Atlanta Braves 2016 Draft Picks 1-4

The Atlanta Braves enter the 2016 draft with four selections on day one among the top 76 picks, including the team’s highest pick since Mike Kelly was selected No. 2 overall in 1991.

The team traded for two additional picks again this year at the end of the first and second rounds. They added a pick at the end of the first round at No. 40 from the Marlins via the Dodgers in the Alex Wood trade last year, then added the No. 76 pick in a recent trade with the Orioles.

My hope with the early picks (below) of this draft for Atlanta, was that they would use their large bonus pool (made so in part because of the huge slot recommendation for the No. 3 pick) to draft first round talents with the majority of these selections. With their first three picks the Braves did just that, using picks 40 and 44 to choose prospects who were ranked by many evaluators among the top-25.

The Braves didn’t listen to the critics in the media who wanted them to draft based on current major league needs (meaning: draft hitters), and instead focused on selecting the prospects they saw as having the highest ceiling. And they used those picks to select one of the most expensive and toughest positions to fill: starting pitching.

1st Round (3): Ian Anderson, RHP @ian_anderson15 — The Braves surprised a lot of people by taking a high school pitcher who wasn’t nearly this high on most people’s board. But the Braves believe he has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the draft, and that he really came on strong late in the season. This reprises a theme from last year’s Braves draft of taking late risers or “pop-up” picks. He was ranked No. 13 overall by MLB.com, No. 11 overall by Baseball America, and No. 7 by Keith Law of ESPN.

iandersonIt’s not like Anderson is a light weight prospect, or unworthy of being selected here. He is a tall and lean 6-foot-4, the kind of frame that scouting directors love to have in their system, with the belief that they can add muscle and velocity. He also has a clean and easy delivery that reminds some of Mike Mussina or Jacob deGrom.

He has at least two plus pitches with a chance at three, and his command also grades as plus. His plus fastball sits in the low 90s, touching 95-96. Though he doesn’t use his changeup much, it nonetheless garners plus grades from some scouts. His curveball is still developing, but it has plus projection. A high school pitcher with this kind of velocity who is projected to have three plus pitches certainly warrants a selection this high.

In short, Anderson checks all the boxes that a team wants in a high-ceiling prep pitcher. His upside is that of a top-of-the-rotation starter. I like this selection, as it continues the philosophy they have focused on during their rebuild of acquiring young controllable starting pitching. By concentrating their top picks on prep pitchers in the draft two years in a row, Atlanta is assembling the building blocks of a rotation similar to the one from the 90’s that led them to all those division titles.

1st Competitive Balance Round (40): Joey Wentz, LHP @joeywentz — The Braves draft strategy works to their advantage as they select another talented high school arm who was ranked higher on just about every board. In doing so they will likely be paying Wentz more than slot, using money saved on the (expected) under-slot Anderson pick. Ranked No. 22 by Keith Law, No. 19 by Baseball America, and No. 16 by MLB.com, Wentz seems like excellent mid-first-round value for an end-of-first-round pick.

Wentz is like a less-refined left-handed version of Anderson. The 6-foot-5 prep lefty from Kansas features a low-90s fastball that can reach 95-96, and a low-to-mid-70s curveball, both of which grade as above average with a future grade of plus. His changeup and overall control are also both said to be above average, with a chance at a future plus grade. Like many high school pitchers, this pick is about future projection and how the organization can guide his development.

While Wentz’s path to top-of-the-rotation prospect status may not be as clear as Anderson’s, the potential is certainly there. As with many two-way players, once Wentz dedicates all his baseball acumen to pitching, the results should get better. I really like this pick, as it checks the box that I wanted to see checked from this draft of the Braves getting at least two mid-to-upper first round talents.

2nd Round (44): Kyle Muller, LHP @kylemuller19 — Atlanta is back at it with their third pick, plucking another high school pitcher, and again getting good value. The 6-foot-5 lefty out of Dallas was ranked No. 58 by Keith Law, No. 39 by Baseball America, and No. 24 by MLB.com. Like Wentz, Muller was a two-way player in high school.

