as scouting director, and Dave Trembley as the Farm Director. And frankly, the process began the year before with hires that were largely made without Wren's input the previous winter (including Hart as a senior adviser and Rick Williams as a special assistant to the GM). Once again, Schuerholz was putting his guys into place, which cuts the legs out from a GM making similar decisions.

All the while, the Braves kept Gonzalez at the helm. Well, of course, they did. They had Cox on the search team after all. It would take a truly rotten start to the 2016 team to finally stain Gonzalez enough to get rid of him. The Braves named long-term organizational filler Brian Snitker as his replacement. At the end of 2016, Snitker seemed like a longshot to return despite a solid end to the 2016 season. The Braves were valuing heavyweights like Ron Washington and Bud Black and Snitker just seemed overmatched. He also seemed like a questionable fit with Coppolella, who took a more innovative and nuanced approached to baseball than a traditionalist like Snitker (or Washington and Black for that matter). Instead of a more exciting younger hire, Snitker was promoted to full-time manager and Washington was brought on for added experience.

But the team only gave Snitker one year. It screamed of compromise, but why? Freddie Freeman had joined the ranks of baseball's elite in 2016 while dynamic young stars like Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, and Sean Newcomb were either already in the majors or very close. The Braves seemed on the rise and the farm system was only getting better. The job had to be enticing with a new park, a winning tradition, and so many pieces in place. Why had the Braves settled for an organizational lifer as their manager? Why had they been so focused on guys like Black and Washington over younger and hungrier - not to mention better fits - like Dave Martinez, the longtime second-in-command under Joe Maddon? None of it made much sense.

Perhaps today's article by Rosenthal speaks to why these strange decisions have been made. For all of his flaws, could you really blame Wren for wanting to run the organization the way he wanted? For wanting the manager he wanted? For wanting to be the general manager the way he wanted to be a general manager? I would say no.

Three years later, many of the same figures are in place in high-profile or, at least, influential positions. Could we really blame Coppy for wanting more of an active role in deciding the makeup of the Braves front office - decisions he was not allowed the luxury of making after Wren's sacking in 2014? And if there is any truth to the idea that Coppy is testing the waters, what might come next? Could the Braves scrub most of the coaching staff, including its beleaguered manager, and start anew in 2018?

And shouldn't that be his decision anyway? After all, when the 2015 season concluded, the Braves elevated Coppolella to the general manager position. Isn't it about time the organization give him the responsibilities it once handed Schuerholz so willingly?

A lot of this is perception, I admit. We are not privy to the closed door meetings taking place. Perhaps Schuerholz has voluntarily moved to the side while telling his former pupil to, "call if you ever need to bounce ideas off someone." Maybe the article over-exaggerates the idea that there is any sort of power struggle between the two camps. I would like to believe that is the case, but we've seen this script before. Again, Wren had many flaws and made a number of poor decisions along the way. In no way am I suggesting that his firing wasn't appropriate. Nevertheless, the Braves did him few favors by micromanaging him nearly as much as he attempted to micromanage the organization. It would be a shame for them to do the same to such a capable GM in Coppolella.

After all, it's his team now.


Transaction Tuesday: Minter, Dustin Peterson, Evan Phillips

Very quiet week in transactions and a couple of major league pitchers start or continue rehab assignments while a major prospect is brought to the majors. Of course, things will get more active over the next few days as any waiver trades are completed before rosters expand for September and a number of DL'd players return.

*The moves covered in this edition of Transaction Tuesday cover August 21 to August 28. A number in parenthesis represents the player's ranking in the midseason WOW Top 50.

Credit: Fox Sports
Promoted: A.J. Minter (#24)...I went over Minter's actual promotion when it happened, but let's look at his first two appearances. Unsurprisingly, they were spaced out with three off days in between outings. I expect the Braves to continue to bring him along slowly as they have never pushed him too hard. He averaged 96.7 mph with a high of 98.3. His slider was in the low 90's range and already looks like it's going to devastate major league hitters. I don't think we'll see too much from Minter this September as the Braves monitor his usage. That said, a good last month will put him in the driver's seat for a big role on next year's roster.

Optioned to Gwinnett: Max Fried (#20)...I was a fan of the call-up until I saw how he was utilized. He was basically another long reliever rather than a guy being given a chance to pitch meaningful innings. Because of that, I'm glad he was demoted to the minors and he made his first Triple-A start last week with a solid four-inning start where he struck out six, walked two, and allowed one hit. He'll probably get a second shot in the majors and maybe even will get a start down the stretch. His chance to contribute for real comes next year when he'll battle for a rotation spot with Lucas Sims, Sean Newcomb, and Luiz Gohara.

DFA'd: Jim Johnson...Oh, wait, this didn't happen. I should erase this.

Activated: David Peterson...I mentioned Sims before and he's one of three players left from the 2012 draft. Connor Lien, who has been abysmal this year also came from that class and as did David Peterson. Picked out of the College of Charleston, Peterson skipped rookie ball and over a half-dozen seasons, the righty has been fairly durable with questionable peripherals. He still has a year before minor league free agency and provides a bit of stability with nearly 80 games at Gwinnett the last three years.

SPOTLIGHT Activated: Dustin Peterson (#21)...It has been the season from hell for Peterson, who broke a hamate bone in his hand during spring training and has just never been able to get going. It's good to see that his DL trip was short as he missed just a week, but his return was basically a microcosm of his entire season. He went 1-for-4 with a single. The injury this spring has sapped him of most of his power, which was a big reason Peterson became a prospect to watch last year.

It's not all bad for Peterson. This is just his Age-22 season and he's always played young for his level, which has muted his production. The raw potential that pushed the Padres to make him the 50th overall selection in the 2013 draft is still there and occasionally, like last year, we are able to witness what it could look like. That season, he hit .282/.343/.431 while setting career highs in a variety of categories. It was the kind of season talent evaluators has waited for since 2013, yet never saw. And more, the expectation was that Peterson was just scratching the surface of the kind of prospect he could be. Would a .295/.360/.475 season be next? Would he reach 20 homers for the first time in his career? Would he push his way onto the major league team?

Unfortunately, one errant pitch this spring and a slow recovery have made the answer to those three questions a resounding "no." He'll be ticketed for a return to Gwinnett in 2017 after being placed on the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5. Peterson still could end up being a nice little prospect capable of putting up David Peralta-type numbers or he might be a good bench/platoon guy. By the way, that still pays a good amount. Either way, with a crowded outfield situation in the majors and Ronald Acuna on his way up, Peterson looks lost in the shuffle for now.

Rehab: Luke Jackson...Just a short trip to the DL this season for Jackson, who last pitched in the majors on August 18. Ten days later, he worked two/third's of an inning for Gwinnett and gave up a homer and a walk. The Braves had some high hopes for Jackson, but he's been more-or-less forgetful this season for Atlanta. In 40.2 ING, he has a 16% K%, 9% BB%, a 4.36 FIP, and a 5.20 xFIP. He's given up a lot of great contact, which in turn makes him unreliable out of the bullpen. He'll be back next year, but he'll need big-time improvement to stick around for very long with so many more intriguing arms on the way.

