So…there have been a few moves this last week. Some of them, we’ve previously discussed and others are smaller in scope, but still have a large impact on both the present and future of the organization. It’s your Special Transaction Tuesday: Deadline Edition. Let’s dive right in.
Spotlight The Braves essentially got any value they could for guys who probably weren’t going to be kept through the offseason and that’s damn impressive at this point considering the struggles of Sims and Wisler in the majors.
Trade: Adam Duvall from Cincinnati for Lucas Sims, Matt Wisler, and Preston Tucker
Lucas Sims, of course, was a former first rounder who, like current Red Jose Peraza, was the class of some bad “Top Braves Prospects” lists of yesteryear. He has a talented arm, but how much can you rely on a guy who had yet to show a consistent ability to throw strikes. In 67.2 innings in the majors, Sims had a 5.26 FIP and was giving up home runs like it was his job.
Matt Wisler, who was out of options, has thrown 324.2 innings with the Braves since 2015 and reached 0.5 fWAR. He still has great control, but the stuff and bulldog demeanor have been severely lacking compared to the expectations we had. He’s good enough to hold down a spot in the majors, but probably not a guy you want to depend on and at nearly 26, that might not be changing.
Finally, Preston Tucker was a solid performer for the Braves for about a month. But pitchers adjusted and the articles about how Tucker should start in the Braves outfield stopped coming. He still can be a decent piece off the bench against right-handed relievers, but that’s probably his ceiling whereas that’s the floor for Duvall.
In many ways, Duvall is Tucker right now except he’s shown in the past he can be much more than Tucker and he can play defense. I said this on Twitter, but Duvall fits the “kind of player” Alex Anthopoulos has been searching for. Strong power, great defense, controllable asset. That doesn’t mean Duvall is a great player, but it does mean that even if he’s not hitting, he brings value to the team. Overall, he’s probably not more than an average bat because he has severe plate discipline issues and lacks a good hit tool. But his power and defense bring him value. Value that has manifested itself into 4.9 fWAR since the beginning of 2016.
For the time being, Duvall provides a good bat against left-hand relievers and will play left field against southpaw starters with Ender Inciarte taking a seat and Ronald Acuna Jr. moving to center.
Moving forward, Duvall will be arbitration-eligible for the first of three years beginning this offseason. He’ll also be under a great hitting coach and a data-driven organization that will try to help him unlock new offensive skills or maximize the ones he has. And all it cost them was three guys who were either out-of-options (Wisler, Tucker) or lacking a spot for future Braves’ teams (Sims).
OTHER spotlight Oh, boy. This one was a big one. Like the previous deal, let’s look at what the Braves lost before looking at what they gained.
Trade: Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day from Baltimore for Jean Carlos Encarnacion, Bruce Zimmermann, Brett Cumberland, Evan Phillips, and $2.5 million in international bonus slots.
None of the players the Braves surrendered hurt like Encarnacion, a rising third baseman who, in his Age-20 season, was hitting .288 with a .341 wOBA in the South Atlantic League. As someone who saw a good deal of JCE following his promotion to Danville last summer, I was excited to see what he could do over his career because there is a lot of ability here. He hits the ball extremely hard and is never cheated. But he also hasn’t seen a pitch over the last two years that he didn’t feel good about swinging at. That’s not to say he doesn’t deserve the praise he gets, but it has to be a concern.
Defensively, I think JCE can stay at third, though how he matured would go a long way to deciding that. He’s pretty langy right now, but as he adds muscle, it might force a move to first. I like his bat at third a lot more. He doesn’t become a non-prospect if he can’t say at third, but he does morph into a less dynamic one.
Zimmermann is an interesting piece. A hugely interesting one, actually. I talked about him earlier this season, but he came out of nowhere to post some big numbers in Rome over 14 starts. He then moved to Mississippi for the last half-dozen starts and while the ERA has been solid, the FIP took a dive. Of course, it’s an early sample, but the K/BB% went from nearly 24% to about 6%. That’s ugly. The Braves may have sold high on his early results.
