Braves 2015 International Signings and Trades

Major League Baseball sets July 2 as the day when teams can begin to sign eligible international players. This mainly includes players from Latin America and the Caribbean. The Atlanta Braves agreed to sign two top hitting prospects this July 2, but to do that they had to trade away four other prospects to stay under the spending cap imposed by MLB without incurring a penalty. It’s a confusing process with a web of rules that some teams respect and others intentionally break. Here are the main points to understand:

  • Each team has an international bonus pool of money comprised of slots that are assigned monetary values. Full list of pools and slots at Baseball America.
  • Teams can trade their slots, with the money that is assigned to that slot being removed from their total pool and reassigned to the acquiring team’s pool.
  • Players don’t have to be signed for the value of a slot, they can be signed for any amount of money.
  • Teams must stay under their bonus pool or else face current taxes and future restrictions for exceeding their pool.

There are a few more details around those rules, but those are the basics. Here is how the Braves are staying within the rules this year:

  • The Braves signed SS Derian Cruz for a $2 million bonus.
  • The Braves signed OF Christian Pache for a $1.4 million bonus.
  • Atlanta’s bonus pool total as assigned by MLB is $2,458,400. With just Cruz and Pache as the only two players signed so far, the team exceeded their bonus pool by $941,600.

The Braves would need to trade for additional pool space or face penalty, and they did that with these three trades:

  1. RHP Cody Martin traded to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for international bonus slot No. 53, worth $388,400.
  2. RHP Caleb Dirks and OF Jordan Paroubeck traded to the Dodgers in exchange for international bonus slot No. 87, worth $249,000.
  3. RHP Garrett Fulenchek traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for international bonus slots No. 73 (worth $299,000) and No. 103 (worth $195,200).

That means they acquired a total of $1,131,600, which accounts for the total owed to Cruz and Pache, and gives Atlanta an additional $190,000 to spend on other players. The rules allow for teams to trade for an additional 50% of their bonus pool, which for Atlanta comes out to a total of $1,229,200. Atlanta could technically still acquire another $97,600 and be under this rule, but the lowest slot value is $149,700, so if they did want to acquire more space they might have to trade one of their own slots away to make the numbers work. While the Braves are probably done trading, they may seek one more trade to maximize their allowable pool.

cmartinThe easiest way to understand all this is to think of it as Atlanta trading Martin, Dirks, Paroubeck and Fulenchek for the ability to sign both Cruz and Pache. The indications are that the Braves want to stay within the rules this year, but then use next year’s international signing period to blow through their bonus pool.

When a team exceeds their bonus pool they face a 100% tax on the overage. While there are some varying penalties for going 5 or 10 percent over, most teams going over will exceed their limits by 15 percent and incur the full penalty of not being able to sign any international player for more than $300,000 for two consecutive signing periods. Many of the top-spending teams will be in this “penalty box” next year, including the Angels, D-backs, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees, who exceeded last year’s limits, and so far the Giants and Dodgers have exceeded their limits this year.

This should lower the competition to sign the top international talent next year and allow the Braves to spend extravagantly as they compete for the top players.

In many ways all of these bonus slot trades this year are about swapping out lower-ceiling prospects for higher-ceiling prospects. Clearly the Braves feel that Cruz and Pache are better than the players they traded, which is saying something since two of those traded (Fulenchek and Paroubeck) were second-round draft picks not too long ago. Let’s take a look at what Atlanta gave up, then take a look at the players that were signed.

OF Jordan Paroubeck was acquired from San Diego in the Craig Kimbrel trade, and was originally a second-round pick by the Padres in 2013 out of high school. He had not played a game for the Braves’ rookie-level Danville squad yet due to injury, but when he was drafted he was considered a raw five-tool player. I had preliminarily ranked him as the No. 22 prospect in the Braves mid-season top-30 rankings (due to be published during the All-Star break).

RHP Garrett Fulenchek was Atlanta’s second-round pick last year out of a Texas high school. The draft scouting report on him emphasized his size and projectable physicality while noting that he is still pretty raw as a pitcher. As a pro his control has been atrocious. I had him preliminarily ranked as the No. 29 prospect mid-season.

RHP Caleb Dirks was drafted in the 14th-round last year out of college and has a future as a middle reliever. He’s repeatedly posted low contact rates and low ERAs as a pro while registering some high walk totals. He was already at high-A Carolina, but as a middle reliever he would not have made the prospect list.

I ranked RHP Cody Martin as the No. 20 prospect before this season. He had some sporadic success early this season with Atlanta, but the league caught up to him with unflattering results. He could still develop into a very decent middle reliever or swingman, and possibly a back of the rotation starter.

SS Derian Cruz was ranked as the No. 5 prospect in this year’s international class by Baseball America, and No. 24 by MLB — highlighting the disparity in scouting these young international prospects. Just 16-years-old, Cruz is described as the best athlete in this year’s class with explosive speed that could become plus-plus.

