Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Transaction Tuesday: Gohara, Touki, Alex Jackson, Slugbauer

It was an extra-busy week in big-time promotions for the Atlanta Braves organization this week. While the trading deadline was a bit of a letdown in terms of transactions, there's plenty here to cover and much of it is positive.

*The moves covered in this edition of Transaction Tuesday cover July 25 to July 31. A number in parenthesis represents the player's ranking in the midseason WOW Top 50.

Recalled: Lane Adams...Another go around in the bigs for the 27-year-old, who began this season with just three plate appearances in the majors back in 2014. Adams got into Monday's game and picked up a RBI single. It was his seventh pinch-hit of the season in 28 PA, which is two more than Danny Santana for the team-lead and gives Adams nearly a quarter of Atlanta's pinch-hits on the year. Adams isn't a great player by any means but seems suited well for the fourth outfielder role.

Recalled: Jason Hursh (#42)...This callup is likely going to resemble his previous several callups in that it will probably be short. Hursh has done decently with his 8.2 in the majors, but can't seem to get a long enough look to stick. With Lucas Sims joining the team today, Hursh likely will draw the short straw.

Recalled: Micah Johnson...Micah was killing it in Triple-A. Over eleven games, he hit a robust .378/.452/.568 with three doubles, two triples, and five walks. Naturally, the Braves brought him up to let him sit on the bench. He's now 0-for-3 - all pinch-hit appearances - with two strikeouts. While I understand that Johnson's not the biggest prospect by any means, it seems shortsighted to not roll the dice and see if he keeps hitting - especially when right-handers are on the mound.

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Disabled: Matt Kemp...On June 2, Matt Kemp went 3-for-5 to improve his batting line to .352/.387/.614. Since then, he's hit .227/.285/.337 while playing woeful defense. There are times that we flash back to the Kemp of old - the former MVP candidate and one of the game's best. Most of the time, though, the Braves have this version of Kemp. A guy who is trying to gut it out through a variety of leg ailments. Right now, it's his hamstring that's forced him to the DL. On the plus side, his balky knees will be given a rest for a change.

Promoted from Mississippi: Luiz Gohara (#8)...The southpaw from Brazil is making Jerry Dipoto look really dumb for giving up on him after a 1.81 ERA in 2016. Gohara opened the season with seven wonderful starts in Florida before a promotion up the ladder to Mississippi, where he was excellent with a 2.60 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 52 innings. His first start in Triple-A went poorly, but the fact that the Braves have taken a pitcher who Dipoto couldn't get rid of quick enough and now have him on the road to the major leagues is remarkable. Gohara struggled last week against Syracuse, but he'll have a month-plus to turn the corner once again and put his name on the shortlist for a spot on next year's roster.

Promoted from Mississippi: Phil Pfeifer...On one hand, Pfeifer was rolling with Mississippi. 68 strikeouts in 44.1 innings? Yes, please. The problem comes down to the walks - 33 of them. His ability to generate strikeouts helped to mask that, but that's still too many walks. It's worth mentioning that left-handed batters in the Southern League won't miss Pfeifer. They hit just .196 with two doubles against him. Pfeifer was a third rounder in 2015 who came over in last June's Bud Norris/Dian Toscano exchange. The talent is there for the former Vanderbilt Commodore. If the Braves can squeeze out just a bit more control out of him, Pfeifer could be part of a reworked bullpen for the Braves over the next year.

Promoted from Mississippi: Kade Scivicque (#43)...Scivicque hasn't exactly followed up a productive Arizona Fall League run with some impressive offensive numbers this season. At the time of his promotion, he was hitting .269/.319/.363 - basically, what he did in the 170 or so games he played in the minors before this season. Long-term, Scivicque maxes out as a backup whose career will be made or broken by his receiving skills behind the plate. They're not great, by the way, but reports suggest he has improved. More improvement might help him get to the majors.

Rehab: Jason Motte...I feel like Motte is pushing 40, but he only turned 35 a month ago. Motte started his rehab assignment this week with a good inning with Rome before joining with Gwinnett to complete his rehab. While Motte hasn't been bad this year (3.76 ERA), his peripherals stink (5.43 FIP/4.99 xFIP) and at this point, the Braves might be better off moving on from Motte rather than demote a younger arm to bring him back.