Muller is an interesting prospect, as he put up “video game stats” at times over the past two years. At one point striking out a high school record 24 straight batters over two starts and recording 36 consecutive outs on strikeouts. His fastball velocity is not consistent yet, ranging from mid-80s to low-90s, while occasionally touching 95 with some sink to it. His curve is average and change is below average right now, but some scouts think both have a chance to be above average if not plus.

Scouts love his big and athletic body, and Muller was a stand-out at the plate as well, challenging for the national high school home run lead most of the year. His athleticism and physique are said to be among the best in the entire draft. He’s more of a raw product as a pitcher than the two earlier picks, but he has the canvas to be just as good of a prospect, though it may take a little bit longer for the good results to show up in games.

2nd Competitive Balance Round (76): Brett Cumberland, C @bcumboslice — The Braves finally get off the high school pitcher bandwagon and take a college hitter. The Cal product was ranked No. 90 by Baseball America, No. 82 by Keith Law, and No. 69 by MLB.com.

The draft-eligible sophomore checks many of the boxes that are supposedly “needs” in the Braves system. He hits. He hits for power. He’s a catcher. Actually, the switch-hitter hits for a lot of power, but he may end up in left field due to the belief by some scouts that his overall athleticism and catch-and-throw skills may not be enough to stick behind the plate.

Wherever he ends up he becomes one of the best power prospects in the Braves system, and perhaps the closest one to the majors. As a sophomore he still has some development left to get to where his prospect ceiling will be, but I like the combination of power and hitting ability, even if he’s forced to move to the field. Solid pick for the team and decent value here.

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Braves 2016 International Bonanza

In the middle of a season of maximum struggle it can be hard for many fans to see any light at the end of the tunnel… especially if that light is four or five years away. But the Atlanta Braves are about to create a very bright light at the end of that tunnel, with an international signing bonanza the likes of which this team has never seen before.

The international signing rules can be hard to understand, so it may be better to phrase this in the context of a draft, which more fans can understand. I already wrote about how the Braves will be doing quite well in this year’s state-side June draft, where the team has two first round picks, and by virtue of how they might shift money around, could have three — three first round picks is huge in any sport.

While the July 2 international signing period is not a draft, we can draw some comparisons between the two systems for acquiring amateur talent by using the bonus money given to players. From the early reports at Baseball America and MLB Prospect Watch, the Braves are set to sign six players with the equivalent of a first-round bonus. Six players who can be expected to get $1 million-plus bonuses.

The worst kept secret of this year’s international signing period is the Braves handshake agreement to ink the top international prospect, switch-hitting Venezuelan shortstop Kevin Maitan. That deal could be worth over $4 million, a sum comparable to what Atlanta might give to their first round draft pick, the third overall player taken in the draft.

The Braves are also linked to the top international catching prospect, another Venezuelan named Abrahan Gutierrez. His bonus could be upwards of $3 million, comparable to a top-10 draft pick.

Dominican shortstop Yunior Severino and right-handed pitcher Juan Contreras, considered by many the top non-Cuban pitcher in this year’s class, could each get bonuses nearing $2 million, similar to what a player taken at the end of the first round of the draft might receive.

The million dollar bonuses will continue for two more players linked to the Braves, Venezuelan shortstop Livan Soto and Dominican third baseman Yency Pena.

Cuba Libre
With the way the Braves have tried in vain to attract the top Cuban talent in recent years we can be pretty certain that this time around the organization will once again make strong attempts to sign some of the top players available from the island nation. Among the top international talent in this year’s pool of players there are at least three major Cuban prospects who are not currently linked to any team — RHP Vladimir Gutierrez, OF Lazaro Armenteros (aka Lazarito) and 2B Randy Arozarena. And there could be more who have yet to defect or be made eligible by MLB to sign with a major league team.

Let’s take a quick look at the money the Braves might be putting out there (according to reports) to see how much they could spend internationally. Atlanta’s allotted international bonus pool is $4,766,000. The team could exceed that by just signing Maitan. Here’s what the bonus pool scuttlebutt says so far:

Maitan, $4 million
A. Gutierrez, $3.5 million
Severino, $2 million
Contreras, $1.5 million
Soto, $1 million
Pena, $1 million
Total: $13 million

By the rules of the international signing period, the Braves will be taxed 100% on any amount they go over their allotted pool. So if the bonus numbers listed above are close to correct, then that $13 million in salary will turn into a $22 million expense.

