A move was needed to clear a roster spot for free agent Jonny Gomes, whose signing was made official shortly after the trade, and the bullpen had gotten mighty crowded after several offseason signings. But the Braves aren’t shipping Hale off for nothing. The acquisition of Briceno continues the trend for Atlanta this offseason of adding potential high-impact prospects.
Jose Briceno is a 22-year-old from Venezuela who profiles as a bit of an opposite to current top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt. Whereas Bethancourt is a plus-plus catch-and-throw backstop with more work needed on the hitting site, Briceno is a plus hitter with plus power who needs work on his receiving skills (though his arm and accuracy are plus, as evidenced by his 43% caught stealing rate last year).
Briceno and Bethancourt are similar in their protracted path through the minor leagues. Bethancourt signed in 2008 and spent the past seven years working his way up the ladder. He is a year older than Briceno, who signed in 2009, but is taking an equally long time to develop.
The reports on Briceno have him improving greatly behind the plate last year, while maintaining a solid hitting tool with good power. Like Bethancourt, Briceno seems allergic to walks, but he doesn’t strike out nearly as much.
The new catcher will probably start the season at the Braves high-A minor league affiliate, the Carolina Mudcats. It’s hard to tell if he’ll be promoted aggressively if he does well, but if Bethancourt struggles in his first full-season major league debut, then the organization may push Briceno with an eye towards replacing Bethancourt in 2016.
Chris O’Dowd, the other catcher received in the trade, is the son of former Rockies General Manager Dan O’Dowd, who stepped down from that post last October. This could be a similar change-of-scenery trade, like the one the Braves made to begin this offseason, by sending Frank Wren’s son, Kyle Wren, to Milwaukee. Chris O’Dowd is not considered a prospect.
Gus Schlosser was released by the Braves earlier this offseason to clear him off the 40-man roster, but re-signed later as a minor league free agent. He likely wasn’t going to make it back to the majors with the Braves. It will be interesting to see if his side-arm sinker can succeed in Colorado.
Briceno, meanwhile, will need to be ranked among the Braves top prospects. He was just shy of Colorado’s top-10 this year, ranking No. 11 on FanGraphs’ list and presumably No. 11 from Baseball Prospectus. Baseball America had him ranked No. 18 on their Colorado list. The Rockies have a top-10 farm system with strong depth, so being considered the No. 11 prospect in that system is pretty big. Consider too that he’s a catching prospect who can hit, which is a rare thing in the minors.
My initial thought is to put him No. 12 on my Braves’ prospect list, as the first guy in the B+ category. That could be subject to change, but that’s my initial thought.
In summation, this was another good trade for the Braves. Hale was completely expendable–though I did like him for the rotation or the bullpen–and Atlanta acquires a moderate-risk, high-reward prospect. This trade may also show a waning confidence in Bethancourt by the Braves’ front office. It does put some pressure on Bethancourt to succeed this year, but maybe he needs to be pushed.