Braves trade for pick #76 in 2016 draft

I’m really glad that baseball began allowing the trading of some draft picks. And so are the Braves.

Atlanta used the acquisition of additional draft picks to their advantage last year by trading for two additional selections, one as a part of the major Craig Kimbrel trade with the Padres and the other in a pure salary dump trade with the Diamondbacks*. For this year’s draft the Braves already have an additional pick as part of the Alex Wood trade with the Dodgers, and now they essentially purchase another in a salary dump trade with the Orioles.

The Braves acquired the No. 76 pick in the 2016 MLB draft and LHP Brian Matusz from the Orioles in exchange for RHP Brandon Barker and LHP Trevor Belicek. Per the Braves beat writers, the team plans to release Matusz, so the deal is really the draft pick and $3 million (the money left on Matusz’s contract) for Barker and Belicek.

To look at it yet another way, since a currently-nameless player is involved by virtue of the pick, the Braves are trading for the Orioles 2nd-round pick in the 2016 draft in exchange for the Braves 16th-round pick in the 2014 draft, the 16th-round pick in the 2015 draft and $3 million.

Yes, both Barker and Belicek have done well in their short pro careers. Barker has been a huge surprise this year with a 2.00 ERA in 8 starts at double-A. Belicek was putting up good numbers while being used as a swing-man at low-A. Neither were really considered prospects for Atlanta. While Barker might have gotten listed at the back third of some top-30 Braves prospect lists if his good work continued, neither were more than a B- prospect at this point (see the preseason list for where Barker might rank as a B- prospect).

Yet another way to look at this trade, is that when the Braves acquired their second round pick (No. 75 overall) last year, they used it on a college closer, A.J. Minter, who has a much greater chance to be an impact player in the majors than either Barker or Belicek. In this year’s trade the Braves acquire virtually that same selection with the No. 76 pick. I’ll say that’s worth three million in today’s baseball landscape.

Whichever way I look at this trade, it continues to look like a big win for Atlanta. Clearly the Orioles think highly of both Barker and Belicek, as they didn’t clear as much payroll space as the Diamondbacks did last year when they dumped twice as much payroll while getting two outfielders, one of whom is no longer playing baseball.

The real value of this trade could be in the way that it plays into Atlanta’s overall 2016 draft strategy.

While the slot money assigned to the No. 76 pick is just over $800,000, the Braves could place even more value on that selection by picking a higher-ranked prospect who has fallen down in the draft and giving him an over-slot bonus. This is possible because of the Braves large draft pool created by their No. 3 overall pick and the expectation (around the baseball industry) that the players drafted in the top-5 spots might sign for less than slot value ($6.5 million for the Braves No. 3 slot). If Atlanta is able to sign its first round selection for a $1 million or $2 million less than that $6.5 million slot value, then that frees up money to be used around pick No. 76 to sign a player to late-first round money. The last pick, No. 34, in the first round is almost $1 million more than the slot value of the Braves No. 76 pick.

The Braves could have bought themselves another first-round pick.

We’ll have to wait and see if this is what the Braves are thinking, or whether they will simply be content to take a player that fits the value of the bonus slot assigned to that pick. Either way equals a win for the Braves, and potentially a huge bonanza for the team — highlighting how important these extra draft picks are this season.

*Technically, the 2015 trade with the Diamondbacks was two trades.

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Draft Board

2016mlbdraftWho will the Atlanta Braves pick in the upcoming 2016 MLB First Year Player Draft on June 9? With the third overall pick, Atlanta has a chance to add significant talent to their already strong stable of prospects.

In preparation for the draft, and the eagerly anticipated No. 3 overall pick, I’ve compiled a list of the top mock drafts from the major prospect outlets around the internets. I will add to this list as the draft nears, but already we can see a lot of discrepancy about who Atlanta will pick. Two high school pitchers keep getting listed repeatedly, as Baseball America has been consistent about picking Riley Pint for Atlanta, while Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com has repeatedly picked Jason Groome.

Date Mock Draft w/ link Mock pick for Braves at No. 3
3.30 Baseball America Riley Pint, RHP, high school (Kansas)
5.2 MLB (Callis) Corey Ray, OF, college junior (Louisville)
5.2 MLB (Mayo) Jason Groome, LHP, high school (NJ)
5.5 FanGraphs Kyle Lewis, OF, college junior (Mercer)
5.6 Baseball America 2.0 Riley Pint, RHP, high school (Kansas)
5.11 Perfect Game Jason Groome, LHP, high school (NJ)
5.12 MLB (Mayo) Jason Groome, LHP, high school (NJ)
5.13 Baseball America 3.0 Riley Pint, RHP, high school (Kansas)
5.18 Keith Law Jason Groome, LHP, high school (NJ)

We’ll see where it goes from here. If I missed an important mock draft or another one is release and I don’t have it listed here, please tweet me @gondeee.

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A silver lining to today’s roster moves

The Atlanta Braves shook up their roster today, DFAing Drew Stubbs and demoting Jace Peterson, John Gant and Chris Withrow. Technically Withrow got demoted yesterday and was supposed to be replaced with Emilio Bonifacio, but arcane baseball rules intervened. In their stead the team called up Matt Tuiasosopo, Chase d’Arnaud, Reid Brignac and Mike Foltynewicz. It’s not worth knowing much about those first three, as they’re likely just placeholders until the next roster shakeup, and it will be interesting to see how Folty does this go-around.

jpeterson3The silver lining I’d like to pull out of these moves is the impact it has on Jace Peterson. To begin with he’s a curious player, and his place on any major league roster is still largely up for debate. Of the 200 games he’s played in the majors the past three years, he’s started 168 of them, so one might think he’s supposed to start. But scouts and baseball analysts are split on whether he’s a starter or a bench player.

