A former superstar is released while a few new players join the system in this week’s report. The Braves also activate their starting shortstop and continue to shuffle pitchers on-and-off the major league roster. Not much top prospect movement, though. Reminder – the Dominican Summer League will get going very soon. June 2, in fact. The DSL Braves will look to improve on their 18-53 finish last year.
Activated: Dansby Swanson…He had a fun second game back, didn’t he?
…Swanson returns from a wrist injury after a single rehab game. He also came back with a new bat as he switched to the ax-handle bat that is growing in popularity. Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see if Swanson can recapture his early season magic. His numbers were in freefall before the trip to the DL and it’s unknown if that was regression to the mean or injury or both. Swanson, though, gives the team a better defensive infield especially because of who he pushed to third base.
Recalled from Gwinnett: Lucas Sims…I mean…okay? Sims has a 1.50 ERA at Gwinnett but hasn’t been that dominant by any means. A groundball rate near 50% is interesting, though. Probably short sample size-driven, though. In the majors, Sims has been just rough. One big issue is that Sims can’t get whiffs. Hitters sit back, wait for the right pitch, and know that they will connect. That has to change for Sims to ever develop into something.
Released: Jose Bautista…Well, that was short. After 40 PA over a dozen games, the Braves make the choice to move on. To be fair to Bautista, he had some bad luck with a .143 BABIP, though a large part of that was due to an extreme flyball rate. He had an absurd 28.8 average launch angle. That won’t lead to many hits.
…I recently asked for an ounce of patience for Bautista, but I can’t really blame the Braves for moving on. I’m sure Alex Anthopoulos pushed the idea of Bautista staying around, working as a bench bat/DH option, and even getting some time in the corner outfield. Bautista balked, which I also understand. With the Braves going with Johan Camargo for his combination of defense and offense – the latter is likely to improve – Bautista was given the option to leave and he did. He hit a pair of homers for the Braves and that was about it.
…The signing remained a bit confusing because, while Bautista wasn’t atrocious at third base, he was below-average at the position and the Braves have stressed defense, including signing guys renowned for defense and not much else in Peter Bourjos and Ryan Flaherty. But it wasn’t worth a look to see if Bautista could capture lightning in a bottle. Didn’t work and kudos to Anthopoulos for being willing to move on. Bautista may not be done, though. The Mets may be considering Bautista.
Claimed from Detroit and Optioned: Chad Bell…Drafted three times before signing with the Rangers as a 14th rounder, Bell is a southpaw with the nickname “Wick” based on his full first name of Chadwick. For most of his career, he slowly climbed the ladder with the Rangers being dealt to the Tigers for Bobby Wilson in 2016. The move to the Tigers opened a pathway to the majors and he debuted with Detroit last year. In 28 games, including four starts, he struggled to get out much more patient hitters, who were less amazed by his heavy dose of fastballs. His FIP of 5.47 was actually lower than his ERA.
…This season, he opened the year with Toledo before getting a promotion – not really earned – to the majors. He tossed 7.1 innings in three games and flashed a bit more control, but still gave up a lot of runs. In his defense, he had a .500 BABIP. And now, he’s a Brave. His first outing with Gwinnett included four K’s in three innings, but also a pair of runs.
…Bell throws a five-pitch mix with a four-seamer, sinker, curve, slider, and changeup. Righties can expect to see all five pitches, but lefties will see a heavy dose of four-seamers and sliders. Velocity in the 93-94 mph range on his heaters with everything else in the mid-to-low 80’s. Hard to base much on his low sample sizes, but he has not shown much of an ability to get lefties out, which might explain why he gets so many long-relief and starting assignments. He’s a guy and he’s probably a guy a scout really liked.
Activated: Chase Whitley…At this point, Whitley just wants to stay on the mound. He’s appeared nine times this year and thrown 16 innings because of a couple of injuries. That includes a one-inning appearance in Atlanta where he gave up a homer and two runs. Whitley has a reputation of throwing a lot of strikes and has a career 4.01 FIP. Certainly, that implies value, but how much is questionable.
