Transaction Tuesday: Ventura, Winkler, Wright, Ramos

Transaction Tuesday: Ventura, Winkler, Wright, Ramos

What a busy, busy week for the Braves. Some of the moves, we reported on as they happened, but many more occurred as the Braves brought back a guy from the Mexican League, demoted a few underperforming pitchers, and continued to aggressively push rookie league players up a level.

*The moves covered in this edition of Transaction Tuesday cover August 1 to August 7. A number in parenthesis represents the player’s ranking in the midseason WOW Top 50.

We’ve reported on a number of these moves already so I won’t go too far into them anymore. To read about Ozzie Albies‘ arrival in the bigs, you can click here and here. The latter link has information also on Lucas Sims, who came up with Albies last Tuesday. We also addressed the callup of Max Fried and the trade of Sean Rodriguez this week. Surprisingly, the week after the trading deadline was much more interesting than the week before.

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Recalled: Jace Peterson…Peterson’s Triple-A numbers took a nose dive over the recent few weeks, but he’s probably happy to be back in the majors anyway. He’s been bad this season with Atlanta – there’s no doubting that. His BABIP is 30 points below where it should be and an 11% line-drive rate is criminally low. Whiffing on 11.5% of his swings aren’t helping, either. It’s tough being a bench guy in the majors – especially when you aren’t used to it. Hard to play yourself out of a slump when you may only get five plate appearances in a week. Peterson might become Super 2 arbitration-eligible this season, which would make the Braves even less likely to bring him back in 2018 without a strong finish. He has added two pinch hits since being brought back, making him 3-for-3 in his last three pinch hit appearances counting the homer he hit before being sent down in mid-July.

Activated: Jason Motte…At some point, the Braves need to move on from Motte. I assume they are hoping he’ll attract enough trade attention with a 3.81 ERA in 33 games and his veteran presence, but Motte’s peripherals are not solid beyond his typical good control. While the 35-year-old (who the Rockies are paying nearly $5M to not pitch for them) takes up space on the major league roster, younger arms who could be in the mix for the 2018 roster are losing out.

Traded to Reds: Randy Ventura (#34)…When this trade was announced, many were quite upset about it. Like me in high school, they struggled to let a crush just slip away and not obsess over it. To be sure, Ventura is a prospect. He came on the scene back in 2017 when he hit .329/.421/.394 with 55 steals in 58 games. But that was in the DSL, which is notorious for making stars out of average players who crash-and-burn when brought stateside. Ventura hit .284 last year with a good OBP of .358 but stole just 15 bases. He’s almost doubled that total this year with a .294 average before the trade but has also struck out a lot. And after a great start, he has tapered off considerably. Since May 15, Ventura had a .273/.317/.309 clip with 59 Ks in 267 PA (22%), which is not a good profile for a player with his tools. On the plus side, he’s still very young (just turned 20) and the 29 steals along with the ability to play a decent center field have value. My thing, though, is the $1.25M the Braves received in international signing bonus space the Braves added is well worth what amounts to the seventh or eighth best outfield prospect in the system when it comes to raw potential. As Bennett Hipp tweeted, “This fan base is going to implode when actual good prospects are traded.” Ventura was a nice prospect who demanded at-bats, but did he have a higher ceiling than those who he was blocking? Debateable, but I lean toward no.

Optioned: Jason Hursh (#42)…Starting with his cut from spring camp, Hursh has been optioned six times this year. His numbers aren’t that great and considering the Braves’ refusal to give him a longer look, Hursh is a prime candidate to be designated for assignment this winter to open up a spot on the 40-man roster. It’s unfortunate because Hursh has improved notably over the 2015-16 version that looked like a wasted top pick, but Atlanta doesn’t appear to have that much faith in Hursh.

Optioned: Micah Johnson…I understand why Johnson was optioned. Just not so sure I agree with it. He got three pinch-hit appearances while up with the Braves, who are making the conscious choice that Danny Santana is a better fit than Johnson. It makes sense. Santana plays more positions and is a switch-hitter. I don’t have to like it even if it makes sense.

Optioned: Akeel Morris (#29)…Again, I get why Morris got the boot back to the minors – he had options and others didn’t. I just disagree that sending Morris to Gwinnett is best for the Braves. I don’t know if Morris will be in the long-term picture for the Braves, but I wouldn’t mind finding out. The guy struck out 28% of opposing hitters in the majors. To me, that buys some time. Sure, his xFIP was really high and he allowed an insane amount of fly balls, but I’d like to see if those numbers normalize with more time. At the end of the day, this year’s Braves aren’t going to the playoffs. We know that. With Sims and Fried in the majors, seems like a good time to also have some of these more borderline Top 30 prospects up trying to help their cause for the 2018 roster.

