The Barves Way

Quite a day for the Braves. Less than 24 hours after getting eliminated from a postseason spot they bring the ax down on GM Frank Wren. This was one of the expected outcomes, but not the one I was hoping for. Fredi Gonzalez would have been a better choice to go, but from rumblings around the Twittersphere it sounds like the upper brain trust had other ideas:

I started off the day with a story at Bleacher Report about some consequences from the team’s failure to make the playoffs.

For my weekly ESPN Power Rankings blurb about the Braves, I decided to go in a different direction:

After the John Schuerholz presser I wrote this story over at B/R about how misguided the decision was to fire Wren.

I’m quite upset by this move. Not only because I think it’s the wrong move for the organization, but because I really like Frank Wren. I’ve had the pleasure to talk with him and interview him on several occasions, and each time he’s gone out of his way to give me his time and answer my questions.

I’ve also liked most of his moves. Obviously Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton are major exceptions, but just about every other move he’s made I have either liked or had no opinion on. I didn’t like the Chris Johnson extension, but I understood it, and it still might prove to be a smart move in a market light on third basemen.

I scratch my head when I try to piece together why Schuerholz gave Wren an extension in February of this year, with the roster pretty much set for opening day (save for some injuries and brilliant injury replacements), and then seven months later he’s suddenly not following “The Braves Way.”

All this begs some questions. Can any GM have success under the microscope and constraints apparently imposed by Schuerholz? Can the new GM fire Fredi Gonzalez without Bobby Cox intervening to put a stop to it? What kind of freedom will the new GM have to hand out the large contracts necessary to compete in this market?

I wonder how many GM candidates won’t consider the Atlanta job for fear that they wouldn’t have the freedom to make their own decisions. Schuerholz has certainly set a precedent of “toeing the party line” for anyone who takes this job.

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Who Should the Braves Keep and Who Should they Fire

It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the problems with this 2014 Atlanta Braves team. The problems center around the team’s awful hitting, and blame for that has been assigned by fans and writers to the hitting coaches, the manager and the general manager.

Here is a look at each of those areas, and then an assessment of what I think the Braves should do when it comes to making a decision about who, if anyone, to fire.

Hitting Coach(es)
Atlanta has been through three hitting coaches in the past five years. Terry Pendleton was the team’s hitting coach from 2003 to 2010. In his final year, the Braves ranked 5th in the league in runs scored per game at 4.56—more than any Braves team has scored since.

For some reason the club thought they needed to make a change, and Larry Parish took over for the 2011 season. Atlanta dropped to 10th in the league that year, at 3.96 runs per game.

That got Parrish fired, he being the fall guy for the huge collapse the team suffered in September, and the tandem of Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher took over.

The 2012 team was 7th in the league at 4.32 runs per game. The 2013 team was 4th at 4.25, and this year’s team dropped all the way to 14th at 3.62.

I’m not sure we can extrapolate anything from these numbers. The two current coaches had a couple of good years, and then this year, which has been really bad.

Fredi Gonzalez took over in 2011, had one horribly calamitous season in 2011, then won the Wild Card, then the Division, and is currently having another rather calamitous season. If he wasn’t fired after the bad moves he made in 2011, then it’s clear the front office gives him plenty of rope.

Can this year’s poor team performance be attributed in any way to Fredi’s poor decisions? I would argue that they can, with the principle complaint being his lineups, which have far too often featured poor on-base guys like B.J. Upton and Andrelton Simmons at the top of the order.

I would also take issue with the lack of playing time he’s given his bench. Backup players need regular playing time to stay sharp when they’re needed in a pinch-hitting role, and at least some of the blame for the worst bench in the league has to fall on how those players have been managed.

General Manger
Here is where the loudest chorus of boos seem to be aimed. Frank Wren, because of the team he has assembled, has become the lightning rod for the Braves’ ills this season. Since he took over prior to the 2008 season, he has had some spectacular misses: Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton, Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, Nate McLouth, Melky Cabrera and Ryan Doumit.

Braves GM Frank Wren watches the Atlanta Braves on his iPad while at the Rome Braves game

Braves GM Frank Wren watches the Atlanta Braves on his iPad while at the Rome Braves game

But Wren has also had some spectacular successes, like Justin Upton, Jair Jurrjens, Omar Infante, Javier Vazquez, Michael Bourn, Eric O’Flaherty and Billy Wagner. Even minor trades for Derek Lee, Paul Maholm and Rick Ankiel have played key roles as the team drove towards the postseason.

He’s built great bullpens year after year from discarded players, waiver claims and unknown minor leaguers. Even this year’s bullpen, which many people complain about, has the fourth-best relief ERA in the league. Those bullpens have also been built without spending excessive amounts of money on free agent relievers.

So who goes?
Now the question that will be answered in the next couple of weeks, should anyone lose their job because of this team’s offensive struggles. Remember, this year’s Braves team has scored fewer runs per game (3.62) than any team since 1988 (3.47), and that number continues to drop.