OF Christian Pache is also considered a plus athlete with good bat control to all fields. He was ranked No. 21 by Baseball America and No. 10 by MLB. Like Cruz, Pache is also 16 and from the Dominican Republic.

These young international prospects usually have a long development path, however some of them can move quite quickly, like recent successes Ozhaino Albies and Jose Peraza. Albies was signed in 2013, made his pro debut state-side last year at the age of 17, and this year is leading the Sally League in hitting. That’s a high bar for the two new guys to meet, but with the bonuses they received and how they are ranked by the major prospect outlets the hope is that they make an immediate splash in the Braves’ system.

This is a pretty good outcome for the Braves. They get two prospects whom they believe to be high-ceiling game-changers — something the Braves system is thin on — and in return they gave up a couple of role players and a couple of young prospects who have not yet met expectations based on their draft pedigree. Fulenchek and Paroubeck are the two guys who could come back to haunt Atlanta in these trades, but for now these moves look like a step in the right direction for the long-term development pipeline of the Braves’ minor league system.

Consider too that the Braves just nabbed two plus prospects while staying within the rules for 2015. I mentioned earlier that 2016 is when Atlanta might greatly exceed their bonus pool, and their number one target may already be “in the fold.” This interesting nugget is from ESPN:

The huge name for next year’s J2 class is Venezuelan SS Kevin Maitan, a monstrous teenager with an elite body, advanced feel to hit and big-time power projection. He has been on the radar for international scouts for years and is being compared to some generational talents. A scout I talked to whose team has no prayer of signing Maitan said his club has an overall 70 grade on him, the sort of grade that players near the apex of top 100 prospects lists only sometimes garner. And three sources have told ESPN colleague Keith Law that the Atlanta Braves have already locked up Maitan for $4.25 million in advance of the July 2, 2016, signing period. As Keith noted, such deals are “technically prohibited but are de rigueur in that market.”

Maitan is supposed to be special, but we’ll have to wait a whole year before we know if this is really the plan.

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Prospects to watch on Braves short-season teams

The minor league short-season leagues started this week, which includes two teams in the Atlanta Braves organization: the Danville Braves and the Gulf Coast League Braves. Both teams are considered to be “rookie” level, with Danville serving as advanced rookie ball, and the GCL team considered “complex” ball (owing to the fact that they play at the Braves spring training complex).

Every year a few unexpected gems, usually players from Latin America, emerge from these teams. Last year it was SS Ozhaino Albies and RHP Jorge Zavala. This is also the first place we see many of the team’s draft picks make their debuts. Below are some players to keep an eye on, with an emphasis on some of the more unknown Latin players.

Prospects to watch in Danville

jparoubeckLeudys Baez, OF: A switch-hitting center fielder signed this past year out of the Dominican Republic. He makes his pro debut at Danville, and turns 19 tomorrow, so he’s a little older for an international prospect. Still, the Braves gave him a $400,000 bonus last year, and hope his bat and strong arm in center can propel him as a prospect.

Jordan Paroubeck, OF: One of the prospects acquired in the Craig Kimbrel trade from San Diego. Drafted No. 69 overall in 2013 out of the high school ranks in California. He projects to have a good hit tool with power as well as some speed on the bases and in the field.

Garrett Fulenchek, RHP: The team’s second-round pick last year out of high school, he is still just 19-years-old and the youngest pitcher on the team. He suffered through some terrible control problems in his pro debut at complex ball last year, and all eyes will be watching to see if he can iron those out this year.

Others: RHP Josh Graham is the highest draft pick (4th round) from this year playing at Danville. INF Luke Dykstra (son of Lenny) will be an interesting player to keep an eye on. 3B Dylan Manwaring also has baseball bloodlines.

Prospects to watch in GCL

Ronald Acuna, OF: A speedy and toolsy center fielder signed last year, he’s only 17-years-old. His speed should play plus on the basepaths and he has a real chance to hit for moderate power.

jyepezJuan Yepez, 3B: The Braves top international signing last year from the Wren regime, the 17-year-old Venezuelan inked for a reported $1 million. His main asset are said to be his quick hands, which should help him hit for average and power. (Pictured on left)

Isranel Wilson, OF: One of the Braves top international signings last year from the Hart regime, Wilson has good size and athleticism and profiles as a five-tool center fielder who hits to all fields. He’s originally from St. Thomas, but trained in the D.R.

Dilmer Mejia, LHP: While he’s repeating the GCL, he performed well in the league last year as a 16-year-old. He has advanced control for his age, and should just need to time to refine his fastball and offspeed offerings.

Luis Barrios, LHP: The Braves top international signing in the 2013-14 signing period, he received a $600,000 bonus coming out of Columbia. This will be his stateside debut after mixed results in the Dominican summer league last year.

Jhoniel Sepulveda, RHP: An 18-year-old signed by the Hart regime last year out of the Dominican, he already sports a mid-to-high-90s fastball. He’ll need to develop a good offspeed pitch, but he could follow in the footsteps of Zavala as a power relief prospect.

