Ah, yes, the return of my weekly recap. It’s been awhile, but let’s dive right back into your rundown of every Braves’ transaction from the fields of the Dominican Summer League to SunTrust Park. This week, a few players get their release, an old favorite is brought back, and Gwinnett welcomes the addition of two of the top hitting prospects in the system. Also, at the end, I’m going to try something a little new and do a spotlight on a former Brave who showed up in the transaction pages last week. Let me know if you like it!
Recalled from GWI: Preston Tucker…The outfielder who helped push the Braves out to a strong early start wasn’t really doing much with Gwinnett, but with the All-Star Break coming and the Braves not needing a starting pitcher, adding a bat to the bench was a smart play. And Tucker immediately helped, hitting a pinch-hit bomb in the last game before the break.
…It’s unlikely he sticks around once the team brings up another starter, though I think he should. Ryan Flaherty has been a lost cause at the plate for a few months now and Danny Santana has been pretty bad at the plate ever since his .405 BABIP-infused rookie season. Then you have Preston Tucker, who has a .332 wOBA against right-handed pitching this season and seven hits in 30 trips to the plate as a pinch-hitter. With the position flexibility of Charlie Culberson and even Santana, keeping Tucker is not just feasible but the best thing for the team short of going outside the organization to improve the bench.
Activated off DL: Peter Moylan…There was a time this season where Moylan’s numbers weren’t awful. That time has passed. On the year, Moylan has a 4.85/5.57/4.51 slash when looking at his ERA/FIP/xFIP. He’s actually been a little lucky (81.1% left-on-base) and unlucky (.360 BABIP), but the biggest number for me is his 53.3% groundball rate. That’s about ten points below where it needs to be for Moylan to look even a little like the 2007-10 version. Another number that is particularly troubling – 14% walk-rate.
…Bringing back Moylan was a fun story for a team expected to finish, at best, third in the division and with less than 80 victories. But the Braves entered the All-Star Break as the second Wild Card team and a half-game out of first place in the NL East. It’s time to upgrade to a player who can help make a playoff run a reality.
Optioned to GWI: Luiz Gohara (#2 Prospect on WOW Preseason List)…This is looking more-and-more like a lost season for Gohara, who had a big run from Florida-to-the-majors last year. If the team is holding out hope that he can be a starter, he needs to stick in the minors and work on his changeup. Basically, the Braves should be taking a 2012 Julio Teheran approach to Gohara. That season, the Braves gave Teheran some things to work on – placement on the rubber, pitch selection – and his numbers tanked for Gwinnett. Ultimately, many of these adjustments were scrapped and Teheran joined the big league rotation the next year.
…But the bigger takeaway was that the Braves weren’t looking for great numbers for Teheran, but progression on the adjustments they gave him. Gohara is a two-pitch pitcher right now. Putting him in the pen only compounds that because he’ll keep throwing his excellent fastball and wipe-out slider. And if Atlanta considers him a full-time bullpen piece, okay. But considering they continue to parrot the line that they think he can be a starter, putting him in the bullpen is not the way to achieve that goal. Let him struggle, but let him do so while working with pitching coaches on bringing his changeup along. (Gohara’s first option has been used this season).DL’d: Arodys Vizcaino…More shoulder inflammation for Vizzy and it’s hard to not think that Vizzy might be difficult to depend on for the rest of the season. While he receives a good deal of hate on social media, Vizzy has been pretty solid this season (1.65 ERA/3.14 FIP) and has been one of the most dependable arms this bullpen has. Losing him hurts. But more than that, arm trouble that persists is never a thing you want to see. If Alex Anthopoulos didn’t feel pressed to make a move with the pen before this injury, he better get on the horn now.
Signed: Lane Adams…Ah, the Prodigal…my son returns.
…Some people brought down the fury of a thousand suns at this move and let’s be honest, that has less to do with Lane Adams the player and more with Lane Adams the person. News of Adams resigning had more negative takes than news of the Braves bringing back Emilio Bonifacio, which makes no sense until you look at Adams’ Twitter feed. Between his takes on LeBron James being the GOAT and his very public thoughts on the President that don’t agree with the political positions of much of the Braves’ fanbase, Adams has triggered quite a few people in Braves country.
…As for the player, it’s been a struggle this season for Adams. A .216 BABIP has hurt, but as too has a .049 ISO with Iowa. In the majors earlier this season, he had a few decent pinch-hitting appearances but was lost on a bench where Peter Bourjos was the designated Preston Tucker defensive replacement. It was a far cry from his success last summer for the Braves when he finished with a .275/.339/.468 slash with five dongs and ten steals.