Is this offensive outage a weird anomaly of poor individual seasons all happening at once, in which the hitting coaches are not to blame? Does the manager deserve responsibility for making up sub-optimal lineups for over a fourth of the team’s games? Does the general manager deserve the blame for acquiring and paying players who have not performed as well as they did before they came to Atlanta?

There are reasons to fire all of these guys, and reasons to absolve them from most of the blame.

For my money, I’d keep Frank Wren, get rid of Fredi Gonzalez and let the new manager decide which coaches he wants to keep.

Wren has made a few bad signings for big money that get a lot of attention, but the bulk of his moves, even the ones that didn’t work out, are ones that I have applauded at the time, and they are moves that would have been made by just about anyone in his position. I find it hard to blame a GM for players suddenly sucking when they’re still mostly in their prime.

For most of his tenure Wren was dealing with ever-tightening budgets because of bad decisions—specifically the under-market TV contract—made by upper management. In that scenario, Terry McGuirk and John Schuerholz deserve more blame than Wren, who put together good teams with middling payrolls, while the rest of the league was outspending Atlanta.

Fredi Gonzalez has been underwhelming. Yes, he’s replacing a legend, which is sort of like being the guy the team is dating on the rebound—that rarely works out. For someone who came in with experience as a manager, he fell flat on what should have been experienced decisions in his first year, and to a less-obvious degree in the years since.

There’s very little evidence for his use of advanced statistics, let alone basic statistics, when making out a lineup. Today’s game demands a manager and an organization employ all the advantages that big data can bring to the game, and Gonzalez seems unwilling or unable to avail himself of those resources.

As for the hitting coaches, I have no idea. Parrish was obviously useless, but Walker and Fletcher have had success, and every comment I’ve read from players and beat writers about them has been positive. This year’s results notwithstanding, they seem to be pretty good at their job.

So there you have it Braves. Let’s have a new manager next year, and with him a new attitude in the clubhouse and between the lines. Pick someone who will use every advantage they can, especially the ones that advanced statistics can provide. I’m not even going to venture a guess of who that might be, but it’s probably best if it’s someone from outside the organization, who brings with them a new attitude and doesn’t have the shadow of Bobby Cox looming over them.

Oh, and then Frank Wren should get busy making some personnel changes to the 25 guys on the roster.

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SunTrust Park aka “The Oil Slick”

STP_LogoConsider this new Braves stadium, SunTrust Park, just a placeholder for the future 2047 home of the Braves in Woodstock. All the media and press and official dignitaries are on hand for the ground breaking of “the oil slick.”

Yep, I’m going to give this new park the nickname, “the oil slick.” That comes from the initials of SunTrust Park, STP. It also relates to the gas line they had to move before they could build the stadium. Though mostly it has to do with the greasing of palms that must have happened within the Cobb County Commission to secretly get the whole endeavor passed.

In honor of this brand new oil slick, here are some photos from a few years ago…when the city built the last stadium.

And of course, the last stadium to outlive its usefulness.

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Braves Trade Dead-Lines

It’s time for a collection of links and thoughts from the trade deadline.

My thoughts: First up, what did I think about the Braves move. Overall, I liked it. I understand there wasn’t much the Braves could do without moving some important pieces of the club, and that’s a rare thing to do in the middle of the season (even though the A’s and Cards both did it). To read my complete breakdown of this trade, head on over to my Bleacher Report column about the deal.

Called it!: Maybe I toot my own horn too much, but what’s the point of having your own blog if you’re not going to point out the times you got it right. Last week, I wrote this prediction of what the Braves would do at the trade deadline:

My prediction is that the Braves will go to one team for all their needs and pull off another two-for deadline deal.

And that’s what they did.

Schultz blames Wren: AJC columnist Jeff Schultz laid the blame for the Braves struggles this season squarely on GM Frank Wren’s shoulders. Essentially blaming roster construction and bad contracts for the team’s woes. While some of that is certainly the problem, that’s not where the majority of blame should be placed. This is a well constructed team, built within a tight budget, with accommodations made at the last minute to account for two devastating spring training injuries.

If I’m blaming someone for the Braves struggles this season, I’m laying the lion’s share of the blame on the players on the field. Freddie, BJ, CJ and J-Hey (and of course, Uggla) have performed well below expectations this season; especially when judged against the numbers some of them posted last year. No one on the team is really having a career year, everyone is about average or below, with the notable exception of Evan Gattis. It’s hard to win consistently when the majority of the team is performing below expectations.

That blame, though, could be erased by a couple of these guys getting hot down the stretch. The great 17-7 start the Braves got off to (which Schultz points out), could be repeated in August or September, should some of these batters start hitting again … then who do you blame? Or credit?

We’ll see what happens, but right now it certainly looks like doom and gloom on this West Coast swoon.