Others: Just about every high school player the Braves selected in the 2015 draft is playing at this level. Early-rounders C Lucas Herbert and 3B Austin Riley as well as late-rounders OF Bradley Keller and LHP Jaret Hellinger are players to keep an eye on. As are some junior college players like OF Justin Ellison and RHP Dalton Geekie.

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Braves acquire Touki Toussaint from Diamondbacks

The Atlanta Braves can’t seem to go a month without making a trade. Three weeks after a trade with another N.L. West team (the Dodgers) the Braves went back to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a familiar-looking trade. Atlanta acquired right-handed pitchers Touki Toussaint and Bronson Arroyo in exchange for infielder Phil Gosselin.

ttoussaintArroyo is recovering from Tommy John surgery and will not be ready to pitch in a major league game until August at the earliest, and may not be able to return to the mound at all this year. Atlanta takes on the $9.5 million left on his contract, which includes a $4.5 million buyout on his 2016 $13 million option year.

But Arroyo is not the main attraction here, merely an expensive sideshow which was the cost for acquiring one of the top-100 prospects in baseball. Drafted No. 16 overall in the 2014 draft, Touki Toussaint was considered by many to be the top right-handed prep arm in the entire draft. He cost the D-Backs $2.7 million in bonus money last year, almost $400,000 over slot.

Toussaint is said to have the ceiling of a true ace. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s, and he spins what scouts describe as a knockout plus-plus curveball that he throws in the mid-70s. This gives him the kind of velocity separation that makes both of those pitches more effective. His changeup is still a work in progress, but flashes plus and could be another future out-pitch.

A future pitching ace with three potential plus or plus-plus pitches… all for only $9.5 million!?!

Considering how much international talent from Cuba or Japan costs to sign, or how much a pitcher costs in the free agent market, paying only $9.5 mil for one of the top talents in the minor leagues is an amazing coup for Atlanta. If money is the only issue here, then this move by the Diamondbacks is a real head-scratcher. If you subtract Toussaint’s bonus last year, then Arizona is only really saving around $6.8 million. For that little bit of salary relief they’re giving up a very valuable arm.

It’s even more of a head-scratcher since they signed Cuban RHP Yoan Lopez this past offseason for about the same amount of money owed to Arroyo, and in the process exceeded their international bonus pool, for which they will be limited in the bonuses they can give international talent for the next two years. That means they will have a hard time restocking their system with high-ceiling prospects from the international ranks, which would make one think they would want to hold onto all of their top young talent. From an Arizona perspective, this trade is utterly confusing and possibly downright stupid.

With that kind of assessment from the Arizona end, it should be no surprise that this trade is a huge win for Atlanta. Phil Gosselin’s versatility and competitiveness will be missed, but he is at best a utility infielder, and not likely to be a productive starter for a first-division team. He was completely expendable after the emergence of Jace Peterson, and with Jose Peraza lurking at triple-A.

Atlanta engineered a similar trade with Arizona during spring training, in which they acquired Trevor Cahill and the $7 million or so left on his contract along with a coveted early-round draft pick in exchange for a couple of low-level minor league outfield prospects. While Cahill didn’t work out for the Braves and has been released, the team used that draft pick, No. 75 overall, on a high-ceiling pitcher who could be a future closer (A.J. Minter). Atlanta was essentially buying that draft pick in exchange for taking most of what was owed to Cahill off Arizona’s books.

barroyoToussaint becomes one of the top-three or four prospects for the Braves, and joins what is possibly the most impressive stable of pitching talent ever assembled in the Atlanta organization.

At some point it might be fun to watch Arroyo’s absurd leg kick toe the mound for the team. And remember, they still hold an option on Arroyo for next season should they choose to keep him and try and flip him this offseason, or sometime next year.

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Atlanta Braves 2015 Draft Picks, Rounds 21-40

Day three of the 2015 MLB First Year Player Draft and this completes the selections made by the Atlanta Braves. Previous selections can be found using these links:

Picks 1-5 (Round 1 & 2)
Picks 6-13 (Round 3-10)
Picks 14-23 (Round 11-20)

21st Round (630): Kurt Hoekstra, 2B @khoek7 – A junior middle infielder from Western Michigan, Hoekstra was named the team MVP this year while hitting .322/.401/.491. He’s got good size at 6-foot-2 for a middle infielder, but he doesn’t project to have too much home run power and only average speed. Since playing in a collegiate summer league last year, he has gradually raised his draft profile, and is yet another late bloomer selected by the Braves.

22nd Round (660): Dalton Geekie, RHP @daltongeekie — A Georgia boy from McEachern high school by way of Georgia Highlands College, where he just finished his sophomore year. He has a large projectable 6-foot-5 frame and works his fastball in the low-90s, but was unranked by any prospect outlet.

23rd Round (690): Taylor Cockrell, RHP @tcock_06 – A two-way player out of State College of Florida Manatee, he is signed to play with the University of Tampa next year and ranked as the No. 85 prospect in Florida by Baseball America. He’s sits in the low-90s with his fastball, and he’s got a big enough frame at 6-foot-3 to retain and/or add-to that velocity.

