Alex Anthopoulos Makes His First Moves

Alex Anthopoulos Makes His First Moves

The Atlanta Braves knew that Monday was going to be eventful, but there were still plenty of surprises. Perhaps the biggest one came in the form of what didn’t happen. After rumors spread that Monday would be the day the hammer came down on Atlanta in the wake of the Coppy scandal, fans were frustrated to find out it wasn’t coming after all. That might change on Tuesday as MLB is apparently going to get in contact with multiple players in the system. This could mean that prospects will be told their contract is being voided. Considering Terry McGuirk’s confirmation that the investigation is over, it seems unlikely that MLB is looking to simply question these players.

We’ll have more on that later, I’m sure. What did happen on Monday was a flurry of transactions as Alex Anthopoulos made his first moves as the Atlanta Braves general manager. Let’s look at what transpired on a busy day.

Contracts Selected/Added to 40-Man Roster

The first couple of dominoes to fall were just as surprising for who didn’t join the 40-man roster compared to who did. Let’s start with the latter.

Lefthanders Ricardo Sanchez and Adam McCreery will be protected from this year’s Rule 5 draft. Sanchez, who turns 21 next April, already has four seasons under his belt despite his tender age. Three of them have come at A-ball. He spent last season with Florida, striking out 22% of opposing hitters compared to a career-low 10% walk rate. Despite less-than-impressive career numbers, Sanchez has been lauded for years for his maturity and pitchability. It comes down more to mechanics for him and being able to repeat them. If he is able to harness his stuff and throw his three pitches (low-to-mid 90’s fastball, above-average curve, average changeup) where he wants to, Sanchez could find work as a starter as he gets closer to the majors. However, I worry that he’s, at best, a 4 or 5 in the rotation or middle reliever.

McCreery joined the Braves in 2016 from the Angels after John Coppolella dealt Jhoulys Chacin. A tall, imposing southpaw, McCreery has the stuff to be effective but has also struggled to throw strikes. He still does have that problem, but he’s brought the walk rate down to a more manageable level before a 30.2 inning stint with Florida to end this season brought the rate back up. His strikeout rate, though, exploded from a shade over 20% in 2016 to 33% in 2017. Mix in a heavy fastball that led to a groundball rate over 60% and you can understand why the Braves are excited. It’s still surprising to see them make the move for McCreery considering he’s struggled to prove he can throw strikes, but the team must have graded him as too good to lose.

Travis Demeritte left unprotected | Jeff Morris @JeffMorrisAB

They didn’t attach a similar grade to a number of prospects, including Travis Demeritte, Dustin Peterson, and Tyler Pike. This trio of players will all rate highly in our preseason Top 50 should they not get drafted in December. The Braves are making bets and that is especially true with Demeritte and Peterson. They are banking on their bad years and other concerns (Peterson’s mediocre career numbers, Demeritte’s K-rate) to convince teams against bringing them on board. I could see either or both being selected and given a chance to compete for a spot this spring. Atlanta has made their peace with that possibility, though.

The Braves made the same bet on Pike. He wasn’t selected in last year’s Rule 5 draft but did rebound for his best season since 2013. Pike has the pitches to be successful. However, he’s never really been able to spot those pitches consistently.

Atlanta also passed on some relievers that were closer than McCreery. Caleb Dirks and Jacob Webb were both selected in the 2014 draft and each has been impressive. Webb can strikeout a small village when healthy and before last year, Dirks had been a dominant reliever at every stop in his minor league career. Right-handed relief-only pitchers don’t tend to get drafted in the Rule 5 as frequently as starters or left-hand specialists. Yet another bet the Braves are making. I think, like with Pike, they’ll win these bets. It’s the other two I’m iffy about.

Braves Claim a Dodger

Anthopoulos also spent time on Monday acquiring a couple of players he had some prior knowledge of. Lefthander Grant Dayton is a lottery ticket for 2018 – similar to Jacob Lindgren last winter. He’ll miss all of next year after undergoing Tommy John surgery back in August.

Dayton works off a low 90’s four-seamer and a mid-70’s curveball. Curiously, he scrapped his slider in 2017 after using it some the previous year. At his best, Dayton is a strike-thrower who pounds the strike zone with pinpoint accuracy. He gets ridiculous spin on his fastball, which increases its effectiveness despite a slower velocity than you might expect from modern-day relievers. Hitters did a lot of “hitting into outs” against him in 2016 as nearly a quarter of all contact was hit softly. That’s a big deal as those type of hits are often gobbled up for easy outs.

He’s a flyball pitcher who depends on a lot going right to be successful (high spin-rate, spotting his pitches). When he was on in 2016, he was dominant, posting a 2.96 FIP/2.75 xFIP with a 33% strikeout-to-walk rate. The major league average was 13%. Last year, he was never healthy, though. He lost two ticks off his fastball, 70 or so RPM in spin rate, and he could no longer spot the pitch. The result was ugly before he went under the knife.

Dayton’s a fun guy to take a chance on. The Braves will have to keep him on the 40-man roster until March when they can finally move him to the disabled list.

Braves Trade for a Dodger

Not finished with his former club, the Braves grabbed Josh Ravin for cash considerations from the Dodgers. He’s been in the mix each of the last three seasons, appearing 33 times in total with a 5.05 ERA/5.20 FIP/4.01 xFIP. So, what did Anthopoulos see?

I don’t really know. Ravin has a nice mid-90’s fastball who can reach back and hit triple digits on occasion. He’ll pair that with a tight slider. The two pitches are good enough to get their fair share of whiffs, but Ravin doesn’t have good enough control to take advantage of his options. It is worth mentioning that early in his career, Ravin has been impressive against right-handed hitters (39% K%, 9% BB%, 3.10 FIP, 2.61 xFIP). Lefthanders are murdering him so it’s possible that if used properly, Ravin could be a nice piece in the pen.

And with that, the Braves’ Monday came to a close. Like the moves? Hate them? Let us know in the comments.

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