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DL'd: Evan Phillips...A 2015 pick, Phillips reached Triple-A this year for the first time and has struggled mightily with his control as his walk rate is 15%. I guess that's not too much worse than the 11.7% he was pulling at Mississippi, but neither rate is good. Phillips gets a good amount of grounders from his heavy fastball/slider combo and if he can show more consistency, he could be a guy who pushes his way into the bullpen mix next season. One last note if you look at his stats is an 8.14 ERA at Mississippi before the promotion up the ladder. Most of that came in his first five outings, where he surrendered 14 runs. In his last 16 innings with the M-Braves, he gave up just five runs.

Demoted from Gwinnett: Sal Giardina...The catcher/corner infielder did okay in a three-game run through Gwinnett. He went 4-for-7, all singles, and reached base two more times via a walk and a hit-by-pitch. He returns to Mississippi, where he was hitting .248 with a homer over 119 PA earlier this season. Giardina screams "future coach" for some reason.

Rehab: Ian Krol...I was a big fan of Krol's heading into 2017 as I saw a guy who made a huge step forward during last year. However, the wheels have come off in a big way (FIP up 2.43, xFIP up almost two whole runs). Seemingly overnight, he reverted back to the guy the Tigers traded at the end of 2015. Since coming back after a trip to the DL, Krol's tossed four scoreless innings over three outings with the GCL club and Florida, but the arbitration-eligible southpaw will need to dominate in September if he has any hope of being a Brave in 2018 - and even if he did, the Braves may still pass.

Promoted from Danville: Bladimir Matos...More roster manipulation involving the same cast of characters I've written about numerous times in the past.

Demoted to Danville and Promoted Back: Troy Conyers...It was Conyers' second demotion to Danville. He's yet to pitch for them.

Demoted from Rome: Walter Borkovich...Yawn. Another move for roster management purposes.

Promoted from DSL: Jose Montilla...One of the few constants for a bad DSL staff, Montilla did just enough to keep his team in most games, though he had some truly uninspiring metrics (11% strikeout rate, 5% K-BB%). Hence the 90-point divide between his FIP and his 3.07 ERA. Nevertheless, Montilla deserved at least a shot at continuing to beat the metrics and his first start in the GCL went pretty well. He tossed five scoreless innings, giving up two hits, a walk, and striking out four - a new personal high. That last part had to be surprising because Montilla went seven appearances and 22.2 ING earlier this season with four total strikeouts.

Promoted from DSL: Filyer Sanchez...It's been a long time coming for Sanchez, who made his professional debut shortly after signing at the end of May of 2015. Over three seasons in the DSL, he's always maintained pretty solid numbers (2.48 ERA over 119.2 ING, 2.4 BB/9, no homers allowed), but because he doesn't have the big strikeout numbers, the lefty has been slow to work himself into the Braves' plans beyond the DSL. Finally, after 57 appearances in the DSL, Sanchez was brought stateside and appeared in his first game for the GCL Braves. It could not have gone any better. Following Krol in a rehab assignment, Sanchez tossed three scoreless innings with a K. Only an error by Braulio Vasquez kept the outing from being perfect. Vazquez would make up for it with a RBI double to break a 3-3 tie and the GCL club would hold on from there, giving Sanchez a win. Like I said, the rate stats aren't tremendous, but three years with an FIP under 3.00 deserve at least a shot to sink-or-swim.

Promoted to Rome and Demoted Back: Hayden Deal...Undrafted out of Presbyterian College, Deal was a solid reliever in the Big South before finishing up his collegiate career as a starter during his senior year. Following the draft, Billy Best, one of the Braves scouts who keeps finding guys no one else wants, kept Deal from putting too many plans in place for a post-baseball life by signing Deal after a bullpen session. A fan of the Braves growing up. Deal's staple is control - something that has continued professionally. He was hit up pretty good in the GCL prior to a promotion to Rome last week as the SALLY squad was desperate for a fresh arm. The outing couldn't have gone better for Deal, who faced one over the minimum during a career-high four innings. He also struck out four, one off his career-best. Deal and the aforementioned Borkovich are easy to root for as undrafted free agents and to this point, both look like their professional dreams are hardly over.

Activated from the restricted list: Erick Abreu...A year after being suspended for Stanozolol, Abreu made his return just in time to get into one game for the Dominican Summer League Braves before their season came to a close. He went three scoreless innings and got the win in relief after the Braves plated 17 total runs from the third inning on. Signed in January of 2016 as an 18-year-old, Abreu pitched in 16 games in the DSL last year. He got plenty of K's (31 in 31 innings) but also walked a small village (27 total). Seems to be another in the line of players who fit the "teach him some control before he kills someone" category. Will turn 20 on New Year's Day so his spot in the organization is dicey, but it would appear that they kept him through a year-long suspension for a reason.

Monday, August 28, 2017

2017 DSL Braves Review

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The Dominican Summer League Braves were the league's most inept club, finishing an abysmal 18-53 on the season - which looks a little worse when you consider they won their first three games of the year. Much of this was due to the aggressive placement of their best prospects from the previous July 2nd signing period. That meant no Kevin Maitan, Abraham Gutierrez, or Livan Soto. The DSL Braves only briefly got a look at Yunior Severino, Yefri Del Rosario, and Juan Contreras. Only Yenci Pena (pictured right) spent significant time in the DSL for this team.

Without the organization's best international prospects, the DSL club relied a surprising amount on players who joined the organization during this year's signing class - which again has signing bonus restrictions. Nearly a dozen players from that J2 class made their professional debut this season, which is a fairly astounding number when most J2 prospects don't get into game action until the following summer after a year in the team's training complex. Despite trying a host of new faces (nearly 60 total), the DSL squad could never get going.

Don't get down on this year's roster, though. While the Braves sported a few older guys, many of them lacked experience. Typically, guys stick around 2-3 years for consistency, leadership, and experience, but with the Braves pushing so many guys from the last two J2 classes, it led to a lot of players with little or no previous experience. There are some major league quality prospects at this level - they are just too young and experienced to face other older and more experienced pitchers and hitters.

A few players did stand out as studs for this roster.

DSL Braves Pitcher of the Year - Gabriel Noguera
Signed at the end of May of 2016, Noguera was already 20, but he still did not pitch last season. Noguera was actually a prospect to watch in the 2013 J2 signing period, but he never agreed to a contract. This season, his first of professional action, Noguera owned the Dominican Summer League. He's way too old at 21, but over 31 innings, he picked up a strikeout an inning and was charged with just three earned runs (0.87 ERA). He did walk a tad too many with 14, but for a DSL club short on real success, Noguera was a breath of fresh air. In early August, he came to the states and joined the GCL club. He's continued to find success there and the southpaw is starting to gain some traction as a prospect on the march.