24th Round (720): Jake Lanning, 3B @jakelanning4 – A senior at Holy Cross College in Indiana, he was a two-way player, leading his team on the mound and in the field. The switch-hitter destroyed his competition with a slash line of .475/.553/.732 as well as a 1.96 ERA and a .197 BAA. This pick follows one of the Braves stated goals in this draft of selecting all-around athletes and two-way players.

25th Round (750): Jonathan Morales, C — A sophomore catcher out of Miami Dade Community College, and a native of Puerto Rico. I can’t find much info on him, and he is unranked in Florida.

26th Round (780): Ben Libuda, LHP — A junior from little-known Worcester State College in Massachusetts, he checks in at a wispy 6-foot-7 with plenty of room to add more strength. He’s a four-pitch pitcher with a low-90s fastball and a potentially plus slider. Looks as if there’s a lot to like with the package that Libuda brings with him.

27th Round (810): Robby Nesovic, 3B — A junior third baseman from UC Santa Barbara, he starred as a pitcher as well, continuing the trend of picking two-way players. He has a big 6-foot-3 frame, but didn’t hit for much power in college.

28th Round (840): Curtiss Pomeroy, RHP — A junior from Georgetown, he is also a two-way player, and only went back to pitching this year after not having thrown off the mound regularly since Little League. While he only made five relief appearances this year, the Braves liked what they saw, and Pomeroy seems convinced that his professional baseball future is as a pitcher.

29th Round (870): Collin Yelich, C @cyelich — Most notably, Collin is the brother of Marlins’ outfielder Christian Yelich. He sounds like a reliable catcher with a good work ethic. The Braves also like the bloodlines.

30th Round (900): Doug Still, LHP — Drafted last year by the Braves in the 33rd round after finishing high school, the team selected him again after he completed his first year of Junior College at Jefferson College in Missouri.

31st Round (930): Matt Custred, RHP @cattmust — The Braves draft the college teammate of their 6th-round pick (Matt Withrow), who are both juniors at Texas Tech. Custred checks in at an imposing 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, and has mostly been a reliever in his college career. He only appeared in three games his sophomore year, which leads me to believe there may have been some sort of injury. He only appeared in 15 games (18 innings) in his junior year, so he doesn’t have a lot of mileage on his arm.

The remaining picks in rounds 32 through 40 are all high school players, who are generally unlikely to sign. Sometimes they are selected by the team so that the player knows the team is tracking them as they enter college. Some of these picks may be backup picks in case some of the high school players drafted in earlier rounds don’t sign, leaving extra money to make a run at one of these guys. If any of them sign, I will write up a review and add it to this list.

An interesting note about the team’s 35th-round selection, catcher Chase Smartt, he is apparently deaf. Here is a good story and video about him.

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Atlanta Braves 2015 Draft Picks 14-23 (Rounds 11-20)

Day three of the 2015 MLB First Year Player Draft and the Atlanta Braves continue their focus on selecting late-rising talent and pop-up guys.

Picks 1-5 (Round 1 & 2)
Picks 6-13 (Round 3-10)
Picks 24-43 (Round 21-40)

11th Round (330): Grayson Jones, RHP — The Braves begin their annual dip into the ranks of Shelton State CC in Alabama. Jones is ranked No. 284 by Baseball America, but was ranked No. 209 last year when he was drafted by the Indians in the 14th round. BA describes Jones as “more of a thrower than a pitcher,” and he follows the Braves trend of making risky picks on guys they view as high-upside arms. His fastball can reach the mid-90s, but he’s got a lot of work to do to establish consistent control of his arsenal. This seems like a good high-upside risk by the team.

12th Round (360): Justin Ellison, OF @theysleepinonje – Ellison is out of the same community college that produced Andrelton Simmons. He ranked among the offensive leaders in Division II, showing both power and speed, which scouts say is legitimate. He represents a terrific risk for the Braves who have had good luck with athletic players from this school.

13th Round (390): Chase Johnson-Mullins, LHP — Atlanta hits up Shelton State again, this time for a 6-foot-9 lefty. A Tommy John survivor, CJM has bounced around between three different schools and hasn’t pitched much at any of them. Scouts still love his huge frame that generates a mid-90s fastball. Ranked No. 232 overall by BA, Atlanta gets good value here in another high-upside projection pick.

14th Round (420): Trey Keegan, C @keegsallaround – The Braves one-up themselves by selecting a catcher who has had Tommy John surgery. An athletic Senior catcher out of Bowling Green State, Atlanta likes Keegan’s selective approach at the plate, and aggressive approach behind the plate. Senior catchers are usually just organizational filler, but he seems to have some legitimate upside both at and behind the plate.

15th Round (450): Bradley Keller, OF @keller_bradley — An athletic high school catcher who the Braves will move to the outfield. He’s described as a gym rat and a workhorse who is dedicated to improving his craft. The team likes his bat and speed on the bases and in the field, and will take a long development approach with him. He is likely another late season pop-up guy, as he was unranked by BA. High school selections at this point in the draft have a very low probability of working out.