They may have also sold high on Phillips, a young arm I talked about in an early draft of this report after his demotion to Gwinnett. Phillips has been decent throughout his career but found another gear this season with Gwinnett. He started to hit his spots at a higher rate and his numbers looked much better as a result. I still like Phillips, but he’s a reliever and I doubt the Braves are crying about the loss of a reliever in Gwinnett.
Finally, Cumberland is as intriguing now as he was when the Braves drafted him. Like Phillips, I discussed him earlier after a recent promotion to Mississippi. On one side, Cumberland is plus offensive performer. He walks a lot and has great raw power. On the other hand, a lot of his OBP success in 2017 was built on getting hit-by-pitches and there remains a healthy debate whether he is a catcher long-term. He’s a good prospect, but not a great one.
It’s telling to me that the only guy I said “NOOOO!!!” about giving up is a swing-happy third baseman in A-ball. The Braves gave up a lot of international bonus pool cash but kept their best prospects. Part of the reason they did that was by taking on Darren O’Day. The right-hander will likely miss the remainder of the season after undergoing hamstring surgery a month ago. He’s due about $3M for the remainder of 2018 and another $9M for 2019.
Now, he’s not a straight salary dump. When the veteran is healthy, he’s a strikeout machine with solid control. Oh, and he sports a career 2.56 ERA despite spending the last seven years in the AL East. Since this is a non-arm injury, we should expect that O’Day will be a valuable arm for next season though he will be 36 in November. He’s never been a power arm, but a guy who relies on stuff, movement, and control.
But his placement in this deal was to decrease the Orioles’ demands for better prospects. Instead, Atlanta took on salary. It’s a win-win for both teams in that respect.
Now, let’s talk about the star of this deal – Kevin Gausman. He’s not the next AL East name we were expecting. He’s not Chris Archer or Marcus Stroman. But he is a talented starter who should help the Braves rotation moving forward. He throws strikes and though he is a bit homer-prone, he gets a good amount of soft groundball contact. Like his new-and-former teammate Brad Brach, he’ll be better served by having an excellent defense behind him after pitching in front of possibly the worst defense in baseball.
Because of league factors, despite numbers that won’t wow you (4.43 ERA, 4.58 FIP, 4.05 xFIP), Gausman was a 1.3 fWAR starter this season. That’s about where he sits after being a 3 fWAR guy in 2016 and 2.5 fWAR pitcher last season. Groundball rate usually runs between 42% and 47% with this year trending toward the latter. He has an excellent fastball in the mid-90’s with close-to-triple-digit velocity when he wants to find it. He also is one of the few split-finger guys in baseball and will throw it a lot. It’s a plus-plus pitch and better than his slider. Against lefties, he might throw in a change-up just to show ’em something else.
Historically, Gausman is actually better the third time through the order (.331 wOBA against) than he is the second time (.349 wOBA). That’s pretty interesting to me more because it shows he doesn’t drop off the map as hitters see him a third time. And remember as you read these stats, most of the time, he’s facing an AL East team in a stadium doing him no favors.
Another thing to keep in mind for Gausman. The defensive issues behind him go beyond the players. The Orioles were one of the teams that until recently didn’t embrace shifting like just about every other team in baseball. One more thing – historically, Gausman has been a second-half guy with an ERA a run lower in the second half and a much higher strikeout rate. I’m not sure if that really is something that becomes a career trend, but it’ll be something to watch.
Gausman isn’t Archer or Stroman, but he has ridiculous stuff and is going to an organization that will try to make things easier for him.
With Gausman, O’Day, Duvall, Brach, and Jonny Venters, Atlanta added a mid-rotation arm that is controllable through 2020 as a Super 2 player, two relief arms that are controlled through 2019, and an outfielder with big-time pop that is controllable through the 2021 season. They did all this without losing arms like Kyle Wright, Mike Soroka, and Touki Toussaint or dynamic bats like Drew Waters, Cristian Pache, and Austin Riley. They walked the line between improving the ballclub and not emptying the farm system. They got the guys they wanted for the conditions they set.
In short, Alex Anthopoulos is the Executive of the Year.