DSL Braves Player of the Year - Juan Carlos Negret
Though he missed a few weeks in July, Negret paced the DSL in doubles and steals while using an unusually high hit-by-pitch number to prop his OBP all the way up to .410. A Cuban-born outfielder, Negret spent most of the season at Age-18 and hit .264 with a .391 SLG to go along with that sparkling on-base percentage. He added 14 doubles and 23 steals while playing surprisingly errorless baseball in 250.1 innings in center. I say surprising because errant throws are common at this level. He also played about about half as much in right field. With the Braves raiding the DSL roster for talent, it was a little surprising to see Negret stick around this entire season, but we should see him stateside next summer.

Other Names to Remember
Yenci Pena, SS - I mentioned Pena before and he did spend a good chunk of the season in the DSL, slashing .230/.328/.327. Another seven-digit earner from the 2016 J2 Class, Pena fills out the scouting report well with good tools all-around, though no plus-plus tool. It remains to be seen if shortstop is his long-term position. He never played after his promotion to the GCL for whatever reason.

Reilys Blanco, UTIL - The expectation was that Blanco, a switch-hitter, would play a big, big role after he was surprisingly left in the DSL despite a .307/.374/.330 run over 102 PA last year. Unfortunately, his numbers declined instead. He still flashed good plate discipline, walking 28 times to just 18 strikeouts though it's difficult to put but too much value in those kind of numbers as the DSL pitchers are notoriously wild. Still, he was left with this odd slash - .217/.342/.265. Blanco played mostly third base, but also slotted over to shortstop along with playing a little second base and left field. Now 21 years-old, Blanco is too old for the DSL - and frankly the GCL - and his production this season might make it difficult for him to stick around for 2018.

Henry Quintero, OF - One of the oldest players in the DSL, Quintero is another player signed out of Cuba and one of this year's J2 class that made his debut shortly after. At 23, Quintero is ancient for the DSL and whipped the league around over an injury-interrupted nine-game campaign that included a lost month of action. Depending on his VISA situation, I wouldn't be surprised to see Quintero in the mix for a Danville assignment to open 2018.

Jose Montilla, RHP - Montilla was the unquestioned ace of the roster after Noguera's promotion. Over 44 innings, he maintained a 3.07 ERA and started ten games. The Dominican right-hander finished the year with a start in the Gulf Coast League, where he tossed five scoreless innings. Not a bad turn of events for the Age-19 pitcher who was actually part of the previous J2 class after signing on June 1 of this year. His season might not be done as the GCL squad enters its last week.

Lisandro Santos, LHP - Though he never started a game, Santos flashed a big arm. He logged 30 innings out of the pen, which ranked him tenth on the team in total ING, but finished one strikeout short of the team high to Walner Polanco. Signed in August of 2016, Santos made his debut soon after with four scoreless appearances for the DSL squad last season. The lefty should be one of the few arms that comes stateside for next year's GCL squad. Santos could be a nice bullpen piece moving forward, though he'll have to firm up his control - as most DSL arms need to.

Quick Stats
18-53, 4th-worst in RS, 4th-most runs given up

RS - Negret, 31
H - Charles Reyes, 49
2B - Negret, 14
3B - Reyes & Eudis Lora, 2
HR - Antonio Sucre, 4
RBI - Reyes, 29
SB - Negret, 23
AVG - Negret, .264
OBP - Negret, .410
SLG - Negret, .391
ISO - Negret, .126
wOBA - Negret, .402
wRC+ - Negret, 140

(min. 30 ING for rate stats)
W - Six Tied, 2
G - Polanco, 22
GS - Luis De Jesus, 11
SV - Five Tied, 1
IP - Montilla, 44
BB - Javier Ciriaco - 34
BB% - Polanco, 18%
K - Polanco, 36
K% - Noguera, 25.2%
ERA - Noguera, 0.87
FIP - Filyer Sanchez, 2.96

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Random Prospect Sunday - Leudys Baez

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You take a chance on raw potential. Sometimes, it never develops and other times, only a portion of the potential is transferred into game talent. But on the off chance the player starts to figure it out and more of that raw potential begins to show up in games, you will be forever grateful you took a chance on that player. In 2012, the Washington Nationals took a chance on Leudys Baez. For whatever reason, they cut him without ever seeing him play a professional game and two years after joining the Nats, it was the Braves who took a shot on Baez. They have certainly gotten more out of him than Washington and might just have a rising prospect on their hands.

Born on June 26, 1996, in Sabana Grande de Palenque, Dominican Republic, Baez was a scrawny kid when the Nats originally added him. A switch-hitter, the Braves slotted Baez for outfield work and six months after signing Baez in December of 2014, the Braves assigned him to Danville to begin his professional career. He made his debut three days before his 19th birthday.

A quick performer, Baez got off to a big start for Danville that season. He got most of his playing time in left field where he shared time with Justin Ellison while hitting .311/.331/.473 over 155 PA. His four homeruns finished second to Austin Riley, who popped five after coming up from the GCL. Baez may have hit more, but he was promoted to Rome in early August. With Rome, his hyper-aggressive style got more in his way than it had with Danville. In 155 PA with the D-Braves, Baez had only walked three times. He did the same in 112 PA, but more of his batted balls were on the ground or popped up as he limped to a .206/.232/.318 finish.

Nevertheless, Baez had some prospect hype heading into the 2016 season. I gave him a #50 rank on my preseason list, which would have placed him as the twelfth best outfield prospect in the system. Slated for a return to Rome, Baez showed little improvement over his previous run through the South Atlantic League before a significant knee injury ended his season on August 2. He hit just .228/.298/.286. Lauded for the pop in his bat, Baez managed eight extra-base hits - including one homerun.

Baez was an afterthought as this year began for Rome. He was busy rehabbing and tweaking his swing. Re-assigned to Danville with another disappointing outfielder from 2016 in Isranel Wilson, Baez struggled through the first week, going 2-for-18 as he shook off the rust. He then hit his first homer of the year on July 1 and during 20 games with Danville that month, Baez would dominate with a .395/.471/.684 slash that included six doubles, two triples, four homeruns, and an unBaez-like 10 walks to 15 strikeouts. He would be named Danville Braves Player of the Month by the organization, which was the second honor they gave him in a matter of the days. The first was a promotion back to Rome.

Over his first 24 games with Rome, we aren't seeing the overmatched kid the last two years, but a matured hitter with a .296/.330/.500 slash as he holds his own in a prospect-laden outfield with Wilson and Cristian Pache. He's added five triples to help set a new personal high with seven total and by belting two more homeruns, he's up to six - also a new high. The strikeouts are still there and the walk rate has cut n half since coming back to Rome, but a .370 wOBA is nothing to sneeze at.