So long Caratini, we hardly knew yi: The Braves drafted Caratini in the second round just last year. For a few departing scouting reports on him, check out my mid-season prospect list, the Baseball Prospectus eyewitness report on him, and RotoScouting’s report. Baseball America ranked Caratini as the 8th-best prospect dealt on or near the deadline.

Lucas Sims: Meanwhile, the Braves top prospect toes the mound for Lynchburg today, and is coming off a string of 4 (maybe even 5) good starts in a row. That’s his longest stretch of good work this season, and hopefully the beginning of what will be a positive end to his challenging season. I still strongly believe that Sims is the best prospect in the Braves’ system, and the only pitching prospect with a good shot at developing top-of-the-rotation stuff.

CJ Wittmann of Baseball Prospects recently posted an eyewitness scouting report on Sims. He’s a little more bearish on Sims than I am, but you can still see the framework in his report for Sims to blossom into a top starter.

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So there’s a pool…

…I’m nonplussed. The Braves released more images today of their new stadium slash entertainment complex slash collection of parking decks.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle has more photos on their site, and a title that has the word “Wowza” in it… and I don’t think they’re using that word ironically. I wouldn’t have gone with wowza, especially since this pretty much just shows an outdoor mall with a pool and a generic baseball stadium.

I’m not seeing anything unique here. Not even the pool is unique, that’s been done already in several different ways (this one’s just bigger). It’s still early in the process, so there’s time for the Braves to actually earn a wowza.



I am slightly amused that the renderings are so white. That continues to make my nickname for this new park, White Flight Field, radically appropriate. (As well as radically inappropriate.)

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Dan Uggla Released… FINALLY!

Our long Atlanta Braves nightmare is over, Dan Uggla has finally been released by the team.

The Braves acquired Uggla after a 4.3 rWAR season with the Marlins. He was one of the best power-hitting second baseman in the game, and the Braves were desperate for power, especially right-handed power. Uggla seemed like a good fit, even though it pushed the popular Martin Prado to left field, and likely eventually off the team.

In four seasons with Atlanta, Uggla posted a combined rWAR of 2.5. His highest season was 2012, when he posted 2.9 rWAR. Since then it’s been all negative, with -1.3 in 2013 and -1.0 this year, though this year he wasn’t given a chance to run up the bad.

Who could have seen this coming? Actually, I did. Here is what I wrote back in 2011 after Uggla was signed by the Braves to a five-year deal:

I keep going back and forth on the Atlanta Braves decision to extend Dan Uggla for five years, but the pervasive thought throughout has been that this is an overreaction on the part of the Braves. It’s an overreaction of the desire to have a right-handed power hitter — a quest that General Manager Frank Wren has been on for several years. It’s an overreaction in length of contract before a player has had a chance to put on the uniform of the team that he will likely spend the rest of his career with. It’s an overreaction to compete with what the rest of the division has been doing this off-season — signing big-name players to bigger and bigger deals. [...]

Look, this might turn out to be a great deal for a few years, but when a hobbled error-prone diminutive second baseman is wearing out his presence in Atlanta at age 35, it will not be any comfort to the fans or the organization that he’s signed to a guaranteed contract for another year. That’s the rub, it’s the length of the contract. I’m already dreading the next two guaranteed years with Derek Lowe, not to mention another year of paying Kawakami and Nate McLouth (speaking of overreactions), and now we’re adding another long-term dread.

Hopefully I’ll be proven wrong, and too frightful. Hopefully. Odds are this we be a good deal for the Braves for a couple of years, then maybe a wash, then it will turn into an albatross of a deal. I would have preferred to have given Uggla more dollars per year for fewer years, but it seems the trend in Major League Baseball is for more dollars per year for more years. Maybe the Braves got a bargain. Hopefully they did, but I doubt it.

I hate it when I’m right. Not much more to say, other than the Braves should have cut ties with Uggla this past offseason.

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A very bobble-headed weekend for Braves fans

This weekend will be quite the bobblehead boon for Atlanta Braves fans. Beginning on Friday night, the Lynchburg Hillcats will be giving away an Even “El Oso Blanco” Gattis bobblehead. This one is quite unique, as it has Gattis in his Lynchburg uniform with a polar bear head on top of his cap.


Also on Friday, the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Double-A affiliate of the Giants, will be giving away a Chipper Jones bobblehead. Chipper is wearing a Richmond Braves uniform, where he played in 1993.

Then on Saturday, the Gwinnett Braves will be giving away a Ron Gant bobblehead.

A reminder that the complete Braves bobblehead schedule can be found on the right sidebar of this site.

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Braves 2014 Mid-Season Top-25+ Prospects

It’s mid-season Atlanta Braves top prospect time! The Braves system is currently quite thin with top-tier talent, and there is a big drop-off after the first 8 or so prospects. There is a lot of budding potential in the system, and the Braves always seem to get the most out of mediocre prospects.