…Adams doesn’t “suck” like so many of his detractors think. He’s also not a particularly gifted player. When he’s hot like he was last year with a .368 BABIP, great things will happen. When he’s not hot, he will draw a good number of walks and can flash enough pop to keep things interesting. Defensively, he’s adequate in the corners and a little stretched to play center. He’s not the worst option if you need a fourth outfielder, but short of him making better and more consistent contact, he’s probably not the kind of option a competing a team truly wants.
…What makes Adams extra-interesting – and read some of his comments he made during an interview with our Ryan Cothran last year – is that he has looked toward data to help him get a leg up on the competition. While other players talk down launch angle and exit velocity often without truly understanding the terms, Adams has attempted to get everything he can out of it. Will it help him find a long-term role in the majors? It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but it’s cool to see a player who not only can talk about launch angle, but also gets its purpose.
Signed: Fernando Salas…Cut from the D’Backs after a perfectly even 0.0 fWAR over 40 games, Salas brings nearly 500 games of major league experience to the Braves’ organization. And largely, he’s been useful as a fairly dependable medium-leverage arm – most notably with the Angels in 2014-15. He also spent time as a fill-in closer for the Cardinals back in 2011, saving a career-best 24 games. So, what kind of pitcher did the Braves get?
…Salas has never been a power arm. Even at his best, he was humming a 90-91 mph fastball to go with an 85-86 mph changeup that almost acts as a slow cutter. Against lefties, he’d also flash a hard curveball with late sinking movement. None of his pitches are great and he lives off his four-seamer and the ability to locate it very well. That’s his biggest skill – throwing strikes. For a bullpen that sometimes struggles with the basic act of finding the strike zone, Salas has always been solid at that with a career walk rate of 7.3%.
…But there’s the reason why Salas is so difficult to depend on in high leverage situations. He’s an extreme flyball guy in an era of long flyballs. And considering he doesn’t generate a lot of soft contact, that can lead to a lot of long flyballs – some of which reach the fans. Because Salas doesn’t have an out pitch, it’s difficult to rely on him as a guy you want in the 7th, 8th, or 9th inning of close games. But is he better than Moylan? Probably.
Promoted from MIS: Alex Jackson (#11)…Sometimes, a team makes a decision to promote a guy and you look at his numbers and think “that doesn’t make much sense.” Alex Jackson’s promotion is just that kind of move. He’s slumped to a .200/.282/.329 tune with Mississippi this year, bashing just five home runs along the way. He did have a decent run starting in mid-June, but that only looks decent because of how awful his early season numbers were. It hasn’t been the year Jackson, nor the Braves, had hoped for coming off a decent spring where he impressed with his power and improved defensive skills.
…Yet, he was promoted. And possibly, it’s his defense carrying him. I don’t really know, but then, it was difficult for me to understand Austin Riley’s promotion last year either. At the time, Riley was hitting .252/.310/.408 with Florida. Better numbers than Jackson, but he wasn’t jumping off the page either. Riley caught fire after the promotion, though, posting a .408 wOBA in 48 games for Mississippi and hasn’t looked back since. Could Jackson do the same? We can hope.
…For all of the expectations that this new front office was much more conservative in their prospect placements after initial rosters saw few big surprises like we saw the previous year with guys like Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard jumping a level, under first-year Director of Player Development (Farm Director) Dom Chiti, the Braves have continued to push players more aggressively than many organizations – and much more aggressively than they did under John Schuerholz and Frank Wren.
Promoted from MIS: Luis Marte…Signed out of the Rangers’ system earlier this year, nothing was expected from his bat. Marte is considered simply a good fielder around the infield and that’s about it. However, he must have chugged some of Michael’s Secret Stuff because overnight, Marte learned to hit. His career OPS is .605, but he slashed .313/.353/.412. It’s difficult to think this was adjustment based – he’s hitting more groundballs than ever. So, it might be a BABIP product, but it got him back to Triple-A. He’s actually 8-for-16 there.
Activated: Jonathan Morales…Morales is long removed from 2015 and the first half of 2016 where he looked like a potential 25th-round gem. Now, Morales is known more for his defensive abilities and he’s pretty solid there. There remains some pop in his bat when he can square one up, but that’s few-and-far-between. He also brings some defensive flexibility and has started 25 games over the last two years at first and even one game this year at third.
Activated: Austin Riley (#7)…Riley landed on the DL with a sprained PCL diving for a foul ball just over a month ago. After a week of action in the Gulf Coast League to get his timing back, he rejoined the Gwinnett roster this week. On the year, Riley has a .304/.373/.538 slash with his biggest damage coming in a 27-game run with Mississippi. He still strikes out a ton – more than he did last year – and you’d like to see more walks. On the bright side, the power is definitely for real.