Atlanta has a draft bonus pool of just over $13 million, closely matching the money they will be giving their international prospects, but less than their actual outlay once penalties are assessed.

The other major penalty of a team going over their international bonus pool is that the team cannot sign any international player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods. That equals a lot of savings over the next two years, which means all the team’s eggs need to be in this year’s basket. The rules also indicate that a team can distribute any bonus payments that surpass $1 million over three years. Meaning some of that new stadium money can be used to sign prospects this year.

It’s been quite obvious that the organization has not spent as much money as they probably could have on the major league team this year. The conventional wisdom has been that the Braves were going to shift some budgets around so they would spend less on the major league roster and more on the draft and international signings. From the math above it looks as though the Braves have already provisionally spent $35 million between the draft and international market.

The team has already released over $25 million in player salaries from their major league roster in Swisher, Bourn, Matusz, Stubbs and Bonifacio. Surely if they’re willing to continue taking on salaries for prospects, then they’re willing to truly spend big for actual prospects.

If the Atlanta payroll this year is somewhere in the $85 to $95 million range — the range where most guesses put it — and if Atlanta payrolls the past couple of years have been in the $105 to $115 million range, then it looks like the Braves are shifting anywhere from $10 to $30 million from MLB payroll to other areas. We are not privy to the details of the team’s payroll, so there’s no guarantee this reasoning is sound.

Assuming that my reasoning is (at least somewhat) sound, then I bet the team has more than $22 million to spend on the international market. That guess is based on the team’s statements that there will be more money available for payroll as the team moves into their new stadium, and that burning desire by the front office to hoard prospects.

This reasoning also takes into account that there will be savings that occur over the next two years as the team is constrained to their pool limit, and the fact that the bonuses given out this year can be paid out over the next three years. Add to that the team’s desire to make some positive headlines by signing big names, and the team’s obsession about signing a big named Cuban prospect or star, and the odds look good that the team will spend even more internationally than has been reported.

My guess is that those additional signings are Cuban players. Most Cuban players are considered closer to major league ready than the typical 16-year-old international singing, so that light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel gets a little closer.

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Braves trade for pick #76 in 2016 draft

I’m really glad that baseball began allowing the trading of some draft picks. And so are the Braves.

Atlanta used the acquisition of additional draft picks to their advantage last year by trading for two additional selections, one as a part of the major Craig Kimbrel trade with the Padres and the other in a pure salary dump trade with the Diamondbacks*. For this year’s draft the Braves already have an additional pick as part of the Alex Wood trade with the Dodgers, and now they essentially purchase another in a salary dump trade with the Orioles.

The Braves acquired the No. 76 pick in the 2016 MLB draft and LHP Brian Matusz from the Orioles in exchange for RHP Brandon Barker and LHP Trevor Belicek. Per the Braves beat writers, the team plans to release Matusz, so the deal is really the draft pick and $3 million (the money left on Matusz’s contract) for Barker and Belicek.

To look at it yet another way, since a currently-nameless player is involved by virtue of the pick, the Braves are trading for the Orioles 2nd-round pick in the 2016 draft in exchange for the Braves 16th-round pick in the 2014 draft, the 16th-round pick in the 2015 draft and $3 million.

Yes, both Barker and Belicek have done well in their short pro careers. Barker has been a huge surprise this year with a 2.00 ERA in 8 starts at double-A. Belicek was putting up good numbers while being used as a swing-man at low-A. Neither were really considered prospects for Atlanta. While Barker might have gotten listed at the back third of some top-30 Braves prospect lists if his good work continued, neither were more than a B- prospect at this point (see the preseason list for where Barker might rank as a B- prospect).

Yet another way to look at this trade, is that when the Braves acquired their second round pick (No. 75 overall) last year, they used it on a college closer, A.J. Minter, who has a much greater chance to be an impact player in the majors than either Barker or Belicek. In this year’s trade the Braves acquire virtually that same selection with the No. 76 pick. I’ll say that’s worth three million in today’s baseball landscape.