Recalled and Optioned from Atlanta: Aaron Blair...The problem with Aaron Blair is the results haven't really matched the expectations for three years now. The belief was that Blair had good stuff, a few plus-plus pitches, and would be a middle-of-the-rotation workhorse. He might be a workhorse, but one you don't want to ride for very long. It's bad enough that he stunk in a 15-start run with the Braves last year. This year, with Gwinnett, he's simply been pretty forgetful with a 4.86 ERA/4.73 FIP/5.02 xFIP. His one start in the majors last week was a train wreck. Blair seems maxed out as a Quad-A starter/major league spot starter. He's just 25, but it's hard to foresee much potential here.

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Optioned from Atlanta: Dansby Swanson...We can talk until we're blue in the face about the way the Braves handled this and whether or not Swanson should be in the minors, but once Brian Snitker started to use Johan Camargo as his regular shortstop, it was only appropriate to move Swanson to Gwinnett to get him plenty of playing time. That part, I'm happy about. Over the last few weeks, it appeared the struggles were finally getting to him. I'm not a body language expert, but Swanson looked miserable and seemed on a downward trend. While adversity can be good for young players, an OPS of .599 is a bit much to put on a guy in hopes that it builds character. Swanson heads to Triple-A, where he'll form a star-studded middle of the defense with Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna. He'll be back.

Optioned from Atlanta: Matt Wisler...Unfortunately, the Braves are not yet willing to try out the single-inning Wisler version I, and many others, have suggested. Soon after his demotion, he took the ball and had a Wisleresque start against Syracuse. He gave up four runs, walked a batter, and was dinged for eleven hits, but stuck around long enough to get the win.

Promoted from Florida: Alex Jackson (#11)...Much like Austin Riley's promotion a few weeks ago, I didn't quite understand his one. Jackson got off to a great start, but since returning from a month on the DL on June 19, Jackson slashed .231/.296/.394 for Florida with 29 strikeouts in 115 PA. But with Brett Cumberland now in Florida and Scivicque heading up to Gwinnett, there was more time available at catcher in Mississippi. Jackson's 0-for-8 so far since the promotion with four strikeouts, but also four walks. On the year, he's slashing .264/.333/.487 with some iffy numbers behind the plate.

Promoted from Rome to Florida and promoted again: Andres Santiago...Every week, it seems Santiago is on the move. He's appeared for all four Braves' minor league teams above rookie ball and basically goes where there might be a need. Right now, that's the Mississippi rotation.

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Promoted from Florida: Touki Toussaint (#14)...Recently, I wrote about how Toussaint was turning the corner. The next start after the article, Toussaint struck out eight over five innings to lower his ERA in the Florida State League to 5.04. It would have gone even lower, but the Braves saw his incredible success of late and rewarded the young right-hander with his first promotion above A-ball. A few days later, he threw a double-header-shortened complete game against Mobile in his debut. It was in a losing effort as two unearned runs followed an Austin Riley error, but it was still a big game for Touki, who's in the midst of a resurgence up the prospect rankings. For the first time since the Braves acquired him, he fell outside my Top 10 in the midseason ranks. Something tells me that will change by the end-of-the-season.

Promoted to Gwinnett, Demoted to Mississippi: Junior Rincon...In just one month, Rincon has spent time with three Braves' teams, though he has yet to play for Gwinnett. Amazingly, despite plenty of movement, he's only pitched four times. He got into his first game in a week yesterday for Mississippi and threw three scoreless innings out of the Mississippi bullpen with four K's in the second game of a double header. Like Santiago, he's just an arm.

Demoted from Gwinnett: Joseph Odom...Briefly, Odom looked like he would get a shot to play regularly in Gwinnett, but he was exchanged for Scivicque after Odom started three games for the G-Braves. He heads back to Mississippi, where his bat has been on fire when he's been healthy enough to play. Through eight games and 22 AB, Odom is hitting a cool .500 with two doubles. Odom's not one of the best catching prospects in the organization, but he's also not a guy to ignore after slashing .278/.327/.431 between Carolina and Mississippi last year.