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DL’d: Ian Krol…Ah, that tricky oblique strain. It landed Bartolo Colon on the DL in June and shut down Arodys Vizcaino last July. Odd that all three were struggling at the time. Krol has been just abysmal this season – a year after looking like a potential building block for the Braves. I’d like to say it was the increased cutter usage, but it’s simply bad pitching. You can’t go from pitching in the zone 47% of the time to 40% and not suffer as a result. Depending on how long he needs to recover from his oblique strain, Krol, who is arbitration-eligible, may have thrown his final pitch for the Braves.

Signed and assigned to Gwinnett: Manny Barreda…Three days before Christmas back last winter, the Braves signed Barreda. He earned a mention in one of my offseason articles on minor league signings (the same one with Lane Adams). Another former Yankees arm, Barreda has also pitched in the Brewers organization and spent most of the last two years with Tijuana in the Mexican League on loan from first Milwaukee and now Atlanta. His debut with Gwinnett last week was his Triple-A debut and he struggled with his control, which is a recurring problem. When he’s on, Barreda can be very good. Example: he threw a no-hitter last winter for Los Mochis. But he’s not frequently on and that’s why, in his eleventh season, he’s finally made it to Triple-A. He works off a low 90’s fastball with some breaking stuff that often decides just what kind of game it will be for him.

Activated: Kyle Kubitza…It’s been a trying season for Kubitza, who was awful through two months of action but did hit .297/.394/.429 over the final 30 games before landing on the DL. No longer a prospect, Kubitza cycles between the corner infield and outfield positions along with some time at DH.

Rehab: Dan Winkler…Rehab 2.0. Winkler memorably (sadly) fractured his elbow last April after looking like he might be a surprise pitcher out of the pen for the Braves. He finally got back to action in mid-June, but his pitches lacked the Winkler stuff and movement that made the Braves spend a Rule 5 pick all the way back in 2014 on him. The Braves asked and were granted permission for an extended rehab stint and shut Winkler down for a month before he returned on Sunday and threw a two-strikeout inning out of the pen for Gwinnett. Winkler’s one of those guys that the Braves would love to get a look at over the final handful of weeks to see if they want to keep him. He still has over a month-and-a-half left to satisfy his Rule 5 obligations. Interestingly, he’s probably going to be arbitration-eligible because of all of the time spent on the major league DL accruing service time.

DL’d: Rhiner Cruz…A Rule 5 pick by the Astros back in 2012, Cruz got into 72 games with Houston over two seasons before being cut two years later so that he could make some real money in Japan. He then spent last year in the Mexican League before signing with the Braves this offseason. The righty with great velocity has been a solid arm out of the Gwinnett pen this year with 54 K’s in 43 innings and pretty decent control to go with it.

DL’d: Caleb Dirks (#40)…Coming into 2017, Dirks had spent all of nine days on the DL. This is now his second trip to the DL and he missed nearly a month before. A lot of us that follow the Braves’ minor league system had high hopes that Dirks might spend time in the big league pen, but his numbers haven’t been nearly as dominant (4.23 FIP/3.85 xFIP) as we’ve grown to expect from the young righty. In four games since returning from the DL, Dirks gave up ten hits, six earned runs, walked one, struck out three, and surrendered three homers in five innings. This from a guy who gave up three homers in 61 innings all of last year. Hopefully, this trip to the DL helps.

Assigned: Connor Joe…I mentioned the Sean Rodriguez trade already. Just wanted to point out where Joe landed after the trade. He’ll probably make his Mississippi debut today as the M-Braves play a double header.

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Promoted from Florida: Josh Graham…ERA for a reliever can be incredibly misleading. Just ask Graham. His ERA with Florida was sitting at 4.69. This was mainly a product of two awful outings back-to-back in late May and another stinker on July 16. He gave up five to the Palm Beach Cardinals before Clearwater lit him up for a quartet of runs six days later. A month-and-a-half later, he gave up five more in one outing. That’s 14 ER in 3.2 ING. Take those three out and his ERA over the other 28 outings? A 2.23 ERA in 44.2 ING. That’s more fitting for a guy with a 27% K-rate, 9% walk rate, and no home runs given up while he maintains a 54% groundball rate. That all comes out to a 2.32 FIP/2.97 xFIP. Now, you can’t completely take those three games away – they happened after all – but they help add context to the fact that Graham deserved this promotion. The former 2015 fourth rounder struck out two in his Double-A debut last week.