With this demotion, it may look like Jace as a starter might be going by the wayside, but his career to this point reminds me of another Braves player — Ron Gant.

Jace first 3 MLB seasons: 200 games, .605 OPS
Gant first 3 MLB seasons: 242 games, .694 OPS

Like Jace, Gant was demoted during his third major league season after starting the season hitting .172/.233/.309 through 60 games. Peterson has started this season hitting .182/.260/.205.

While Gant was a couple of years younger and a far more talented prospect than Jace is, I find some similarities of their career arcs to this point intriguing. Both were given the starting job in two major league seasons, both struggled to begin their third season, and both were demoted mid-season to the minors.

The move to the minors worked for Gant, who turned his demotion into the fuel that propelled him to become the player that he ultimately became — an All-Star and Silver Slugger with multiple top-10 MVP finishes. While Jace is a rung below Gant in the tools department, he still has a strong set of major league caliber tools that could make him a valuable starter at second base, or a super-utility player who can play all over (think Omar Infante).

So I look forward to seeing what Jace does with the rest of his season. How will he respond to this possibly demoralizing event in his career? He hasn’t been in the minors since 2014, so this could be a shock. Will he use this event like Gant did 27 years ago to become the best version of the player many scouts and people in the Braves front office believe he can be?

Or am I reaching to find silver linings in this miserable baseball season for Braves fans…

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The 2016 Atlanta Braves: A Team Built for the Trade Deadline

By now it should be no secret: the 2016 Atlanta Braves are not built to be a contending team. A team that expects to compete against the strong and deep rotations of the Mets and Nats doesn’t take a week at the end of spring to decide whether Williams Perez or Jhoulys Chacin should be their fourth starter or fifth starter. A team that expects to contend doesn’t hold up as their top free agent signing of the offseason a backup catcher or backup infielder.

None of that should be taken as an indictment against how this 2016 Braves team is constructed, but we should be honest about this team: they’re not built to be a contending team. They are, however, built to take full advantage of the desperate needs of other teams leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. They are built to continue the rebuild that started after the 2014 season.

The Atlanta front office has stacked the 2016 Braves with as many tradable players as they can fit on a roster. They have parted ways with players still owed money in order to equip their roster with players who have the best chance to build trade value.

Most likely to be traded

Yesterday I was trying to figure out why the team would bring in Drew Stubbs at the end of spring to essentially usurp a roster spot from the popular Michael Bourn, and even Emilio Bonifacio — two players owed a combined $15 million this year. The best answer I came up with was that Stubbs’ career .444/.528/.756 slash line as a pinch-hitter is vastly superior over Bourn’s .137/.200/.176. Both of those are extremely small sample sizes of just over 50 plate appearances spread out over multiple seasons, but with such extreme numbers for each player the team must be hoping that while neither is expected to get regular playing time, Stubbs has the better chance of putting up good numbers in a pinch-hitting role.

Assuming they once again put up good numbers in the pinch this year, guys like Stubbs and Jeff Francoeur could have value at the trade deadline for teams seeking pinch hitters and role players. They could add value to trades when they’re paired with a reliever like Jim Johnson or Jason Grilli — the two most likely relievers to be traded. Veteran relievers Eric O’Flaherty and Alexi Ogando could rebound this year and raise their swap value.

Veteran infielders on one-year deals like Erick Aybar, Gordon Beckham and Kelly Johnson are all likely to be shipped off by the deadline. It’s a reassuring comment on the potential value of seemingly small trades of role players that one of the prospects Kelly Johnson was traded for just last year, John Gant, is already making his big league debut with Atlanta. One of the players that Jim Johnson was traded for last year, Hector Olivera, is expected to be an integral part of this year’s team.

While the stating pitching for the Braves is thin to begin the season, the first wave of rebuilding pitching prospects is going to be ready in a few months. That means the Braves will need to create spots for these young starters by shipping off veterans like Bud Norris and Jhoulys Chacin.

While many of the names I mentioned likely don’t have huge trade value on their own, as we saw last year, the Braves were able to combine players in trades to receive a better return. They were also willing to include a top prospect like Jose Peraza as a sweetener in a trade to acquire the player they really wanted in return. With some surplus of prospects, I wonder if we’ll see the Braves include one of their second tier of prospects in a deadline trade in order to get a top tier prospect in return.

Less likely to be traded

While the Braves have Nick Markakis on the books through 2018 at what seems like a reasonable $11 million per year, that lower-dollar contract is also what could make him attractive on the trade market. More years of control on a player should net better players and prospects in return.

The same could be said for Ender Inciarte, who has a whopping five years of team control left. After Atlanta acquired him this past offseason there were reports that many teams called to inquire about his availability. The Braves GM has even bragged in interviews about how many teams (20, by some reports) have expressed interest in Inciarte. Even with Ender filling a valuable role as a leadoff hitter and center fielder, the emergence of prospect Mallex Smith in that same role could make Inciarte available.

A good first half out of Jace Peterson could have Braves fans thinking he’s the second baseman of the future, but it could also raise his trade value to the point where the Braves would strongly consider moving him if another team expressed interest. Once again, five years of team control could add to his value in any deal, and with infield prospects Albies and Swanson arriving soon, there’s reason to think that Peterson could be considered surplus.

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In order to put a contending team on the field for the opening of their new park in 2017, the Braves need to give their young prospects the space and time to cut their teeth in the majors. Consider too that many of their young prospects won’t be ready to join the major league roster until after the All-Star break. The team then needs to clear spots on a roster currently crowded with veterans. The confluence of those three things, as well as the potential tradability (described above) of so many of these players, seems to auger well for a flurry of mid-season trades.

At some point the team is going to have to stop trading away valuable pieces, but that point is not just yet. This year’s Braves team is still all about building for the future, and not yet about winning now.