Whichever way I look at this trade, it continues to look like a big win for Atlanta. Clearly the Orioles think highly of both Barker and Belicek, as they didn’t clear as much payroll space as the Diamondbacks did last year when they dumped twice as much payroll while getting two outfielders, one of whom is no longer playing baseball.

The real value of this trade could be in the way that it plays into Atlanta’s overall 2016 draft strategy.

While the slot money assigned to the No. 76 pick is just over $800,000, the Braves could place even more value on that selection by picking a higher-ranked prospect who has fallen down in the draft and giving him an over-slot bonus. This is possible because of the Braves large draft pool created by their No. 3 overall pick and the expectation (around the baseball industry) that the players drafted in the top-5 spots might sign for less than slot value ($6.5 million for the Braves No. 3 slot). If Atlanta is able to sign its first round selection for a $1 million or $2 million less than that $6.5 million slot value, then that frees up money to be used around pick No. 76 to sign a player to late-first round money. The last pick, No. 34, in the first round is almost $1 million more than the slot value of the Braves No. 76 pick.

The Braves could have bought themselves another first-round pick.

We’ll have to wait and see if this is what the Braves are thinking, or whether they will simply be content to take a player that fits the value of the bonus slot assigned to that pick. Either way equals a win for the Braves, and potentially a huge bonanza for the team — highlighting how important these extra draft picks are this season.

*Technically, the 2015 trade with the Diamondbacks was two trades.

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Draft Board

2016mlbdraftWho will the Atlanta Braves pick in the upcoming 2016 MLB First Year Player Draft on June 9? With the third overall pick, Atlanta has a chance to add significant talent to their already strong stable of prospects.

In preparation for the draft, and the eagerly anticipated No. 3 overall pick, I’ve compiled a list of the top mock drafts from the major prospect outlets around the internets. I will add to this list as the draft nears, but already we can see a lot of discrepancy about who Atlanta will pick. Two high school pitchers keep getting listed repeatedly, as Baseball America has been consistent about picking Riley Pint for Atlanta, while Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com has repeatedly picked Jason Groome.

Date Mock Draft w/ link Phils No.1 Reds No. 2 Mock pick for Braves at No. 3
3.30 Baseball America Groome Senzel Riley Pint, RHP, high school (Kansas)
5.2 MLB (Callis) Puk Lewis Corey Ray, OF, college junior (Louisville)
5.2 MLB (Mayo) Puk Lewis Jason Groome, LHP, high school (NJ)
5.5 FanGraphs Groome Senzel Kyle Lewis, OF, college junior (Mercer)
5.6 Baseball America 2.0 Puk Lewis Riley Pint, RHP, high school (Kansas)
5.11 Perfect Game Puk Ray Jason Groome, LHP, high school (NJ)
5.12 MLB (Mayo) 2 Lewis Puk Jason Groome, LHP, high school (NJ)
5.13 Baseball America 3.0 Puk Lewis Riley Pint, RHP, high school (Kansas)
5.18 Keith Law Puk Lewis Jason Groome, LHP, high school (NJ)
5.20 MLB (Callis) 2 Puk Senzel Kyle Lewis, OF, college junior (Mercer)
5.25 Perfect Game 2 Lewis Puk Corey Ray, OF, college junior (Louisville)
5.26 MLB (Mayo) 3 Puk Senzel Kyle Lewis, OF, college junior (Mercer)
5.27 Baseball America 4.0 Moniak Puk Corey Ray, OF, college junior (Louisville)
5.28 Keith Law 2 Puk Lewis Jason Groome, LHP, high school (NJ)
6.3 MLB (Callis) 3 Puk Senzel Kyle Lewis, OF, college junior (Mercer)
6.4 Keith Law 3 Puk Lewis Jason Groome, LHP, high school (NJ)
6.7 Baseball America 5.0 Moniak Puk Kyle Lewis, OF, college junior (Mercer)
6.9 Keith Law 4 Moniak Puk Kyle Lewis, OF, college junior (Mercer)
6.9 Perfect Game 3 Moniak Senzel Ian Anderson, RHP, high school (NY)
6.9 MLB (Callis) 4 Moniak Senzel Corey Ray, OF, college junior (Louisville)
6.9 MLB (Mayo) 4 Moniak Senzel Corey Ray, OF, college junior (Louisville)

We’ll see where it goes from here. If I missed an important mock draft or another one is release and I don’t have it listed here, please tweet me @gondeee.