16th Round (480): Trevor Belicek, LHP @tbelicek – A senior left-hander from Texas A&M Corpus Christi, he has good size at 6-foot-3. He was unranked, but had a good career at A&M and came on late during his Senior year to post an 11.4 K/9 rate. This selection continues a trend by the Braves in this draft of selecting guys who were late risers.

17th Round (510): Evan Phillips, RHP @evanphillips36 — A Junior at UNC – Wilmington, Phillips lost his rotation spot during the season, but found success late in the year in the bullpen. While he wasn’t ranked nationally, he was the top-ranked player in North Carolina outside of the BA Top-500. He will likely work his way through the Braves system as a reliever.

18th Round (540): Gilbert Suarez, RHP — A high school pitcher from Southern California, whose high school is a little over a mile from the US-Mexico border, he is mentioned in a great ESPN article about his friend and teammate who was deported. Suarez is another late riser and pop-up guy who added several miles per hour to his fastball this season, and now sits in the low-to-mid-90s. He might be a tough sign away from a good program at San Diego State University.

19th Round (570): Sean McLaughlin, RHP @sean_uga3 — An undersized Junior right-hander from UGA, he was forced off the mound for most of his Sophomore year because of shoulder issues which eventually led to arthroscopic surgery in late June. This is the second time the Braves have selected McLaughlin, having taken him in 2012 in the 38th round out of Northview High School in Johns Creek, Georgia. He seems like a candidate for the bullpen.

20th Round (600): Jeret Hellinger, LHP @jarethellinger — Ranked No. 389 by BA, he missed time early because of a shoulder injury, but was apparently sitting in the low-90s late in the season — that makes him somewhat of a pop-up guy. He’s got a very projectable frame at 6-foot-4 for a high school pitcher. He’ll need to work on his secondary pitches, and he’ll need to add more strength to his athletic frame. This is another good high-upside selection by Atlanta.

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Atlanta Braves 2015 Draft Picks 6-13 (Rounds 3-10)

On day two of the 2015 MLB First Year Player Draft the Atlanta Braves continued their pattern of making risky selections on players they consider high-upside talent. There are some odd selections within this group.

risk2

3rd Round (89): Anthony Guardado, RHP — For the Braves in this draft, risk be thy name. Guardado was not listed among the Baseball America top-500 draft prospects, and is instead a late comer known as a “pop-up” guy. He is also a QB at Nogales High School in La Puente, California, with a brief history of shoulder problems that kept him out of some games this spring. When he did take the mound he showed a solid four pitch mix, with a low-90s fastball, change, curve, and what is described as an out-pitch hard slider. Guardado also meets a desire by the Braves to draft two-sport athletes who can bring a more competitive intensity to the game. Being such a late-rising prospect he will likely arrive in the Braves system quite raw, with a protracted development path ahead of him — high-risk, but potentially high-upside.

4th Round (120): Josh Graham, RHP — Atlanta continues to pick helium players, or players who have come on strong late in the season. Graham is a converted catcher from the University of Oregon, who apparently retained his catcher’s body as he shifted to the mound. He throws his fastball in the low-to-mid-90s, and compliments it with a solid-average slider and changeup. While he worked in the rotation some this year, he profiles as a reliever in the pro ranks. Though he is a college junior, his limited experience on the mound could keep him from moving too fast through the system. He was ranked No. 198 by Baseball America.

5th Round (150): Ryan Clark, RHP — Another helium pick, this time out of UNC Greensboro. Students of the Braves system may remember that the team drafted 6-foot-8 right-hander Max Povse in the third round out of that same school last year. Clark comes close to measuring up at 6-foot-5. He’s described as athletic with plenty of projection in his frame and repertoire. He already works his fastball in the low-to-mid-90s, with a good breaking ball and a curve that needs work. Much like Povse, the Braves will likely try to develop Clark as a starter, though a move to the bullpen is more likely.

6th Round (180): Matt Withrow, RHP @mattwithrow35 — The Braves traded for Withrow’s brother Chris last month in the Alberto Callaspo and Juan Uribe trade. Chris was acquired with the knowledge that he would not be ready to pitch until next year, as he is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Matt arrives in the Braves system with his own injury concerns, missing time this year and only throwing 22 innings, mostly in relief. When healthy he has a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a fringe-average slider, but struggles to command them at times. He was unranked by Baseball America, and given his injury history represents another strange and risky pick by the Braves. He profiles as a reliever.

7th Round (210): Patrick Weigel, RHP @pwags42 – With this selection the Braves take a risk of another kind. Weigel can run his fastball into the upper-90s, touching 100 mph, but his control doesn’t always come to the mound with him (see Jaime, Juan). At 6-foot-6 the velocity is apparently easy and lively, and as a young junior from the University of Houston the hope here is that the Braves can get him to control his pitches better, even if it means backing off the velo some. I actually like risky hard-throwing picks like this, especially in these middle rounds. Baseball America ranks him No. 192, so this is also good value.