Sent on Rehab Assignment: Anibal Sanchez…It was an ugly rehab outing for Sanchez, who allowed eight runs in 3.2 innings. To be fair, hard to do well when you give up a pair of homers and walk three batters with a .546 BABIP. The rough start almost ensures a second rehab appearance. Even when healthy, can the Braves truly expect Sanchez’s early 14-inning success to continue after the struggles he had in recent years?
…To be fair, Sanchez incorporated a cutter much more often with a good amount of success. It was leading to a lot more soft contact, which was an approach that has extended C.C. Sabathia‘s career. Now, Sanchez was lucky and there was no doubt his ERA would climb once a 96.4% LOB% regressed. But will he continue to be a plus for the team in a long relief role? It’s quite possible.
Promoted from Mississippi: Jonathan Morales…Nice to see Morales get to Triple-A. The backstop opened some eyes with a strong first half with Rome back in 2016. He hasn’t done much with the bat since but remains well-liked. The Puerto Rico-native was hitting a bit better recently than his full-season slash line of .247/.319/.365. He also played a little first-and-third with the M-Braves. Morales is forgotten in a system full of young, talented catchers. That said, with Kade Scivicque‘s early-season release, Morales is the closest thing to a catching prospect in Gwinnett.
Recalled and Optioned: Max Fried (#5)…He literally spent a day in the majors doing nothing after the game he was supposed to start was rained out and handed to the next player in this week’s report. Fried worked into the seventh inning instead in his start for Gwinnett. It was a season-high, though he was charged with four runs (three earned) in a losing effort. Fried has struggled this year with consistency in regard to his curveball. He’s looked better with Gwinnett than the six innings he threw for the big league club this year. He might be best suited for relief with his fastball/curve combo, but the Braves won’t push him out of the starting mix until forced to do so.
Recalled and Optioned: Matt Wisler…In his third start with the big-league club this year, Wisler was okay. His slider looked good and kept the Marlins on their toes, but he also labored through 5.1 innings and allowed two runs and walked a pair. He gave the Braves a chance to win, though. On the year, Wisler has flashed tremendous control with Gwinnett and generally looked decent. Of course, he’s been pitching at the Triple-A level since May of 2014 so pitching well with the Stripers isn’t that big of a deal.
DL’d: Rob Brantly…The 28-year-old wasn’t doing much with the bat and has only caught 5-of-21 potential base stealers this year. The team likes him, keeping him over younger Kade Scivicque and the nine-year veteran has a reputation of being a good game manager. If you’re wondering what landed Brantly on the DL…well, it wasn’t pretty. On a pitch in the dirt, the ball came up and hit him in the groin. He was being helped off the field when he passed out. EMS came on the scene and Brantly was able to walk off the field with some assistance. The last report I saw was that he waiting for some MRI results.
Released: Ezequiel Carrera…Woof. Say what you will about Alex Anthopoulos giving former players a chance with Atlanta since taking the job, but Anthopoulos proved this week that his patience is not endless. Carrera was picked up near the end of spring training after being let go by the Jays despite a .764 OPS in 325 PA last year. Carrera soon headed to Gwinnett and in 26 games, very little went right. His line on the year – .146/.228/.220. He was successful in seven straight steal attempts, but as the saying goes, you can’t steal first. He already found a new job, signing with the Mets with Christian Colon – who was released from Gwinnett recently as well.
Placed on Inactive List: David Peterson…Unsure what landed Peterson on the inactive list, but the Gwinnett reliever hasn’t had much luck this season. He’s only appeared in seven games with a trip to the DL included and has a 6.75 ERA when on the mound. He’s walked more (five) than he has struck out (three). Peterson, one of the few Braves’ minor leaguers remaining who logged time with the Lynchburg Hillcats, has always carried the reputation of an organizational guy.
