Braves Trade With Dodgers Has Future Implications

ATLANTA — After a trip to the Winter Meetings didn’t really produce any headlines, the Atlanta Braves certainly made some on Saturday when they hooked up with the Los Angeles Dodgers on a five-player trade that could have a big-time impact on the future of both clubs.

Atlanta dealt left fielder Matt Kemp back to L.A. in exchange for pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, infielder Charlie Culberson and cash considerations.

It’s a truly fascinating deal for both sides. Though this trade involved a host of veterans, it also has a direct effect on Atlanta’s best and brightest prospect.

Ronald Acuña was already on the fast track to SunTrust Park in 2018, but this deal allows him to make his final approach after a spot in the Atlanta outfield was officially opened up. Now the club just has to make a decision on his official arrival date, which could be delayed in order to maintain an extra year of contractual control.

“We expect Ronald Acuña to factor at some point in 2018 and I’m not prepared to say,” said Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos when asked for an ETA on the club’s most highly-touted prospect in recent memory.

“He’s a young player at 19, turning 20 here soon,” Anthopoulos continued. “We expect him to factor in 2018. Whether that’s early, middle, late, I’m not sure. We’ll continue to evaluate it, but we expect Ronald Acuña to be a very good player for a very long time. We’re not going to be overly concerned with how soon or how fast, but when he’s ready to go… we’re going to look to make room for him and certainly a move like this won’t hurt.”

The Braves cleared a path for Acuña as they divested themselves of Kemp’s contract obligation, a $36 million sum which stretched into 2019. They did so by taking on a couple of well-paid veteran starting pitchers and a utility option while also assuming financial responsibility for cutting loose Gonzalez, who was immediately designated for assignment. The Dodgers sent some cash over in the trade, which helps even out the contracts coming to Atlanta.

If that sounds like a lot, well, it certainly is.

With $4.5 million in cash considerations coming over with the four players, the money in this deal is a wash. Anthopoulos acquired players on expiring contracts in order to push his club’s financial obligations ahead to the 2018 payroll. In other words, the money due for Kemp’s 2019 salary is now being used to pay ahead on McCarthy, Kazmir and releasing Gonzalez. Ultimately, the Braves took on some salary for next season in order to add at least one pitcher who should join Atlanta’s starting rotation in McCarthy, though Kazmir’s future is less certain.

The bottom line is that this trade should allow for more flexible spending for the Braves in next year’s stellar free agent market. It will also enable the club to have the necessary capital to pursue other, bigger trade targets in the future as well.

“[Going] through 2019 and [looking] at the rosters, we had a lot of different ideas, concepts and proposals,” said Anthopoulos of the trade talks to move Kemp’s salary. “We talked with a lot of teams about various things with players making some significant money coming back. We explored a lot of things. This is the one that got some traction, so it’s the one that we pursued. Really, being candid, this was the only one that was going to work for us.”

The Braves have only three players on long term contracts beyond 2018, first baseman Freddie Freeman, center fielder Ender Inciarte and starting pitcher Julio Teheran. Adding McCarthy and Kazmir to outfielder Nick Markakis and catchers Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers and the Braves have nearly $50 million worth of contracts set to expire at the close of next season.

McCarthy, 34, made 16 starts for Los Angeles last season and, most importantly, ended the year healthy. Anthopoulos worked in the Dodgers front office for the past two years and said he believes McCarthy is primed to contribute to the Atlanta starting five in 2018.

“We see him being in our rotation,” said Anthopoulos. “He had an intermittent year in L.A. but the stuff was very good. He came back at the end of the year and was on the World Series roster just because of how good he looked, how good stuff was, up to 94 mph. He started throwing a slider that he just added at the end of the year that was really good. Still very good stuff and even early in the year he was on a roll in L.A. when I was there. First few months was really throwing the ball well and then he missed time. Excited about him, think there’s some upside to him.”

Kazmir will turn 34 years old in January and did not pitch in the majors in 2017 because of a hip ailment which affected his velocity. He underwent hip surgery and made a handful of minor league rehab appearances. Anthopoulos said Atlanta will take a look at Kazmir in spring training to determine if he’s in position to help in the rotation as well.

Anthopoulos wanted to find some veteran arms to help bridge the gap to some of Atlanta’s prized pitching prospects, several of which could contribute over the course of the 2018 season, including Max Fried, Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka. The club also wants to leave the door open for those young arms to come in and compete in spring training.

“If a guy like Scott Kazmir can throw the way he’s capable of throwing and the way he’s thrown in the past, even stronger for us in terms of depth,” said Anthopoulous. “We have a lot of young arms. We don’t know that they’re all necessarily going to be able to go 200 innings, perform over 200 innings. We’re going to need that depth.”

“With the other wave behind those [veteran] guys, with the Allards, the Frieds and the Sorokas that are starting to get close, and obviously Fried has already been up, just to have that depth over the course of the year, especially knowing how young we are on the mound, is going to be really important,” said Anthopoulos.

The Braves also added the versatile Charlie Culberson, who has a good glove, should help out off the bench and is capable of playing just about everywhere. The 28-year-old is from nearby Calhoun, Ga., and was a first round draft pick by San Francisco in 2007. Culberson has spent parts of five seasons in the majors with the Giants, Rockies and Dodgers.

While the club did strengthen its roster in a couple of areas, the biggest move Atlanta made with this deal was clearing a path to the majors for Acuña, the 19-year-old wunderkind who lit the minor leagues on fire as he blazed a trail from A-Ball to Triple-A in 2017. Though he may or may not break camp with the big club for reasons not related to his ability or readiness, Acuña will be the story in spring training. If he puts together a strong showing, Acuña could make for a difficult decision for the Braves, a decision that Anthopoulos said has not been made by any means at this time.

The Dodgers. meanwhile, are setting themselves up to potentially get under the luxury tax threshold of $197 million this season in order to gets their funds in order and spend on the robust 2018 free agent class next winter headlined by Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and a host of other All-Stars.

It seems unlikely that their reunion Kemp will be a lasting one, with Los Angeles likely trying to find a way to flip the injury-prone veteran slugger to another club. The American League would offer Kemp a chance to DH, a role which bests suits him at this stage of his career.

The other veteran slugger in this deal was just looking for a route to free agency. Gonzalez agreed to waive his no-trade clause if the Braves would designated him for assignment. He will make about $22 million in 2018 and is now searching for a place to play. Gonzalez missed significant time in 2017 due to injury and the Dodgers are now set at first base with the emergence of rookie of the year Cody Bellinger.

 

Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can subscribe to the “Around The Big Leagues” podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher.

 

2017 MLB Winter Meetings Live Blog (Day 3)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Below you’ll find the latest updates from Day 3 of the Winter Meetings. The newest will be placed at the top.

11:16 a.m. — Just finished up with Brian Snitker’s media availability and will head over to have the annual manager’s luncheon this afternoon. As usual, he was peppered with roster questions and how he sizes up the returning players, particularly the young talents that will once again be relied upon to help the Braves take a step forward from 2017. With a new GM and front office in place that clearly puts value on the analytics side of the game, Snitker said his conversations with Alex Anthopoulos and others have been “enlightening” and will only help in the efforts to get the maximum return from the team in 2018.

Snitker, who has been in and around the game for over four decades is not altogether unfamiliar with the advanced scouting and metrics that have become increasingly prevalent over the past two decades. However, as a member of the field staff and a minor league manager who has been tasked with development and not encumbered by the statistical influence as much, he is in fact learning on the job and trying to add to his knowledge base in order to better communicate information that may be helpful to his players and ultimately the team.

Here’s what Snitker had to say about his discussion with Anthopoulos so far:

“Yeah, it’s been real interesting to me because I told him, hey, I’m 62 years old, and I spent my entire career relying on my gut and my eyes and getting to know the people that Alex has brought in, it’s been enlightening to me, because this is kind of where we’re at and where we’re going in the game, and I’ve spent the last couple days up in the suite talking to those guys, and they’re showing us the information and there’s a lot to it. It’s very interesting for somebody like me that’s — I don’t have that background.

So it’s going to be real beneficial, and the thing they preface everything by is, “We’re not going to push this on you. We’re going to give you information.” And now I kind of get what I’ve been reading about, what I’ve been hearing about with the analytics side of the game, I’m already understanding what that’s all about and now as these guys say, we’re going to get the information and get it in the players’ hands, it’s kind of like you see what they’re talking about.