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Making the Team Meter: Final Week

The Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) is nearing the end of spring, and there are still many unknowns surrounding the remaining position battles and opening day roster construction.

kjohnsonThis week I’ll take a look at each area of the team in one post. I will list the locks, then discuss which spots are still up in the air. The players listed in red are the ones who have not yet made the roster.

Lineup (8 of 8 spots are locks): Surprisingly, the lineup is not quite a sure thing because of possible platoons at second and third, though it’s mostly set, especially if we base our guessing off of the lineups of the past few spring games. This seems to be the prevailing lineup:

1. Ender Inciarte, CF (L)
2. Erick Aybar, SS (S)
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B (L)
4. Adonis Garcia, 3B (R)
5. Nick Markakis, RF (L)
6. Hector Olivera, LF (R)
7. A.J. Pierzynski, C (L)
8. Jace Peterson, 2B (L)

While I’ve had Garcia on the roster bubble all spring, comments on a recent broadcast by the GM, and Garcia’s repeated inclusion in lineups, leads me to believe that he will be the starting third baseman. That said, both he and Peterson will share a large part of their playing time with Beckham, Johnson, and Bonifacio.

Bench (3 of 5 spots are locks): At least three bench players are known: backup catcher Tyler Flowers, infield backup Gordon Beckham, and everywhere backup Kelly Johnson. That leaves Emilio Bonifacio to find a spot, as well as the crowded veteran outfield trio of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Jeff Francoeur.

There has been mention that the team could cut Bonifacio loose and eat his $1.25 million salary. Until recently he was hitting poorly, and still leads the team in strikeouts this spring — not a good sign for a low-power contact hitter off the bench. That decision to cut money is complicated by the probable need to eat some, if not most, of the salaries of both Swisher and Bourn.

Both Swish and Bourn have had good springs, so it seems reasonable to believe that the Braves can find teams that are interested (as long as Atlanta eats a large portion of their salary). If the Braves can find a taker for one of those guys, then they probably cut Bonifacio and keep Francoeur and whomever between Swisher and Bourn wasn’t traded. That gives them the greatest veteran trade power leading up to the trade deadline in July — as I presume they will swap as many veterans on short contracts as they can for prospects, much like they did last year.

We should know more on Tuesday, when the team is required to inform Francoeur of where he will start the year.

Rotation (3 of 4 spots are locks): The top three spots in the rotation appear to be solid locks, while the fourth spot is still up in the air with the poor finish to the spring by Chacin. Atlanta will not need a fifth starter until April 12, so while I’ll list those candidates, they will start in the minors and get recalled on the 12th.

jchacinThe right-handed heavy rotation of Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, Matt Wisler and Jhoulys Chacin seem like the four the team will take north. Chacin is the only question mark after some rough outings recently. With starting pitching so thin throughout the majors and in the Braves organization, I have to believe that they’ll at least see what they have in Chacin for the first few weeks of the season. If he’s not up to the task, then they have a phalanx of young starters who should be ready by mid-April.

The team will take the extra two weeks of not needing a fifth starter to decide between Manny Banuelos and Mike Foltynewicz.

ManBan had been the early favorite, but Folty came on strong in his last start while Banuelos has been hit hard in two of his three appearances. Neither seem like options to be in the opening day rotation due to their delayed start to spring.

Young righty John Gant was considered for the fifth spot for a hot minute, but he’s much more likely to begin the year in the minors. Though his good spring could accelerate his timetable. The forgotten one, Williams Perez, could sneak into some sort of roster spot in the rotation or bullpen.

Bullpen (6 of 8 spots are locks): This is the area with the most uncertainty, and an area that could change a lot between now and opening day due to trades, releases and waiver claims. The locks appear to be Arodys Vizcaino, Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, Alexi Ogando and Jose Ramirez, all right-handers.

With the acquisition on Sunday of left-hander Eric O’Flaherty, he becomes another lock. One of the remaining spots seems like it will go to Rule 5 reliever Daniel Winkler, who received a strong vote of confidence from the GM on a weekend broadcast.

That leaves one bullpen spot, and until recently is sounded like it would go to another left-hander — the helmet-hat wearing Alex Torres. Like Chacin, A. Torres has gotten hit a lot lately, and the team may be rethinking his inclusion in the bullpen. The only other competition at this point seems to be from righty Carlos Torres, the improbable resurgence of Hunter Cervenka or someone else from minor league camp, or one of the starting candidates falling to the pen.

With that eighth spot in the pen going away in mid-April once the team needs a fifth starter, my best guess is that spot will be filled by Banuelos or Perez, with either of them serving primarily as long relievers. If I had to put money on it right now, I’d choose Perez, but a lot could happen between now and opening day.

For a bit of fun reading, click here for a look at the final MTM post from last spring.

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Making the Team Meter: Week 3

mwisler2The Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) continues as your one-stop shop for all the team’s spring training roster battles. The roster got trimmed a couple of times this week, and the Braves are not wasting any time on pitchers who aren’t throwing well.

Every weekly MTM this spring I’ll present the locks for each area of the team, then the guys trending up and down. Those guys trending up and down (listed in red text) are the ones to keep an eye on, and should constitute the bulk of the players competing for open roster spots. The rest of the guys in camp are listed next to the ax, because, well, they will (more than likely) eventually be axed from the spring roster.

First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):

icon-lockRotation locks (3 of 5): Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, and Matt Wisler continue to be on track as the top three in the rotation.

Bullpen locks (3 of 7): Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, and Arodys Vizcaino are all still bullpen locks, though Grilli’s start to the season could be delayed by a few weeks. Relievers can get ready in a hurry, so I’ll keep him in the lock section until his status is clearer.

