Braves trade Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe to Mets

Last Friday night the Atlanta Braves completed a trade with their division rivals, the New York Mets, that sent veterans Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe to Queens in exchange for two right-handed pitching prospects, Rob Whalen and John Gant. I was out of town for the weekend, so this is my belated take on the trade.

jgantUribe was acquired from the Dodgers in late May, as he was scuffling in LA and losing playing time at third base (ironically, to a guy the Mets gave up on two years ago, Justin Turner). Upon his arrival in Atlanta he quickly supplanted Chris Johnson at the hot corner, and posted his highest OPS since 2009. His good work at the plate and on defense increased his trade value. Both he and Kelly will be free agents at the end of the year, so they are rental players for New York.

As for Kelly Johnson, he put up strong numbers all year for Atlanta. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Braves re-sign him again this offseason. (That would also give the Braves an opportunity to trade him again next year, for more prospects.)

On to the prospects… both pitchers were drafted in the later rounds out of high school. The two comps that immediately came to my mind were Jonny Venters and Aaron Northcraft. Both of those players were drafted in the later rounds out of high school, and both guys took a long and deliberate path through the minors. They worked as starters in the minors, but were generally tagged as future bullpen pieces by evaluators. Venters obviously had tremendous success before re-injuring his arm, while Northcraft hasn’t been able to solve triple-A, and was included in the Justin Upton trade last offseason.

Using Venters as a ceiling and Northcraft as a floor for Gant and Whalen should give you a good idea of what we might expect from these pitchers in the future — albeit a pretty wide range of outcomes. While they are currently working as starting pitchers, they project as relievers in the majors.

rwhalenWhalen is considered by evaluators to be the slightly better prospect because of his good command of a four-pitch mix. His best pitches are his sinking fastball, clocked in the low-90s, and a mid-70 curveball. He mixes in a changeup and slider, and adds an extra wrinkle by hiding the ball a little longer than most during his delivery.

Gant is a bit lankier in his physique, and probably still has a little more projection in his arm (especially out of the pen). His fastball might be a bit livelier as well, but his secondary pitches are less refined. His low-to-mid-90s fastball, and mix of other assorted fastballs — split, two-seam sinker — should work well in short relief stints.

The Braves.com MLB Prospect Watch slotted Whalen at No. 24 and Gant at No. 25 in the Braves top-30. That seems about where I might place them on my top-30 prospect list, though I’ll wait until the offseason to re-rank the list.

This was a solid trade for Atlanta, with an outside chance to be great down the road depending on how these guys progress. If either one turns into a Venters-like reliever, then this was a huge win for the Braves. Even now this should be considered a good trade, as there was no reason to keep Uribe or Johnson in Atlanta this season. They did good to get two decent pitching prospects, a nice haul for a couple of rent-a-players. This trade could also be a template for what to expect from other trades the Braves might make as the deadline approaches.

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