The Atlanta Braves pulled off another blockbuster trade on day two of the Baseball Winter Meetings. They sent starting pitcher Shelby Miller and reliever Gabe Speier to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson, right-handed pitching prospect Aaron Blair, and outfielder Ender Inciarte.
For weeks the rumors of a Miller trade were everywhere on the internet, and the reports were that the Braves were holding out for a huge return. Boy did they ever get a huge return in this trade. Starting with Swanson, who was the number-1 overall pick in this year’s draft out of Vanderbilt. Blair was a first round pick in the 2013 draft, and is now one of the top-100 prospects in baseball. And Inciarte is no slouch, establishing himself as a solid all-around center fielder the past two years.
The inclusion of Swanson is simply amazing. Not only because he was this year’s first overall pick in the draft (the earliest a first round pick has ever been traded, thanks to new MLB rules), or because he’s considered one of the top-10 prospects in baseball, but because he’s a kid from Marietta, who will likely be ready to see the majors when the Braves open their new park in Cobb County in 2017. He instantly becomes the Braves top prospect, and the talk of the farm system next year. He should start his 2016 campaign at high-A Carolina, and should see double-A Mississippi by mid-year. That sets him up to start at triple-A in 2017, with a mid-year promotion to the majors. Of course, if some reports about how good his hit tool is are true, then he could be ready even sooner.
After all the pitching prospects Atlanta has acquired in the past year, they finally get a top-flight bat. Of course, they also got a really good pitching prospect in this deal, Aaron Blair. He was a collegiate arm drafted in 2013 at No. 36 overall, who ascended to triple-A this season. He could follow a similar path next year to the one that Sean Newcomb will follow — starting the season in triple-A, then moving to the majors mid-year. He throws a mid-to-low-90s fastball with heavy sink that gets a lot of ground balls. He compliments that with a plus change and plus curve, as well as a developing slider. Blair likely slots in as the No. 5 prospect for the Braves, behind Ozhaino Albies on my top-35 prospect list.
The major league return for the Braves in this trade, Ender Inciarte, is not just a throw-in. He has played all three outfield positions the past two years in the majors, but should slot in at center field for the Braves, pushing Michael Bourn to a backup role. At the plate the left-hander makes solid contact, and mainly hit leadoff for Arizona last year, slashing .304/.340/.421 when batting first. He has some speed, but could stand to get better at the craft of stealing bases. He likely becomes the leadoff hitter in the Atlanta lineup next year.
The Braves do give up a big top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher in Shelby Miller, but with so many pitching prospects in the Atlanta system, he should be replaced by the time the team is ready to contend. Heck, in two or three years, Blair could be as good as Miller. Yes, Miller will be missed in the rotation, but as the Braves have clearly stated they are rebuilding, and the opportunity to get this many top prospects in return for him as well as a starting center fielder is too good to pass up.
Speier is a minor relief prospect the Braves acquired from the Tigers last month in the Cameron Maybin trade.
This trade is a huge win for the Braves… if not an absolute steal! In the past year Atlanta has pillaged the Diamondbacks’ farm system, acquiring three first round picks (Swanson 2015, Touki Toussaint 2014, Blair 2013) as well as the No. 75 overall pick in this year’s draft. I wonder if Arizona needs anything else.
Of all the trades the Braves have made since the end of the 2014 season, this might be the best of the bunch. This trade should also go a long way towards helping repair the rocky start that General Manager John Coppolella got off to this offseason when he traded fan favorite Andrelton Simmons. Getting such high-value prospects in this Miller deal, plus such a highly-touted local kid in Swanson, will make for great headlines even while dealing away an established player.