Lineup locks (5): Aside from a wrist scare, the five lineup locks stay the same. Ender InciarteErick AybarFreddie FreemanNick Markakis, and Hector Olivera are all lineup locks.

Lineup platoon and bench locks (6 of 8): There will most likely be three platoons on the diamond for Atlanta. A.J. Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers will share the catching duties. Gordon BeckhamJace PetersonKelly Johnson, and Emilio Bonifacio should all share time between second and third base. There’s a chance that Peterson could be a victim of remaining minor league options left while the team tries to find spots for their high priced veterans (below).

Next up are the players trending up to make the team. There may be more players listed than spots available, but as spring training goes on I’ll whittle these players down.

icon-thumbs-upTrending up for the rotation (1-2 spots): Jhoulys Chacin rockets to the top of the rotation competition as he continues to put together good starts. The release of Kendrick and the slower pace of Folty removes a large part of the competition. Chacin really is rising to the top in the battle for the fourth spot in the rotation. He could be a nice reclamation project and a good success story this season.

The Braves early season schedule with off days means they will not need a fifth starter until April 12, and even though Manny Banuelos had a rough start to his spring, it’s still early and he has plenty of extra time to catch up. It sounds like the team wants him in that fifth spot so they can see if he’s the real deal or not.

Trending up for the bullpen (4-5 spots): The bullpen competition continues to get refined by cuts and a separation in performances. Non-roster veteran reliever Alexi Ogando seems to still be a favorite to land a spot, especially now that Withrow has been optioned to the minors.

jramirezLefty Ian Krol still looks to be in line for a spot as other LOOGYs get cut from the roster. Out of options reliever Jose Ramirez has looked good this spring, and sounds like he’s close to locking up a spot.

I’m moving Rule 5 lefty Evan Rutckyj to the trending up section this week, rejoining fellow Rule 5’er Daniel Winkler. We’re going to have to wait and see what the team is thinking on these two pitchers. But if Grilli is unable to start the season in Atlanta, that could open up another spot in the pen, and the team may want to use that time to audition these two Rule 5 guys.

I’m also moving lefty Alex Torres and righty Carlos Torres into the trending up category. Both of these non-roster veteran relievers have pitched great this spring, and with more relievers getting cut as the roster gets trimmed, their chances keep going up. I still believe there is a large temptation to stash them in Gwinnett as experienced depth, especially if finding 40-man roster spots becomes a problem (see bottom of article).

With today’s cuts taken into account, that leaves seven relievers competing for four spots that are definitely open, and what could be two more spots if Grilli is not ready to start the season and if they opt to carry an extra reliever instead of a fifth starter on opening day.

Trending up for the lineup or bench (2 spots): Adonis Garcia continues to be a favorite to pick up some playing time at third base in a very crowded field.

I’m moving both Michael Bourn and Jeff Francoeur to the trending up section this week, mainly to talk about them and Nick Swisher in the same breath. It will be interesting to see what happens with these three veterans — two of them (Swisher and Bourn) being very high priced. This decision doesn’t have to be made until the end of the spring. I still believe that Frenchy is the fly in the ointment, and the Braves will find a way to put him on the roster. That would be made easier if Swish and/or Bourn can be traded.

The next group of players are trending down. For one of these guys to make the team they would have to have an amazing spring, or there would have to be an injury to a player above.

icon-thumbs-downTrending down for the rotation or bullpen: Williams Perez is being given every opportunity to win a spot in the rotation. Both he and Ryan Weber are having good springs. They’re still in the trending down section however, not because of their spring performance, but because Chacin seems preferred over either pitcher right now. ManBan also seems to be preferred by the team in the fifth spot, but because the team doesn’t need that spot filled until April 12, both Perez and Weber will likely join ManBan in the minors to start the season. If Banuelos falters, then that could open the door to either Perez or Weber. There’s also a chance that either Perez or Weber could open the season in Atlanta’s bullpen as the long reliever.

Mike Foltynewicz is behind schedule this spring, and it sounds like the team wants to take the slow approach with him while they stretch him out to join the rotation. That will likely happen in the minors to start the season.

Below are the rest of the guys in camp, and while there is some talent in this group, they are not likely to be around the Major League camp in the final weeks of spring. That being said, I may move one or two of these guys up if they have a great spring or there is some buzz about them in the press.

icon-axAxed from rotation consideration for now: Kyle Kendrick was the biggest cut this week, as the team released him after he got blown up in his second start. It was a short leash to be sure, but with other options pitching better, there’s no reason to keep a non-roster guy around who is not making his pitches.

The team also moved most of the prospects to minor league camp, along with non-roster guys Madison Younginer and David Holmberg. Veteran Chris Volstad was released after producing similar results to Kendrick.

Casey Kelly and Tyrell Jenkins were also reassigned to minor league camp, as expected.

I’m moving Aaron Blair down here this week. While I was bullish on his chances at the beginning of spring, other candidates have risen above him, and it looks like he does need more time in the minors. John Gant is also still hanging around, but having not pitched above double-A, I can’t see him making the jump to the majors quite yet.

Axed from bullpen consideration for now: Chris Withrow was a surprise cut from the spring roster this week, as he was optioned to Gwinnett. This is likely just to give him more time to regain his form after missing last year because of surgery.

Left Matt Marksberry was given no quarter after a rough outing, as the team sent him packing to the minors. He was looking like a strong LOOGY candidate, but it sounds like the team prefers the veterans Krol and A. Torres.

Hunter Cervenka also encountered some rough waters this week, and didn’t survive the latest round of cuts.

Danny Burawa was sent to minor league camp, and is someone I still believe is a candidate to be slipped off the 40-man roster.