Braves top prospect, Lucas Sims (photo by CB Wilkins)

Braves top prospect, Lucas Sims (photo by CB Wilkins)

Graduating from the previous prospect list to the majors are Tommy La Stella (4), David Hale (9), Shae Simmons (13), and Ian Thomas (17).

An explanation of the grades I use can also be found on the previous prospect list.

1. Lucas Sims, RHP (High-A) — Previous rank: 1 (Grade A)
It’s been a rough first half for the Braves top prospect, with a 4.97 ERA, but of the 446 times he’s faced a batter this year, all but 3 of those times that batter has been older than Sims. He is one of the youngest players in the Carolina League, and that shows how the Braves push their top prospects and challenge them against tough competition.  Sims’ stats will start to look better, but more importantly, after taking his lumps here Sims will emerge a better pitcher. He’s still the best high school pitching prospects to come through the Braves system since Adam Wainwright. Sims also threw a no-hitter earlier this year, so that shows the kind of potential he has. MLB ETA: 2017

2. Christian Bethancourt, C (MLB & AAA) – Previous rank: 5 nav_up_green (Grade A)
CB has held his own while filling in for Evan Gattis in Atlanta. It’s clear he’s not a finished product, both offensively and defensively, but not all prospects arrive in the majors as finished products. Bethancourt’s raw skills and intangibles are terrific, especially behind the plate. I’m still a skeptic about his bat, but he’s getting quicker at making adjustments, and has grown out of the prolonged slump problems that plagued him earlier in his career. MLB ETA: Now

3. Jose Peraza, SS (AA & High-A) — Previous rank: 6 nav_up_green (Grade A-)
What hasn’t this kid accomplished this year? Between two levels he’s slashing .347/.372/.461, and swiping bags at a Furcalian rate — 42 steals in 54 chances. He even changed his stance in the middle of the season. My only real gripe with him is his lack of walks. Because of his speed he profiles as a leadoff man, and a 3.6 BB-percentage is not good (MLB average is 7.8 this year). He’s a great contact hitter, but eventually that will slump, and an approach at the plate which generates more walks would make him more valuable. MLB ETA: 2015


4. Mauricio Cabrera, RHP (High-A) — Previous rank: 7 nav_up_green (Grade B+)
The Braves were overly-cautious early this season, when they kept Cabrera on the DL for almost two months with a right forearm injury. He’s one of the team’s prized arms, so they’re going to make sure he stays healthy. Like Lucas Sims, Cabrera is just 20 years old, and playing at an advanced level — the team has challenged Cabrera in this manner every year, and likely will continue to do so. As his innings build and he begins to face hitters two and three times in a game, we’ll start to see whether he can stay in the rotation. MLB ETA: 2017

5. Braxton Davidson, OF (Low-Rookie) — Previously unranked (Grade B+)
The Braves first round pick this year (32nd overall) is starting off his career at “complex ball” — that’s the Braves Gulf Coast League team at their Orlando spring training complex. Stats from down there are not worth reading into. For instance, Davidson currently has a .672 OPS; very similar to Freddie Freeman’s .674 OPS during his first taste of pro ball in Orlando. MLB ETA: 2018

6. J.R. Graham, RHP (AA) — Previous rank: 3 nav_down_red (Grade B+) 20140624-jgraham
Plagued by injuries last season, the injury bug has bitten Graham against this year. Last year it was shoulder tendinitis which kept him out for five months, this year it’s a right forearm strain which landed him on the DL a week ago. This year Graham has pitched like a guy who missed last season, with an unflattering 5.18 ERA. We need to see Graham healthy, a problem that seems to be frustrating him as much as it’s frustrating us. MLB ETA: 2015

7. Kyle Kubitza, 3B (AA) — Previous rank: 16 nav_up_green (Grade B+)
My opinion of Kubitza has changed a lot this year. At the beginning of the year I wrote about how Kubby’s stance at the plate was wildly inconsistent with a lot of unnecessary movement. In seeing him again this year, he’s ironed most of that out. The numbers he’s putting up certainly seem to indicate that he’s found more consistency in his swing. His OPS the last three years has gone from .742 to .814 to .888 this season. That improvement has come in both the power and on-base department, with the improved on-base numbers being a product of his rising batting average (.239 to .260 to .310). Kubitza is essentially Chris Johnson, but with the added potential of better defense at third and an above-average walk rate. His emergence this year as a viable replacement for Johnson at the hot corner in Atlanta makes me question why the Braves felt it necessary to give Johnson a contract extension through 2017. MLB ETA: 2015 


8. Victor Caratini, C/3B (Low-A) — Previous rank: 10 nav_up_green (Grade B+)
I still list him as a catcher slash third baseman, but for the past few months he’s exclusively been a catcher. That’s probably the right position for him, and certainly the one that would ultimately carry the most prospect (trade) value. He hasn’t had a breakout season by any means, but it’s been a decent season so far. He’s retained his patient approach at the plate, and his power has remained the same. I’d like to see him add more power, and as I’ve said before about Caratini, I believe there is power there, and it will emerge with time. He’s a switch-hitting catcher, that’s rare. MLB ETA: 2017