It’s going to be good. They have already shown me information I think that the players are really going to latch on to it, and it’s going to be good for them, their careers, day in, day out workings of us playing the game. It’s going to be very useful and it’s going to help a lot.”

This conversation and information obviously extends to the players:

“Players are going to give us their feedback too. You present it all to them and then ultimately they’re the ones that decide what they’re going to use. Us too, as a staff, we’ll get together and I think each guy that has their area or whatever are going to know little things maybe that they want and how they want to present it to the guys. So it’s going to be something that it’s going to be new to all of us, I think, and again it’s going to be very beneficial to all of us.”

How has the success of others club, like the Dodgers, helped him see the benefits of implementing analytics?

“It’s legit stuff. I’m seeing things that — I think the thing that I think it’s going to be a really — it’s for the players. How they break things down. It’s not going to be negative stuff to these guys either, it’s going to be things that can help them to get better and it will be up to them, what they want to grab hold of and use, but I think there’s going to be a lot of guys that I think that some of the information that they’re going to give them is going to be good for them. It’s going to give them another avenue to try and to improve their game. So I think they’re going to like it.

Nothing but positive is going to come out of the whole thing. They made it very clear they’re not going to ram things down your throat, but there’s information there. I understand now they talk about the manager getting it in the hands of the players, what to give them. I think that you talk to them as they learn it, they understand it, they’re going to know and probably want more in some situations too, but it is very interesting stuff.”

What is the plan for Dansby Swanson heading into 2018, following a very up and down rookie season?

“Things change as we go. You start the season with a plan and with a lineup, and then things have a way of working themselves out and things change. I think it was another — again, we forget I think, too, with Dansby that he had going into this year he had a year total, I think, of professional experience. Because that first year he didn’t do a whole lot. He didn’t play a whole lot.

So that was a big year, it was a big year for him last year. Now he’s going to go into this year a lot more prepared, I think a lot more versed in what to expect when we get to Spring Training. Last year he probably thought he did but then it didn’t go like we wanted. Earlier in the year he had a lot of hard-hit balls that were caught. To his credit he kept working, he kept playing, went down, came back, and finished the year okay.

So we like Dansby a lot and I think again we like all the young players last year, it was a really beneficial experience year for him.”

What has impressed Brian Snitker about Ronald Acuña, and how realistic are his chances to break camp with the big club this spring?

“Well, I think he’s just has to do what he does. I mean, like I say, last year he came in as a very impressive young man, I was most impressed about the adjustments he would make on the fly and in at-bats and again the kid’s skill set defensively, what he brings offensively, the potential is going to be really good. We’ll get him down there and he’ll be part of the mix and see where he’s at.”

8:50 a.m. — Heading over the Swan and Dolphin for the last full day here in the Orlando area. A very quiet Day 2 could give away to some movement in Day 3. Or it may not. There seems to be some action on the relief market, with the Phillies signing a pair of relievers, which is very much something the Braves would like to do at some point this winter.

I posted the latest Around The Big Leagues podcast following our Day 2 chat with Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos (Hear it here). We talked about analytics, the young core of the team, possible moves and the impending arrival of super prospect Ronald Acuña.

There are plenty of trade rumors swirling this time of year, with Atlanta looking to deal away a corner outfielder (or two) and perhaps looking to acquire one as well. Christian Yelich of the Marlins stands out as an obvious target and many clubs are interested in his services. While no GM is going to dangle the names of the players he’s pursuing, Anthopoulos told me the Braves continue to monitor the market for the right players, the right deals and the right moves in general:

“There’s a lot of good players out there and we’d love to say ‘hey, we made some transactions.’ Conversely, people are going to ask for our good players so that’s where it gets challenging. And then also you’re going to weigh things like the years of control. Some names have already been reported, but obviously there’s some rumors out there and some names of some really good players, but maybe the club control is not very appealing to us. You’re always weighing that off too. We’re trying to build something that’s going to be sustainable that’s going to be long term. But the fact that good players are out there, you’re still going to engage [in talks] and see if there is a fit and if we can get a deal done.”

Make sure you’re following Around The Big Leagues on social media:

Twitter: @grantmcauley and @BigLeagueShow

Facebook: Around The Big Leagues

Instagram: Around The Big Leagues

Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can subscribe to the “Around The Big Leagues” podcast on iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud and Stitcher.

2017 MLB Winter Meetings Live Blog (Day 2)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Below you’ll find the latest updates from Day 2 of the Winter Meetings. The newest will be placed at the top.

4:12 p.m. — Heading to the suite to have our daily media session with Alex Anthopoulos. Obviously, not much has transpired, but it’s a good chance to continue to pick the brain of the new man in charge. I don’t think he’s worried whatsoever about having to make a deal to make a statement here in Orlando, but the talks here often lead to the possibility of deal happening down the road.

Meanwhile, tomorrow is the annual manager luncheon, so I’ll have a chance to catch up with Brian Snitker and see what he has in mind for roster construction and needs for the 25-man roster as well as the new coaching staff.

1:58 p.m. — There have been plenty of questions posed to me and plenty of speculation about what Miami may do with its other two, young, talented outfielders. With slugger Giancarlo Stanton now a Yankee, the Marlins can turn their attention to shedding further payroll by dealing away Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. These are two very different players, however.

Most believe that Yelich has the potential to become a superstar, while Ozuna had a quietly dominant offensive season in 2017 and he did so in the shadow of Stanton’s 59-homer campaign. Oh, and throw in a gold glove for Ozuna – something Yelich had won previously.

Bottom line, both men will attract plenty of interest from multiple clubs.

Ozuna, 27, hit .312/.376/.548 with 37 home runs and 124 RBI. He is under team control for two more seasons through arbitration, but Yelich signed a multi-year extension that keeps him under contract for five more seasons if his 2022 team option is picked up. Yelich, 26, has put up a .290/.369/.432 slash line while averaging 15 homers and 18 stolen bases over his first five years in the majors.

Moving one of those two young outfielders will not purely be for salary relief purposes, and neither man will be able to exercise the kind of control that Stanton was able to over trade negotiations thanks to his iron clad no trade provision. Teams that missed out on Stanton, like the Cardinals and Giants could turn their attention to Ozuna as they look to bounce back from off years. Clubs building for the future and taking a more long term approach would prefer to have Yelich, especially when paying the prospect price.

If the Braves were to go for one of the two, you can bet it would be Yelich.

10:21 a.m. — Day 2 won’t start with quite the same fanfare. There’s no Hall of Fame press conference and no $300 million slugger being introduced by his new team today. At least not yet for the latter.

Atlanta has some definite needs as the restructured front office builds out the 25-man roster. While new GM Alex Anthopoulos is no stranger to wheeling and dealing, he’s not looking to pull any trades simply to make a splash at the Winter Meetings. He discussed a “cautious and measured” approach with the media on Monday. This is especially true as he gets to know the cache of prospects in the Atlanta system, which still remains one of the best in baseball.

Does that mean we don’t need to expect any trades in Orlando?

“That can change in a phone call,” Anthopoulos said.

The Braves are definitely in pursuit of trade partners to help them improve the defense, which means veteran corner outfielders Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis are on the block. As you may have heard in my chat with MLB.com’s Mark Bowman (which you can catch here), moving Kemp is the priority and will prove a much more difficult task thanks to the $36 million he’s owed over the next two seasons combined.

As I wrote here yesterday, there’s a case to be made for biting the bullet and eating the money if it comes down to it. However, that’s a decision the Braves would make only after exhausting all options that don’t involve dealing away other, younger talents simply to facilitate a trade. Markakis should be much easier to move and may very well stay put as he heads into the final season of the four-year deal he signed prior to 2015. It goes without saying, the Braves are going to do everything they can to open up a place for super prospect Ronald Acuña to play, whether that’s on opening day or shortly thereafter.

Outside of the the outfield, the Braves could certainly use some veteran arms in the bullpen, likely two of those. Former Brave Peter Moylan is a name that continues to come up. He’d offer some help in the sixth and seventh innings and would also be useful in what is a younger bullpen by in large. The configuration of the bullpen seems to be leaning toward carrying eight relievers. Anthopoulos said that could change throughout the season, because there may be a need to carry an extra reserve player. If the rotation and bullpen are both doing their respective jobs, it could mean that a five-man bench would be preferable. After all, we are talking about a National League team which will need its share of pinch hitters throughout the season. The four-man bench makes that challenging in long games and extra-innings.