Axed from roster consideration for now: Daniel Castro and Chase d’Arnaud were reassigned to minor league camp this week. We may need to keep a closer eye on Reid Brignac, who is hitting pretty well right now. But with such a crowded infield picture already, even a hot hitting Brignac is a longshot.

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40-man roster picture: The Braves 40-man roster is at 40 players right now. Here is one way that the team could find spots for the players that seem to be winning them.

Needing spots (5): Chacin, Ogando, Frenchy, Torres and Torres.

Vacating spots (5): Paco Rodriguez (60-day DL), Andrew McKirahan (60-day DL), Burawa (candidate to be waived), Swisher and Bourn (candidates to be traded).

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Making the Team Meter: Pitchers, Week 2

mbanuelos2The Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) continues as your one-stop shop* for all the team’s spring training roster battles (*initially divided up between pitchers and hitters). The roster is getting trimmed quickly this year, as the team has already made their first round of cuts — some of the earliest significant cuts I can remember.

Every weekly MTM this spring I’ll present the locks for each area of the team, then the guys trending up and down. Those guys trending up and down (listed in red text) are the ones to keep an eye on, and should constitute the bulk of the players competing for open roster spots. The rest of the guys in camp are listed next to the ax, because, well, they will (more than likely) eventually be axed from the spring roster.

First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):

icon-lockRotation locks (3 of 5): Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, and Matt Wisler continue to be locks for the starting rotation. Though neither JT nor Wisler have thrown in a major league spring game yet.

Bullpen locks (3 of 7): Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, and Arodys Vizcaino are all still bullpen locks, with Vizzy striking out the side in order (a “Kimbrel”) during his first Grapefruit League action.

Next up are the players trending up to make the team. There may be more players listed than spots available, but as spring training goes on I’ll whittle these players down.

icon-thumbs-upTrending up for the rotation (1-2 spots): Moving to the trending up section this week is Manny Banuelos. ManBan is apparently penciled in as the fifth starter — a spot in the rotation which won’t be needed until April 12 according to the AJC — even though he has yet to appear in any spring games.

It still looks like non-roster starters Kyle Kendrick and Jhoulys Chacin are in a good position to compete for the remaining rotation spot. Either one of them could also fall to the bullpen, and serve as the long reliever for at least the first two weeks of the season. In their first appearance of the spring on Sunday, Chacin seemed to take the lead with two spotless innings.

Trending up for the bullpen (4-5 spots): With the Braves indicating they will not need a fifth starter until April 12, that opens up the bullpen competition to one more spot. Mike Foltynewicz is still on the bubble between the rotation and the bullpen, so an eye will be kept on how long the team stretches him out in games.

aogandoMoving to the trending up section this week is Alexi Ogando. He has received a lot of praise throughout the spring, and it sounds like Atlanta want’s another veteran reliever in the pen. If the reports of his rejuvenated velocity are true, he could be a nice find.

Chris Withrow looks good in early spring action, and is likely a week or so from becoming a bullpen lock. Ian Krol sounds like the early favorite for the LOOGY role, even though he got Krolshed™ on Sunday.

While it’s been mentioned that the Rule 5 relievers Rutckyj and Winkler might be hard-pressed to make the club, Daniel Winkler remains trending up after two impressive appearances. Out of options reliever Jose Ramirez has also tossed two scoreless innings.

The next group of players are trending down. For one of these guys to make the team they would have to have an amazing spring, or there would have to be an injury to a player above.

icon-thumbs-downTrending down for the rotation: Aaron Blair moves to he trending down section this week. I still want to be bullish on his chances, but with ManBan now penciled into the fifth spot, and Kendrick and Chacin hoovering, Blair seems to be crowded out of a rotation spot to start the season. Besides, there’s no reason to rush the young hurler.

Even before tweaking his delivery, Tyrell Jenkins had drawn praise for his good work in camp — though like Blair, there’s no need to rush him. Williams Perez and Ryan Weber are still options, but they both seem to be further down he depth chart at this point.

rweberCasey Kelly is hanging around, and like Perez and Weber, he’s a long-shot right now.

Chris Volstad hurt his chances by getting rocked in his first game action of the spring, and David Holmberg hasn’t had any buzz about him. Both 4-A veterans are likely to be among the next round of cuts and become triple-A depth.

Trending down for the bullpen: While Matt Marksberry has pitched well and has received praise from the coaching staff, his available minor league option and the veteran relievers ahead of him will likely push him to open at Gwinnett. Fellow lefty Hunter Cervenka finds himself in a similar spot.

Both Alex Torres and Carlos Torres have thrown well and received some praise, but they are still likely behind other non-roster options such as Ogando, Chacin and Kendrick. With the Braves wanting to stash some experienced bullpen depth in the minors, the not-brothers Torres fit the bill perfectly.

Danny Burawa did not have the kind of first outing in this crowded field that gets him noticed in the right way. With another bad outing he becomes a candidate to be slipped through waivers as the team looks to create 40-man roster space.

Another victim of the roster space battle could be Rule 5 lefty Evan Rutckyj. He moves to the trending down section this week.

Below are the rest of the guys in camp, and while there is some talent in this group, they are not likely to be around the Major League camp in the final weeks of spring. That being said, I may move one or two of these guys up if they have a great spring or there is some buzz about them in the press.

icon-axAxed from rotation consideration for now: No change in the ax status of John Gant, Chris Ellis, Sean Newcomb, and Lucas Sims.

Madison Younginer has received some praise, but is still a ways away from major league ready.

Axed from bullpen consideration for now: The two big shocking pieces of news this week were the release of OG David Carpenter, and the probable second Tommy John surgery for Andrew McKirahan. Carp’s unexpected early release was likely due in part to two main factors, the lack of an available roster spot and a continued decline in velocity. While he had appeared in only one game, the Braves staff has a gun on every pitcher virtually every time they throw, and they know where a pitcher’s velocity should be at this point in the spring. OGDC’s velo likely wasn’t keeping up with other non-roster guys like the Law Firm of Ogando, Torres and Torres ©.