9. Jason Hursh, RHP (AA) — Previous rank: 2 nav_down_red (Grade B)
I most certainly over-ranked him to start the season. I thought he’d show more improvement in his strikeout rate, but instead that hasn’t changed, and he’s proven to be more of a pitch-to-contact sinkerballer. The early reports on him raved about a mid-to-high 90s fastball, but I haven’t seen that velocity translated into results. Because he had Tommy John surgery in college, he didn’t throw as much as most guys drafted as college juniors. For that reason, I’m now a bit more bearish in ranking him, understanding that he needs an additional year of development to further refine his game — especially as it relates to making his delivery more repeatable and less error-prone. The Braves skipped him from Low-A to Double-A this season, so he’s also facing much tougher competition, and has not been able to handle it as well as previous college early-rounders like Mike Minor and Alex Wood. Read more about Hursh from a report I wrote earlier, and Baseball Prospectus. MLB ETA: 2016

10. Wes Parsons, RHP (High-A) — Previous rank: 20 nav_up_green (Grade B)
Parsons makes the biggest jump of anyone on this list, but really, I had him higher a month ago. He’s struggled some this season against tough competition, but he’s continued to perform like he will eventually be a mid-rotation workhorse. He left his start recently with what sounded like arm trouble, so let’s hope that’s nothing serious. MLB ETA: 2017

11. Juan Jaime, RHRP (MLB & AAA) — Previous rank: 14 nav_up_green (Grade B)
Jaime was pretty darn good in his brief cup of coffee in Atlanta last month, filling in for an injured reliever. His numbers at Triple-A have also stayed pretty much the same from last year. His K/9 is still robust at 13.1, but he continues to get himself into trouble with walks. His 7.7 BB/9 is more than twice the MLB average (3.0), and unacceptable in the long run. Strangely, he only walked one guy in his four innings in the Majors, but he went back down to Gwinnett and has walked 7 in 5.1 innings. He truly has the inconsistency of a middle reliever. MLB ETA: Now

12. Aaron Northcraft, RHP (AAA & AA) — Previous rank: 19 nav_up_green (Grade B)
Northcraft did a good job and improved in just about every facet of his game while repeating Double-A to begin the season. The Braves rewarded him with a promotion to Gwinnett, but it hasn’t gone so smooth there. He did put together one really good start at Triple-A, so it’s likely just a question of harnessing his consistency. He’s one of those forgotten pitchers in the Braves system, but he could emerge as a serious candidate for the rotation next spring. It would also be interesting to see if he could transition to a bullpen role, using his hard sinker to be the Braves new ground-ball-double-play-reliever.  MLB ETA: 2015

13. Victor Reyes, OF (Low-A) — Previous rank: 15 nav_up_green (Grade B)
Tools, that’s pretty much all Reyes is right now. He needs to add muscle, as his lack of power accounts for the biggest hole in his game thus far — he’s hit zero home runs in 187 professional games. He’s one of the youngest players in the Sally League, so once again we see the Braves challenging their young prospects. MLB ETA: 2018

14. James Hoyt, RHRP (AAA & AA) — Previously unranked (Grade B-)
Hoyt was dominating Southern League batters, and assumed the M-Braves closer duties when Shae Simmons got promoted to the majors. That only lasted about a week before Hoyt got promoted to Triple-A. The minors’ highest level has not been as easy to solve for Hoyt. His BB/9 and H/9 more than doubled, but his K/9 stayed about the same. MLB ETA: 2015

15. Cody Martin, RHP (AAA) — Previous rank: 11 nav_down_red (Grade B-)
The plus about Martin since he was drafted, has been his command of 4 pitches. The negative has been that none of those pitches really grade as plus. Martin has to keep hitters off balance by constantly mixing his pitches, but he can usually reach back for a little extra when he needs a strikeout. He was a closer in college, and while he’s done well as a starter in the Braves system, he hasn’t emerged as anything more than a back-end rotation arm. His future is likely more suited to middle or long relief. MLB ETA: 2015

16. Garrett Fulenchek, RHP (Low-Rookie) — Previously unranked (Grade B-)
Fulenchek is a big, tall-framed high school pitcher, and this year’s second round selection. He has a body that scouts drool over when assessing the projectability of young pitchers, and he already has a live mid-90s fastball. He’s a long-term project for the Braves, so we won’t start addressing his stats until he’s gotten some development time under his belt. MLB ETA: 2019