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A silver lining to today’s roster moves

The Atlanta Braves shook up their roster today, DFAing Drew Stubbs and demoting Jace Peterson, John Gant and Chris Withrow. Technically Withrow got demoted yesterday and was supposed to be replaced with Emilio Bonifacio, but arcane baseball rules intervened. In their stead the team called up Matt Tuiasosopo, Chase d’Arnaud, Reid Brignac and Mike Foltynewicz. It’s not worth knowing much about those first three, as they’re likely just placeholders until the next roster shakeup, and it will be interesting to see how Folty does this go-around.

jpeterson3The silver lining I’d like to pull out of these moves is the impact it has on Jace Peterson. To begin with he’s a curious player, and his place on any major league roster is still largely up for debate. Of the 200 games he’s played in the majors the past three years, he’s started 168 of them, so one might think he’s supposed to start. But scouts and baseball analysts are split on whether he’s a starter or a bench player.

With this demotion, it may look like Jace as a starter might be going by the wayside, but his career to this point reminds me of another Braves player — Ron Gant.

Jace first 3 MLB seasons: 200 games, .605 OPS
Gant first 3 MLB seasons: 242 games, .694 OPS

Like Jace, Gant was demoted during his third major league season after starting the season hitting .172/.233/.309 through 60 games. Peterson has started this season hitting .182/.260/.205.

While Gant was a couple of years younger and a far more talented prospect than Jace is, I find some similarities of their career arcs to this point intriguing. Both were given the starting job in two major league seasons, both struggled to begin their third season, and both were demoted mid-season to the minors.

The move to the minors worked for Gant, who turned his demotion into the fuel that propelled him to become the player that he ultimately became — an All-Star and Silver Slugger with multiple top-10 MVP finishes. While Jace is a rung below Gant in the tools department, he still has a strong set of major league caliber tools that could make him a valuable starter at second base, or a super-utility player who can play all over (think Omar Infante).

So I look forward to seeing what Jace does with the rest of his season. How will he respond to this possibly demoralizing event in his career? He hasn’t been in the minors since 2014, so this could be a shock. Will he use this event like Gant did 27 years ago to become the best version of the player many scouts and people in the Braves front office believe he can be?

Or am I reaching to find silver linings in this miserable baseball season for Braves fans…

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The 2016 Atlanta Braves: A Team Built for the Trade Deadline

By now it should be no secret: the 2016 Atlanta Braves are not built to be a contending team. A team that expects to compete against the strong and deep rotations of the Mets and Nats doesn’t take a week at the end of spring to decide whether Williams Perez or Jhoulys Chacin should be their fourth starter or fifth starter. A team that expects to contend doesn’t hold up as their top free agent signing of the offseason a backup catcher or backup infielder.

None of that should be taken as an indictment against how this 2016 Braves team is constructed, but we should be honest about this team: they’re not built to be a contending team. They are, however, built to take full advantage of the desperate needs of other teams leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. They are built to continue the rebuild that started after the 2014 season.

The Atlanta front office has stacked the 2016 Braves with as many tradable players as they can fit on a roster. They have parted ways with players still owed money in order to equip their roster with players who have the best chance to build trade value.

Most likely to be traded

Yesterday I was trying to figure out why the team would bring in Drew Stubbs at the end of spring to essentially usurp a roster spot from the popular Michael Bourn, and even Emilio Bonifacio — two players owed a combined $15 million this year. The best answer I came up with was that Stubbs’ career .444/.528/.756 slash line as a pinch-hitter is vastly superior over Bourn’s .137/.200/.176. Both of those are extremely small sample sizes of just over 50 plate appearances spread out over multiple seasons, but with such extreme numbers for each player the team must be hoping that while neither is expected to get regular playing time, Stubbs has the better chance of putting up good numbers in a pinch-hitting role.