Shae Simmons is on the new 15 month recovery plan in return from his TJ surgery. Mauricio Cabrera and his 100 mph heat have been talked about this spring, but ultimately his control is not yet ready for prime time.

Ryan Kelly was released along with Carpenter.

The hitters MTM will be up at the end of the week.

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Making the Team Meter: Hitters, Week 1

ffreeman16Week 1 of the Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) continues with a look at the hitters in camp. While there is a slew of competition and uncertainty about who will ultimately make up the pitching staff, there only seems to be a decision or two regarding the lineup and bench.

This year’s lineup and bench construction lend themselves to a lot of platoons, especially in the lower half of the order. That might not be such a bad thing on a team like the Braves that will likely lose a lot of games. Allowing many of the veterans on the team to play in beneficial platoons in the first half of the year should maximize their output and make them more attractive trade targets at this year’s trade deadline.

Every weekly MTM this spring I’ll present the locks for each area of the team, then the guys trending up and down. Those guys trending up and down (listed in red text) are the ones to keep an eye on, and should constitute the bulk of the players competing for open roster spots. The rest of the guys in camp are listed next to the ax, because, well, they will (more than likely) eventually be axed from the spring roster.

First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):

icon-lockLineup locks (5): Atlanta’s lineup is coming together quite nicely, and the top half of the order looks to be set. Newcomers CF Ender Inciarte and SS Erick Aybar will likely bat at the top of order, followed by lefties 1B Freddie Freeman and RF Nick Markakis. Now-left-fielder Hector Olivera will likely follow, and then it gets platoony…

Lineup platoon and bench locks (6 of 8): There will most likely be three platoons on the diamond for Atlanta. A.J. Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers will share the catching duties. Gordon Beckham is apparently trying to start at third base, though he was already considered part of a platoon at second base with Jace Peterson. Kelly Johnson could figure into parts of platoons at second, third and left field, and Emilio Bonifacio could see some starts in addition to being the super utility player.

That leaves just two spots from a slew of other candidates. In terms of positional need, there doesn’t seem to be any. Bonifacio can fill in everywhere on the diamond and Beckham can play all over the infield in a pinch. Johnson can cover the field as well. So there’s no need to carry a player just to backup shortstop or center field.

Next up are the players trending up to make the team. There may be more players listed than spots available, but as spring training goes on I’ll whittle these players down.

icon-thumbs-upTrending up for the lineup or bench (2 spots): The questionable wrist of Freeman will probably have the Braves keeping first base backup Nick Swisher around, just in case. The team would no doubt still like to trade him if anyone came calling, but they’re probably less likely to cut him with Freeman questionable. If Swisher is indeed fully healthy again, as he claims, then keeping him on the team to build some value leading up to the trade deadline would fit with the Braves’ de facto intention to trade off most of their veterans leading up to July 31.

Adonis Garcia should be a heavy favorite to get a lot of playing time at third base, if not win the job outright. Though even with a strong ElOsoBlanco-esque showing in winter ball, Garcia still has questions about his bat and even bigger questions about his glove. Still, it sounds like Atlanta want’s to see what they have in Garcia, and intend on giving him playing time to let him show it.

The next group of players are trending down. For one of these guys to make the team they would have to have an amazing spring, or there would have to be an injury to a player above.

icon-thumbs-downTrending down for the bench: The other weighty outfield contract after Swisher, with seemingly nowhere to play is Michael Bourn. Before Atlanta acquired Inciarte it looked like Bourn had a definite spot to begin the year in a mentoring role for M. Smith, while starting about half the time. Inciarte pushed Bourn to the bench, but still with a definite spot. The arrival of Jeff Francoeur muddies the water. A hometown favorite like Frenchy might be tough to keep off the team when they’re desperate to sell a few extra tickets in Turner Field’s lame duck season with a 100-loss team.

jfrancoeur16Both Bourn and Francoeur’s roster chances are hurt by a roster that doesn’t seem to have any spot for them… right now. Injuries, ineffectiveness or trades can all create spots.

Daniel Castro and Mallex Smith are the only other position players on the 40-man, and each are worthy of a mention above the Axed section. Castro can play all over the infield, and could see time if Aybar or Bonifacio are injured. Smith likely has little shot this spring unless Inciarte is traded.

Below are the rest of the guys in camp, and while there is some talent in this group, they are not likely to be around the Major League camp in the final weeks of spring. That being said, I may move one or two of these guys up if they have a great spring or there is some buzz about them in the press.

icon-axAxed from roster consideration for now: None of the remaining Braves non-roster invitees are of too much interest. Reid Brignac is a former top prospect turned 30-years-old. Nate Freiman may have the right last name to be an Atlanta first baseman, but that’s it.

Chase d’Arnaud and Matt Tuiasosopo have major league experience, but don’t hit enough to warrant higher consideration.

After them the rest of the fielders in camp include the team’s top prospects getting a taste of big league camp: Dansby Swanson, Ozhaino Albies, Rio Ruiz and Braxton Davidson.

Ryan Lavarnway is a non-roster catcher, and probably the first one called if AJ or T-Flo get injured.

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Making the Team Meter: Pitchers, Week 1

jgrilliThe Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) returns for its 11th season as your one-stop shop* for all the team’s spring training roster battles (*initially divided up between pitchers and hitters).

With so much turnover this offseason, much like the last offseason, the MTM is more vital now than ever, and the pitching side of the ball has the most uncertainty. Which 12 hurlers will break camp with the team is a complete mystery at this point.