In a sign that player pages rarely get updated for simple biographical information, Baez is still listed at 160 pounds. Anyone who has watched him play will tell you he's closer to 200, if not more. He carries the weight well in his 6'0" frame. Athletically, he reminds me a bit of Jeff Francoeur. For all of his faults, Francoeur had some decent top-end speed, but it took him a little while to get up to speed. That's how watching Baez feels as he struggles to get his motor running into high gear. He makes up for this with good instincts and a tremendous arm. I witnessed one game this season before his promotion to Rome in which he got to a ball as it headed to the wall in the right field corner. Cutting the ball off, he did a 360 to gun the ball into the infield to start a relay at home to gun down the runner and preserve a one-run lead in the visitor's final inning. What made it even more impressive was how quickly he got the ball to the infield as Baez had no time to stop and throw. He simply got the ball, did his turn, threw an accurate and hard throw into the infield, and while the ball soared through the air, his momentum took him into foul territory. It was the best throw from outfield I've seen this year at the rookie level.

At the plate, Baez has worked to keep himself balanced throughout the entire swing. Like many of the Braves' youngest hitters, he has a big leg kick that allows him to explode forward with the bat. It's a level swing, which limits some of his pop, but he hits the ball hard. He's pull-happy at the plate and most of his extra base hits will go whichever way is his pull side for that at-bat as, again, he's a switch-hitter. Like many young switch-hitters, Baez has found more success facing right-hand pitching than he has with left-hand pitching.

He's made some strides with his patience at the plate, but is hyper aggressive and will swing a lot. How much that gets him into trouble moving forward will be something to watch. On the bases, he's not exceptionally quick as I previously discussed. This limits his stolen base numbers because "the jump" often decides things like that. That said, he is still a good baserunner who cuts the bag well and does a lot of the little things that help lead to an extra base being taken.

Baez is a toolsy outfielder. There's a lot here to like and at the same time, there are good reasons not to be overly excited. He could develop into a .280/.330/.475-type corner outfielder with good defensive metrics and baserunning. Or he might never get out of A-ball. The pitch recognition is very questionable and at 21 years-old now, the Braves can't block other outfield prospects to allow Baez more time to develop a more astute batting eye capable of dealing with the better breaking pitches and off-speed deliveries he'll see more of moving forward. That said, the tools are all there for a big climb up the prospect boards next season if he continues to progress.

For more on Baez, check out my scouting report which I published just before this.

More Random Prospects
August 20, 2017 - Corbin Clouse
July 16, 2017 - Brett Cumberland
June 25, 2017 - Chad Sobotka

Scouting Report - Leudys Baez

Player: Leudys Baez
Date of Scouting Report: 8/27/2017

Age: 21 in 2017
How acquired: International Free Agent in 2014
Salary: Minimum for his level
Years Before Free Agency: 6

Brief Bio:
Originally signed back in 2012 by the Nationals, but released less than a year later without playing, Baez made his professional debut in 2015 and hammered the Appalachian League for four homers over 33 games before earning a promotion to Rome, where he struggled to finish the year. More struggles followed in 2016 before a serious knee injury ended his season. Opened 2017 back in Danville with a big July, that included an OPS over 1.000. He was brought back to Rome and has held his own over his first month back in the South Atlantic League.

For more biographical information, click this Random Prospect Sunday profile.

Offensive Observations and Grades:
His tools make it easy to figure out why the Braves gave Baez a $400,000 bonus as an 18-year-old. Could be capable of big power numbers with tweaks to his batting stance, but currently, sports more of a line-drive, even swing that will keep his power muted to some extent. That said, previous tweaks have led to a more balanced batting stance in which he utilizes a big leg kick to push his weight back before exploding forward. Hits the ball extremely hard. Metrics don't yet exist in the low minors to register it, but likely rates highly in average exit velocity. Big pull numbers in the mid-to-high 40% range. Curiously, hits the ball the other way about twice as much as he hits it up the middle, suggesting that if you get him going the other way, it'll likely lead to an out.

Routinely has had a plus-50% groundball rate despite hitting the ball so hard - which gets back to his swing. Also pops up the ball far too often. The latter likely comes back to pitch recognition, which Baez has struggled at professionally. Walk rate over the previous three seasons - 2.2%, 7.7%, 7.7%. Compare that with these strikeout rates - 22.8%, 29.7%, 22.5%. In addition, when you watch him, you get the impression that he's simply not in the batter's box to earn walks. He wants to hit the ball and hit it as hard as possible. Not only will such a mentality lead to strikeouts and muted walk numbers, but a heavy reliance on BABIP. When it's good - as it has been unsustainably so this season - his numbers look tremendous. When it declines, so does his production.

To this point, Baez has flashed the typical splits for young switch-hitters who often hit right-handers better as a result of the frequency of seeing them. Against lefties, Baez has a three-season OPS run of .491, .444, 663. Compare that with his success against righties - .802, .612, .989. It's still a small sample size because he has yet to log a complete season at full-season ball, but I can't say I'm surprised by the data.

Baez lacks great quickness, though his top-end speed is good enough. He shows good instincts on the basepaths, though his inability to get a good jump on pitchers could keep him from having many double-digit steal seasons - if any. This season, he's only 2-of-6 in steals and it should be remembered that he missed significant time last year with a knee injury.

Grades from a 20-80 Scale...Hit (30), Power (30), Speed (45), Baserunning (50), Eye (25), Discipline (25)
Potential Grades...Hit (50), Power (45), Speed (45), Baserunning (55), Eye (30), Discipline (30)

Pitching Observations and Grades:

Defensive Observations and Grades:
Baez was originally signed by the Nationals as a shortstop, but has only played outfield with the Braves. While he's athletic, Baez lacks the kind of range needed to play center field. He flashes very good instincts, leading to smart routes on balls hit to the outfield, though Baez takes four-or-five steps to really get going to his top speed. Once he's going, though, he uses above-average speed and those great instincts to track balls well. He has a very strong arm and is accurate with it, which could keep him in right field moving forward.

Grades from a 20-80 Scale at LF/RF...Range (55), Arm (65), Arm Accuracy (55), Hands (60)

Future Projection:
Baez is a guy I called a light-switch prospect. At any point, the light switch could be flipped on and Baez could become a Top 20 organizational prospect. His pitch recognition limitations will likely keep him from climbing any further, but there is legit major league potential here. Could see him settling into a .275/.330/.475-type prime as a starter, but that's a best-case scenario - something that rarely turns into a reality for a 21-year-old kid at low-A ball who is right now the third-best outfield prospect on his team.

Hitting left-handed (2017)

Hitting right-handed (2015)

I want to know your opinion/scouting report. Add it below and if it prompts me to alter mine, I'll credit you.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Dansby Swanson 2.0

Dansby Swanson is having a rough first full year in the majors. The former number one overall pick shot up through the minors last year, some say prematurely, and had quite the impressive 6-week debut with Atlanta. Combine that solid performance on the field with an already aggressive marketing campaign featuring him off the field and the 23-year-old started the 2017 season with some lofty expectations.