Also worth noting, you can count Anthopoulos among those who is looking forward to seeing what Austin Riley has to offer and that’s a factor when planning an upgrade at third base for 2018.

“Short term, we’ve talked about third base,” Anthopoulos told me on Monday. “We think Riley has a chance to be a really good player long term. I know people in the organization are incredibly excited about him and excited about the Fall League.”

Riley, 20, slugged his way through the AFL, finishing second in the league with six home runs and third with a 1.021 OPS. He trailed his teammate Acuña in both those categories. Riley is coming off back-to-back 20 home run seasons and finished 2017 with a good run in Double-A Mississippi. By all reports, Riley continues to make strides with the glove as well, which was a question mark for him during his first season in pro ball. However, he figures to be a 2019 arrival, so the Braves need at third base would be a year or two. In house, the club has the versatile Johan Camargo, a switch-hitter who has made strides at the plate the last two years and could warrant a longer look at third base. Atlanta also has Rio Ruiz in the mix, but the Braves seem set on exploring the FA market and potential trades to bolster the position rather than relying on that duo to platoon at the hot corner. Acquiring a proven veteran would allow for Camargo to fill a super-sub role, where most see his value at its highest.

There are some veterans out there that will command big money, with Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas perhaps the biggest name. While Atlanta won’t get in that derby, veteran Todd Frazier could be a player who makes sense for the Braves on a two-year deal. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about a Martin Prado reunion. The Braves obviously like him, but at age 34, coming off an injury-riddled season and owed nearly $29 million the next two seasons, the Marlins would have to eat some serious cash to make any deal happen.

 

Twitter: @grantmcauley and @BigLeagueShow

Facebook: Around The Big Leagues

Instagram: Around The Big Leagues

 

Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can subscribe to the “Around The Big Leagues” podcast on iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud and Stitcher.

2017 MLB Winter Meetings Live Blog (Day 1)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Below you’ll find the latest updates from Day 1 of the Winter Meetings. The newest will be placed at the top.

9:21 — I’ve been a very busy man this afternoon, catching up on the Braves beat after spending most of my day moonlighting with the news from other teams. New Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos held his media availability a few hours ago. It sounds like he’s looking to ease into what is a familiar role, but with an all new team. We asked a bevy of questions about the winter shopping list and where his club could use some improvement.

Here are a few noteworthy items from today’s chat with the general manager, beginning with roster construction.

Perhaps the most interesting discussion topic was how he will go about filling needs and approaching trades with all the young talent he inherited on the farm. Caution seems to be the operative word.

Basically, what I gathered from speaking with him is that Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t want to come in and just start making aggressive moves without properly weighing/evaluating the talent they’d be parting with from a prospect perspective.

“To make real significant decisions, especially with young players, unlikely. Not impossible, but unlikely unless there’s real conviction among everyone in the organization,” said Anthopoulos. “With young players you’re always going to have debate and split camp. It’s just important to be thorough. It’s hard to be aggressive when you’re not completely comfortable with information yet.”

My latest podcast tackles all of that and more, and includes an interview with Anthopoulos as well as new Hall of Famer Jack Morris. I’m joined by Mark Bowman of MLB.com in the latest episode of Around The Big Leagues.

2:49 p.m. — Giancarlo Stanton was introduced to the media and the newest Yankees slugger looked very comfortable in pinstripes. After voicing his excitement to join a winning franchise, it became apparent that he was perhaps even more overjoyed to avoid another Miami rebuild. Armed a full no-trade clause, Stanton was sought after by several play-off clubs and hopefuls. He declined to accept a trade to both the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals before landing in the Bronx, where he’ll join fellow 50-homer slugger Aaron Judge. That tandem will not make life easy on opposing pitchers.

“This has been quite the experience, quite the road to get here,” Stanton said in his first remarks with his new team. “When I signed up in Miami, I wanted things to work out, and I had a good vision there, but sometimes things just spiral out of place and you have to find a new home. So I’m very excited to be here and to be a part of the Yankees, and I’m just looking forward to stepping up and being with this winning environment and winning culture.”

It’s also fairly obvious that Stanton was not overly enamored by the new ownership group as the process played out. There were no warm and fuzzy exchanges between he and new front office figurehead Derek Jeter, the longtime Yankees captain. Stanton’s monster contract has 10-years and $295 million remaining, which was never going to allow for many teams to even inquire. However, it was Stanton’s no-trade provision that proved most difficult for the Marlins to control the negotiations. The player had all the leverage, and exercised it in order to join a club that appears to be putting together the pieces to build a perennial playoff contender. Stanton’s agent Joel Wolfe told the media that his client has no intention to exercise his opt-out clause after the 2020 season.

1:25 p.m. — The Braves have a few needs to fill as they go through the winter and a few pieces they wouldn’t mind moving prior to spring training. Let’s start with the obvious corner outfield conundrum which has been a running storyline since top prospect Ronald Acuña took the minor leagues by storm last season. Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis are both candidates for trade this winter, though both men come with entirely different circumstances attached. Specifically, Kemp’s health, which will be a stumbling block as the club looks to unload as much of the $36 million he is owed over the next two seasons while simultaneously opening a spot for Acuña.

Make no mistake, a high-value return for either is not in the cards. Creating that spot for Acuña is the single most important thing that trading away one of their veteran outfielders will accomplish.

Kemp, 33, came to spring training this year in good shape, but after a hot start he added back the weight he’d lost as hamstring injuries landed him on the disabled list. Kemp’s days in the outfield appear to be numbered, but if healthy his bat could help an American League club looking for some power. That said, Kemp has compiled a total 1.6 fWAR since the beginning of 2013. Chronic leg injuries have diminished his value in the field and on the bases to the point where both are non-existent. He has power, but his on-base skills are limited. It’s unfortunate to see from a guy who was among the best all-around players in baseball about five years ago.

The issue for Atlanta as the seller in this case is two-fold. First of all, Kemp hasn’t been able to remain healthy. Second, finding a club that is willing to take on that $18 million annual salary is going to be a significant challenge. The Braves can shop him around in hopes of attracting a buyer, and could also sweeten the deal by attaching a prospect to help offload more of Kemp’s salary and off-set the risk for the buyer. This is perhaps an all too familiar place for the Braves in recent years, trying to move bad money contracts by attaching other, better talents to the deal (See: Upton, Melvin and Kimbrel, Craig). It’s not an enviable position. There could be a bad contract swap that would benefit Atlanta and another club. If all of that fails, releasing Kemp and/or eating all the money he’s owed is another possibility.

Markakis, 34, has provided the Braves with a decent right field option for the past three seasons. While he is far from an impact player, he has provided a steady presence in the Atlanta lineup – averaging 1.2 fWAR over the last three years – and a valued veteran with workman’s approach to a clubhouse that has constantly been in transition since the start of 2015. Markakis has just one year and $10.5 million remaining on his contract, which should not create any issue when seeking a trade partner. He should be much easier to move if Atlanta chooses to go that route.

12:10 p.m. — The Hall of Fame press conference just wrapped up as Alan Trammell and Jack Morris were introduced as the newest members of the hall. Both men were incredibly gratified to be going in with one another. After all, these two men were each drafted in the Tigers 1976 draft class and went to play as teammates in Detroit through 1990. Both Trammell and Morris spent the 15 years on the BBWAA ballot, hoping to gain election to the Hall of Fame. Those 15 years came and went, but they were elected on their first appearance on the Modern Era Ballot.

“It’s been a little hard at times to see guys way younger than me being first,” Morris said of the waiting game. “I’m proud of them. I’m happy for them. But I’m so happy that I can go in with guys that were my peers and maybe get to know each other better and celebrate.”

Morris is also keenly aware that baseball’s turn to analytics over the past two decades has changed forever the way clubs and fans digest the statistics. That in turn has changed the way players are viewed in both an annual basis and in perpetuity for an honor like the hall of fame. While the analytics don’t paint Morris in the same light as others in Cooperstown, his place in history is now cemented.