Activated: Luis Valenzuela…Acquired for the since-retired Jonny Gomes, Valenzuela has spent much of his time with the organization on the DL. He was hitting the ball extremely well when he was acquired but has an OPS in the two seasons after the trade of around .670. He can play up the middle along with sliding over to third base, but unless the bat again starts to show, Valenzuela is just a guy in the system.

Demoted from Gwinnett: Mauricio Cabrera…Things just keep going from bad to worse for Cabrera. After missing some action, Cabrera was demoted to Mississippi and walked three in his first outing there. His second outing didn’t go much better, but he did throw a perfect frame on Saturday. It was his first perfect inning in over a month. Out of options, Cabrera will need a strong August to avoid potentially being designated for assignment this offseason.

DL’d: Michael Mader…After not appearing since June 23, Mader finally landed on the DL this week. It’s been a year since the Braves acquired Mader from the Marlins and in 34 games (six starts) since, he has 76 K’s in 86.2 innings and quite a few walks as well. Rule 5-eligible after the season, the Braves will have an interesting choice to make with Mader. With his fastball/curve mix, Mader could make for a decent lefty reliever if he develops just right. But Mader hasn’t really opened any eyes and his walk rate has doubled since last season along with a declining groundball rate. It makes me think Mader will be left unprotected where a team might bite on the prospect of using Mader as a LOOGY.

Promoted from GCL: Kyle Wright (#3)…How far the Braves push Wright this season remains to be seen. After three starts in the GCL, Wright arrived in Florida last week and made a pair of starts there. His debut went perfect and he allowed no baserunners over two innings. His next game out didn’t go quite as well, but he still allowed just a single and walked one. Both times, he was limited to two innings or less than 30 pitches. After 103.1 high-profile innings with Vanderbilt, chances are Wright won’t throw much more than a few dozen innings – if that. Regardless, every time out, he has the focus of Braves Country as fans wonder just how close Wright is to putting his hat in the ring for a spot in Atlanta.

Demoted from Mississippi: Junior Rincon…Another week, another transaction for Rincon. He’s been in the organization for just a month, but he’s quickly become one of the always-on-the-move pitchers who fills in wherever he’s needed. Rincon, who has also pitched in the Marlins and Brewers’ organizations, carries a 4.63 ERA over 11.2 innings into this week, but on the plus side, he’s K’d 17.

Demoted from Mississippi: Matt Withrow (#45)…At first, this was a “rehab assignment,” but the next day, there were reports Withrow had been assigned. One of those designations could be a typo or it could have something to do with a less-than-thrilling rehab appearance with the Fire Frogs. In a 2.1 inning appearance out of the pen, Withrow allowed five baserunners. He limited the damage to just one run, but retiring seven and putting five guys on won’t amaze anyone. Withrow had a bipolar-like beginning to the year before hitting the DL. First five starts: 2.08 ERA. Next five starts: 7.25 ERA. He threw fewer strikes and what strikes he did throw were sent sailing to the outfield and beyond. Withrow is a talented pitcher with an inconsistent feel for the strike zone. Perhaps he’ll find it in Florida.

DL’d: Joe Rogers…A fifth rounder by the Tigers all the way back in 2012, Rogers hasn’t been good since ’15. At 26 years-old with a 6.29 ERA between Rome, Florida, and Mississippi, it’s a surprise he still has a job.

Released: Andrew Daniel…This is the progression of Daniel’s OPS from 2014 to now: .917, .752, .686, .597. Now, I’m not brilliant by any means, but that seems bad. Signed to give Mississippi some depth, Daniel washed out there before a recent demotion to Florida, where he continued to struggle. An 11th rounder by the Angels back in ’14, Daniel might have to try his luck in independent baseball or dive into a new trade.

Promoted from Danville: Walter Borkovich…Good to see the Borkovich continuing to develop. An undrafted free agent out of Michigan State, Borkovich tossed nine quality innings for Danville – which followed four quality innings in the GCL – before getting promoted to single-A. In his first game with Rome, he nailed down a save, though he did give up four hits in two innings. Obviously, when players don’t get drafted despite playing high-quality conference ball, there wasn’t a lot of interest in them. Nevertheless, Borkovich seems primed to do well in the lower minors because he matches pitchability with a fearless attitude. It’s the more competitive upper levels of the minors where I wonder if Borkovich will continue to be successful. Well, until then.