Assuming they once again put up good numbers in the pinch this year, guys like Stubbs and Jeff Francoeur could have value at the trade deadline for teams seeking pinch hitters and role players. They could add value to trades when they’re paired with a reliever like Jim Johnson or Jason Grilli — the two most likely relievers to be traded. Veteran relievers Eric O’Flaherty and Alexi Ogando could rebound this year and raise their swap value.

Veteran infielders on one-year deals like Erick Aybar, Gordon Beckham and Kelly Johnson are all likely to be shipped off by the deadline. It’s a reassuring comment on the potential value of seemingly small trades of role players that one of the prospects Kelly Johnson was traded for just last year, John Gant, is already making his big league debut with Atlanta. One of the players that Jim Johnson was traded for last year, Hector Olivera, is expected to be an integral part of this year’s team.

While the stating pitching for the Braves is thin to begin the season, the first wave of rebuilding pitching prospects is going to be ready in a few months. That means the Braves will need to create spots for these young starters by shipping off veterans like Bud Norris and Jhoulys Chacin.

While many of the names I mentioned likely don’t have huge trade value on their own, as we saw last year, the Braves were able to combine players in trades to receive a better return. They were also willing to include a top prospect like Jose Peraza as a sweetener in a trade to acquire the player they really wanted in return. With some surplus of prospects, I wonder if we’ll see the Braves include one of their second tier of prospects in a deadline trade in order to get a top tier prospect in return.

Less likely to be traded

While the Braves have Nick Markakis on the books through 2018 at what seems like a reasonable $11 million per year, that lower-dollar contract is also what could make him attractive on the trade market. More years of control on a player should net better players and prospects in return.

The same could be said for Ender Inciarte, who has a whopping five years of team control left. After Atlanta acquired him this past offseason there were reports that many teams called to inquire about his availability. The Braves GM has even bragged in interviews about how many teams (20, by some reports) have expressed interest in Inciarte. Even with Ender filling a valuable role as a leadoff hitter and center fielder, the emergence of prospect Mallex Smith in that same role could make Inciarte available.

A good first half out of Jace Peterson could have Braves fans thinking he’s the second baseman of the future, but it could also raise his trade value to the point where the Braves would strongly consider moving him if another team expressed interest. Once again, five years of team control could add to his value in any deal, and with infield prospects Albies and Swanson arriving soon, there’s reason to think that Peterson could be considered surplus.

******************

In order to put a contending team on the field for the opening of their new park in 2017, the Braves need to give their young prospects the space and time to cut their teeth in the majors. Consider too that many of their young prospects won’t be ready to join the major league roster until after the All-Star break. The team then needs to clear spots on a roster currently crowded with veterans. The confluence of those three things, as well as the potential tradability (described above) of so many of these players, seems to auger well for a flurry of mid-season trades.

At some point the team is going to have to stop trading away valuable pieces, but that point is not just yet. This year’s Braves team is still all about building for the future, and not yet about winning now.

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Making the Team Meter: Final Week

The Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) is nearing the end of spring, and there are still many unknowns surrounding the remaining position battles and opening day roster construction.

kjohnsonThis week I’ll take a look at each area of the team in one post. I will list the locks, then discuss which spots are still up in the air. The players listed in red are the ones who have not yet made the roster.

Lineup (8 of 8 spots are locks): Surprisingly, the lineup is not quite a sure thing because of possible platoons at second and third, though it’s mostly set, especially if we base our guessing off of the lineups of the past few spring games. This seems to be the prevailing lineup:

1. Ender Inciarte, CF (L)
2. Erick Aybar, SS (S)
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B (L)
4. Adonis Garcia, 3B (R)
5. Nick Markakis, RF (L)
6. Hector Olivera, LF (R)
7. A.J. Pierzynski, C (L)
8. Jace Peterson, 2B (L)

While I’ve had Garcia on the roster bubble all spring, comments on a recent broadcast by the GM, and Garcia’s repeated inclusion in lineups, leads me to believe that he will be the starting third baseman. That said, both he and Peterson will share a large part of their playing time with Beckham, Johnson, and Bonifacio.

Bench (3 of 5 spots are locks): At least three bench players are known: backup catcher Tyler Flowers, infield backup Gordon Beckham, and everywhere backup Kelly Johnson. That leaves Emilio Bonifacio to find a spot, as well as the crowded veteran outfield trio of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Jeff Francoeur.