“I want all the writers to know that I’m not mad at any of you,” Morris joked of waiting 18 years to receive his spot in Cooperstown. “I appreciate and understand how difficult it had to be. I finally grew up and learned that there’s reasons I maybe didn’t deserve to be in. I wasn’t born and raised in the analytics that are in the game today. None of it was a part of the game when we played. I always found it puzzling to wonder why I’m being judged on a criteria that didn’t even exist while we played, but it is what it is.”

“But I also want to appreciate and acknowledge all the writers who did support me and even the guys who didn’t because that’s our country. We have that right. And we shall cherish that right, and I respect everybody for whatever they thought.  Now that I’m in, I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

Trammell’s case was definitely helped out by the advanced stats, which help make the case that he was one of the greatest shortstops of his era. Though he may not have the counting stats that have long been customary for hall of fame players, Trammell’s all around game and contributions to the Tigers and baseball in the 1980s are hard to ignore. They will go begging no longer.

“When I ranked myself as a player, I thought I could do a lot of things well, but probably one thing — there wasn’t one thing that just was at the top. But I think that’s part of the criteria when you look at all the ingredients of becoming a Hall of Famer is a well-rounded player, and that’s just who I was. I couldn’t be anybody else. That’s just the good Lord gave me this ability, and I tried to do the best I could,” said Trammell of earning a spot in Cooperstown.”

‘For my peers to be able to recognize that, that’s very much appreciated, very much appreciated,” Trammell continued. “I look at that, and I’ll look on it for my lifetime very fondly, that it didn’t go unrecognized. Again, just proud to be a part of this thing.”

You will year from Jack Morris on today’s episode of Around The Big Leagues. So stay tuned for the podcast tonight.

9:40 a.m. — The Atlanta Braves’ contingent has arrived in central Florida along with the rest of the sport. Here you’ll find 30 teams all looking to better themselves for the 2018 season and beyond.

The weekend preceding the Winter Meetings may have already set the tone. Highly sought after Japanese star Shohei Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels, while the Yankees landed Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton in a blockbuster trade. The official press conference to introduce Stanton will take place Monday at 2 p.m. ET.

The other big news from Day 1 is Monday’s Hall of Fame press conference. Detroit Tigers legends Alan Trammell and Jack Morris were elected from the Modern Era Ballot and will be on hand to discuss receiving baseball’s highest honor. That will take place at 11 a.m. ET and I’ll have notes, quotes and photos from the event.

Longtime St. Louis Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons fell just one vote shy of the necessary 12 needed for election from the special committee. Simmons played briefly with the Braves and alongside two-time NL MVP Dale Murphy, who fell well short of the necessary support. Both men can go back on the Modern Era Ballot in two years.

I’m going to circulate around the Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort for a while and check out the set-up for this years meetings. You can expect daily podcasts and regular social media updates, so make sure you’re following all the right places:

Twitter: @grantmcauley and @BigLeagueShow

Facebook: Around The Big Leagues

Instagram: Around The Big Leagues

 

Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can subscribe to the “Around The Big Leagues” podcast on iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud and Stitcher.

Braves Receive Harsh Punishment from Major League Baseball

 

Additionally, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that former Atlanta general manager John Coppolella has been banned for life while former international scouting director Gordon Blakeley has received a one-year ban.

The punishment is unprecedented and includes the loss of more than a dozen prospects, including highly-touted infielder Kevin Maitan. The players in question have been declared free agents after baseball’s investigation into Atlanta’s dealings revealed the club routinely skirted the rules for signing international amateur talents.

The 13 players Atlanta lost include Maitan, Ji Hwan Bae, Abrahan Gutierrez, Yunior Severino. Juan Contreras. Yefri del Rosario, Yenci Peña, Livan Soto. Juan Carlos Negret, Brandol Mezquita, Angel Rojas, Antonio Sucre and Guillermo Zuniga. The Braves also face severe restrictions on signing any international prospects over the next three to four years. The league also confiscated Atlanta’s third round pick in the 2018 amateur draft after the investigation deemed the club offered improper benefits to 2017 second round pick Drew Waters.

The investigation concluded that Atlanta “bundled” prospects and redirected bonus money from one player to another in an attempt to circumvent MLB rules during the 2015 signing period. Had those signings been done by the book it would have put the Braves over their allotment of bonus pool money for that period and therefore should have resulted in spending restrictions which would have precluded the Braves from breaking the bank in 2016.

Maitan and Gutierrez were the top names in Atlanta’s 2016 signing class, which came at a reported cost of over $13 million. That number may have been significantly higher, with David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporting the club may have spent in excess of $4 million more – pushing the actual total to at least $17 million. By spending well over the annual $4-6 million hard cap each team is given during an international signing period, the Braves were placed in the “penalty box” and not allowed to sign any players for more than $300,000 for the following two periods (2017 and 2018). The league determined those spending restrictions happened a year later than they should have.

It’s worth noting that Atlanta’s actions took place around the same time the Red Sox were being punished with the loss of prospects for similar “bundling” practices. Of course the difference here is the scope. Atlanta went far beyond Boston’s violations, which were the first and only real precedent for how the league would approach handling the players involved in such incidents.

The prospects Atlanta lost will be allowed to keep their original signing bonuses, but will not become true free agents. Those players will instead go back into the international signing pool and any of the other 29 teams will be free to sign them. Waters, meanwhile, will remain with the organization.

Upon receiving the news of the sanctions handed down, the Braves issued a statement in which the club accepted the commissioner’s discipline, reaffirmed its commitment to restoring the faith of the fans and declined to make any further comment going forward.

The loss of Maitan, 17, is by far the biggest on the prospect front. The top player available in the 2016 international signing class, Maitan inked a $4.25 million deal with Atlanta that July. He made his stateside debut last summer, batting .241/.290/.340 in 42 games at the rookie ball level. Maitan is a switch-hitting shortstop out of Venezuela who has drawn comparisons to Miguel Cabrera. He was among Atlanta’s top 10 prospects and was recently ranked the No. 72 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America.

Gutierrez, 17, was another of the high-profile signings in 2016. A power-hitting catching prospect who signed for a reported $3.5 million bonus. Like Maitan, a fellow Venezuelan, Gutierrez made his stateside debut this past summer. Additionally, Severino, 18, is an infielder from the Dominican Republic who signed for $1.9 million in that same group.

Bae, 18, is another notable loss. Atlanta signed the Korean-born shortstop in September. He was widely regarded as one of the best prospects to come out of the country in recent years and was projected to be the top pick in the KBO draft had he not signed with the Braves. The Bae acquisition seems to fall at or around the time MLB began its investigation into Atlanta’s perceived inconsistencies in the international market. Factoring in the team’s aforementioned hard cap of $300,000 for player signings and questions surround how the Braves got a player of Bae’s caliber to agree to such a deal. The league concluded that the team offered Bae extra-contractual compensation and therefore disapproved his agreement with the club, which had yet to become binding.

Commissioner Manfred also chastised the club for brokering a commitment from an agent for 14-year-old Dominican prospect Robert Puason in which he agreed to sign with Atlanta in 2019. The Braves are forbidden from signing Pauson in the future.

While the Braves currently remain in the “penalty box” regarding international signings, the future restrictions were also laid out in the commissioner’s statement:

“The Braves will be prohibited from signing any international player for more than $10,000 during the 2019-20 signing period, which is the first signing period in which the Braves are not subject to any signing restrictions under our rules; and the Braves’ international signing bonus pool for the 2020-21 signing period will be reduced by 50 percent.”

In addition to the sanctions, the club was dealt a significant blow to its front office structure. Coppolella and Blakeley were both forced to resign by the team on October 2, just one day after the regular season concluded. Despite reportedly being cleared by the league’s investigation, demoted former president of baseball operations John Hart announced his departure to “pursue other opportunities outside the organization” just three days after new general manager Alex Anthopoulos was hired. During the press conference to introduce the new GM, team chairman Terry McGuirk revealed that Hart had ceded complete control of baseball operations to Anthopoulos and would instead serve as a senior advisor. The timing of Hart’s resignation seems to line up with Braves officials learning that Coppolella would be receiving a lifetime ban. It would clearly not be a good look from a public relations standpoint for the Braves to have Coppolella’s direct supervisor remain on staff in any capacity in the wake of the sanctions. That likely hastened Hart’s exit at the behest of the team.