Every weekly MTM this spring I’ll present the locks for each area of the team, then the guys trending up and down. Those guys trending up and down (listed in red text) are the ones to keep an eye on, and should constitute the bulk of the players competing for open roster spots. The rest of the guys in camp are listed next to the ax, because, well, they will (more than likely) eventually be axed from the spring roster.

First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):

icon-lockRotation locks (3 of 5): Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, and Matt Wisler should all be locks for the rotation at this point in the spring. Norris is coming off a horrible season, so he’s got a lot to prove, and at just a $2.5 million contract, he’s not above being cut if he continues to be horrible. Wisler also needs to have a decent spring to stay among the locks.

Bullpen locks (3 of 7): Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, and Arodys Vizcaino are all bullpen locks, as they were at this time last year. These three relievers represent a strong core of the back of the bullpen, and a strong cadre of trade bait.

Next up are the players trending up to make the team. There may be more players listed than spots available, but as spring training goes on I’ll whittle these players down.

icon-thumbs-upTrending up for the rotation (2 spots): It’s hard to say who has the inside track on one of the final two rotation spots — it’s likely that no one does at this point. Non-roster starter Kyle Kendrick is coming off a season of Colorado shell shock, but he would represent another veteran arm in the rotation, which seems to be what the Braves want. That extra veteran arm allows them to give their young pitchers more time. As a pitcher who mainly relies on sinkers and splitters, Kendrick also seems like a guy who would benefit from the tutelage of Roger McDowell.

Jhoulys Chacin is a non-roster veteran guy who bounced around last year after major shoulder problems in 2014. He’s had some impressive years in the rotation even while pitching in Colorado. If his injury woes are behind him, he could be a nice reclamation project in advance of the trade deadline.

ablair2My gut tells me Aaron Blair is ready for a rotation spot, and that he’s the prospect among the next wave of Braves starting pitching prospects who is the most prepared to break camp with Atlanta. He’ll still need to have a good spring, but he too should benefit from McDowell’s area of expertise.

Trending up for either the rotation or the bullpen: Manny Banuelos and Mike Foltynewicz both fall into a tweener category I’m creating this year. They figure to make the team, it’s just a matter of where they fit on the team. Folty is delayed by a couple of weeks because of offseason rib surgery, and ManBan is coming off a year in which he was plagued by elbow soreness and diminished velocity. The Braves would love for both pitchers to step into rotation spots, but questions about their ability to remain starters in the majors have been pervasive for the past couple of years.

Trending up for the bullpen (4 spots): The health of Chris Withrow will be a hot topic this spring. He’s an immensely talented reliever, but he missed all or part of the last three seasons, first with Tommy John and then back surgery.

Evan Rutckyj and Daniel Winkler are both Rule 5 picks who must break camp with the Braves or be returned to their original teams. With decent springs they should make the club. Jose Ramirez is in a similar situation, as he is out of options. It will be interesting to see if the Braves can find spots in the bullpen for all three of these guys, with Rutckyj being the biggest risk, having only thrown 18 innings above A-ball.

Ian Krol was acquired in the Maybin trade from Detroit, and is still pretty young (he won’t turn 25 until May). Atlanta is likely looking to him to be a LOOGY, with an eye towards continuing his development so he can handle full inning relief stints. His reverse platoon split last season should be an aberration.

Just a year after trading him to the Yankees, OG David Carpenter returns to Atlanta as a non-roster invitee. Not to be confused with the other David Carpenter who was with Atlanta last year. We’ll see if OGDC can once again thrive under McDowell… if he makes the team he’ll just need to sit out the series with the Indians at the end of June, when Juan Uribe will be in town.

The next group of players are trending down. For one of these guys to make the team they would have to have an amazing spring, or there would have to be an injury to a player above.

icon-thumbs-downTrending down for the rotation: Tyrell Jenkins might get an extended look, and he should be competitive for a spot. He’s listed down here because he’s just a tad behind some of the others… though he has the ability to suddenly put it all together and leap into contention.

Certainly Williams Perez and Ryan Weber will be talked up by many as rotation options, but I believe the two sinkerballers are pitchers of last resort, owing that opinion mainly to their lack of ceiling and their available minor league options, as well as the crowding out from the other candidates.

Casey Kelly is an interesting option, and one who bears watching this spring. He’s still coming back from his long history of injuries. He’s got options left, so that’s another reason he’s trending down.

Chris Volstad is a non-roster veteran guy who will most likely be ticketed for rotation depth at triple-A. David Holmberg is a non-roster southpaw with starting experience in the majors, though it’s mostly unimpressive. He’s also more than likely minor league depth.

dburawaTrending down for the bullpen: Danny Burawa pitched well for Atlanta after they plucked him off the waiver wire from the Yankees last year. He has some good upside, but will need to have a lights-out spring to rise above the crowded field.

Matt Marksberry and Andrew McKirahan are both strong left-handers with minor league options left, and non-roster lefty Alex Torres isn’t as effective against left-handed batters as he is against right-handers. They should represent good depth in the minors, with McKirahan probably having the best shot of the three to make the opening day roster. SLEEPER ALERT: Hunter Cervenka is another non-roster lefty whom the Braves signed out of Indy ball in the middle of last year. He put up terrific numbers at Gwinnett after he signed, and if that dominance continues this spring he could finally get a chance in the majors.

Alexi Ogando is another non-roster reliever, and one we should watch very closely. He’s a former All-Star who was dominant in both the rotation and bullpen for a few years with Texas until shoulder problems derailed him in 2013. His velocity crept back up last year with Boston.

Below are the rest of the guys in camp, and while there is some talent in this group, they are not likely to be around the Major League camp in the final weeks of spring. That being said, I may move one or two of these guys up if they have a great spring or there is some buzz about them in the press.

icon-axAxed from rotation consideration for now: John Gant, Chris Ellis, Sean Newcomb, and Lucas Sims are all great prosepcts who we will eventually see in Atlanta, just not to open this season.