8th Round (240): Ryan Lawlor, LHP @itslawlor — While he was the Friday night starter for UGA this year, he wasn’t the dominant kind of pitcher one normally sees at big programs. He’s a bit undersized at just 6-foot, and throws in the high-80s to low-90s. Everything about him reminds me of last year’s fifth round draft pick, Chris Diaz (seriously, go read my review of Diaz, and it should tell you all you need to know about Lawlor). He projects as a back of the rotation starter or middle reliever, and doesn’t have much of a ceiling. Wait… this isn’t a risky pick at all! What gives, Braves?

9th Round (270): Taylor Lewis, RHP — The Braves once again dodge a risky pick by selecting a side-arming closer from the University of Florida. Think of him as a shorter Cory Gearrin, who was also a closer in college. Lewis apparently gets both lefties and righties out with a fastball and slider mix. He could move fast through the Braves system, arriving as early as late 2016.

10th Round (300): Stephen Moore, RHP @stephenmoore20 — A starting pitcher from the Naval Academy, and a Roswell, Georgia native. He wasn’t on anyone’s scouting radar, and according to MLB.com Braves beat writer Mark Bowman, “Moore will pitch in the Braves Minor League system for a portion of this summer and then begin his military commitment.” This selection is almost certainly about adding this slot’s $149,000 to the team’s bonus pool to use on other picks.

However, the Braves do have a recent history of selecting kids who are destined for military service. The one who stands out the most for me is LHP Matt Fouch. He was drafted in the 34th round in 2010 out of West Point. I remember watching him in Savannah while he was pitching for Rome, and his stuff was absolutely filthy. During his brief stint in the Braves system he pitched in 6 games, totaling 9 innings, and allowed 0 runs on just 3 hits and 1 walk while striking out 10 before leaving for military service. The following year the Braves drafted another pitcher out of West Point in the 50th round. RHP Kevin McKague didn’t sign, so the Braves drafted him again in 2012 in the 23rd round. He didn’t have as much success as Fouch in his brief five game stint before leaving to serve our country.

We may be concerning ourselves with the risks of a baseball draft, but these selections are a sobering reminder of the risks these kids face as they are deployed around the world in the service of our country.

Picks 1-5 (Round 1 & 2)
Picks 14-23 (Round 11-20)
Picks 24-43 (Round 21-40)

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Atlanta Braves 2015 Draft Picks 1-5

The Atlanta Braves enter the 2015 draft with five selections on day one among the top 75 picks. After losing a pick last year because they signed Ervin Santana, they added the No. 28 pick this year when they extended a qualifying offer to Santana, who signed as a free agent with the Twins.

The Braves also added two additional picks on day one through two trades. The No. 41 pick was acquired from San Diego as part of the Craig Kimbrel trade, and the No. 75 pick was acquired from Arizona in exchange for a minor league outfielder.

For my preview of what to expect from the Braves in this draft, click here. In short, with so many high picks, the Braves were expected to take some risks and shoot for the moon with some of their selections. Here are the picks…

1st Round (14): Kolby Allard, LHP @kolbyallard — The Braves prove they are not afraid to take risks in this draft with their very first selection. Allard was one of the top high school pitchers in this draft class before a stress “reaction” in his back caused him to miss most of the season. He’s one of the youngest pitchers in the draft, and already has a long track record of success, including as a member of the gold medal winning USA Baseball 18U team.

With plus control of a low to mid-90s fastball and plus curveball Allard projects as a top of the rotation pitcher. The back injury is concerning, as is his thin six foot frame (for a top of the rotation guy), but he is said to have a low-effort delivery that shouldn’t add additional stress on his frame. He will also have plenty of time to develop and add strength as he moves through the system.

ESPN’s Keith Law didn’t move Allard down his draft prospects’ list after the injury, and he entered draft night as Law’s No. 6 overall prospect and the top high school pitcher in the draft. Many prospect outlets had considered Allard a top-5 pick, or at the very least top-10. If Allard does prove to be healthy and unaffected by the back injury, then this risk could pay off huge for Atlanta, as they potentially net their ace of the future.

1st Compensation Round (28): Mike Soroka, RHP @34mike19 — Atlanta takes their risk in a different direction with this pick. Instead of under-drafting a pitcher with injury concerns, they over-draft a prep pitcher who was ranked No. 61 by Keith Law and No. 90 by Baseball America. Soroka may not have gotten much first round buzz, but he is a projectable high school pitcher with a Braves connection.

According to Baseball America, “there hasn’t been a player out of Alberta [Canada] selected in the top 100 picks since the Red Sox picked Chris Reitsma 34th overall in 1996.” This will serve as a nice segue, since Soroka was mentored by former Braves pitcher Chris Reitsma.