Manfred acknowledged the necessity of those departures and added the following regarding punishment to be handed out to other Atlanta front office officials:

“I intend to discipline other Braves’ International Baseball Operations employees who participated in the misconduct after the completion of our internal procedures. My staff will speak to the Players Association and officials in the Dominican Republic regarding appropriate consequences for the representatives of the players who intentionally participated in schemes to circumvent our rules, none of whom are certified by the Players Association.”

Atlanta has already turned its attention to putting its house back in order. The first order of business was hiring the executives who will lead a restructured front office. Anthopoulos will head that group. He was introduced in a press conference at SunTrust Park on November 13. With the cloud of the league’s investigation looming over his new club, Anthopoulos was keenly aware of the possible sanctions. That did not deter him from taking the reins of a Braves team that still has one of the best farm systems in baseball.

“Every club is going to have challenges, obstacles, things like that. This is one of them,” said Anthopoulos. “We’re going to deal with it. We’re going to handle it. We’re going to get through it.”

“We won’t be the first club that’s gone through some things,” said Anthopoulos. “Regardless of what happens, the Braves are going to be here. We’re going to be playing opening day. There’s still a lot of good things to be excited about and we’ll meet the challenges head on and get through them.”

Manfred shares that sentiment and believes the Braves will get back on course after what can only be described as a monumental misstep.

“The Braves cooperated throughout the investigation, which was conducted by MLB’s Department of Investigations. The senior Baseball Operations officials responsible for the misconduct are no longer employed b

Braves Set To Hire Alex Anthopoulos As General Manager

ATLANTA — With the franchise in a state of disarray, the Atlanta Braves have taken the first step toward putting their house in order. Longtime Blue Jays executive Alex Anthopoulos will be named the new general manager of the Braves according to multiple reports late Sunday night.

Mark Bowman of MLB.com was first to report the possibility of Anthopoulos taking Atlanta’s vacant general manager position. Joel Sherman of the New York Post later confirmed the news. An official announcement is expected to take place Monday according to Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic.

The impending arrival of Anthopoulos follows nearly two months in which the Braves have been under investigation by Major League Baseball for alleged infractions in both the international market and the amateur draft. As a result, general manager John Coppolella and international scouting director Gordon Blakeley were forced to resign immediately following the regular season.

Now Atlanta finds itself in need of stability and proven leadership, two things Anthopoulos can provide as the club rebuilds its front office. The team is still awaiting the findings of the league’s investigation, with sanctions expected to follow. Those could include loss of players, loss of future draft picks, an international spending ban and a substantial fine.

According to Sherman, Anthopoulos will have final say on all player personnel decisions, with Bowman adding that he will essentially serve as the club’s de facto president of baseball operations. That is a title currently held by John Hart, who is under contract with Atlanta until the end of the year. Hart will reportedly remain in an advisory capacity for the time being.

Anthopoulos, 40, is a Montreal native who began his baseball career as an intern in the Expos organization in 2000. He joined the Blue Jays front office as a scouting coordinator in 2003 and worked his way up to general manager within six years. He was Toronto’s GM from October 2009 to October 2015, but turned down a five-year extension shortly after the arrival of current Blue Jays team president Mark Shapiro. Anthopoulos was named the Sporting News’ Executive of the Year for 2015 and went on to join the Dodgers as vice president of baseball operations in 2016. He has held that post for the past two years.

The Blue Jays rose back to prominence in the AL East thanks to a powerful offense. Both Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista were acquired in 2009, just before Anthopoulos – an assistant to then-GM J.P. Ricciardi  – took the reigns as general manager. Anthopoulos later traded for Oakland slugger Josh Donaldson, who immediately won the 2015 AL MVP Award as Toronto played deep into October. Anthopoulos has shown the ability to be creative within payroll limitations and build from within while maintaining an active approach in both trades and the free agent market.

Like any GM, his trade history contains both hits and misses. While the Donaldson trade turned out to be one of the best this decade, Anthopoulos also acquired veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey from the Mets in 2012 in exchange for a package that included top pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard. However, his trades for David Price and Troy Tulowitzki helped Toronto reach the ALCS in 2015, where they were eliminated by the eventual world champion Kansas City Royals.

The Blue Jays built a solid farm system which was used to supplement the major league roster and in trades. Along with Syndergaard,  Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, Kevin Pillar, Devin Travis, Adeiny Hechavarria and Travis d’Arnaud are all seasoned big leaguers who were acquired under Anthopoulos’ watch in Toronto. He inherits a Braves farm system that is loaded with talent with which to build and shape the future of the franchise.

Atlanta was rebuffed in its attempts to lure Royals GM Dayton Moore back to the franchise he began his career with. Kansas City owner David Glass denied the Braves permission to interview Moore.  He would likely have been positioned as the club’s new president of baseball operations, a mantle that Anthopoulos could take up sooner than later.

Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can subscribe to the “Around The Big Leagues” podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. Follow Grant on Twitter.

Who Can Lead Braves Through Winter of Discontent?

As the Atlanta Braves remain in a holding pattern, the search continues for leadership that can somehow steer this once-revered franchise back in the right direction.

The club is facing industry-wide scrutiny after Major League Baseball launched an investigation into rules infractions in the international market as well as into alleged illicit draft dealings. To make matters worse, they’ve even run afoul of agents. Simply put, the Braves’ brain trust is beset by criticism.

Now the front office will receive a reboot for the second time in three years, something no one thought was possible when the team broke camp in the spring and opened up its brand new ballpark in April. The move to SunTrust Park was supposed to signal a new chapter in Braves baseball. This is hardly what they had mind.

Atlanta has long been a franchise that prided itself on setting industry standards, not skirting industry rules. The Braves certainly did not expect to find themselves in this position.

Yet here they are and with more palace intrigue than ever. It’s a full-scale scandal.

The team is now in desperate need of stability and leadership, two things it had not been lacking in decades prior. However, recent years tell a different story. No one in the current regime will be able to explain away this sordid state of affairs. The Braves are facing major discipline from the league. Internally, infighting and factions are not a recipe for success.

Names of potential general manager candidates are already circulating on the rumor mill. Some of these executives have ties to the Braves, while others could offer a fresh, outside-the-organization perspective that may be just what this club needs. They may need to completely restructure. There’s a growing sentiment that is Atlanta’s only recourse.

Yes, I’m talking about a culture change.

The club has definitely forfeited the ability to use “The Braves Way” as a rallying cry. There’s little to no good will left in that amorphous term which was invoked when Frank Wren’s tenure as general manager came to an end. Longtime team executive John Schuerholz was elected to the Hall of Fame last year, but before he stood on the dais at Cooperstown this summer to accept baseball’s highest honor, he sat at another in the auxiliary clubhouse at Turner Field in late 2014 pledging to redirect his club’s efforts to return to its former glory by going back to “The Braves Way.”

A proclamation won’t do here. In truth, the message may not have resonated three years ago.

It’s not the 90s anymore. That’s something I actually heard a handful of times in spring training. It seemed somewhat innocuous at the time. After all, why should any current player be concerned with yesteryear on a daily basis? While some members of the front office and field staff have ties to the club’s golden years, Atlanta is now 16 years removed from its last playoff series win. That’s a longer stretch than the Braves’ streak of 14 consecutive division titles, the oft-cited result of doing things “The Braves Way.”

Many I’ve spoken to around the club struggle to define what exactly “The Braves Way” is. Sure, the renewed emphasis on player development created the talent pipeline that the club so desperately wanted. In relatively short order the minor league system was built into one of the best in the game, though some questions are being raised as to the methods of that madness.

Suffice it to say, no slogan will solve their problems. This is not about “The Braves Way.”

Nostalgia is not the cure.

How did the Braves get here? 

Much of the criticism is warranted. Some of it even comes from within. Some more scurrilous remarks are the residual effect of ousting the last general manager. Regardless, public outcry seems to form a united front which is demanding a full accounting for the actions or inaction that allowed the club to become embroiled in controversy. Are we to believe it was solely general manager John Coppolella’s doing? How could others in the chain of command be completely in the dark here?

The questions are many. The answers are few.

In late August, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required and recommended) was first to report there was an ongoing “battle for the soul of the franchise.” Initial reaction was one of surprise, followed by confusion and ending with acceptance that things were not as they appeared to be. That report was glossed over as “disappointing” by at least one Braves official, but it spurred curiosity as corroborating evidence began to surface in the weeks that followed.

