Braves Mailbag: Arodys Vizcaino as closer, early trade speculation, Austin Riley’s ETA

The Braves Mailbag is a weekly feature. You can submit your questions to Grant McAuley on Twitter (@grantmcauley).

In this edition of the mailbag, we take a look at Atlanta’s late inning bullpen options, some veterans trying to get back on track and the ETA for yet another hotshot prospect.

Outside of Tuesday night’s angry fan bubble, how much concern is there about Arodys Vizcaíno? If I’m counting right he has faced the minimum in only one of his last 5 outings and seems to be really struggling with walks and command of his slider.

Christjahn (via Twitter)

Games like that always bring with them the discussion of ninth inning responsibilities, at least on teams that don’t have one of the three or four best closers in the game. Vizcaino has served as closer for Atlanta before, but always seemed to be derailed by injury rather that simply ineffectiveness. From a pure talent perspective, Vizcaino fits the profile of closer. The fastball approaches 100 mph and the slider is devastating. Unfortunately, Vizcaino has been unable to establish any real rhythm this season. Command of those pitches is what makes him the best option to close games. In 21 appearances, none more than one inning, he has worked just eight perfect frames. Only one of those 1-2-3 innings occurred in any of his 10 save chances and that one came on Wednesday against the Cubs. Brian Snitker indicated that other relievers may work their way into the late inning equation should Vizcaino’s struggles continue. The obvious candidates are A.J. Minter and Dan Winkler. Both seem equipped to at least lighten the load on Vizcaino, who may benefit from sharing the responsibilities. One thing is for sure, it’s a long season and Vizcaino is still a valuable piece of Atlanta’s bullpen.

Do you see Ender Inciarte on this team long term? Seems that with a center fielder playing at left field and our leadoff hitter at second base, he’s become expendable.

— Jesse (via Twitter)

Expendable? Absolutely not. Ender Inciarte has value regardless of whether or not he’s serving as Atlanta’s leadoff hitter. There are a few different ways to go with this, but let’s start with his calling card. Inciarte’s premium defense paired with Ronald Acuña Jr. makes the Braves outfield better. Though things may change on the corners in the not-too-distant future, Inciarte has established himself as one of the best center fielders in the game, so I am perplexed as to how he’d all of a sudden be deemed expendable. His offense has been up and down some this season, but he’s been one of Atlanta’s most consistent performers despite a bit of a slow start the past two seasons. Heading into 2019, the Braves may shift Acuña to right field or simply find another when Nick Markakis’ time in Atlanta is done. Time will tell, but having two athletic outfielders like Inciarte and Acuña together is in no way a redundancy. Now, could I see other clubs calling about Inciarte’s services? Of course. Things can and will change as Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos puts his stamp on the team and strives to make moves that build the club into a long-term contender.

Do you have a sense for the leash the organization is willing to grant under-performing veterans? How much longer can we expect to see Jose Bautista and Brandon McCarthy play at this level before young talent in Triple-A at their positions forces them out?

Justin (via Twitter

Obviously, we are talking about two distinctly different cases in Bautista and McCarthy. Let’s start with the former, who signed a minor league deal with a chance to get back to the big leagues after a long, cold winter on the free-agent market. Bautista, 37, is not the same player he was a few years ago but has shown flashes of power in his short time with the club. The real issue here is converting a player back to a position he has not played regularly in the better part of a decade. Bautista’s range at third base has been limited and has already proved costly on more than one occasion. That said, he’s hit a couple of key home runs to help mitigate that damage. Ultimately, the club has to give him time to get up to speed before pulling the plug or this entire exercise would essentially be a waste of time. I’d expect at least four full weeks before a decision is made one way or the other. As for McCarthy, he has been a useful starter for the majority of his big league career and most of this season. The Braves are hoping he can provide some stability to a young rotation, but there are several prospects who could work their way into the picture. Mike Soroka appears to be up to stay, but landed on the DL on Wednesday. That right after Luiz Gohara made his return. Max Fried has been up and down as well. And then Kolby Allard may be knocking on the door later this summer. For the time being, it appears McCarthy’s spot is secure, but he needs to string together some quality starts after a couple of rocky outings. Wednesday was a good start, no pun intended.

Do the Braves trade for a marquee arm before the deadline? Also, do you see the Braves as buyers or sellers this year?

Ivan (via Twitter)

While it is still too early to declare the Braves a buyer or seller, there is cautious optimism that the club may finally be looking to make additions that could aid a playoff run. There is a lot of baseball left to be played between now and the trade deadline. To answer your question, that “marquee arm” could qualify as a starter or reliever and I happen to think they may be in the market for both. The starting rotation is an interesting group and there are several top young arms looking to carve out spots. Soroka, Gohara, Allard and Kyle Wright could all be in the 2019 plans. However, the club would undoubtedly like to add a proven starter if the right deal presents itself. The same could be said for adding an experienced and effective late-inning reliever. The Kansas City Royals intrigue me. I don’t rule out a run at third baseman Mike Moustakas, but I do not expect him to be Atlanta’s preferred target. There are two other names I think could provide both short and long term value. The Royals have a solid lefty starter in Danny Duffy, who should attract interest this summer despite his slow start this season. Closer Kelvin Herrera has been outstanding thus far and is a free-agent at the end of the season. It would behoove the Kansas City to explore the trade market with Herrera, who will probably interest no less than a dozen clubs. Duffy has three years and roughly $46 million remaining on his deal, which carries him through his age 32 season. While he is not the ace-type starter many if not most fans dream of, he could be a quality addition to a club looking to make a run toward October. Those two have experience on that stage as well. A package deal could bring Atlanta the kind reinforcements it needs, but is simply pure speculation on my part at this time.

Who is the next prospect Braves fans will see with the big club?

Seth  (via Twitter)

Well, Seth, I am glad you asked that, because it gives me a chance to talk more about Austin Riley. With both Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mike Soroka currently in the big leagues, Riley has inherited the mantle of “next big thing.” Of course, all of these young players have plenty to prove as they reach the majors and attempt to establish themselves. Back to your question, Riley is the most eagerly anticipated young player in the system right now. The 21-year-old has slugged his way from High-A to Triple-A in just over a year and has been terrorizing opposing pitchers all the while. Riley slashed .321/.389/.570 with 19 doubles, 14 homers, 47 RBI and 45 runs scored in 75 games with Mississippi over the past two seasons. He’s worked hard to improve both at the plate and at third base, giving the franchise increased confidence that Riley could make an impact sooner than later. Following a three-homer game with Gwinnett, it’s fair to wonder if Riley’s ETA may coincide with the Super Two cut-off early next month. Be sure to check out my chat with Riley following his promotion to Triple-A. If you’re looking for the next arm to get the call, left-hander Kolby Allard has been tremendous with Gwinnett despite being the youngest pitcher in the International League this season. Allard, 20, was Atlanta’s first round pick in 2015 and has posted 1.71 ERA in seven starts this season. His career-high eight shut-out innings on May 13 signaled that the young lefty is handling Triple-A competition just fine.

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