Soroka is a tall drink of water who is still growing into his 6-foot-5 frame. He has good command of a low-90s fastball and change as well as a plus curveball that could be a wipeout pitch. While a cold-weather pitcher, Soroka made a strong showing on his Canadian junior national team as he faced major league hitters in spring training this past spring. He also faced minor league hitters in extended spring training and in the Dominican summer league, and reportedly threw exceptionally well (which clearly raised his draft stock).

Since he is a cold-weather pitcher it’s hard to gauge his floor and ceiling as a prospect. Most prospect outlets are pegging him as a back of the rotation guy with some helium coming into the draft. It might take a year or two before we get a good read on what this kid’s ultimate ceiling might be.

1st Competitive Balance Round (41): Austin Riley, 3B @austinriley1308 — Another over-draft here with a two-way prep player. Riley was effective on the mound with a mid-90s fastball, but came on this past year as a legit prospect at the hot corner. Ranked No. 164 by Baseball America this pick seems more than a bit premature for day one, let alone the first round. If, as the Braves stated before the draft, that they wanted to take the best players available with these early picks, then they seem to have veered off the tracks with this selection.

Riley is said to have plus power in a thick 6-foot-3, 230 pound frame. He has enough arm to play the hot corner, but will need to work on his fielding. Since he just popped onto the scouting radar this year as a hitting prospect it’s hard to accurately judge what kind of bat the Braves are really getting with this pick. This is a weird pick, unless there’s a pre-draft deal in place where the Braves sign him under slot, freeing up money they can use on other picks.

2nd Round (54): Lucas Herbert, C @lucasherbert_ — The Braves go back to California to nab a prep catcher, and the teammate of their first round pick Allard. Herbert was also on the gold medal winning USA Baseball 18U national team, where he caught many of the top prospects in this year’s draft.

Herbert is said to be an above average defensive catcher for his age, one of the best in this draft class. His bat will reportedly be a work in progress in the professional ranks. However, when he’s been on the big stage in championship games, his bat has risen to the occasion. Atlanta gets good value in this pick, as Keith Law ranked Herbert No. 45, and Baseball America ranked him No. 52.

Herbert and Allard took a great picture just after his selection.

2nd Competitive Balance Round (75): A.J. Minter, LHP – The Braves dial up the risk to maximum for their final pick on day one. Minter will be recovering from Tommy John surgery which he had in March of this year. He also missed time during his freshman year at Texas A&M because of “thoracic outlet syndrome,” which is a condition causing pain and poor circulation in the arm and shoulder.

Minter, AJWhen healthy he served initially as A&M’s closer, then made a smooth (before the injury) transition to the rotation. He sports a three pitch mix that includes a plus fastball in the mid-to-upper-90s. The injuries caused him to tumble down draft boards, landing at No. 484 on Baseball America’s list. He also has a year of eligibility remaining, meaning he doesn’t have to sign or settle for a below slot deal.

He didn’t pitch much in college because of the injuries. With a max-effort delivery he may be more suited to a relief role rather than as a starter. This is a strange selection by Atlanta. Surely there are a ton of other high-upside pitchers without the injury issues of Minter who are available with this pick. I get taking a risk, but this is more like an unnecessary reach.

Picks 6-13 (Round 3-10)
Picks 14-23 (Round 11-20)
Picks 24-43 (Round 21-40)

Photo of A.J. Minter by CB Wilkins.

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What to expect from the Braves in the 2015 draft

Who will the Atlanta Braves take next Monday in the 2015 MLB First Year Player Draft? What strategy will they employ with five selections on the first day of the draft, encompassing the first two rounds and the top 75 picks?

So far most of the mock drafts out there from Baseball America and Keith Law at ESPN and others have the Braves focusing on players from Georgia, specifically prep catcher Tyler Stephenson from Kennesaw. Baseball America threw a big monkey wrench in that thinking with their latest mock draft, in which they predict Stephenson going first overall to the Diamondbacks, and the Braves shying away from Georgia players with the first few picks.

To get a window into what kind of players the Braves will select I’d like to look at two things. First this quote from MLB.com Braves beat writer Mark Bowman, then the 2006 draft:

[The Braves] will be targeting high-upside players and shying away from some of the “safe picks” they made under different leadership the past few seasons.

The Braves haven’t had this many early picks since the 2006 draft, a year that saw them select a bevvy of high-upside (but also high-risk) prospects (boom-or-bust). Here’s how that year’s early rounds went for Atlanta (listed by overall pick):

24 — OF Cody Johnson
38 — RHP Cory Rasmus
43 — LHP Steve Evarts
51 — LHP Jeff Locke
68 — RHP Dustin Evans
72 — SS Chase Fontaine

The first four picks that year were all high school players. Johnson was said to have the most prodigious power stroke in the entire draft, and Rasmus projected as a top-of-the-rotation starter with good bloodlines.

Johnson did have prodigious power, but he also had a prodigious ability to swing and miss; a trait that caught up with him once he stepped on a double-A field. He was a bust.