Promoted from Florida: Chad Sobotka…While not A.J. Minter-level, the Braves took Sobotka a year before with a similar idea. “Sure, he’s hurt now, but his stuff gives him a high ceiling.” After a terrible year working back from injury in 2015, the Braves thought they had been vindicated in 2016 (10.5 K/9, 3 K/BB, 1 HR allowed) before a major step back last year. This year, he returned to Florida and excelled over 20.1 innings. Some of that was luck as his BABIP is impossibly low. But his arm is really good, too. At 25 with 23 games over the last three years in Mississippi, Sobotka could be a fast riser if he remains successful.
Florida Fire Frogs
Promoted from Rome: Kurt Hoekstra…Selected in 2015 out of Western Michigan, Hoekstra missed out on joining his ex-Rome teammates in Florida to open the season. That changed this week as the corner infielder moved up to High-A for the first time. He’s not a particularly gifted hitter (.254/.324/.367) but is a glue guy who fills out the intangibles portion of a scouting report well. Of course, that only gets you so far. Though the Braves tried to use him as a shortstop in 2015, he’s going to play mostly first base with cameos across the diamond at third. He’s also pitched twice this year with some success (2 ING, 1 H, 3 K). He’s up to five pitching performances in his career.
Promoted to Gwinnett and Demoted Back: Jon Kennedy…Called up for a spot start after Wisler did the honors with the Braves, Kennedy gave up six runs, five earned, while recording just six outs. To be fair, three days earlier, he worked around two hits in a 17-pitch effort that ended with his first save of the year. This is his third call-up to Gwinnett this season and his second spot start despite only coming out of the pen for Florida. He’s been wonderful for the Fire Frogs, by the way.
Demoted from Mississippi: Devan Watts (#32)…It’s early, but you have to wonder where Watts’ stuff went. He carried a strikeout rate of about 10 per nine innings as he moved from Rome to Mississippi over the last two years. This season, it’s been cut in half and he’s already given up twice as many homers as he did in his previous 82.1 innings. All of this implies mechanical or injury issues. Watts has great control and his walk totals are fine, but he’s not locating this season. Hopefully, he gets going because he’s a decent relief prospect.
Called up from Danville: Austin Bush…This isn’t Austin’s first go with Rome. He started his professional career there after being picked in the 15th round last June. It…did not go well. Bush finished his first season with Danville, slamming three homers in 18 games with a .899 OPS. He’s off to another poor start this year with Rome and will likely always strike out a lot. There’s no denying that Bush has great raw power, but the behemoth is going to have to find a way to both make more and better contact. His swing is long and the player I quickly compared him to was Cody Johnson, Atlanta’s first pick in the 2006 draft who had big power, but an inability to parlay that into a major league career.
Signed: Marcos Almonte…Signed out of the Dominican Republic in February of 2014, Almonte spent the majority of two summers in the Dominican Summer League as a utility player. He came to the states in 2016, sharing time with Tri-City and Greeneville and hitting .230/.292/.337. He’s been stuck in Quad Cities, which is on the same level as Rome, ever since until released less than two weeks ago. A high-character guy who has worked hard to learn English and be one of the guys, Almonte’s primary value is that he plays all over. He’s never played first base or catcher, but I bet he has a glove for each. He could move up to Rome shortly or stick in Danville to act as a mentor who gives his manager options.
Demoted from Rome: Kevin Josephina…On May 19, 2017, Kevin Josephina was hitting .286/.323/.336 with ten steals. Great numbers? Not really, but good numbers to build off for the smooth-fielding middle infielder. It’s been downhill ever since. Josephina surprisingly was not placed with a full-season squad this spring after 155 games with Rome. Recently, he joined Florida, but only had four singles in 37 PA with a .280 OPS. Not a typo. There was some hope when the Braves signed Josephina out of Curacao that they had found their next middle infield prospect from the small island. Those hopes are a distant memory at this point.