|By Keith Allison [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr|
What a day to spend most of it out with the family at the annual Monacan Powwow here in central Virginia. We have two trades to digest – one far more interesting than other so let’s start there as the Braves agree to a one-for-one exchange with the Cardinals in which first baseman Matt Adams heads to Atlanta for minor leaguer Juan Yepez. Unknown cash considerations will also be part of the deal to help pay for the remainder of Adams’ $2.8M salary. The Braves also designated Anthony Recker for assignment.
Let’s talk about Yepez first. The 19-year-old was hitting .275/.309/.387 this year and was mostly playing third base this season after being stuck at first base for the majority of his first two seasons. Overall, Yepez has hit .281/.335/.407 in parts of three years, including notably worse numbers over 59 games with Rome.
I had Yepez ranked #27th in the system before spring training and he does have some good projection left in his bat. He was Frank Wren’s last big signing on the international market and if the power ever became legit, his hit tool would help Yepez climb up some prospect lists. But you can say that about any number of prospects. The bigger problem for Yepez is one, I, and I don’t think I am alone, was not convinced he had the chops to stay at third base. Once you take him off third base and put him at first, his prospect status is hurt. It’ll be interesting to see if Yepez continues at the hot corner after the trade, but even though I liked Yepez, his loss just doesn’t do much for me. Of course, if Yepez starts to perform up to his best-case projections, this deal won’t look so hot in five years.
Moving on to Adams, the Braves have acquired a stopgap first baseman who should be playing with a chip on his shoulder. Adams posted a combined 3.6 fWAR in his two seasons as an unquestioned major leaguer, but injuries and poor play have resulted in a 0.7 fWAR since the beginning of 2015. Things were so bad this season that Adams not only lost a timeshare ownership of first base – he became a backup as the Cardinals moved Matt Carpenter to first base. Early on, the Cardinals tried him out in left field, but he’s ventured into the outfield just once since April 10 and it happened to be the game in which he hit his only homer of the year against the Braves. Other than that, he’s been a pinch hitter who occasionally plays a little first base.
Overall, Adams has played 31 games this season and picked up 53 PA. With those trips to the plate, he’s hit .292/.340/.396. He carries a negative fWAR mainly because his time in left field has looked extra-strength terrible so far.
Let’s dive deeper into Adams. A left-handed hitter, Adams has a .332 career wOBA and 110 wRC+. Basically, that’s Jason Kipnis territory without the added bonus of being a very good second baseman. Adams displays plus-pop (.183 ISO) and while strikeouts can be expected (23.2%), it’s worth noting that since 2011, Adams ranks 94th of 395 players in strikeout percentage. Adams is not going to walk that frequently and will depend on a solid BABIP to keep his average and OBP in decent standing.
Don’t expect many groundballs off Adams bat. He ranks 50th since 2011 in GB/FB ratio. Similar to former Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche, Adams gets under the ball a good deal in order to drive it. Unlike many guys who have such a pronounced uppercut to their swing, Adams isn’t a hyper-pull hitter (actually, he’s just about average).
The comparison to LaRoche also continues into their hit profile. These numbers are since 2011.
This is the part of the article where I talk about splits data. The Cardinals, who again rarely started Adams this season, have been able to keep the first baseman from facing lefties as a result. Just three times this season has Adams faced a lefty – he’s 0-for-3, by the way. Let’s roll those three plate appearances into the last three seasons of his data and we see a sad result. Since the beginning of 2014, Adams has been owned by lefties. He’s managed just a .256 wOBA against them and a putrid 59 wRC+. Hence why the Cardinals realized pretty early that Adams was not meant to be a full-time starter.
Defensively, Adams ranges from adequate to above-average at first base over his career with a 15 career rPM and 12 total DRS to go with a 2.0 UZR/150. His range isn’t great and he’s a bit prone to lapses in judgment. Plus, he’s not one of those guys who starts a bunch of double plays (like Freddie Freeman). Basically, he’s not bad, but he’s never going to look like a Gold Glover.