Unfortunately for Dansby, those expectations proved to be a bit unrealistic as he struggled basically from day one this year. While there have been a few fleeting bright spots, overall, it’s been a disappointing season for the rookie SS and it reached its peak on July 27th when the Braves demoted Swanson back to AAA Gwinnett. 

These we’re his numbers at the time of his demotion:

As you can see, while it’s a rough thing to have to go through, a demotion was certainly warranted. Swanson had produced a -0.4 WAR up to the point in the season and for the season, had been one of the worst players in baseball.

But Dansby is a good kid with one of the best attitudes you’ll ever see on a young player and he took the demotion in stride. Said all the right things, went down to Gwinnett and got to work. And because baseball is baseball and weird things happen, Swanson was back in the show not even 2 weeks later. His replacement, Johan Camargo, was running out to take his position when he tripped over the first base line, hurting his knee and forcing a trip to the DL. Once again Swanson found himself in the position he started the season in, the starting SS in Atlanta.

And it doesn’t look like he has any interest in giving it up.

Here are his numbers since returning on August 9th:

The production numbers are great obviously but the BB and K numbers are what jump out to me. When I wrote about Dansby earlier this year I noted the big red flag in his profile was the amount he strikes out relative to how little power he produces. A 23% K rate with a sub .100 ISO isn’t a profile that’s going to work. Not for a player who can’t make up that difference in value with all worldly defense. Dansby is a solid defender at SS but he needs his bat to be a valuable player in the majors. And the 14% K rate/.152 ISO he’s run since being back up looks a lot more like the profile of a solid everyday player, if not more.

And these numbers aren’t just the result of some better luck. Dansby is visibly and measurably making better contact. When he was demoted his Avg Exit Velocity sat at 87 mph. Since he’s been back, that number is up to 91 mph. That's a significant jump. And dropping your K rate by over 10% while adding 4 mph to your EV is enough to get my attention. And it's not just how he's hitting the ball but where. Swasnon has found the center of the diamond again. Before he was sent down this was his spray heatmap:

And since he’s been back:

For someone who sees as many sliders on the outside corner or just off the plate as Swanson does, staying up the middle and not rolling over those pitchers is paramount to any type of success. Early on in his return, he's been much more likely to either lay off those pitches all together or hit them where they're pitched. And the results speak for themselves.

To be clear, this is 55 PA’s worth of data and 55 PA’s worth of data is in no way conclusive. He could go back to being the same mess he was before and we could be talking about a profile that doesn’t work again. But this is all we have to go on at the moment and there at least seems to be some improvements. And not just in the results but in underlying data as well. We’ll continue to monitor all of this obviously and see where he goes but so far, it’s encouraging. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A.J. Minter's Climb is Complete

We can thank J.B. Moss for this freak out.

Moss, a former Braves farmhand who was released earlier this season just a year after being selected in the seventh round, took to twitter last night to say this:

It did not take long for Braves fans to make a connection. Before he was drafted by the Braves, Moss was a big part - when healthy of the Texas A&M baseball program. In 2015, Moss played in 52 games for the #13th ranked Aggies. Also on that team, before he went down with injury, was A.J. Minter. He was dominant over four starts in what was supposed to be a big move to the rotation after 40 K's in 37.1 relief innings the previous two years.

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Shawna L. Keyes
That injury I spoke of? Of course, it's the Braves so you know what follows an injury to a pitcher - Tommy John surgery. It quickly eliminated of any hope of Minter being a first round selection, but the Braves were still very interested in the lefty. Brian Bridges, the Braves scouting director, was interested in Minter with the #28 pick before the injury. Ultimately, they grabbed Mike Soroka there. When their competitive balance draft choice, the #75th overall selection came around - a pick they gained by trading outfield prospect Victor Reyes to the Diamondbacks at the start of the season that year - the Braves could wait no longer. In addition to Soroka, they had selected prep stars Kolby Allard, Austin Riley, and Lucas Herbert. Now, they were getting the cherry on the top - Alex Jordan Minter.

The Braves knew Minter's 2015 was done. But while they figured their top selections would need plenty of time to mature and develop, Minter was seen as a guy who could shoot up the system once healthy. There was some internal debate whether he projected better as a starter or reliever. Much of that depended on a changeup that was fringy at best. Perhaps it wasn't a bad pitch, but when your heater and slider are that good (and they are), any average pitch will look that much worse. Less than two weeks after his selection, Minter signed for $814,300, or the assigned slot for the #75th pick.

There was a great deal of anticipation related to Minter's debut. The 2015 draft class was shaping up as the Braves' top class in years and that was before Minter had thrown a pitch. Atlanta refused to push the kid, though, and even though he made his debut on May 5 of last year with Rome and stayed healthy throughout the year, Minter would only pitch 31 times between that first game and the end of the season. He never had less than two days between games and threw over 20 pitches just seven times. Nevertheless, Minter flashed the potential that made Bridges want to spend a high-value first rounder on him before his injury. With Rome, he toyed with the South Atlantic hitters, allowing just two hits, a walk, and striking out six over 6.2 innings. After just a handful of games, he received his first promotion. It wouldn't be his last of the year.

With Carolina, Minter continued to show that he was too advanced for A-ball. Over eight games and 9.1 innings, he gave up just three hits and walked four. In the process, he struck out ten. With 13 games in the tank and 16 innings overall, Minter had not allowed an extra-base hit, walked just five batters, and struck out 16. He retired his Mudcats jersey and took his talents to Pearl, Mississippi. Finally, Minter was given at least a challenge. He gave up a double and a run in his second outing. On August 24, he had his worst outing of the year, surrendering four runs on two singles and two walks while failing to finish at least one inning of work for the first time all year. Those two outings were the only times all season he was scored upon. In 18 games with Mississippi, he gave up those five runs and walked six, but struck out 31. He went on a strikeout binge between July 9 and July 18. He faced 15 batters. Only one of them got a hit (that double I mentioned earlier). All 12 outs were recorded via the strikeout.

It was the kind of dominance that makes everyone sit up and notice you. As season previews were penned about the Braves 2017 bullpen, Minter was often mentioned as an x-factor. If he pitched well in camp and earned a promotion, he could have a big impact on this year's bullpen. However, that hope quickly turned to fear as Minter struggled with inflammation in his left arm. He was shut down after one pitching session and reported numbness in his fingers and hand. Braves fans, who have seen many of their favorite pitchers fall under the knife multiple times, feared the worse. However, the diagnosis of radial tunnel syndrome wasn't serious and while Minter wouldn't be in the mix for an opening day assignment with the team, once the inflammation went away, he could be back on the road to a possible debut.

