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.

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