There were definitely cracks, but it appeared to be business as usual when the Braves hired two new executives to join the front office contingent in September. A mere three weeks later, Coppolella and top advisor Gordon Blakeley resigned amid allegations of impropriety regarding the team’s international spending. The Braves are withholding comment until the investigation is concluded.

The league continues its probe into a host of alleged infractions, both foreign and domestic, according to a highly detailed account from Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. It painted a less than flattering picture of Coppolella’s leadership style, the splintered nature of Atlanta’s front office and the growing displeasure of executives around the league.

Next to the plate was Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, who presented the possibility that top ranking team officials and longtime friends John Schuerholz and John Hart were at odds. Schuerholz handed control of baseball operations to Hart and Coppolella three years ago, but has remained an ever-present figure in the Atlanta front office to help with the efforts of procuring two new ballparks among other things.

That rift may have been rectified according to a follow-up from Heyman, and while both Schuerholz and Hart downplayed the initial report to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, there are too many questions and not enough answers coming from the executive wing at SunTrust Park. The future of Hart is just another one.

Atlanta’s front office is under siege. More departures are expected when the league concludes its investigation and delivers what could be a wide range of sanctions. Several front office executives have been interviewed as baseball attempts to gauge who knew what, when and to what extent about the potential international spending infractions, draft improprieties and other acts that have been brought into question.

Rosenthal added that Major League Baseball investigators have yet to speak with Hart about his potential role in all of this, but the Braves are expected to face “unprecedented” discipline for their violations when all is said and done. The punishment could include a large fine, forfeiture of prospects and serious limitations on Atlanta’s international spending. Whether or not Hart had firsthand knowledge or is implicated in a larger plot to bend the rules, he could still face ramifications according to the latest report from Rosenthal.

Where do we go from here?

It’s hard to expect much clarity on this front office shakeup before MLB wraps up its investigation, delivers its findings and hands out its discipline. Whoever inherits the job of taking control in Atlanta will be tasked with restoring order. There’s no shortage of fires to put out. This will be a completely different type of rebuild. It’s a three-pronged effort that will require rebuilding the faith of the fans, rebuilding relations with the rest of the league and rebuilding the good name of the franchise – all simultaneously.

While the Braves are a damaged brand, the general manager post is still a coveted position. If the club decides to completely restructure its front office and install a new president of baseball operations, the opportunity to spearhead this effort could appeal to Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore, who began his career with the Braves before taking his current post with the Royals just over a decade ago. It stands to reason that Moore would be in line to replace Hart as president of baseball operations rather than report to him as general manager. A lateral move is highly unlikely to lure Moore, a Wichita native, away from a franchise he loves.

Hart’s contract with the club expires at the end of the year, but if he returns then it seems he would be the one to make the call on front office hires. That includes a new general manager. Hart’s wish list includes Nationals assistant GM Doug Harris and former Marlins GM turned Nationals special assistant Dan Jennings. Former Red Sox GM and current Blue Jays VP Ben Cherington would also be a potential fit for the Atlanta vacancy.

Moore would curry good favor within the industry and a sizeable segment of the fanbase. Some of the other names previously listed would be capable hires, but Atlanta likely needs more to undo some of the damage done by this scandal. It would stand to reason that a good-will ambassador of sorts would go a long way.

Though speculative, Braves legend Tom Glavine is uniquely qualified. He is easily identifiable with the club. The Hall of Famer carries a legacy of on-field success, is thoughtful and well-spoken and also has experience gleaned from his role with the players union. While the 1994 labor dispute may have drawn the ire of fans, Glavine took on a responsibility that thrust him to the forefront at a contentious time and handled himself with aplomb. More importantly, he understands the value of relationships and engenders respect. Those two things would go a long way as Atlanta attempts to put its house in order. There is at least some indication that he could consider a role with the club.  Mark Bowman of MLB.com recently posited about the potential fit as well.

Glavine’s recent involvement in a bid to purchase the Marlins should serve as further indication that he has contemplated stepping into an executive role in some capacity. This does not mean Glavine is necessarily the prime candidate to become the next general manager of the Braves. That would be yet another unexpected development. However, his mere presence among the team’s higher ups could provide a calming influence. Glavine’s perspective, built from three decades in the game, would be a tremendous asset at a critical time as well.

As the Braves await their fate, big decisions loom. They need a leader who can help them navigate the troubled waters while carefully restoring faith in the franchise. The revamped front office will be tasked with an incredible undertaking. Only once MLB commissioner Rob Manfred hands down the punishment can Atlanta effectively begin to shape its future.

Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can subscribe to the “Around The Big Leagues” podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. Follow Grant on Twitter.

Braves Eye Future, Call Up Ozzie Albies

ATLANTA — Amidst a second half slide that saw their fleeting wild card hopes seemingly slip away, the Atlanta Braves opened the month of August with an eye on the future. The club called up top prospect Ozzie Albies from Triple-A Gwinnett, signalling that the final two months of 2017 will be spent preparing for 2018 and beyond.

Albies, 20, becomes the youngest player in Major League Baseball at 20 years, 206 days at the time of his call-up. The switch-hitting infielder may have broken camp with the big club in spring training had he not suffered a broken elbow on a swing last September. With adequate time to put that injury behind him and gain some added experience at the Triple-A level, the club believes Albies is ready to contribute on an everyday basis.

“The kid’s been an all-star, he’s done well every step of the way no matter how old he’s been,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker.

Alibies has been one of, if not the youngest player at every level through the Braves minor league system. He signed as a 16-year-old out of Curacao in 2013. In 1,744 career minor-league plate appearance,  Albies has never faced a pitcher who is younger than him.

Despite his age and becoming the youngest current player in the big leagues, Atlanta believes Albies is ready to take the next step. He joins Andruw Jones and Andrelton Simmons among the five Curacao natives to play for the Braves.

“I know he’s always been a leader on all the teams he’s been on,” Snitker said. “Talking to the [minor league managers] who’ve had him, he’s a very mature kid for his age. He’s a talented, skilled guy. I’ve said for a long time that skills play up here. Talent does. He’s a exciting little player with really good skills and it’ going to be fun to watch him play.”

After a slow start to his season, Albies turned it around in the month of May and is batting .285/.330/.440 with 38 extra-base hits and in his 97 games this season.  This comes on the heel of winning a batting title as a 19-year-old in the Southern League in 2016.

“I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m ready for it. I was always ready for it,” Albies said of the call to the big leagues. “I’m excited and ready to play right away.”

The Braves hope that Albies will be part of a double play tandem that will include shortstop Dansby Swanson, but the two essentially passed each other while heading opposite directions this week. A long slump coupled with the emergence of Johan Camargo prompted the Braves to send Swanson to Gwinnett to work things out. Albies earned his first call to the major leagues just five days later.

A speedy middle infielder who transitioned from shortstop last season, Albies will become the Braves everyday second baseman. Manager Brian Snitker said he’s already spoken with veteran incumbent Brandon Phillips, who was acquired as a one-year stopgap after injuries altered Atlanta’s plans at the keystone position. Phillips could move to third base in order to maintain a spot in the Braves lineup.

Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can subscribe to the “Around The Big Leagues” podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. Follow Grant on Twitter.

 

 

McAuley: Midseason Top 30 Braves Prospects (1-10)

My updated list of the Top 30 Atlanta Braves Prospects features several new faces and a brand new No. 1 overall prospect. Ronald Acuña has been one of the fastest rising stars in the minor leagues, vaulting to the dozens of spots on Top 100 lists for multiple publications. Acuña’s onslaught made him the undeniable choice to top the latest version of my list as well. For each prospect, you’ll find accompanying notes on his progress this season.

  • New to the list: Kyle Wright, Drew Waters, Abraham Gutierrez, Yunior Severino
  • Gone from the list: Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb, Jeremy Walker, Braxton Davidson
  • Biggest riser (position player): Ronald Acuña, up 11 spots from No. 12 to No. 1
  • Biggest riser (pitcher): Bryse Wilson, up seven spots from No. 26 to No. 19

As always, prospect hot sheets are a fluid situation and stock rises and falls for a variety of reasons. Performance, injuries and attrition shapes and reshapes the rankings throughout the year. Ultimately, these lists are an indicator of where these players stand at this particular time. Factoring the numbers along with individual tools and skill sets as well as scouting reports helps determine how projectable they are, but the human element is very much in play here. That includes the evaluators and list makers who judge the players based on the aforementioned variety of criteria in order to stack them in some order. Thanks to a talent pool that seems to get deeper by the year, the Atlanta farm system makes this no easy task.