…What is a bit alarming is the BABIP. He’s carried an above .390 BABIP ever since being promoted to Mississippi last year. Is this some kind of weird normal for Riley? It’s not unheard of for guys flashing a big strikeout rate to carry an above-average BABIP. Paul Goldschmidt has a career .297 batting average and a .354 BABIP to counteract his 22.5% K-rate. J.D. Martinez has had three seasons – including this year – since 2014 with a BABIP above .370. Could Riley follow suit? Quite possibly, though I always get nervous when a player has an abnormally high BABIP like Riley does.
DL’d: Xavier Avery…It’s been an okay follow-up season to his solid 2017 for Avery, though his OPS is about a hundred points lower because he hasn’t flashed the same level of pop. Avery missed the first month with injury so that may have something to do with it. Avery probably deserved a look last September, though he is 27 so it’s not like the Braves needed to give a kid a chance. But he did play his heart out with a .259/.361/.456 line, 14 homers, and 21 steals. And he may have gotten that look last year – had he not got banged up on the same day the Braves needed an outfielder to replace Matt Kemp. Adams got the call and Avery, who did play 32 games with Baltimore back in 2012, missed out.
Released: Rob Brantly…Fair well, Mr. Brantly. He did everything the Braves asked out of him – essentially provide guidance to a young pitching staff. But he never hit. It’s hard to justify giving a 28-year-old 201 PA to slash .218/.254/.293 for you and with the promotion of Jackson, Brantly ran out of time. With him gone, though, who is the most likely player to get a promotion should an injury open a spot at catcher in the bigs? My guess is Morales.
Promoted from FLA: Connor Johnstone…Oh, hello, fast mover. Johnstone was picked out of Wake Forest in the 21st round last June. He’s already appeared in Gwinnett earlier this season and this isn’t his first go in Mississippi. Yesterday, I talked about how Anibal Sanchez had developed a cutter and it’s made a world of difference for him. Johnstone did that at Wake Forest and it might help him get to the majors. What you get out of Johnstone is simple – strikes and groundballs. He can start for you but might contribute more as a long reliever. Johnstone not a huge prospect, but there’s something here worth keeping an eye on.
Demoted to FLA and Promoted back: Tyler Pike (#27)…He never pitched in Florida. Pike is trying to find his prospect status once again after coming over in the Alex Jackson trade. With stuff off the charts, Pike too often can’t control it and has twice missed big chunks of the season so far. His last three outings have been miserable and have destroyed whatever momentum he was building after seven consecutive scoreless outings. Pike had a good fastball/changeup combo to back up a plus curveball. But until he is able to spot those first two pitches, even if he had the best curveball in the world – it wouldn’t matter.
Demoted from GWI: Sal Giardina…If Giardina never catches a game from Bruce Zimmermann, it’s a national disgrace. Hitters will be caught in a black hole created by two of the greatest staches to ever exist. Zimmermann’s next start better include Giardina behind the plate.
Demoted from GWI: Michael Mader…Kind of forgotten after a struggling 2017, Mader has been better in 44.2 innings with Mississippi. It earned him a first taste of Triple-A ball and he wasn’t completely embarrassed, though he gave up a few too many homers over his 20.2 inning run, leading to a 4.79 ERA and 5.06 FIP. Mader lives off a fastball and an impressive curve along with a good enough changeup to think the lefty might remain a starting prospect. Everything he throws has enough sink to lead to a lot of grounders. I think he profiles best as a left-hand reliever.
Activated off Temporarily Inactive List: Phil Pfeifer…It hasn’t been the best of times for Pfeifer, who entered the year squarely on a potential train to the majors after appearing eleven times with Gwinnett last summer. Instead, he washed out of the G-Braves bullpen after 18 games and an ERA that was on the wrong side of 8. In that, it was above 8. Now, Pfeifer is trying to re-establish himself in Mississippi. His first outing was brutal (3 runs allowed against three batters faced), but he had five consecutive scoreless games following that – though five walks were mixed in.
…For Pfeifer, it’s never been a question of stuff. He has it. He also has a good deal of resilience – fighting his way back from alcoholism while pitching for Vanderbilt. What has held him back has always been control. Short of some real progress there, the now-26-year-old is running out of time to earn back his spot in the depth chart.
Released: Alay Lago…He won a batting title with Florida last year, but the hits weren’t falling this season for the nearly 27-year-old import from Cuba. With his age and propensity to swing at anything the pitcher throws, Lago was an empty bat in the Mississippi lineup that the team could do without – especially considering his lack of defensive flexibility.