He amped up his rehab and was ready for his first outing shortly after the Florida Fire Frogs inaugural season began. On April 11, Minter made his season debut with two strikeouts in a perfect inning. However, two days later, he hit the DL again with a groin strain. Some start, huh? Two months later, he returned for the Fire Frogs and tossed a perfect inning while striking out the side. Four days later, he made an appearance with Rome before returning to Florida for three more games. All told, he threw six innings in A-ball and allowed just one run on a solo shot by the Yankees fine second baseman prospect, Nick Solak. It was the first homerun Minter had given up in his career. He also struck out 10.

The next step was a three game-run with Mississippi. Over a week with the M-Braves, he added three more innings, the first two walks of the year, and three strikeouts. Finally, on July 5, he made his Triple-A debut. After an okay start, Minter ran into a four-game stretch where he gave up at least a run in each game - and six total earned runs. However, after a rough outing on July 23 (four runs, one earned, only two outs recorded), Minter did something for the first time. He pitched in a back-to-back. The next night, he retired all four batters he faced with a strikeout. In fact, since July 23, Minter has worked nine games with nine innings and nine strikeouts. The six walks in that time frame...is a bit much and uncharacteristic for Minter.

His last outing came on Monday. He threw a scoreless inning and worked around a single and a walk by striking out three batters. It was the first time he had struck-out-the-side in Triple-A.

What's the scouting report on Minter? Since college, Minter has worked with the Braves to try to clean up his delivery. It's a lot smoother now and he gets through the motion with much less wasted effort. He delivers out of a high 3/4's release point and when I have seen him struggle with his mechanics, his release point has been a bit of a tell. It drops a bit too much, which leads to not just less explosive pitches, but weaker control. While his delivery is a lot cleaner than it was in college, he's still a high-effort pitcher on the mound. This limits his ability to work beyond one frame at a time.

His heater has the great velocity you look for with consistent mid-to-upper 90's heat. He'll work around the plate and is not afraid to burn a fastball by a hitter up in the zone before nailing the outside corner with a low heater. It's not just his control with the fastball that impresses, but the movement. It has a bit of natural sink and run to it which makes it difficult to barrel up. It appears he has a cut fastball, but that might be changing speeds with his fastball because the movement on the two pitches isn't that dissimilar. What will pay the bills, though, is the slider. It has the nasty sweeping action you are looking for in a slider with good depth to it. It's a swing-and-miss pitch that lefties throw their bats at while righties swing over the top of it as it bears down on their ankles.

Minter is a quick worker on the mound and seemingly unfazed by whatever is happening at the moment. He goes after hitters without fear and the fastball/slider combo has high-leverage inning quality.

The biggest question with Minter is his health. This is unfair to some degree because he's young, had wonky mechanics at A&M, and got hurt. The Braves were extra careful with him as a result and the groin injury was just one of those things that happens. He could be healthy and excellent moving forward. But until he can show that, the concerns about his health will remain.

At worst, it's hard to see Minter fail to find a role in a major league bullpen - even if it's as only a left hand specialist. Lefties have managed just eleven hits against Minter in the minors and with his profile, it's difficult to see major league lefties having much more success than that. Will he reach his full potential that has often included the tag, "closer-in-waiting?" It's quite possible. With maturity, consistent mechanics, and more experience learning the art of pitching, Minter would have all the tools to be a high-leverage arm who could anchor a pen. As long as he's able to stay on the mound, it's all there for him. It's going to be fun to watch.

As an aside, the Braves sent Max Fried down. He'll likely join Gwinnett, though he could return to Mississippi. Fried struggled badly with his control in his new role as a reliever for the Braves. They got a look at him and he'll probably return sometime in September. simply wasn't able to find his curveball consistently, which led to some bad outings. A few starts in the minors might help him adjust once more.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Transaction Tuesday - Wisler, Demeritte, Mader, Custred

Lots of moves involving the top teams in the organization this week with just a few notable moves coming from the low minors. Most of them involve Rome, who continue to utilize some creative roster management to deal with tired arms. Trying something new this week with a super-sized spotlight bit on one of the players profiled.

*The moves covered in this edition of Transaction Tuesday cover August 15 to August 21. A number in parenthesis represents the player's ranking in the midseason WOW Top 50.

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Anthony Hewitt/Released via Wikipedia Commons
SPOTLIGHT - Recalled: Matt Wisler...Switching Matt Wisler to the bullpen full-time has long been advocated by some of the more sabermetrically-inclined Braves fans. A big reason for this was despite all his flaws, one thing Wisler has done well since coming to the majors is throw a plus-plus slider. He doesn't get ridiculous spin rate on the pitch, ranking just 85th over the last three years among pitchers who have thrown at least 500 sliders, but he controls it well. He doesn't have enough innings to qualify, but since 2015, Wisler's wSL/C of 0.71 would rank just outside the Top 30 in baseball.

The problem has been his other pitches - specifically his changeup and curveball. Neither translated well to the majors and subsequently, both have led to a lot of extra base knocks over the last three years. In fact, of the 24 times a hitter has put one of his changeups in play, nearly half have become hits. As a result, Wisler's numbers have steadily worsened as hitters adjusted to lay off his slider. This was particularly problematic as the game went on. While the pendulum almost always favors the hitter the more times he sees the same pitcher in a ball game, Wisler's numbers flatlined the longer he stayed in. The first time through the order, hitters had a 89 tOPS+, which is adjusted for a player's own split. By the second time, it jumped to 102 and then 111. Of particular concern was the ISO that increased from .171 to .191 to .220 by the third time through the order.

About a month ago, the Braves decided it was time to change course with their righty. While his splits don't look good regardless of the time through the order, the Braves saw a pitcher who was trying to establish his other pitches early in the game to be able to go to them later. It didn't help, though. His curve and changeup had little effect. When a pitcher can't spot or induce weak contact on more than one secondary pitch, the simple solution is to move him to the bullpen, which is what the Braves did. While Wisler had been used as a reliever in other outings this year to little success, the difference now was the Braves weren't just using him out of the pen as a fresh arm before he headed back to Gwinnett to be a starter. Now, he would be a reliever full-time.

With two outings in the book, we are seeing a few changes. Number one, he hasn't thrown a changeup. Considering his lack of any success with the pitch, that's a good thing. He's also using his four-seamer and curve as show-me pitches. These changes lead to a reliance on his sinker and slider, which is exactly the type of profile that could lead to Wisler sticking around for the long term. He dominated the Reds, needing just 36 pitches to retire 9-of-11 batters he faced during the weekend. Even more impressive than that game was the latter half of two outings in two days. There's something here and hopefully, the Braves let Wisler sink-or-swim over the rest of the season and there's reason to believe he'll swim.

Recalled and Demoted to Gwinnett: Micah Johnson...I liked the idea of Johnson off the bench, but he's only been used as a pinch hitter over four games spanning two callups. The Braves just don't seem anxious to give him much of a look right now.