Rasmus and Evarts had tantalizing talent, but both of their careers were waylaid by injuries. Rasmus eventually reached the majors as a reliever. Evans and Fontaine fizzled as they reached the upper minors. All of them busts.

jlockeFrom that 2006 draft with a six pack of picks among the top-75, only Jeff Locke represents a successful pick, though he’s by no means a “boom” player. His career WAR in five seasons after being traded to Pittsburgh is either 0.2 (from Baseball-Reference) or 1.7 (from FanGraphs).

Will this be the model that Roy Clark follows for this year’s draft? I’m inclined to think so. That’s how Clark drafted throughout his tenure when he had a surplus of early picks. There will be a lot of high school pitchers, preferably left-handed, and athletic toolsy position players with high-upside potential.

This boom-or-bust strategy paid bigger dividends in the following year’s draft, when Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman were selected among the first 80 picks. Of course, even that year there were two bust picks between the selections of Hey and Free.

Clearly Atlanta wants to hit that jackpot again, and with five spins on day one, going after as many true aces and first division bats as possible is the right strategy. By acquiring two additional first day picks in offseason trades the Braves have put themselves in a terrific position to take a lot of additional risk.

The Braves want this draft to be one that nets them several franchise cornerstones for years to come. To do that, risks must be taken.

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If you want to go down a mock draft rabbit hole, the Mock Draft Database is the place to go.

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Braves trade Callaspo to Dodgers for Uribe and Withrow

The Atlanta Braves have completed a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers that will send infielder Alberto Callaspo and pitchers Eric Stults, Ian Thomas and Juan Jaime to L.A. for infielder Juan Uribe and pitcher Chris Withrow.

juribeThe Braves took just two months into the season to tire of infielder Alberto Callaspo. A free agent signed this offseason, Callaspo was expected to get some playing time at second and third, as well as off the bench. He seemed to underwhelm from the very beginning, apparently showing up to spring training a bit on the heavy side.

Despite getting off to a hot start at the plate, hitting .323 through his first 11 games played, he has hit just .158/.258/.211 since then. He lost playing time to youngster Jace Peterson at second base, and while he got a large portion of the playing time at third base after Chris Johnson went to the disabled list, Atlanta has apparently seen enough of Callaspo at the plate and in the field.

Callaspo was never a defensive whiz, and this year is no different. While he is not a liability in the field, he has merely been league-average. His -3.2 UZR/150 this season at third base is league-average, but it’s actually better than Uribe’s -5.9 UZR/150. Though based off of past performance Callaspo is less likely to improve on his defense than Uribe, who has averaged a very respectable 18.0 UZR/150 throughout his career.

But for the Braves this trade is not really about Callaspo or Uribe. This trade is about Chris Withrow. A 20th-overall selection in the 2007 draft (six picks after Jason Heyward) out of Midland, Texas high school, the big 6-foot-3 Withrow immediately became one of the top prospects in the Dodgers organization. His quick ascent to double-A landed him on many top-50 prospect lists in 2010, but then he languished in double-A for three and a half seasons.

cwithrowThe Dodgers finally moved him to the bullpen and his mid-to-high-90s fastball and solid slider and curve were able to shine. He cemented his place as a member of the L.A. bullpen from mid-2013 until mid-2014 when his career was sidetracked, as so many are, by Tommy John surgery.

While Withrow won’t be ready to contribute to the Braves until next season, this acquisition follows a pattern of the new Atlanta front office acquiring top-flight talent, even if that talent is injured. Max Fried was the big prospect in the Justin Upton trade, also coming off of TJ surgery. Manny Banuelos, acquired from the Yankees, is still working his way back from TJ surgery. Daniel Winkler is a Rule 5 selection recovering from TJ surgery.

Uribe represents better power off the bench than Callaspo, and it will be interesting to see how many starts he takes from Chris Johnson at third base. Perhaps one or both of these guys won’t be long for an Atlanta uniform, as the front office looks to make more moves leading up to the trade deadline.

As for the relievers traded by Atlanta, there is no real loss other than depth (which seems to be getting very thin). Fredi Gonzalez always seemed reluctant to use Ian Thomas in anything resembling a high leverage situation. Since getting demoted early in the season, Juan Jaime’s problems continued, leading to another demotion to double-A. Eric Stults wasn’t consistently good enough to rely on in any role.

Meanwhile, Withrow projects as a power reliever who might be able to close games for the Braves at some point. This trade is a pretty good one for the Braves, as they almost comically part ways with a bunch of unwanted pieces for someone with tremendous upside — like it was ripped from the AJC comments section.

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Be right back…

keep-calm-i-m-on-holiday-1Yeah, I haven’t written a lot lately. Life seems to be getting in the way. That will change eventually, but for now it’s going to be a bit more barren here for a couple of weeks. I’m headed on a trip across the pond to Budapest, Vienna and Prague. I tend to take a European vacation around Memorial Day every year, and this is one I’ve been planning for a while.

I’m going to try to keep up with pictures, as much as I can. Those can be found on my Pinterest board here, if you’re interested. And I’ll still be checking in remotely to see what’s happening with the Braves, and commenting on Twitter.

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