Florida Fire Frogs
Promoted from Rome: Riley Delgado…Possibly the system’s biggest surprise who doesn’t throw left-handed and sport an 80-grade stache, Delgado came out hitting like crazy this season and Rome and just never stopped. Add six games last week with Florida and he’s slashing .328/.386/.407 on the year. that’s something considering Delgado couldn’t buy a hit for most of his summer last year after being Atlanta’s ninth-round pick in the draft. Delgado is one of the guys who likely benefitted the most by Coppygate has it took away many potential guys who would have battled for playing time at shortstop this year with Rome. Instead, this little engine that can is opening some eyes.
Demoted from MIS: Dan Lietz…I imagine this guy is a favorite of Alex Anthopoulos and the people he brought into the fold from his Jays days. A fifth rounder by Toronto back in 2013, Lietz has never really flashed outstanding ability and that has continued over nearly twenty innings this season split between Mississippi and Florida. His ERA is near 6 and you have to imagine Lietz, who is 24, is hanging on by a thread in this system. But then – former general manager John Coppolella and his team were enamored with Joe Rogers last year in a similar way. Rogers, by the by, is still in the system on the DL.
Activated: Chase Johnson-Mullins…The often-injured CJM came back for one game on June 5 before landing again on the DL. That’s why, in mid-July, he’s appeared in just three games. CJM has some serious talent and the southpaw showed it at times last year in Florida. He’s a big ol‘ boy at a listed 6’8″ and 270 and sports a cutter and sinker – both in the mid-90’s. Both pitches are his bread-and-butter. If the curve develops into a real swing-and-miss pitch – or he adds a slider – look out for him. Actually, look out for him right now because he could rise pretty fast if he can stay healthy.
Released: Mauricio Cabrera…And thus, the MoCab era has come to an inevitable end. Recently, I wrote about Cabrera in Who Did We Get? – 2010 International Signings. There’s not a lot I can add to that. Cabrera could touch triple digits without much of an effort but throwing strikes proved far too difficult a task for him. He’s just 24 and I imagine he’s already been approached by a few teams that are anxious to see what they can do with his potential million dollar arm.
Promoted from Danville: AJ Graffanino…Tony’s boy didn’t stay at Danville long after finally signing. He went 11-for-27 with the D-Braves and swiped a base. He also committed a quartet of errors at shortstop, but we won’t hold that against him. Since joining Rome, new Graffy is 4-for-15 and is still searching for his first extra-base hit. He’ll try to rectify that this week against Augusta. By the way, if you missed the news, Rome took home a First Half Title and has a spot in the 2018 playoffs waiting for them.
Danville, GCL, and DSL
Every week, I’m going to try to scour the transaction pages for an interesting Braves-related move. This week, it’s Sean Gilmartin, who signed with the Orioles this week and reported to their International League squad in Norfolk. Gilmartin was originally chosen by the Braves with the 28th pick of the 2011 draft. Joe Panik and his 6.6 bWAR was picked next. Jackie Bradley Jr. was selected a dozen picks later and the #44 and #45 picks were Michael Fulmer and Trevor Story.
So, Gilmartin wasn’t the worst pick – Robert Stephenson was picked one selection ahead of him and has a 5.10 ERA in 121.2 innings – but Gilmartin certainly was a bad pick. Was it at the time? Probably, though to be fair, Gilmartin was the ace of the Florida State Seminoles and that’s an accomplishment most of the time. The Braves pushed Gilmartin fast, thinking he could follow the path of their 2009 pick of Mike Minor, who appeared in the majors a year later. Gilmartin was picked 21 selections after Minor, though.
Also, unlike Minor, the Braves could never unlock some new weapons in Gilmartin’s left arm. In his first year, spent between Mississippi and Gwinnett, Gilmartin was…just okay. But just okay was better than fairly awful like he was with Gwinnett in 2013. Frank Wren, who signed off on the Gilmartin selection, surprisingly cut bait quickly, trading the lefty after two-plus seasons to the Twins for Ryan Doumit.
Gilmartin bounced back to look just okay again, but the Twins left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft and the Mets pounced. He would follow with a pretty solid campaign in 2015. His ERA was 2.67 and he provided more value than just a simple LOOGY, tossing 57.1 innings in 50 appearances. Even his advanced metrics were solid. Had the Mets unearthed a gem that would spend years burning the Braves?
No. Injuries and poor pitching sunk his 2016 season and in 2017, the Mets waived him after just 40.1 innings – mostly at Triple-A – to open a spot on their 40-man roster. He landed with the Cardinals next, but didn’t pitch much due to injury and never made it back to the majors. Gilmartin didn’t impress in 24 outings this year in Triple-A for the Cardinals and they cut bait this month. That let Gilmartin sign with the Orioles, his fifth organization. He got blasted for three runs in 2/3’s of an inning last night. Reese McGuire hit a Grand Slam off Gilmartin in just his second outing since joining Norfolk.
And now you know what happened to Gilmartin, one of the least-liked draft choices of the last ten years.