There has been mention that the team could cut Bonifacio loose and eat his $1.25 million salary. Until recently he was hitting poorly, and still leads the team in strikeouts this spring — not a good sign for a low-power contact hitter off the bench. That decision to cut money is complicated by the probable need to eat some, if not most, of the salaries of both Swisher and Bourn.

Both Swish and Bourn have had good springs, so it seems reasonable to believe that the Braves can find teams that are interested (as long as Atlanta eats a large portion of their salary). If the Braves can find a taker for one of those guys, then they probably cut Bonifacio and keep Francoeur and whomever between Swisher and Bourn wasn’t traded. That gives them the greatest veteran trade power leading up to the trade deadline in July — as I presume they will swap as many veterans on short contracts as they can for prospects, much like they did last year.

We should know more on Tuesday, when the team is required to inform Francoeur of where he will start the year.

Rotation (3 of 4 spots are locks): The top three spots in the rotation appear to be solid locks, while the fourth spot is still up in the air with the poor finish to the spring by Chacin. Atlanta will not need a fifth starter until April 12, so while I’ll list those candidates, they will start in the minors and get recalled on the 12th.

jchacinThe right-handed heavy rotation of Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, Matt Wisler and Jhoulys Chacin seem like the four the team will take north. Chacin is the only question mark after some rough outings recently. With starting pitching so thin throughout the majors and in the Braves organization, I have to believe that they’ll at least see what they have in Chacin for the first few weeks of the season. If he’s not up to the task, then they have a phalanx of young starters who should be ready by mid-April.

The team will take the extra two weeks of not needing a fifth starter to decide between Manny Banuelos and Mike Foltynewicz.

ManBan had been the early favorite, but Folty came on strong in his last start while Banuelos has been hit hard in two of his three appearances. Neither seem like options to be in the opening day rotation due to their delayed start to spring.

Young righty John Gant was considered for the fifth spot for a hot minute, but he’s much more likely to begin the year in the minors. Though his good spring could accelerate his timetable. The forgotten one, Williams Perez, could sneak into some sort of roster spot in the rotation or bullpen.

Bullpen (6 of 8 spots are locks): This is the area with the most uncertainty, and an area that could change a lot between now and opening day due to trades, releases and waiver claims. The locks appear to be Arodys Vizcaino, Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, Alexi Ogando and Jose Ramirez, all right-handers.

With the acquisition on Sunday of left-hander Eric O’Flaherty, he becomes another lock. One of the remaining spots seems like it will go to Rule 5 reliever Daniel Winkler, who received a strong vote of confidence from the GM on a weekend broadcast.

That leaves one bullpen spot, and until recently is sounded like it would go to another left-hander — the helmet-hat wearing Alex Torres. Like Chacin, A. Torres has gotten hit a lot lately, and the team may be rethinking his inclusion in the bullpen. The only other competition at this point seems to be from righty Carlos Torres, the improbable resurgence of Hunter Cervenka or someone else from minor league camp, or one of the starting candidates falling to the pen.

With that eighth spot in the pen going away in mid-April once the team needs a fifth starter, my best guess is that spot will be filled by Banuelos or Perez, with either of them serving primarily as long relievers. If I had to put money on it right now, I’d choose Perez, but a lot could happen between now and opening day.

For a bit of fun reading, click here for a look at the final MTM post from last spring.

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Making the Team Meter: Week 3

mwisler2The Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) continues as your one-stop shop for all the team’s spring training roster battles. The roster got trimmed a couple of times this week, and the Braves are not wasting any time on pitchers who aren’t throwing well.

Every weekly MTM this spring I’ll present the locks for each area of the team, then the guys trending up and down. Those guys trending up and down (listed in red text) are the ones to keep an eye on, and should constitute the bulk of the players competing for open roster spots. The rest of the guys in camp are listed next to the ax, because, well, they will (more than likely) eventually be axed from the spring roster.

First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):

icon-lockRotation locks (3 of 5): Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, and Matt Wisler continue to be on track as the top three in the rotation.