Let’s wrap up the list in Part 3 with the top 10 prospects in the Atlanta Braves system.

1.) Ronald Acuña | OF | Age: 19 | Previous Rank: 12

After an injury-plagued 2016 campaign, Ronald Acuña has been making up for lost time and then some this season. Rocketing through the Braves system at break neck speed, Acuña is leading the organization in batting average, hits and stolen bases and ranks in the top five in virtually every other offensive category in 2017. He opened some eyes across baseball with a trip to the All-Star Futures Game in July. That was followed by a promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett, where he becomes the youngest player in the International League. Like many budding power hitters in today’s game, strikeouts sometimes come in bunches. However, that is the only real area of concern for Acuña. He will be challenged by advanced pitching in the International League, but has already proven himself to be up the task with aggressive promotions. With all five tools on display and his star on the rise, Acuña could reach SunTrust Park sooner than later.

2.) Ozzie Albies | 2B | Age: 20 | Previous Rank: 2

Shaking off a slow start only to catch fire in the month of May, Ozzie Albies is knocking on the door for Atlanta as the second half begins. The speedy middle infielder has taken to second base and is poised to join Dansby Swanson as Atlanta’s middle infield duo of the future.  A switch-hitter with an advanced hit tool and surprising power, Albies has routinely been among the youngest players at each level on his way through the system. In fact, Albies has yet to face a pitcher that is younger than him – something that is true for Acuña as well. A broken elbow suffered on a swing last September sidetracked Albies over the winter, but he’s found his way back to the form that allowed him to win the Southern League batting title at the age of 19 last season. A natural right-handed hitter, Albies has worn out lefties in 2017 while finding the sledding a bit tougher against right-handers. Regardless, he’s been swinging the bat well for the past two months and just represented Gwinnett in the Triple-A All-Star Game. Albies has little left to prove in the minor leagues and awaits an opportunity to get his feet wet in Atlanta.

3.) Kolby Allard | LHP | Age: 19 | Previous Rank: 3

The Braves aggressively promoted Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka from Low-A Rome to Double-A Mississippi this season. The team’s faith in the two highly-touted 19-year-olds was rewarded. Allard was Atlanta’s first round pick in 2015 and has put all thoughts of the back injury that dented his draft stock in the rearview mirror. Were it not for the injury concerns, Allard was in the running to be the top pick. Instead, Atlanta got him at No. 14 overall. The lefty has excelled this season with Mississippi, posting a sub-3.00 ERA and averaging nearly 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in the first half. He’s used a strong three-pitch mix to have success in the Southern League despite being at least five years younger than the average age for the level. Allard’s trajectory was sped up when he bypassed High-A, which means he could get the call the big leagues at some point in late next season. The best bet remains a 2019 ETA.

4.) Kevin Maitan | SS | Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 5

The crown jewel of Atlanta’s international signings in 2016, Kevin Maitan has all the makings of a star prospect. And he comes with substantial hype and even greater expectations. A switch-hitter with projectable power and an advanced approach at the plate, Maitan was linked to the Braves for over a year before signing with the club for $4.25 million last summer. Drawing comparisons to Miguel Cabrera (a fellow Venezuelan) and Braves great Chipper Jones, the aforementioned expectations are building for Maitan. He made his stateside debut with the Gulf Coast League this summer and the early returns indicate that Maitan is fitting right in. He was slowed by a minor hamstring injury and has split time between shortstop and designated hitter. After just a couple of weeks in the GCL, the Braves believed Maitan was ready for a promotion to Danville. Putting the comparisons to star players aside, it should be great fun to watch Maitan develop as he climbs the ladder in the Atlanta system.

5.) Kyle Wright | RHP | Age: 21 | Previous Rank: NR

Atlanta added another top-end starting pitcher to its stable by selecting Kyle Wright out of Vanderbilt with the fifth pick in the 2017 Draft. Wright will debut with the GCL this summer, but should shoot through the system as a high-upside college arm with polish. Wright possesses the talent to have been the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, but fell to Atlanta and received a sizeable, over-slot deal. He boasts four pitches, including a pair of breaking balls. While the Braves have focused on prep arms in recent years, they saw the opportunity to add an experienced pitching prospect to the system with their top pick this summer and rewarded Wright handsomely to the tune of a $7 million signing bonus. The Braves made that investment in hopes that Wright may be able to impact the big league club within the next two seasons. As it turns out, Wright may reach Atlanta alongside many of the aforementioned young arms in the Braves’ youth movement.

6.) Mike Soroka | RHP | Age: 19 | Previous Rank: 8

When it comes to prep prospects, Mike Soroka has spent roughly two seasons establishing himself as one of the very best in minor league baseball. Not only does he have the physical tools to compete as a 19-year-old in Double-A, but Soroka has shown the aptitude and pitchability that could make him a front of the rotation starter. The Braves found a gem when they selected the Canadian right-hander in the first round of the 2015 draft. Soroka limits base-runners and keeps the ball in the park. He’s allowed just 10 home runs in nearly 270 career innings. At the half-way point, Soroka is at or near the top of the Atlanta organization in wins, ERA, WHIP and opponents’ batting average. Like fellow 2015 draftee Kolby Allard, Soroka skipped High-A and picked up speed on his way through the Braves system. Soroka also represented Atlanta in the All-Star Futures Game along with Ronald Acuña this summer. Though he may debut at some point next season, Soroka appears poised to be rotation-ready in 2019.

7.) Ian Anderson | RHP | Age: 19 | Previous Rank: 6

Prep arms were once again the highlight of the early rounds for the Braves last summer, with Ian Anderson representing the club’s highest draft pick in 25 years when he went third overall in 2016. Anderson’s innings have been managed during his first two seasons, but he’s made the most of his opportunity to pile up strikeouts. The righty posted over 11 K/9 with Rome thus far, though he is averaging just 4-1/3 innings per start thus far. Another starting pitcher who does a nice job of keeping the ball in the ballpark, Anderson has yet to allow a home run through 14 starting assignments and surrendered just one homer over the first 105 innings of his career. Signed to an under-slot deal that allowed Atlanta to creatively spread its money through the 2016 draft class, Anderson has drawn a Mike Mussina comparison from some and is filling out his 6’3” frame in the South Atlantic League during his first full season. His workload may be lighter than some this year, but that should begin to change in 2018.

8.) Luiz Gohara | LHP | Age: 20 | Previous Rank (NR)

One of two top prospects on this list that was gleaned from the Seattle Mariners over the off-season, Luiz Gohara has electric stuff and has put it to good use in two stops in the Atlanta system this season. Gohara blitzed through the Florida State League with a 1.98 ERA over seven starts before getting the bump to Double-A Mississippi. He’s continued his fine work there, averaging 10 K/9 across his first 16 starts. There was some concern over Gohara’s shoulder prior to his acquisition, but the Braves felt confident that the medicals checked out and pulled the trigger on a January trade. Gohara’s high-90s fastball was on display in the Arizona Fall League, where he struck out 19 men in 11-2/3 innings. That proved to be a sign of things to come this season. He has climbed into Top 100 prospects lists after enjoying success at two levels. Gohara will likely finish this season in Double-A, with a chance to jump to Gwinnett for a late season look. He’ll join a host of talented pitching prospects that could fill out the Triple-A rotation in 2018.

9.) Austin Riley | 3B | Age: 20 | Previous Rank: 9

One of the top power hitters in the system, Austin Riley earned a midseason promotion to Mississippi. He finished strong to post a 20-homer campaign and was the driving offensive force for Rome’s South Atlantic League championship in 2016. Between Rome and Florida, Riley has belted 27 home runs in his last 139 games, which amounts to a full minor league season. He does not walk much, but Riley has improved his strikeout rate this year with the Fire Frogs. The promotion for Riley continues the trend of younger players advancing through the system and being among the youngest at that level. Riley continues to hone his craft at third base, where he is making great strides this season. After committing 30 errors in 2016, Riley made just seven over his first 80 games this year. The Braves would love to have a power bat who could offer a long term solution at the hot corner. Riley may be that guy.

