Braves trade prospects! Oh my!

The Atlanta Braves spent the last two years stockpiling prospects, and now they’ve decided to start trading some of them away. The team swung two deals this week, each with a different purpose in mind.

jgarciaOn Thursday Atlanta acquired left-handed starting pitcher Jaime Garcia from the Cardinals for pitchers John Gant and Chris Ellis, and infielder Luke Dykstra. Garcia is an eight-year veteran coming off a career worst year while entering a contract year. He gives the Braves something they stated was one of their offseason goals: a left-handed starting pitcher. While he is only signed through the end of this year at a reasonable $12 million, if he returns to his pre-2016 form, he could not only help the Braves this season, but he could increase his trade value before the trade deadline.

As with the Dickey and Colon signings, this trade is designed to make 2017’s team more competitive, while also leaving open the possibility of trading these guys away should the team not be competitive. One of these veteran starting pitchers might also become tradeable should one of the prospects on the farm appear ready for the majors.

The Braves didn’t give up much to get Garcia. Gant would have been No. 25 and Ellis No. 27 on my yet to be released 2017 prospect list, and there is a noticeable drop in quality of the prospects on the list right around Gant, with the guys above him representing the real talent of the Atlanta system. Both Gant and Ellis had a fourth-starter ceiling with more of a swing-man reality. Ellis started off well last year at double-A after coming to Atlanta from the Angels in the Andrelton trade, but hit a wall at triple-A where he suffered from too many bases on balls.

Gant came out of nowhere last year to break camp with Atlanta, after coming over in 2015 in that year’s Kelly Johnson trade. He spent the rest of the season shuttling between there and Gwinnett, as well as between the bullpen and rotation. For that, some of the inconsistencies in his performance can be forgiven, and he might turn into a quality starter given the time, but he’s more likely to end up in the bullpen where his fastball and deception play up.

I didn’t consider Luke Dykstra a prospect. He’s got a decent baseball pedigree, but has no power, doesn’t take walks, doesn’t have much speed, and is limited to second base.

Initially I wasn’t terribly thrilled with this trade, but upon further assessment I really like it. I had probably hoped for more of a prospect ceiling from Gant and Ellis than they actually have. Garcia appears at first like a shortsighted acquisition with just one year remaining on his contract, but if he’s healthy he might be as good as Teheran, and that kind of quality can be shopped mid-season or used in a playoff chase. While this is a trade with some degree of risk for the Braves, these types of gambles will be something Braves fans need to reorient themselves to, as they are trades that are made by a team trying to be competitive for a postseason spot — something the Braves haven’t done for at least two years.

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On Tuesday the Braves made their first trade of the week, an all-prospect trade. Atlanta sent pitchers Robert Whalen and Max Povse to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for outfielder Alex Jackson and a player to be named later.

Whalen got some time late in the season last year in Atlanta, but was clearly gassed. That should not overshadow the terrific year he had between double-A and triple-A. There he looked more like a mid-rotation guy than the back-of-the-rotation guy most scouts think he is. He was also part of the 2015 Kelly Johnson trade (that Gant was a part of).

Povse had an injury-riddled season in 2015, but followed that up with a breakout season last year. He pitched well at high-A Carolina, and then even better once promoted to double-A. Scouts were mixed on him because of his variations in velocity; he was anywhere from 88 to 95 mph on his fastball. He has a back-of-the-rotation ceiling, but he could turn into a poor-man’s Foltynewicz should he discover more consistent velocity.

Both Whalen and Povse are control pitchers with some back-end velocity, who should each at least have long careers as middle relievers. In the Braves system they were behind 11 other pitching prospects on my 2017 top prospect list, with Povse No. 21 and Whalen No. 24. Both guys have a big league future, but don’t project to have high ceilings…

ajacksonAlex Jackson however, projects to have a high ceiling. He was drafted No. 6 overall in the 2014 draft, and immediately ranked among the top-30 prospects in all of baseball. It began going downhill from there. He struggled to start his first full season and was demoted mid-year. In 2016, he started the year back at extended spring training, which was apparently quite unprecedented for a prospect of his draft stature. Once he did join a team he struggled intermittently, had a good stretch in the middle of the season, then faded at the end.

His prospect standing in the Mariners organization had fallen so far that they decided to move him for what they could get — which was two pretty decent organizational arms that can help their big league team soon.

The Braves are placing a bet that Alex Jackson, only two years removed from being THE prep power bat in the 2014 draft, will be able to correct the apparent flaws in his swing that have led to his diminished prospect standing. It’s a move that comes with some risk, since Povse and Whalen have plenty of talent, and there’s no certainty that Jackson will figure things out. But if he does. Oh, if he does.

Before the draft as an amateur, Jackson played against the nation’s top high school talent year round. His draft scouting report gushed of plus-plus power to all fields and plus-plus bat speed and throwing arm. He was being considered as the top overall pick, and there was consensus among scouts that he would make a quick impact in the pros and move quickly through a system.

Now Jackson will have an opportunity to reset his career in the Braves organization. There was some discussion about possibly moving Jackson back to catcher, but I bet the Braves will keep things simple for him and leave him in the outfield.

This move of buying low on a prospect who encountered adversity early in his career is something the Braves have done throughout the rebuild the past two years. They acquired the 2012 No. 7 overall pick Max Fried from the Padres while he was sidelined with Tommy John surgery. Touki Toussaint, the No. 16 overall pick in the 2014 draft, was hijacked from the Diamonbacks after his early-career struggles. These players all represent a good deal of risk, but their projected ceilings are so high they’re the kind of premium players worth taking gambles on. Both Fried and Toussaint seem to be headed in the right direction now, and that is the hope with Jackson.

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These were both good trades. Each used mid-level B or C-grade prospects to acquire premium talent. With the high price of starting pitching, the fact that Atlanta upgraded their rotation with a veteran lefty without giving up anything close to top prospects or major league assets is astounding. Atlanta also turned some of their good second-tier pitching prospects into one of the highest-ceiling power prospect bats in the minors (and they still get a player to be named later).

These are both riskier trades than we’re used to seeing, but each has a decent chance of working out in the Braves favor.

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