Promoted from Danville: Raymar Navarro...At 26 years-old, Navarro was way too old to be pitching for Danville. The Cuban-born right-hander wasn't great with the D-Braves, though. Nor was he that noteworthy in a six-game run with Rome to open the season. Nor is a promotion to High-A all that impressive considering the 67 innings he threw for Carolina last year. But the Braves need to see something out of Navarro and maybe a new challenge will help. His first two games since joining the Fire Frogs haven't been terrible, nor good.

Promoted from Florida to Gwinnett and Demoted: Kevin Matthews...The former Rangers first-rounder was surprisingly promoted to Gwinnett last week, but it was merely for a spot start. That's a bit surprising on its own because of the five games he had appeared in with Rome, all had been out of the pen. Still, Matthews tossed four competent innings in a losing effort for Gwinnett before being demoted to Florida, which is also a promotion over returning to Rome. For a guy who never appeared in High-A ball or better with Texas, it's notable that he's done both for Atlanta in such a short time. His first game in Florida was miserable, though. He was charged with a half-dozen runs in one inning. He'll try to get back on the positive side of things this week.

Activated: Chase Johnson-Mullins...Another reliever in the long-line of small college draftees the Braves have hoarded over the years, CJM is essentially repeating High-A and showing a bit of progression in the process (K% up 3%, BB% down 4%). CJM's a guy who is very difficult to elevate the ball against, but that can be a problem in the minors with less-than-pristine infield surfaces and defensive alignments that sometimes are detrimental to pitchers. Nevertheless, the left-hander has decent control with some swing-and-miss stuff and could be another guy to keep in mind as the Braves try to develop a power bullpen.

Demoted from Mississippi: Stephen Gaylor...I'll be honest. Getting kind of tired of writing about Gaylor. The dude is on the move every week and is only in Florida because that's where there is a roster spot. Seriously, if there were no spots at any other team, I fully expect him to head to the Dominican Republic. He's an organizational guy who plays pretty decent outfield defense and gets on base at an okay clip. Moving on.

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Demoted from Mississippi: Sal Giardina...Maybe it's his name or his 80-grade mustache, but I keep thinking Giardina is 43 years-old, which would age him up about 20 years. Like Gaylor, Giardina goes where there is an available spot on the roster. With Jackson heading up to Mississippi with Odom, there was no available time in Double-A so he heads to Florida. At this point, the Fire Frogs are becoming the home of misfit toys.

Promoted from Danville: Leudys Baez...The potential has always been there for Baez, who flashes an all-around game that should make him a fixture in prospect rankings. The ball has been known to jump off his bat and while not particularly fast, he's quick and has good instincts. He's also a switch-hitter, which isn't surprising since the Braves are stockpiling switch-hitters. The problem for Baez has been taking this great collection of gifted skills and turning them into results. Over the last two years, he has been hapless in Rome - so much so that he failed to make the Rome roster coming out of spring training and returned to Danville. He obliterated the APPY over 25 games to earn another shot at Low-A and went 3 for-4 with two doubles and a triple in his return to the Rome roster. At 21, Baez's time to get going in his career is right now. More games like Monday will help him get there.

Promoted from Danville: Drew Lugbauer (#44)...This wasn't too much of a surprise. Lugbauer - or Slugbauer - had proven that his power was too much for the Appalachian League, homering ten times in 29 games. His average fell to .243 after a 0-for-9 run against Johnson City right before the promotion, but he took plenty of walks and continued to show that his bat won't be the problem when it comes to Lugbauer. It's his position. At Danville, he started nine games at catcher, nine games at third, and five games at first. He's not particularly gifted at any of these positions but seems capable enough to at least play a bit at each. Whether or not he'll have a long-term position - especially behind the plate - is questionable. But the Braves have some time to figure that out. He opened his Low-A career at first base Monday night and, like Baez, was instrumental in Rome's 5-3 win over Augusta with a pair of doubles. The duo joins Isranel Wilson, who also opened the year in Danville before a promotion up the ladder.

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Promoted from GCL: Jean Carlos Encarnacion...Just 19 years-old, Encarnacion was surging with the GCL Braves to open the year. Signed at the tail-end of the 2015-16 class, Encarnacion didn't open many eyes during a 37-game run in the Dominican Summer League last year, but through 26 games to begin this year, Encarnacion was hitting .350/.374/.563 in Florida. Unsurprisingly, with some time opening up in Danville with Lugbauer joining Rome, Encarnacion was brought north for a new challenge. Encarnacion split time between shortstop and third base last year but has played the corner infield spots this season. He's got the frame and potential power to match such a positional assignment. For me, Encarnacion was one of the guys who just missed my Midseason Top 50. My expectation is that he'll join the list the next time I do it.