10.) Max Fried | LHP | Age: 23 | Previous Rank: 7

The first trip through Double-A has not been kind to Max Fried, who entered spring training as one of the most talked about prospects in the organization. His command has simply not been there consistently, evidenced by 4.5 BB/9 through 16 outings. His ERA is approaching 7.00, but his FIP is nearly two and a half runs lower. That aside, it’s been a challenging season for Fried, who owns one of the sharpest curveballs in the system when he’s at his best. The problem has been that neither his stuff nor his command have been consistent from start to start. His fastball, which can reach the mid-90s, has not shown the same life either. Fried had to put various injuries behind him to reclaim top prospect status over the past three seasons. He dealt with a back ailment in April and has battled a blister problem as well. Fried has been given a mid-season break and will have to get healthy and battle through some inconsistency in hopes of finishing his season in similar fashion to last.

Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can subscribe to the “Around The Big Leagues” podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. Follow Grant on Twitter.

McAuley: Midseason Top 30 Braves Prospects (11-20)

My updated list of the Top 30 Atlanta Braves Prospects features several new faces. As always, prospect hot sheets are a fluid situation and stock rises and falls for a variety of reasons. Performance, injuries and attrition shapes and reshapes the rankings throughout the year. Ultimately, these lists are an indicator of where these players stand at this particular time. Factoring the numbers along with individual tools and skill sets as well as scouting reports helps determine how projectable they are, but the human element is very much in play here. That includes the evaluators and list makers who judge the players based on the aforementioned variety of criteria in order to stack them in some order. Thanks to a talent pool that seems to get deeper by the year, the Atlanta farm system makes this no easy task.

Let’s continue the list in Part 2 with the next 10 prospects on the list.

11.) Drew Waters | OF | Age: 18 | Previous Rank (NR)

Another young player who debuts on this list, Drew Waters hails from nearby Woodstock, GA, and was Atlanta’s second round pick (41st overall) in the 2017 Draft. The club believes this switch-hitting, prep outfielder can grow into some power as he matures and are already in love with his makeup and competitiveness. Scouting director Brian Bridges raved about Waters’ ability to play “with an edge” and referred to him as a throwback player. Atlanta went after the local product from Etowah High School after working him out twice at SunTrust Park, where the dimensions of the new ballpark could be quite friendly to Waters from the left side of the plate. Waters debuted in the Gulf Coast League and earned a quick promotion to Danville after posting a 1.020 OPS across 14 games in the GCL.

12.) Touki Toussaint | RHP | Age: 21 | Previous Rank: 10

The hard-throwing righty with a dynamic curveball has run into some trouble in the Florida State League. Despite that, the pure stuff and continued effort to refine it makes Toussaint a fascinating prospect. After coming over in a trade that was designed to essentially purchase his services from Arizona in 2015, Toussaint has shown flashes of his potential each season. His work with Rome in 2016 demonstrated he can make necessary in-season adjustments. While his 2017 may appear to be nothing more than a rough first half on the surface (2-9, 5.46 ERA), he is averaging a career-best 10 K/9 across 16 starts. Toussaint is considered a raw talent when compared to some of the other arms in the system, but Atlanta would like to smooth those rough edges as he climbs in the ranks. A bounce back effort down the stretch similar to his 2016 exploits would go a long way to further his development.

13.) Joey Wentz | LHP | Age: 19 | Previous Rank: 11

One of a trio of prep arms taken by Atlanta to begin the 2016 draft, Joey Wentz has put together a fine season with Rome in his first full year of pro ball. He’s shown both polish and poise, posting a sub-3.00 ERA and averaging 10 K/9 through 17 starting assignments in the South Atlantic League. Wentz has honed his command and cut his walk rate in half from his debut season, all while allowing just one home run in 82.1 IP to begin 2017. If he continues those trends, Atlanta may have yet another lefty climbing to the top of the prospect rankings.

14.) Alex Jackson | C | Age: 21 | Previous Rank: 16

The Braves took a couple of chances in trading for Alex Jackson, a former No. 6 overall pick by the Mariners in 2014. After the slugger seemed to stall out as an outfielder in the Seattle system, Atlanta moved him back to his high school position of catcher. He has flourished at the plate thus far, posting a .284/.353/.530 line and leading the system with 13 home runs in just 56 games. Jackson has also been gaining comfort behind the plate, where his emergence as a power-hitting catcher only enhances his value.

15.) Travis Demeritte | INF | Age: 22 | Previous Rank: 13

A power-hitting middle infielder who can also play third base, Travis Demeritte is an intriguing prospect. Atlanta gleaned the former first round pick in a mid-season trade with the Rangers in 2016. After a solid start, he has been mired in a midseason slump this year. Despite those struggles, Demeritte still possesses surprising power for his size and could pair that with versatility to turn himself into a weapon in the future. Strikeouts continue to be the major area of concern offensively. It’s worth noting that Trustmark Park does not have a reputation as a hitter’s haven either. Demeritte is brimming with potential and has shown the willingness to play wherever he has been asked.

16.) Cristian Pache | OF | Age: 18 | Previous Rank: 19

One of Atlanta’s major international signings from 2015, Cristian Pache has a blend of skills and athleticism with room to grow. He has been a solid contributor in his first taste of full season ball with Rome and has drawn high praise from Braves president of baseball operations John Hart. Pache is already a fine outfielder – evidenced by 12 assists and six double plays through 70 games this season – and has demonstrated the ability to make consistent contact. Since making his stateside debut in 2016, Pache is batting .294 in just over 500 at-bats. Four of the five tools are already on display. While Pache’s swing has yet to provide much in the power department, that may come with time.

17.) Dustin Peterson | OF | Age: 22 | Previous Rank: 14

A broken bone in his left hand sidelined Dustin Peterson in spring training, just as he was getting a chance to show what he could do in big league camp. That setback aside, Peterson has improved immensely since being acquired from San Diego in the winter of 2014. He settled in as a regular in the outfield and collected 52 extra-base hits in Mississippi last season. Peterson’s power has yet to fully return in Gwinnett, but as he regains strength and timing that is an issue that is likely to correct itself. He may never provide the wow factor, but Peterson has the ability to be a steady contributor and the work ethic to go along with it.

18.) Rio Ruiz | 3B | Age: 23 | Previous Rank: 17

No hitting prospect in the Braves organization has transformed as much in two years as Rio Ruiz. His hard work has resulted in quality play which has led him to the big leagues in each of the past two seasons. He saw a brief trial run after Freddie Freeman was placed on the disabled list this season, but what outshined by fellow rookie Johan Camargo. Atlanta sent Ruiz back to Gwinnett so that he can continue to get regular at-bats. Ruiz continues to flash power that could eventually mature into 20-homer potential. His play at third base has improved as well. While he is still susceptible to southpaws, Ruiz showed marked improvement in that category at Triple-A this season.

19.) Bryse Wilson | RHP | Age: 19 | Previous Rank: 26

While other prep pitchers may have stolen the headlines toward the very top of the draft in 2016, the Braves knew they added another talented arm when they took Bryse Wilson in fourth round. The buzz from team officials has been there since Atlanta selected him. Wilson has rewarded that confidence by becoming one of the best arms in the system thus far in 2017, posting a 2.54 ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning through 17 starts with Rome. Wilson’s most impressive performance came on July 8, when he fired a complete game shut-out at West Virginia on just 105 pitches. A big, projectable right-hander and a tremendous athlete, the Braves may have an under the radar stud in Wilson.

20.) Lucas Sims | RHP | Age: 23 | Previous Rank: 24

One of the few holdovers remaining prior toAtlanta’s aggressive overhaul of the minor league system, Lucas Sims has seen his fair share of ups and downs. He’s turned his big strikeout stuff into positive results in his second trip to Gwinnett, though he still has a clunker now and again. Sims led the organization with 104 strikeouts in the first half and earned Triple-A All-Star honors as well. On the flip side, he has allowed 18 home runs across 17 starts thus far. With an electric fastball and a plus-breaking pitch, he remains one of the best arms in the system, though his long term role remains up in the air.

Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can subscribe to the “Around The Big Leagues” podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. Follow Grant on Twitter.