Activated: Matt Kemp...The Braves brought back their DH to play LF, which significantly limits the time for their 1B/DH in Matt Adams. Oh, well. Kemp got off to a big start and much was made about his conditioning efforts, but nagging injuries sapped him of much of his offensive game before a trip to the DL. His defense, which is atrocious, continues to a problem for the team and wary of losing his bat late in games, the Braves seem uncomfortable with lifting him for a better glove. Kemp is owed a lot of money over the next two seasons and at this point, it seems like the Braves are saddled with him short of a big run. Well, at least he's not Hector Olivera, right?

Activated: Dan Winkler...Winkler made his return to the majors and retired the only batter he faced Monday while stranding a runner. It won't stand out on a box score, but the road back to the majors has been tough for Winkler. He was in the midst of a second rehab stint after the first one was exhausted with Winkler still needing more time coming back from a fractured elbow. He was shut down for several weeks before returning on August 6. Over his next five appearances, Winkler allowed five singles over five innings with five strikeouts. At least he was consistent. It was also significantly improved over the seven runs over five innings before being shut down. Winkler has a violent delivery, but legit stuff and very good control. If he's able to harness it over the next six or seven weeks, the Braves might have an interesting choice to make as I discussed last week in regards to bringing him back next season.

Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
Optioned: Rex Brothers...The Braves basically got the Rex Brothers Experience - though he was very unlucky (52% left-on-base percentage?). He struck out a bunch of batters, walked too many, and gave up too many homers. Basically, the same stuff he's done since his solid 2013 season. Now, a lot of that was sample-size driven and his 3.91 FIP/3.97 xFIP suggests his 7.63 ERA would have normalized over time, but I'm happy with this demotion as I feel the Braves are wasting too many spots on veterans with little hope of being brought back in 2018. Brothers will be arbitration-eligible this offseason, but it seems unlikely he'll be in the mix for a return. In the mean time, the Braves get some time to make a decision on Winkler. Win, win.

DL'd: Luke Jackson (right shoulder strain)...The Braves have done something the Rangers could not - get Jackson to throw strikes. However, it also seems it hurt his strikeout rate in the process with as it has plummeted to 16%. Overall, Jackson has looked much like a replacement-level arm than a hot prospect. In that, Jackson's case is similar to Chris Withrow. When the latter was acquired, he was hurt, but the scouting reports were that he had a tremendous, sometimes wild, arm and could be a high leverage reliever down the road. The Braves ultimately chose to non-tender Withrow this offseason after a forgetful season of a low strikeout rate and a 4.90 FIP. Jackson has been better - largely due to better control - but the results are still poor. Unlike Withrow, though, Jackson won't be arbitration-eligible and the nearly 26-year-old should return for 2018 if the Braves don't need his roster spot more.

DL'd: Danny Santana (left quad strain)...Santana has had a few good runs here-and-there, but overall, he's been just as bad as he was in 2015 and 2016. So, how did his 2014 slash of .319/.353/.472 happen? Part of it was that the league hadn't adjusted to him, but a much bigger part was a .405 BABIP. Santana has been worth -2.3 fWAR since his rookie season and should not be a guy taking up a roster spot when other younger and potentially more valuable guys are in the minors looking for their shot. What is disheartening about Santana's presence on the team is that Brian Snitker, the Braves manager, seems to have an affinity for the man. During a recent four-game series in Colorado, Santana started all four games. Some of that was due to the fact that Matt Adams was deemed unable to play left field in the expansive Coors Field outfield. But for three of those games, a much better option in Lane Adams was left on the bench. Much like when Emilio Bonifacio was on the roster, Snitker seems to have an undeserved love for Santana that leads to far too much playing time. As a result, it falls on John Coppolella to not enable such poor judgment by having Santana on the team.

Promoted from Mississippi: Luis Valenzuela...Acquired back in 2015 in the Jonny Gomes trade, Valenzuela only recently returned from the DL after a month on the shelf and wasn't lighting it up at Mississippi so this promotion wasn't that expected. When he was acquired, Valenzuela was hitting the cover off the ball, but over the last two seasons - much of which has been lost to injury - Valenzuela has not done all that much with the bat. A left-hand hitting infielder, Valenzuela is a good glove man, though his limited range keeps him from playing a competent shortstop. At the plate, Valenzuela has yet to see a pitch he didn't like, though with one more walk this season, he will match his career-best total set back in 2013. He walked 14 times that season. Valenzuela has a little pop, but overall, the numbers just aren't there.

Promoted from Florida: Sal Giardina...Old Sal's demotion to Florida was mentioned last week. What remains interesting about the demotion was Giardina never caught with Florida, something that may have more to do with their current catchers than Giardina himself. Not sure where he fits in with Gwinnett, who have Kade Scivicque and David Freitas behind the plate and an already crowded infield situation. Perhaps it's just where there was an open spot?

Activated: Josh Collmenter...He made his much-anticipated Gwinnett debut last week with a pair of solid starts. Like you could ever forget, but Collmenter joined the Braves last September and made three starts in the majors. He was good enough to earn a return via arbitration and as the rotation took shape, Collmenter was ticketed for the long relief role. He held the role until being designated for assignment in late May. He'll be a minor league free agent at the end of the year provided the Braves don't bring him back up for depth purposes next month.

DL'd: Emerson Landoni...DL, Activated, DL, activated, DL, activated, DL, activated, demotion, promotion, DL. That's been this season for Landoni, who has played just 33 games and hit a combined .181/.243/.181 with Gwinnett and Mississippi. He's been floating around professional baseball since 2006 and first joined the Braves back in 2012. Since then, his best single-season OPS is .728. I'm sure he keeps the clubhouse loose, though.

DL'd: David Peterson...A righty out of the College of Charleston, David Peterson has been an organizational favorite who has continued to stick around despite some mediocre numbers along the way. A 2012 pick, Peterson, leads Gwinnett with seven saves and this is the third season he's played with the Braves' top minor league team.

DL'd: Dustin Peterson (#20)...2017 will likely go down as a lost campaign for Peterson, which is very sad considering what he did last year. Peterson is still very young and won't turn 23 for another few weeks so he'll be back for next season. The hamate bone fracture from spring training has been slow to heal completely and last week, he was hit-by-a-pitch again. I'm not sure how bad it was, but he was immediately removed and placed on the DL soon after. Peterson has hit .255/.327/.328 this season, though he's hit left-handers with much better results (in significantly fewer PA, of course).

Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
Activated: Travis Demeritte (#12)...On the fortunate side, Demeritte only missed ten days on the DL. His return has seen the second baseman, who has struggled nearly all season, go 6-for-21 with a double, four walks, and five Ks. That actually continues a solid start to August that preceded his DL assignment as Demeritte is hitting .279/.380/.488 over 50 PA this month. That's a huge improvement over his June and July numbers in which he hit .165/.243/.312 with 60 Ks in 190 PA. The Braves would love nothing more than to see Demeritte finish strong, which makes their decision on whether or not they should protect him in the Rule 5 draft much easier. Nobody doubts the impressive combination of power and defense, but will he hit enough? I still believe he will, but it's been a very tough season, to say the least.