Trade: Jonny Venters from Tampa Bay for $250K in international slot money. Stephen’s report on the deal.
Trade: Brad Brach from Baltimore for $250K in international slot money. My report.
Promoted from Gwinnett: Kolby Allard…Well, this should be interesting if the weather allows him to start today. I’m just going to point you to Andy Harris’s piece from earlier just to keep this column a little shorter.
Activated: Max Fried…Fried was pretty good in his return to the rotation this week against the Dodgers, though he took the loss after the bullpen blew up and the offense couldn’t muster any, well, offense. Fried’s walked a few too many hitters in the majors, but the strikeout rate has been superb and he’s been a bit unlucky in the sense that he has a 23.1% HR/FB rate.
Promoted from Mississippi: Kyle Wright…He hasn’t been dominant with Mississippi, but Wright has been plenty solid with a 3.42 FIP over 109.1 innings. Wright reminds me so much of a young Marcus Stroman. Good, but not elite strikeout rates and a lot of grounders. If Wright lowers his walk rate – and it’s certainly not bad around 9%, but if he gets it closer to 7%, that’s the making of a staff ace. Of course, we all know the story with Wright. Near major-league ready when he fell to the Braves last June. Now…he’s REALLY close to being in the major leagues.
Promoted from Mississippi: Bryse Wilson…Okay, this is cheating because this move was announced today, but considering I’m holding onto this report until after the deadline, I’ll add this. After initially struggling with the promotion to Mississippi, Wilson turned it on in July. According to Chris Harris, Wilson had a 0.84 ERA in five starts in July with 42 K’s – the latter was leading MiLB at the time of this tweet. He found his way.
…Wilson wasn’t the top arm the Braves picked in 2016. That was Ian Anderson. He also wasn’t a guy scouts felt fell into the Braves lap like Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller. But Wilson, who was picked as a prep arm out of Orange High School in Hillsborough, NC, is a breath away from the bigs at the age of 20. He just keeps impressing.
Optioned: Michael Reed…Demoted for Duvall, Reed went 1-for-5.
Optioned: Evan Phillips…Let’s just say this about Phillips: he hadn’t won over Brian Snitker. He went 15 days between appearances during his near-month in the majors. Now, the All-Star Break was in there, but Phillips rarely got a look unless the game was out of reach. He did throw 1.2 scoreless innings against the Dodgers last week before losing his spot after the Venters trade was announced. He has since thrown a pair of scoreless innings in two outings, including a save. He’ll be back.
…Edit: Actually, he won’t be back. He gone now.
Optioned: Preston Tucker…He gone now, too.
Promoted from Florida: Brett Cumberland…Alex Jackson‘s recent promotion opened up things for Cumberland, who after a slow start with Florida, was turning things on. What interests me the most about Cumberland – beyond his stache – is that the Braves have refused to move him away from catcher. After he logged 22 games in the Australian winter league in the outfield, I fully expected that move to continue this year, but the new regime wants him to catch. That’s either because they feel he can do it well enough in the majors or they believe that’s where his trade value is the highest. Or both? He did cut down 42% of potential base stealers this season with Florida, though that rate is well above his previous marks.
…Edit: He’s headed to Baltimore. He also gone now.
Activated: Connor Johnstone…It’s been an interesting season for Johnstone, a 21st-rounder last year who opened the year with a solid 36 innings in Rome before appearing with Mississippi and Gwinnett. The results haven’t been quite as impressive there, but the right-hander definitely has some fans in the organization. There’s not a lot of info on Johnstone, who wasn’t covered heavily before the draft and attracted little attention last summer due to a 5.40 ERA over 10 innings in rookie ball. That said, we know he gets a lot of grounders and has good control – though the latter has been tough to see against advanced competition.
Activated: Tyler Pike…A usual figure in this column, Pike’s run on the DL was short. I’ve written much about Pike over the last few months. I’m still a believer in his stuff, but waiting for the strikes to come.