Madison Younginer is a non-roster invitee who just last year reached double-A, then triple-A, but in doing so had better results than he had ever had. He’s likely triple-A depth, but could be a nice find by the Braves.

Axed from bullpen consideration for now: Shae Simmons is a year removed from Tommy John surgery, but the Braves will likely bring him along slowly and give him some innings in the minors before putting him into a bullpen role in Atlanta.

Mauricio Cabrera and his 100 mph heat will get talked about this spring, but ultimately his control is not yet ready for prime time.

Ryan Kelly was very impressive at triple-A last year, but couldn’t translate that success to the majors. I don’t see him as an option to start the season in Atlanta right now.

The hitters MTM will be up at the end of the week.

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Braves trade Christian Bethancourt to Padres

The Atlanta Braves rebuild continued last week as they shipped one-time-prospect catcher Christian Bethancourt to the Padres for one-time right-handed pitching prospect Casey Kelly and catching prospect Ricardo Rodriguez. It was rumored for a while that Atlanta wanted to move on from Bethancourt, and when the team brought back veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski several weeks ago, then signed another veteran catcher in Tyler Flowers last week, it was clear the young Bethancourt was soon to be dealt.

cbethancourtThe Braves didn’t seem to have much patience with Bethancourt this season, with indications coming from the beat writers and announcers that the team wasn’t happy with his defense and game calling. Of course, they also weren’t happy with his anemic hitting, as he posted a slash line of .200/.225/.290 in 48 games. It should be noted that 48 games isn’t much time to make an impression or get totally comfortable in the majors, especially when he never started three days in a row during the first two months of the season. With more consistent playing time, Bethancourt hit .327/.359/.480 after he was sent down to triple-A.

A supposedly rebuilding Braves club didn’t seem to have much of a desire to play the 23-year-old Bethancourt after he was recalled late in the year, preferring instead to play the 38-year-old Pierzynski. Either because of that or simply because his bat still hadn’t caught up to major league pitching, Bethancourt reverted to his poor offensive numbers, slashing .204/.232/.296 after getting called back up in late August.

Bethancourt will be just 24 years old next season, and has only started 72 major league games across parts of two seasons. The modus operandi for him throughout his minor league career was that he initially struggled at each new level, but was able to succeed at that level in his second full season go-around. With that in mind, and some regular playing time, Bethancourt might be able to catch up to major league pitching in the next year. So it’s strange that with a rebuilding year planned for the Braves in 2016 they don’t seem to want any part of trying to develop a catcher.

The answer to that question may lie in Bethancourt’s defense more than his offense. His throwing arm was always his plus-plus defensive tool, but the rest of his defensive game was generally considered pretty poor and a work in progress. The biggest knocks on his catching game seem to be in his pitch framing and game calling. There were games this season when he and Julio Teheran were simply not on the same page, and as an observer watching on TV it was quite obvious — something pretty rare to see in the major leagues. Clearly the Braves don’t believe that he can improve upon those skills, and so they chose to move on.

It should also be mentioned that when trying to develop a young pitching staff it’s important to have a catcher who is good at calling games and framing pitches in order to get his pitcher that extra bit of advantage. Pierzynski and Flowers are two catchers who are really good at both of those things. So from the standpoint of building a team through pitching, as the Braves are doing, having a competent catcher is a must.

ckellyIn considering both the positive and negative aspects of Bethancourt’s game as I described them, Atlanta seems to have done pretty well with their return in this trade. Casey Kelly was a huge pitching prospect, ranking among the top-100 prospects for four years from 2010 to 2013. He was also one of the main prospects traded to San Diego in the 2010 Adrian Gonzalez trade with the Red Sox. Everything seemed to be on track for him to be an important part of the Padres rotation until ye olde elbow ligament went bad in the spring of 2013, and he had to have Tommy John surgery.

It’s been a really long recovery for Kelly, who went all the way down to double-A this year to try and figure things out. He made it back to the majors this year for three games (two of them starts) at the end of the season. I like this acquisition by Atlanta. Sure, he’s potentially damaged goods, but if he can regain that top-100 talent he showed before the injury, then they found a mid-rotation starter. Kelly also has options left, so he can compete for a job in spring training, but spend the year at triple-A if he doesn’t make the opening day roster. He also performed pretty well as a reliever this year.

The final piece in this deal is catcher Ricardo Rodriguez. He was one of the top-30 international prospects when he signed with the Padres in 2014 for $800,000 out of Venezuela. Described as a defense-first, bat-later backstop, he doesn’t have any standout tool behind the plate, but is athletic and does everything well at a young age. Many scouts seem to believe that his bat is the biggest question mark, with many wondering if he’ll ever hit enough to be more than a backup.

Therefore it was an odd debut last year for Rodriguez, who split time between the Dominican League and the Padres complex ball rookie league. He hit better than expected, slashing .266/.336/.376, but made eight errors in just 25 games behind the plate. He’s still very young, and very raw in all facets of the game, but his skill set shows a solid foundation for an above average catching prospect. I expect he’ll start the year with one of the Braves rookie league teams, as the organization takes a slow and methodical approach to his development.

He does rank among the top-35 Braves prospects for me, based on bonus received and scouting reports. He slots in at No. 26, and will be the highest ranked catcher in a system now completely barren of catching prospects at the upper levels.

Overall this was a decent trade for the Braves. While they may have given up on Bethancourt too soon, it was pretty obvious last year that he wasn’t in their plans. Despite his poor performances they still managed to wrangle a solid catching prospect from San Diego, albeit one who is a long ways away, and a decent gamble on the once highly thought of Kelly.

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