Promoted from Danville: Taylor Hyssong…An 8th rounder last year, Hyssong has been at Danville now for 20 total games between two seasons with nothing really standing out about his numbers. Drafted more to save money (signed for $10K, $174,400 less than the suggested slot), I wrote this about Hyssong at the time. “Nothing really stands out in his numbers.” That remains the case.

Promoted from Danville: Bradley Keller…A 15th rounder back in 2015, Keller has been slow to develop. Keller was a callback to the old Braves’ way of drafting toolsy players and trying to teach them how to play. He struggled through a 2015 introduction to pro ball in the Gulf Coast League and looked completely lost last year as he struck out 122 times in 318 PA between the GCL and Danville. However, this season, things have started to click. Keller hit .306/.360/.597 over 33 games with the D-Braves. That includes an 11-game run before his promotion in which Keller hit .400 with six doubles, two triples, and three home runs. He added his seventh homer of the year in his first game with Rome. Keller still strikes out a good amount, but he’s starting to hit the ball with much more authority. Could still turn into an interesting enough prospect and with Ventura traded, there are more at-bats for guys like Keller.

Promoted from GCL: Jeffrey Ramos…Very few people took note of Ramos heading into this season. One of the lesser-known names coming out of last year’s mega J2 class, Ramos was also one of the few to immediately get into game action. It may have been too much for the 17-year-old as he hit just .230/.283/.333 over 33 games in the DSL. This season, he joined many of the other J2 class members from last year in the GCL and outshined most of them – and a good portion of the league. Over 30 games, he hit .325/.374/.556 with 14 extra base hits, including a half-dozen homers. A left fielder by trade, Ramos will go as far as his bat takes him and early impressions are it might take him quite a long way.

Demoted from Rome: Troy Conyers…The 23rd rounder in June, Conyers dominated the Gulf Coast League before bypassing Danville to join Rome in late July. He made three long-relief outings there and kept pitching well so I assume this is more roster management than anything.

Demoted from Rome: Tucker Davidson…There are two reasons a guy with a 2.99 FIP and 3.4 K/BB gets demoted from full-season low-A ball to Rookie ball. Either the Braves needed a roster spot in Rome or Davidson is getting punished for whatever reason. Or…there is a third reason that might work here. Davidson might be hitting a bit of a wall and they are giving him a breather (or flat-out shutting him down). Davidson worked entirely out of the bullpen until June 27. His next seven games were all out of the rotation. At 76.1 ING, he’s thrown a shade over 45 innings more than he tossed in 2017, which could be influencing this roster move. Either way, Davidson has pitched well this season and there was a reason to believe he’d receive a promotion rather than a demotion.

Promoted from DSL: Gabriel Noguera…The Braves scout as well as anyone out of Venezuela, but Noguera’s story is a little different. His name came up in the 2013 J2 class as a Top 50 prospect, but he didn’t sign until last year. Earning praise for a “low-effort delivery” and a good fastball, Noguera finally made his professional debut in his Age-21 season in the Dominican Summer League. He looked very good again there and while his 0.87 ERA in 31 innings was soft, his strikeout-an-inning stats were impressive. He made his first start stateside last week and went four quality innings while allowing a run. He’s not a big prospect, but at 21, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Noguera on the Rome Braves roster when 2018 opens.

Assigned: Alex Aquino…Almost fitting that in the week Ventura’s name shows up in this, Aquino finally joins an active roster. Aquino and Ventura were two of the four Braves’ farmhands involved in a late August car accident in the Dominican Republic. He’s the only one still in the system now. A right-hand hitting infielder, Aquino hit .274/.329/.378 with the GCL squad last year and hit his first professional homerun. It was a bit of an improvement over his 2015 DSL campaign. Despite joining the team last Tuesday, though, he has yet to play in a game.

Rehab from Gwinnett: Josh Collmenter…Did you forget he was in the system? You’re not alone. Collmenter opened the season on the active roster after pretty much earning a spot with three smoke-and-mirrors starts last September. It did not go well for Collmenter and he was sent to the minors in late May, but he hit the DL soon after and did not appear in a game for Gwinnett. Last Wednesday was his first appearance since May 24 and he gave up three hits, a run, a walk, and picked up one strikeout in three innings of relief.

Nothing outside of losing Noguera.

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