17. Chasen Shreve, LHP (AA) — Previously unranked (Grade B-)
Shreve has emerged from obscurity this season to become Mississippi’s closer (post-Shae Simmons and James Hoyt, who were both promoted to higher levels). He sports a nifty 12.7 K/9 rate and a minuscule 1.5 BB/9 rate. The big change with Shreve has been his decision to throw harder. He was throwing in the high-80s last season with good command, but has upped his game this season and his fastball is now sitting in the mid-90s, while retaining good command. In the Braves long search for a lefty reliever, in the post-Venters, post-EOF era, Shreve could be the answer. Read more about his rediscovered velocity hereMLB ETA: 2015

18. Gus Schlosser, RHP (MLB & AAA) — Previous rank: 18 (Grade C+)
His early season stint with the big league Braves was decent, though probably underwhelming to most people. Of course, Schlosser is not a pitcher who is going to blow anyone away. He’s a work-a-day reliever, or Harang-like starter. As the Braves say, he’s got good pitchability. There is still plenty of value here, as he could fill in for an injured starter or reliever, and will occasionally hit highly productive hot streaks while he does a good job of limiting the cold streaks. MLB ETA: 2014

Kyle Wren (photo by CB Wilkins)

Kyle Wren (photo by CB Wilkins)

19. Kyle Wren, OF (AA & High-A) — Previous rank: 27 nav_up_green (Grade C+)
Speed! Wren has 39 steals in 50 chances, and does a good job of getting on base, slashing .295/.359/.353. As you can see, there’s not much power there, but that’s not his game. Think of Wren as a more under-control and refined Jose Constanza. Wren could provide good value to the big club as a fourth outfielder, and a pinch-hitter who is an accomplished bunter. If asked to play everyday, he likely wouldn’t hurt a major league lineup, and would probably be a disruptive force on the base paths. MLB ETA: 2015

20. Josh Elander, OF (High-A) — Previous rank: 8 nav_down_red (Grade C)
Elander has had the most disappointing season of just about any prospect on this list. He’s worked hard to make adjustments since getting promoted to Lynchburg last year, but those adjustments have been slow to come. They’ve also been slowed by an injury to his non-throwing shoulder that he tried to play through earlier this season. That caused his numbers to take a dive, and eventually landed him on the 15-day DL in early May, then back on the DL since the beginning of June. I still believe in his bat, and that he can hit for consistent power and a decent average. He just needs to get healthy. MLB ETA: 2017

21. Edward Salcedo, 3B (AAA) — Previous rank: 12 nav_down_red (Grade C)
Salcedo has one of the best hitter’s bodies in the Braves system. You look at him and it looks like he should be an athletic five-tool player, and maybe one day he might be. The Braves have pushed Salcedo to a higher level each year, even though he didn’t show signs of conquering the previous level. That makes him one of the youngest players at Triple-A, and he’s certainly playing like a guy who is a little over-matched. Salcedo will probably stay at Gwinnett next year, and that may be the year we will finally see what he can do. MLB ETA: 2015

22. Andry Ubiera, RHP (Low-A & High-Rookie) — Previously unranked (Grade C)
Ubiera may finally be emerging as the next international power arm in the Braves system. He has a fastball that sits in the low-90s, and can reach 95. He compliments that with several good off-speed pitches, which have made some strides this year. He adds an element of good pitchability, and is a fierce competitor on the mound. MLB ETA: 2017

23. Phil Gosselin, INF (MLB & AAA) — Previously unranked (Grade C)
Gosselin has scouts talking this year. He apparently added some muscle over the offseason, and it shows in his increased power at the plate — Gosselin is slugging 100 points higher than he has in any season of his pro career. His versatility makes him valuable as well. He’s played more than 10 games at multiple positions —  left field, second, third and short. Gosselin could turn into a bit of a poor-man’s Martin Prado in the next year or so. I expect we’ll see a lot of him this September when rosters expand.  MLB ETA: 2014

24. Todd Cunningham, OF (AAA) — Previously unranked (Grade C)
I’ve often described Cunningham as a “jack of all trades, master of none” outfielder. He’s got decent speed, some power, a good throwing arm, and he has the ability to hit for average. He’s rarely put all that together at one time, but at some point the expectation is that he will. That will make him a good fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter, and someone who won’t hurt you if he has to play everyday. Working against Cunningham, is the emergence of Kyle Wren, a guy with a similar profile who offers more speed on the bases. MLB ETA: 2014

25. Tanner Murphy, C (High-Rookie) — Previously unranked (Grade C)
20140623-tmurphy2The Braves 4th round pick last year, Murphy was drafted out of high school, and is already playing in the Appy League as a 19-year-old. Last month in my Danville Braves game report, I mentioned that I would probably wait to rank him until he reached full-season ball, but my thinking has obviously changed — though he’s still the 25th name on this list. He’s shown an above-average approach at the plate this year, along with some power. That combined with his plus skills behind the plate, and I’ve talked myself into ranking him here. MLB ETA: 2018 


Braves Prospect Oort Cloud — the next 10

There are about 10 other prospects who I considered for the top-30, but I couldn’t narrow them down, nor rank them in any meaningful fashion. I still wanted to mention them, so they are listed below in alphabetical order, and will now be referred to as the Braves prospect Oort cloud.