Assigned: Huascar Ynoa...I wrote a pretty big scouting report on Ynoa prior to him making his Danville debut and felt he had a good deal of upside. His debut did little to change that thought. He regularly hit 97 mph with a good slurve, along with a great feel for his changeup, in a four-inning start. He gave up three hits and a run, walked two, and struck out six. While people immediately talked down the pickup because of a 5.26 ERA (because that's all that matters), I think the upside Ynoa has and with how well the Braves develop arms, Ynoa could be a heck of a find.

Demoted from Rome: Austin Bush...A fairly intimidating figure in the box, Bush stands 6'6" and 220 pounds. Suffice it to say, he's meant to play first base. The problem is as worrisome as his physical stature might be to opposing pitchers, they didn't have much trouble getting him out in the SALLY. He hit just .216/.292/.333 over 31 games with a pair of homers. Those numbers are even worse when you take away his first five games (an 8-for-19 start with two doubles and a homer). Bush was a 15th rounder of UC-Santa Barbara who bashed 20 homers as a junior. He also struck out a ton - which he did with Rome as well. If you're getting the power numbers, that's not all that concerning. When you're not...it gets ugly. He did skip by rookie level so maybe a more conservative assignment will get him going.

Demoted from Rome: Alan Crowley...A 26th rounder last year, Crowley opened the season with Danville but was quickly needed in Rome. In backup action, he didn't impress much with a 5-for-27 line. He'll be a backup in Danville as well and is position-limited right now. He did hit .327 last year, though oddly only one of his 17 hits went for extra bases and that one EBH was a homer. He didn't hit for any power in junior college either so I imagine it was his glove that interested the Braves. Honestly, there's just not much to write about a guy who seems destined to be a backup catcher in the minors.

Rehab from Gwinnett: Mauricio Cabrera...It's been a miserable season for Cabrera, but maybe a quick breather on the DL will get him going. Cabrera was originally placed on the DL at the end of spring training after he was diagnosed with a strained right elbow. Expected to miss just a few weeks, he started a rehab assignment with Florida in late April and joined Gwinnett a week later. His control never came to Georgia, though. He'd later be optioned to Gwinnett rather than simply play there on a rehab assignment and overall, Cabrera walked 25 batters and hit four others in 26.1 ING before being placed on the DL a week ago. A potential closer option before the season, Cabrera's control (which looked so much better once he got to the majors) had worsened to the point where he's a danger to the hitters stepping in. Cabrera's right arm has always been worth millions in potential salary, but his inability to spot pitches has kept him a longshot to be an impact major leaguer. We saw him potentially change that last year over 38.1 ING, but until he's able to do it again, don't count on him being an x-factor for the Braves' pen.

Rehab from Mississippi: Matt Withrow (#45)...Withrow got off to a wonderful start with a 2.08 ERA in April. As good as he was in April, he was just as bad in May before landing on the DL. He'll try to get back on track after a run in the GCL on a rehab assignment. His appearance was a two-inning stint with two strikeouts and no baserunners allowed - good start. Withrow finished fifth last year for most strikeouts in the system and just ahead Toussaint while pitching for Carolina. He walked a few too many hitters but flashed a plus-fastball with good sink and a slider that might push him into a bullpen role as he gets closer to the majors.

Demoted from Mississippi: Guillermo Zuniga...We come to an end of our Zuniga saga. Back on July 4, Zuniga was surprisingly promoted to Mississippi after just one start in the GCL. Two days later, he was placed on the DL. Outfield Fly Rule's Chris Jervis rightly figured out why this strange move happened. The Braves ran out of roster space in the GCL to house players on the DL. They had more room with Mississippi so while Zuniga nursed his injury, he was a "member" of the Mississippi roster. Now healthy enough to pitch, the 18-year-old righty returned to the GCL and started last weekend. All this roster manipulation aside, Zuniga is an interesting pitcher who could jump onto some prospect lists over the next couple of years.

Nothing to report.

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