Activated: Michael Mader...The belief heading into this season was that the Braves had stolen Mader off the Marlins. Unfortunately, his results haven't supported that belief and his return after nearly a month on the DL didn't show any signs of that changing. He faced six batters and retired just one. The other five scored. He walked a pair, continuing a season-long issue with free passes in which his walk rate is double what it was last season. This looks like a potentially lost season for Mader, who will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft and could interest some teams out there as a lefty with projection.

Demoted from Mississippi: Andres Santiago...Santiago's first move this year was an assignment to Florida. His demotion last week was the 15th move of this season for the righty, who spent much of the spring on the Team Puerto Rico WBC team as an alternate. Santiago has been pitching professional ball since 2007 with little success mixed in. His value to the Braves is similar to Rudy's value to Notre Dame. The Braves can simply say that his "greatest value to is we don't care whether you get hurt."

Promoted from Danville: Matt Custred...Most of the following demotions/promotions are related to roster manipulation as Rome has thrown a lot of innings over the last couple of weeks. I mentioned last week when he was "demoted" that Custred has actually earned a promotion up the ladder. He continued to show why with three more scoreless innings this week and four strikeouts. That gives him a 1.04 ERA/2.47 FIP on the year with a 33% strikeout rate. Considering he's repeating Rome, it's really puzzling why he hasn't received a promotion to Florida when 27-year-old journeymen like Santiago are struggling in the FSL. With the season winding down, we might not see Custred in high-A until next year, though it also wouldn't surprise me much to see him jump to Double-A with a good spring.

Demoted to Danville and promoted back: Walter Borkovich...This wasn't the usual "demotion to give him a few days" as Rome manipulates the roster as The Bork made a triumphant return with Danville. Before that, he threw three innings on August 15th in one of Rome's marathon games last week (which also included a double header). While down with Danville, Borkovich made his first appearance for the D-Braves in nearly three weeks and worked around an error to strike out the side for his second APPY save. He returned two days later to Rome and surrendered a walk-off single with the run charged to Ryan Schlosser. Borkovich is a personal favorite in that the righty went undrafted out of Michigan State and all he's done since is post a 1.29 ERA over 21 innings with three walks and 23 strikeouts. To be fair, Borkovich is not a scout's dream. He doesn't really have a plus pitch, which is why he wasn't one of the 1200 or so players selected in June. But to this point, he hasn't let that hold him back. Perhaps a scout saw something no one else did. Whatever the case, Borkovich is clearing his first hurdle - showing he belongs.

Demoted to Danville and promoted back: Jon Kennedy...First, I believe that this Braves nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing an Australian man with a famous name in the majors. Jon Kennedy is one of my little prospect crushes. He has some talent, but maybe not enough to be a high leverage arm in the majors. That said, the youth lefty who impressed a member of Melbourne in the Australian Baseball League has been very successful over the last two seasons. 2016 was a season for him to get his feet wet. He pitched mostly with Rome with a four-game stop in Danville and even a one-game cameo in Carolina. This season, he has logged nearly 70 innings - almost exclusively out of the pen - for Rome. He won't blow you away with his strikeout numbers, but he has a Greg Maddux-like _FIVE_ walks on the year. Strangely, he has as many wild pitches as he does walks. He keeps the ball on the ground (57%) and has matched a 2.84 ERA with a 2.80 FIP/2.98 xFIP. Rome is flush with some very successful arms this year coming out of the bullpen and Kennedy might not be the most deserving of a promotion (that honor falls on Custred or Thomas Burrows), but as long as Kennedy is rolling, he's a guy that could get to the majors before the end of this decade at least in a specialist role - though that doesn't line up with his splits stats.

Promoted to Rome and demoted back: Landon Hughes...Called up for a fresh arm, Hughes made his Low-A debut last week and surrendered two runs, one earned over 1.1 innings. He was uncharacteristically wild, throwing just 22 strikes out of 39 pitches and walking three. Considering he walked just three over his previous nine appearances, ranging 12.2 ING, we'll chalk it up to first-time jitters and/or everything being new. He gave up two more runs three days later in his return to Danville as the Princeton Rays took advantage of Alan Crowley to swipe two bases in the ninth and score the tying and eventual winning runs. From my own personal experiences, I've seen both the Good Hughes and Not-So-Good Hughes. The latter nibbles and pitches himself into trouble. The former is confident and combines a good breaking ball with a lively fastball. In one game I watched, he was easily the most impressive Danville pitcher that I saw. The righty is tall and has some solid overall marks with Danville this season - 1.50 ERA over 18 innings, 5 walks, 22 Ks. A 7th rounder in June, Hughes could be a nice little relief prospect moving forward.

Demoted from Rome: Bladimir Matos...Another move made largely due to last week's crazy collection of games, including a 16-inning affair. Matos tossed four big innings that night, getting the game to the 15th inning with no runs allowed. He walked four so he wasn't super effective, but no runs scored and it allowed infielder Kurt Hoekstra the opportunity to throw two innings for the win after Rome scored six in the top of the 16th. Matos has appeared in 36 games with Rome this year and wildness have continued to plague him with a 12% walk rate. Even though he struck out just one in his four innings during his last game with Rome before this "demotion," Matos is riding the best K-rate of his career by striking out 27% of all batters. Matos is not a big prospect, but the righty is doing what he needs to do to stay in the Braves' good graces.

Demoted from Danville: Connor Johnstone...A 21st-rounder out of Wake Forest, Johnstone made three starts in Danville to open the season. There was no move announced, but after being removed on July 6 after just two frames, Johnstone was not heard of for the next month-and-a-half until he showed back up on the transaction page last week. It suggests an injury, but hard to tell as Johnstone doesn't have much of a social media presence that I know of. Johnstone was one of the ACC's best pitchers this year and even threw a Maddux (96-pitch) against Miami. He didn't have big strikeout numbers in college, but a cutter he added to his game this year was a big reason he went from un-draftable to the 21st round. Surprisingly, he got off to a good start with strikeouts as a professional, picking up 12 of them in 10 innings with Danville. He was also hurt by the gopher ball, surrendering two which helped to lead to six runs. He's yet to pitch for the GCL club.

Assigned: Jose Olague...The Braves made up for their signing bonus restrictions this J2 period by going the quantity route. Olague is an 18-year-old with nearly no information related to him. I can tell you that Olague comes from the Basque word "ola," which means "forge." Man, scraping the bottom of the barrel here. @FONZY541 suggested that Olague may be from Mexico after one bearing the same name was on the Naranjeros de Hermosillo roster as a 15-year-old a few years ago. Either way, Olague had a successful professional debut last week, tossing a pair of scoreless innings with two Ks against one of the Red Sox farm clubs.