Tyler Brosius, RHP (Low-A) — Like Hursh, Brosius didn’t pitch a lot in college, as he was the backup QB for NC State. He’s got a power arm, and his velocity has been good this year. He needs to harness his control to ascend to the next level.

Johan Camargo, INF (Low-A) — A switch-hitting Panamanian with little-to-no power. His profile reminds me of Elmer Reyes, another infielder in the Braves system at Triple-A. Some consider Reyes a prospect, but he doesn’t have much speed, no power, and doesn’t walk much. There’s more hope for Camargo, as he has shown the ability to take the free pass, and there’s a chance his bat could grow into some power.

John Cornely, RHRP (AA) — I’ve been a fan of Cornely for a while. He’s a max-effort power reliever with swing-and-miss stuff. As with so many young power pitchers, control has been his Achilles’ heel. If he can stop walking so many people, look out.

Yean Carlos Gil, LHP (Low-A) — He was on the prospect radar several years ago as an up-and-coming international prospect, but was waylaid by Tommy John surgery in 2012. This is his first full season after that surgery, and while he’s had his ups and downs, he’s shown signs of the prospect he used to be. He’s more of a pitchability guy, but he has a decent fastball which plays up because of his command.

Alec Grosser, RHP (High-Rookie) — An 11th round pick in 2013 out of high school, the Braves went over-slot to sign him away from his college commitment. Grosser was considered a long-term project, but he’s ahead of schedule with his good work this season in the Appy League as a 19-year-old.

Ryne Harper, RHRP (AA) — He’s had a good year that’s gone mostly under the radar due to the success of other relievers at Mississippi stealing the spotlight. His K/9 is back up to 11.9, but his BB/9 and H/9 are also up. He’s a long-shot as a 37th round pick (from 2011), but he could still emerge as a valuable middle reliever.

Nate Hyatt, RHRP (High-A) — I’ve like Hyatt since he was drafted out of Appalachian State in the 13th round in 2012. He was a college closer with a mid-to-high 90s fastball, and he put up pretty good numbers in his pro debut. He followed that up with good work last year at High-A, but the Braves had him repeat High-A this season, and there haven’t been too many improvements.

Connor Oliver, OF (Low-A) — An athletic young outfielder, and a late-round find by the Braves in last year’s draft. He’s definitely a work in progress, but he’s playing against advanced competition for his age (20 years old) and holding his own. I’ve seen him play a couple of games this year at Rome, and have been very impressed by his setup in the batter’s box and his defense in center field.

Carlos Salazar, RHP (Low-A & High-Rookie) — The Braves started him off in the rotation at Rome this year, but he wasn’t ready for that. He’s had more success out of the bullpen in Danville. His delivery is a bit like Jordan Walden’s, with a little hop off the mound toward the plate as he throws. Whether it’s that, or something else, his command has been pretty terrible. He’s a work in progress to be sure.

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M-Braves lefty reliever Chasen Shreve rediscovers his velocity

cshreve-smMississippi Braves reliever Chasen Shreve was a mostly-forgotten 11th round draft pick in 2010, out of the College of Southern Nevada. That school may sound familiar to some, as it gained a bit of fame as the school Bryce Harper attended for a year before he was drafted.

Harper was Shreve’s catcher at Southern Nevada, they’ve known each other since high school, and they still work out together sometimes in the offseason.

“[Bryce] brought a lot of fans out, it was really cool,” Shreve recalls. “A lot of scouts too, so I got seen a lot.”

That might have helped Shreve get onto the draft radar of some teams, but the Braves already knew about him. They had drafted his older brother, Colby Shreve, in the 8th round in 2007. Colby chose to return to school, and was selected a year later in the 6th round by the Phillies.

Chasen’s first year in professional baseball at Danville in 2010 produced good results. In limited action he posted an 11.2 K/9 rate, and a 1.7 BB/9 rate. He continued to post decent numbers as he climbed the minor league ladder, but his K-rate slowly fell while his walk-rate doubled.

This may have been the unintended consequences of good advice. As Shreve explains, “my first year in spring training [2011], Tom Glavine came and talked to us. He was like, all the young guys want to come and throw hard, but it’s really about spotting up, and I kind of took that to heart.”

Everyone knows that Glavine was the model of a control pitcher, but he also had velocity behind that control. Shreve may have been a victim of too much early success from dialing back his velocity in favor of control. And who can blame a left-handed pitcher like Shreve for taking every ounce of advice he can from Hall of Famer Tom Glavine.

“The next outing in spring training I just decided to spot up, I did really well and got a lot of ground balls. That year I went to Rome and did real well, next year same thing, went to Lynchburg and did real well.”


