Saturday appears to be cut day for the Atlanta Braves. Last Saturday, the big takeaways were David Carpenter and Ryan Kelly being released from the organization. Today, a few releases and a number of players being optioned or reassigned. If you are unsure about the difference, if a player is on the 40-man roster, he must be optioned to the minors. Reassigned is the technical number for minor league free agents that are being sent to the minor league camp. Where they ultimately start the season will be decided later. All told, 14 players were cut from the major league camp and 49 players remain from the 70 that opened camp.
Kyle Kendrick – Many of us groaned when Kendrick’s signing was announced last New Year’s Eve. He was coming off an ugly season with the Rockies and had been average or worse during his entire career. Adding another sinker baller who gives up too many homeruns was not exactly awe-inspiring. Fortunately, Kendrick looked awful in two starts to open his camp run. Meanwhile, Jhoulys Chacin, who was signed shortly before Kendrick, has looked pretty good. Kendrick’s release doesn’t make Chacin a lock to make the roster, but it certainly helped his case.
Chris Volstad – Signed shortly after the 2015 season concluded for the Braves, Volstad was a long shot even before the additions of Kendrick and Chacin (let alone the other players acquired this offseason). He looked destined for a trip to AAA, but he pitched just as poorly as Kendrick. Actually, he was worse considering Kendrick was starting the games so he was facing more major league regulars. With so many pitchers in-house, Volstad pitched his way out of the organization.
Optioned to Gwinnett:
Danny Burawa – One of the ex-Yanks acquired by the organization after adding Gordon Blakely in October of 2014, Burawa appeared in a dozen games with the Braves (and one awful one with the Yankees) last season. He had decent control at the beginning of his career, but it has regressed since injuries wiped out nearly his entire 2012 season. He has flashed strikeout potential, though his numbers fell a bit last season. Already 27, his window is rapidly closing.
Daniel Castro – Unlike the three names I’ve gone over so far, Castro actually looked decent this spring, but the numbers were against him. He stole some time at second base last year against lefties to shield the struggling Jace Peterson, but offseason acquisitions made him an afterthought. He’ll remain in the “first person up” slot until better prospects overtake him for that, too. Castro’s best chance at getting back to the majors in the short-term future is an injury/trade of Erick Aybar. He’s fairly smooth in the field, but just doesn’t have the bat to stick.
Tyrell Jenkins – About the time Jenkins was optioned, he tweeted, “trust the process, embrace the struggle, and keep pushing!” Jenkins was a bit of an early camp name as he impressed the coaches with some mechanical adjustments. He only helped his stock in camp, but he started below a lot of names and just didn’t have the time to push his way up the depth chart. He pitched well last year and will have a shot to build on his success. If he can improve his K/BB numbers, he’ll be in the majors very soon. He won’t turn 24 until July.
Casey Kelly – Acquired in the Christian Bethancourt trade, Kelly has logged 40.1 innings in the majors since 2012 with little success. As recently as 2013, he was a perennial Top 100 prospect, but injuries and poor play have limited him to 196 innings since the end of 2011. Braves are taking a chance on Kelly and despite making his debut in 2012, this is only his second option year. What will be interesting to see as the Gwinnett season opens is if Kelly will be used as a starter or reliever. San Diego began to convert him to the latter last year.
Optioned to Mississippi:
Mauricio Cabrera – He’s been the “talk of the camp” in back-to-back springs with his triple-digit velocity, but the same old story remains. Can he throw his pitches for strikes? Five years into his minor league career, we have rarely seen him do that. This is only his Age-22 season and the Braves made the wise decision to shift him to the pen full time last year. As always, he’ll be fun to watch, but until the results begin to even come close to the potential, he’ll be stuck in neutral.
Chase d’Arnaud – When he signed around Thanksgiving, the chances of making the Braves were much better, but free agent signings since then have killed whatever hope d’Arnaud had of making this roster. He’ll now try to hang on at AAA and hope some bad luck for others gets him back to the majors, where he holds a career .225 wOBA in 175 PA with a -0.6 fWAR.
Chris Ellis – Considered a bit more polished that the higher ranked prospect he was acquired with in the Andrelton Simmons trade, Ellis looked solid in A+ ball last year, but fell apart after a midseason promotion to AA-Arkansas. While Ellis has a more polish in that he shows a decent idea on how to get the ball into the strikezone, he seems to struggle with keeping his mechanics straight on the mound along with just having a feel for the moment. If he is able do that, he could max out as a bottom-of-the-rotation arm or decent reliever.
Nate Freiman – A Rule 5 guy in 2013, Freiman showed a decent hit tool that season with little power. He followed that up by showing decent power, but no hit tool in ’14. Last year, he was stuck in AAA and continued to decline across the board. Freiman flashed some good power and on-base skills back in the day, but he’s an AAAA bat at this point and maybe not even that. With few players pushing for time at first base in AAA, Freiman looks like he’ll get some good playing time if he hits at all.
David Holmberg – He’s been in the majors each of the last three years and this is the progression of his FIP – 5.48, 7.57, 8.60. In his defense, that only comes out to 62 total innings, but that’s still damn awful. He’s been used as a starter primarily and could be in line for that at Gwinnett, though it wouldn’t surprise me to see him in AA for depth reasons.
Sean Newcomb – Often ranked as high as #2 in the Braves system, Newcomb has all the potential in the world to be a frontline starter. He could fail to reach that and still become a dynamite reliever. His velocity comes from a low-energy delivery which could bold well for his future. But he can’t depend on his heater as he advances and needs his secondary pitches to become better. How much advancement comes with those pitches will decide just how good Newcomb becomes.
Rio Ruiz – Other prospects had a better spring so far, but Ruiz showed off a confident swing and caught some eyes. That’s important for a player that took a step backwards in 2015 after his wOBA fell 50 points. Ruiz definitely has a fan in the organization in the form of Kiley McDaniel, who ranked him #43rd in his Top 100 heading into 2015, and has since taken a position with the Braves. Ruiz has the skillset to stay at third base and if his bat rounds into his form, he could develop into a Kyle Seager type who trades a little of the power for better walk rates. While much of the Third Baseman of the Future hype is attached to Austin Riley – and deservedly so – Ruiz is closer and can take the position if he turns the corner.
Madison Younginer – He was brought in for depth and has been pretty decent-to-average during his minor league career. He’s only throw 3.2 innings above AA so a decent run at AAA is needed for the 25 year-old first. He has very good sinking movement on his pitches and can be tough to elevate the ball against. If he can find success at AAA, he’ll be in the same camp as some of the guys who got bullpen looks for the Braves last year. If he gets a look, he’ll have to take advantage of it, though.