The Atlanta Braves have traded Evan Gattis to the Houston Astros in exchange for three minor leaguers, right-handed pitchers Michael Foltynewicz and Andrew Thurman and third baseman Rio Ruiz. The Braves also send minor league relief pitcher James Hoyt to Houston.
This is another rebuilding trade for the Braves, who ship off their final obvious trade chip for three more building blocks. As with the first trade of this offseason, in which the team sent the popular Jason Heyward to St. Louis, the Braves may be bookending the offseason trading frenzy by parting ways with the equally popular Gattis. While we should all be used to the tenor of this offseason by now, it is never easy to see a fan-favorite player depart.
As a fan of homegrown Braves players this trade is a tough one to handle, but of all the moves Atlanta has made this offseason, moving Gattis was probably the most likely thing to happen. So why was Gattis traded?
His trade value might never be higher than it is right now, having posted back-to-back 20-home-run seasons, and still with four years of team control. But his value to the Braves was declining, due to the team’s subtextual unwillingness to play him in the outfield, and the presence of rookie catcher Christian Bethancourt.
Forget that this makes the 2015 lineup weaker, it should be pretty clear by now that regardless of the stated desire of the front office to contend this year, they’re rebuilding and in the midst of an all-out Hungry Hungry Hippo-esque prospect grab. I now believe that their trading may still not be done, and that even some of the new faces on the team will be moved during the season. Their focus is on 2017, with all seasons before that being sacrificed to achieve maximum contending ability in the inaugural year of White Flight Field™.
So how about that return. The Braves get Michael Foltynewicz, a first-rounder (19th overall) out of high school in 2010, who is now one of the top prospects in the game. He ranks either third or fourth in the Astros system (depending on the prospect outlet), and prior to 2014 was ranked anywhere from No. 43 to No. 59 in all of baseball. His calling card is a high-90s fastball that touches 100 (or more) — a legit 80 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale. The 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook said of Foltynewicz that “no minor league starter touched 100 mph more often in 2013.”
With that high-octane fastball comes inconsistent control. His walk rate has been around 4.5 BB/9 the last two seasons as a starter, though he improved upon that when he was called up to the majors at the beginning of August last year to the tune of a 3.4 BB/9. Over those final two months he was used exclusively as a reliever. Atlanta will likely send him back to triple-A this year and return him to a starting role, hoping to refine his control and improve his secondary offerings.
The other big prospect coming to Atlanta is third baseman Rio Ruiz, who ranked at the back-end of the Astros’ top-10 prospects. He will turn 21-years-old next May, and should start the year at double-A. There is a lot to like in Ruiz, who combines solid plate discipline and a declining strikeout rate with growing power — power that should now be viewed as among the best in the Braves minor league system. Drafted out of high school in the fourth round of 2012, Ruiz was extremely raw, but has made strides at every level to improve his swing at the plate and his defense at the hot corner. This is an exciting prospect, and one who seems to be on the rise. With a successful 2015 campaign at double-A, Ruiz should see the majors at some point in 2016, or before if Atlanta can rid themselves of Chris Johnson.
The final prospect going the Braves way is right-hander Andrew Thurman, who is less-exciting. Baseball America says he projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter who has no plus pitch and a fringy low-90s fastball. He’s more of a control pitcher, but last year he struggled at A-ball to the tune of a 5.38 ERA. While that looks bad, his FIP was a more modest 3.74. Of course, that still screams back-end starter — a pedigree that doesn’t jibe with the No. 40 overall pick from the 2013 draft. Perhaps there’s more here than the stats can reveal.
This last prospect makes the trade seem a bit weird. A back-end starting prospect like Thurman is something that the Braves have in spades in their system. Why would they need another one, especially when he would seemingly be instantly blocked by the half-dozen good-to-great mid-to-front of the rotation starting pitching prospects the team has acquired this offseason. I understand the desire of the front office to stash away all the pitching prospects they can, but why not take a flyer on a hitting prospect with some promise as opposed to another fifth starter.
The two main prospects in this trade, Foltynewicz and Ruiz, are closer to the majors than three of the four prospects they got in the Justin Upton trade. But the four prospects in that trade represent a better overall return.
The other player the Braves sent to Houston, right-handed reliever James Hoyt, is a 28-year-old pitcher with an interesting road to professional baseball through the Independent Leagues, and even through the Mexican League. M-Braves broadcaster Kyle Tait has a good four minute audio interview with him here. As for Hoyt the prospect…he appeared as the Braves’ No. 30 prospect in the 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, then dominated double-A in the first half of last year before hitting a wall at triple-A. He’s not really a prospect anymore, though a team might be able to get a few good middle relief seasons out of him in the majors.
It’s also worth noting that the first news of this trade was broken on Twitter by some bloke named gondeee…
Gattis might be going to the Astros… stay tuned.
— gondeee (@gondeee) January 14, 2015
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienAJC) January 14, 2015