Chasen Shreve during spring training. (Photo by CB Wilkins)

But the toll came due when Shreve arrived at Mississippi in 2013. His ERA nearly doubled, and his 5.9 K/9 was the lowest of his minor league career. Late in the year he was demoted back to A-ball in Lynchburg.

When he began his 2014 campaign back at Mississippi the same troubles followed him. “We were playing Jackson at the beginning of the year,” Shreve explains, “and I gave up seven hits in two innings and four didn’t leave the infield grass.”

Shreve went to M-Braves pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn, and asked him what he (Shreve) could do. After some discussion, Shreve revealed to Lewallyn, “I can throw hard if you want me to. I choose not to, I choose to spot up.”

Shreve threw a bullpen and it went well, so he tried throwing harder in his next game. “My first game out I was 91-94. Did well, so we kept with it. My next game I was 91-95. And right now I’m sitting around 93-94.”

That’s s big jump in velocity from where he was last year, at 86 to 90 mph.

And the control that he had been practicing for the past three years, that’s still there, complemented now by mid-90s heat. Since the change, opposing batters are hitting just .180 off Shreve, who has 70 strikeouts in 47 innings, while walking just 8 during that span.

On the season his K/9 has rebounded to a robust 12.7, and his BB/9 is down to 1.5. He’s also giving up fewer hits than at any point in his career.

Shreve turned 24 years old earlier this week, so he’s still younger than the average age of the Southern League. When he was just 19 years old, in his first spring training, he took the sage advice of a Hall of Famer.

Now that he’s waxed on and waxed off for several seasons, the final knockout punch was added to his repertoire — velocity. That has made him a hard-throwing left-reliever with excellent control. Guys like that can stay around for a long time in the majors, and it just so happens that there’s a vacancy with that job description in the Atlanta bullpen waiting to be filled.

Shreve should get his chance next spring training, if not before.

Shreve adds, “when I first started [throwing harder] my arm really wasn’t used to it. I was really sore, [but] I’ve finally gotten over that soreness. It’s feeling good, and I’m feeling really confident about it.”

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Braves prospect Peraza adjusts stance

Several days ago I posted a Mississippi Braves game report from late June, in which I pointed out that Braves second base prospect Jose Peraza had an odd and overly-complicated setup in the batters’ box. Here’s what I said:

The speedy second baseman Peraza has an interesting and nonchalant setup in the batter’s box.


It’s a bit awkward, but it seems to work for him. Still, I’d like to see his hands start further back. Shortening his hands like he does also limits his power, though he doesn’t profile as a power hitter. Any consistent power he shows will come from shooting doubles and triples into the gaps.

Seems logical to me. And apparently it was something that the Braves were also thinking about. From an article on shortstop Daniel Castro, comes this nugget about Peraza:

Mississippi also got a big night from Peraza, who went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a stolen base after a day off on Monday to make some adjustments to his swing. Hitting coach John Moses wanted to adjust Peraza’s hand positioning, sliding the second baseman’s hands further back in his setup to hopefully create a little more bat speed.

“He was setting up with his hands almost in the middle of his stomach, way forward,” Holbert said. “We moved his hands back in his regular setup, back a little bit, and that should help him really feel those hands when they’re moving back, getting them back behind the baseball.”

Holbert was struck by how quickly Peraza made the adjustment, something that speaks to the 20-year-old’s coachability.

“It was a small adjustment, but it’s good he had success that quickly,” Holbert said. “Hopefully, he will continue with that.”

In his first 10 games at Double-A, Peraza got off to an 18-for-45 (.400) start, while hitting safely in 9 out of those 10 games. But then he went 4-for-26 (.154) during his next 6 games. Since the off-day to make adjustments, Peraza has gone 7-for-10 in 2 games.

Yesterday I asked M-Braves broadcaster Kyle Tait if he could get some more specifics, and possibly a picture. In his usual fashion, the hardest-working broadcaster in baseball put together this composite of Peraza’s hands before (left) and after (right), and got some quotes from Mississippi Braves hitting coach John Moses.


That’s a subtle, but important difference. Via Kyle Tait’s M-Braves Clubhouse Report blog, here is John Moses on why the changes were made:

Before, his hands weren’t getting to the hitting position, and there was no movement on the bottom half of his foundation, and he was kind of just swinging at it. He didn’t have a plan going up to the plate. [...] We made a couple of adjustments; moving his hands back and using his lower half.

Keep in mind that Peraza is only 20-years-old. It’s great to see that he’s so coachable, which has been the norm his short career. He’s already made a huge adjustment for the organization this year, moving from shortstop to second base.

About Peraza, Moses added, “He did everything we asked him to do.”

It’s ambitious to think that Peraza could see time in Atlanta this season. But if there were to be an injury to a middle infielder on the big league team we could see the Braves choose to promote the young Venezuelan. More likely though, Peraza will be given the opportunity to push La Stella at second base next spring.

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