DL’d: Connor Lien…The year was 2015. Braves fans were desperate for any sign of a prospect. There was Lien, hitting .283/.347/.415 for Carolina with 34 steals and making highlight catches. And then…Double-A happened. Well, the Braves farm system also got insanely good, but Lien quickly disappeared. In 268 games with Mississippi, he’s hitting .200/.278/.347. Now, Trustmark Park can be hard on hitters, but this is really bad. It’s a testament to both Lien’s defensive skills and intangibles off the field that he’s been kept through this.
Promoted from Rome: Huascar Ynoa…A lot of people were disappointed when the Braves got Ynoa after giving up Jaime Garcia. At the time, we weren’t quite aware of how cheap rentals are going for in our new data-driven baseball landscape. But beyond that, the name of Nick Burdi, a super-talented but hurt reliever, had already been leaked as a potential name on the move for Garcia. A return of Ynoa, who was in rookie ball for the third season, was considered a let-down.
…Well, don’t be so sure about that. In his first taste of full-season ball this season, Ynoa struck out 100 in 91.2 innings, had a 3.63 ERA along the way. He’s been a bit lucky in a sense as his batting average against is much lower than you’d expect and he’s given up 12 unearned runs. At the same time, his 3.88 FIP and 45% groundball rates are solid to see in A-ball for any 20-year-old. That’s right – he’s in his fourth year, but he’s still a pup. Don’t sleep on Ynoa. There’s a lot here to like.
Promoted from Danville: Brooks Wilson…A seventh rounder in June, Wilson had a predictably solid run in rookie ball before earning a promotion. In his first outing, the Stetson alum gave up an unearned run, walked two, and struck out a pair over 2.1 innings. He only allowed two runs in 13.2 innings before the promotion and walked just three batters so we can assume the control issues may have been nerves. He was a low 90’s guy in college with a curveball that trends toward the plus-plus grading. He also utilizes a slider that has decent movement.
Demoted from Florida: Troy Bacon…For our 2018 Atlanta Baseball Preview, I spent a good 30 minutes looking for players with pork-themed names to compare Troy Bacon to so you might say I’m invested into how this kid’s career goes. He was solid enough in Florida so this was likely a roster crunch move. Bacon has never thrown a pitch in rookie ball so the organization feels their fourth-rounder from 2017 deserved a faster track. He’s probably waiting for a spot to open back up in Florida, which due to recent promotions, seems quite likely. In 58.2 professional innings, he has 60 K’s and a 2.91 ERA.
Released: Luis Gamez…One of the few minor leaguers remaining from Frank Wren’s final draft class, Gamez has thrown just 94.2 innings since he was drafted due to injury. Only two of those innings came above rookie ball. He opened the year on the DL before recently resurfacing for a rehab assignment in Danville. In eight games, he failed to impress, which is not only the name of his sex tape, it’s a description of his entire career.
Promoted from GCL: Mitch Stallings…Picked in the 30th round in June out of Duke, Stallings was a little unlucky in the GCL, but had solid metrics. Danville’s defense should help his numbers improve if he continues to strikeout 7.5 batters to every walk.
Demoted from Rome: John Curtis…Last year’s eighth-rounder didn’t pitch poorly in Rome so this is probably a numbers thing or they wanted to give Curtis a bit of rest as he’s been starting games lately. Whatever the case, the South Atlantic League won’t miss him. In 21 innings, he has just as many strikeouts and zero walks. Overall, in 51.2 innings, he has 54 strikeouts and 11 walks to go with one home run surrendered. The southpaw hasn’t earned his prospect stripes just yet, but he isn’t far off.
Released: Jake Belinda…The 290th pick of the 2017 round had a familier name. Of course, it was Stan Belinda who surrendered the game-winning single by Francisco Cabrera to end the 1992 NLCS. His nephew pitched forty professional games with the Braves organization split nearly down the middle between Danville and Rome. His control was iffy and the strikeout totals were just average. I kind of hope he gets picked up by the Pirates, though. Hard worker – just wasn’t getting the results.
Outside of Stallings, nothing going on. The team needs a big final month to make up a four-game deficit in order to catch the Phillies East squad.
No moves since the 20th. The team, by the way, is awful. 13-35 heading into the final month.