The acquisition of Adams cost the Braves a potentially good prospect. Could it also bring in a good prospect should Atlanta choose to trade him before the July trading deadline? It’s doubtful. Another team will have to be as desperate as the Braves are right now because Adams is a flawed player. To use him properly, you need a right-handed option at first base which, by the way, Atlanta also lacks. But if Adams bashes a dozen or more homers during his run with the Braves, a team could be willing to give him a longer look.
Moving forward, Adams looks like the everyday starter at first base. There are a few issues related to this. #1, who goes down? It would appear that answer is Rio Ruiz just because he was only brought up because of Freeman’s injury. That might be a mistake – nearly as big of a mistake as Max Scherzer‘s pitch that Ruiz jumped on for his first career homer yesterday. Obviously, it’s premature to base much on one game, but Ruiz was scorching at Gwinnett and many of us felt he had earned an opportunity in the majors. Like Adams, he needs to be protected against lefthanders, but as the Braves search for offense to replace Freeman, having both Adams and Ruiz in the lineup against righties is a good move.
Obviously, this leads me to think Emilio Bonifacio or Danny Santana would be better players to kick off the team. Neither have options, but neither are long-term assets that the Braves need much of a look at. Atlanta could also demote a pitcher rather than carry eight for the bullpen.
That said, I do expect it to be Ruiz. Atlanta has had many opportunities to get rid of Bonifacio. Instead, he has played in 30-of-40 games. Brian Snitker loves what Bonifacio brings to the table.
Turning back to Adams, his time with the Braves could be short. Atlanta could decide to repackage him in a deal in July – theoretically, around the point Freeman is ready to return. The chances of that and how well the Braves might do in a trade would be dependent on Adams’ performance. Either way, it’s difficult to see Adams playing for the Braves beyond 2017. He’s arbitration-eligible for one more year and the Braves could bring him back, but he would be due a raise beyond his $2.8M and the Braves simply aren’t going to pay a backup first baseman that kind of cash – even if you can occasionally swing him into left field to answer the question of who was the better defensive left fielder, Evan Gattis or Adams?
Before I forget, in an unrelated move, the Braves acquired righty Enrique Burgos from the Diamondbacks for cash. Burgos had recently been designated for assignment by Arizona to open up a spot on their 40-man roster. He’s pitched often the last two seasons for the big league club (73 total games) and struggled with control and keeping the ball in yard. Burgos can strikeout a small village, but like many young arms the Braves take a chance on, he’s prone to losing the strike zone on the regular. This season, in 13 innings, he’s walked eleven. His walk rate has fluctuated between 11.5% and 22.7% during his career, but it’s typically in the 13%-15% range. That puts a lot of unneeded stress on a pitcher.
His control issues also present themselves in another way – because he can’t control the strike zone, when a pitch does flutter into the zone (typically in hitter’s counts), it leads to good contact. AZ Snake Pit put it this way when referring to his numbers in the majors the last two years, “If we look at the 214 relievers with 60+ innings in 2015-16, Burgos’s BABIP of .339 ranks ninth. And his LOB% (runners left on base) of 65.8% ranks 209th. Put another way, when batters put the ball in play against him, they were considerably more likely than usual to get on base. And when runners got on base, they were considerably more likely to come around and score, rather than be stranded. The former is partly on Burgos; his hard-hit rate was 34.3%, ranking him 21st, and those hard-hit balls are more likely to turn into hits.”
Burgos has a good fastball that averages 95.7 mph in the majors. He pairs that with a slider that is roughly 8 mph slower. If he can get ahead on the fastball, the slider has swing-and-miss properties.
If you are curious, Burgos has used his final option this season.
Whether or not Burgos joins Adams in the major leagues at some point is unknown. His numbers don’t warrant a call-up. Right now, he’s a project for the Braves to work with. A scout probably saw something that might be fixable. Hopefully, it is. Either way, you always take a chance on power arms when you can get them for cheap.