Bullpen locks (3 of 7): Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, and Arodys Vizcaino are all still bullpen locks, though Grilli’s start to the season could be delayed by a few weeks. Relievers can get ready in a hurry, so I’ll keep him in the lock section until his status is clearer.

Lineup locks (5): Aside from a wrist scare, the five lineup locks stay the same. Ender InciarteErick AybarFreddie FreemanNick Markakis, and Hector Olivera are all lineup locks.

Lineup platoon and bench locks (6 of 8): There will most likely be three platoons on the diamond for Atlanta. A.J. Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers will share the catching duties. Gordon BeckhamJace PetersonKelly Johnson, and Emilio Bonifacio should all share time between second and third base. There’s a chance that Peterson could be a victim of remaining minor league options left while the team tries to find spots for their high priced veterans (below).

Next up are the players trending up to make the team. There may be more players listed than spots available, but as spring training goes on I’ll whittle these players down.

icon-thumbs-upTrending up for the rotation (1-2 spots): Jhoulys Chacin rockets to the top of the rotation competition as he continues to put together good starts. The release of Kendrick and the slower pace of Folty removes a large part of the competition. Chacin really is rising to the top in the battle for the fourth spot in the rotation. He could be a nice reclamation project and a good success story this season.

The Braves early season schedule with off days means they will not need a fifth starter until April 12, and even though Manny Banuelos had a rough start to his spring, it’s still early and he has plenty of extra time to catch up. It sounds like the team wants him in that fifth spot so they can see if he’s the real deal or not.

Trending up for the bullpen (4-5 spots): The bullpen competition continues to get refined by cuts and a separation in performances. Non-roster veteran reliever Alexi Ogando seems to still be a favorite to land a spot, especially now that Withrow has been optioned to the minors.

jramirezLefty Ian Krol still looks to be in line for a spot as other LOOGYs get cut from the roster. Out of options reliever Jose Ramirez has looked good this spring, and sounds like he’s close to locking up a spot.

I’m moving Rule 5 lefty Evan Rutckyj to the trending up section this week, rejoining fellow Rule 5’er Daniel Winkler. We’re going to have to wait and see what the team is thinking on these two pitchers. But if Grilli is unable to start the season in Atlanta, that could open up another spot in the pen, and the team may want to use that time to audition these two Rule 5 guys.

I’m also moving lefty Alex Torres and righty Carlos Torres into the trending up category. Both of these non-roster veteran relievers have pitched great this spring, and with more relievers getting cut as the roster gets trimmed, their chances keep going up. I still believe there is a large temptation to stash them in Gwinnett as experienced depth, especially if finding 40-man roster spots becomes a problem (see bottom of article).

With today’s cuts taken into account, that leaves seven relievers competing for four spots that are definitely open, and what could be two more spots if Grilli is not ready to start the season and if they opt to carry an extra reliever instead of a fifth starter on opening day.

Trending up for the lineup or bench (2 spots): Adonis Garcia continues to be a favorite to pick up some playing time at third base in a very crowded field.

I’m moving both Michael Bourn and Jeff Francoeur to the trending up section this week, mainly to talk about them and Nick Swisher in the same breath. It will be interesting to see what happens with these three veterans — two of them (Swisher and Bourn) being very high priced. This decision doesn’t have to be made until the end of the spring. I still believe that Frenchy is the fly in the ointment, and the Braves will find a way to put him on the roster. That would be made easier if Swish and/or Bourn can be traded.

The next group of players are trending down. For one of these guys to make the team they would have to have an amazing spring, or there would have to be an injury to a player above.

icon-thumbs-downTrending down for the rotation or bullpen: Williams Perez is being given every opportunity to win a spot in the rotation. Both he and Ryan Weber are having good springs. They’re still in the trending down section however, not because of their spring performance, but because Chacin seems preferred over either pitcher right now. ManBan also seems to be preferred by the team in the fifth spot, but because the team doesn’t need that spot filled until April 12, both Perez and Weber will likely join ManBan in the minors to start the season. If Banuelos falters, then that could open the door to either Perez or Weber. There’s also a chance that either Perez or Weber could open the season in Atlanta’s bullpen as the long reliever.

Mike Foltynewicz is behind schedule this spring, and it sounds like the team wants to take the slow approach with him while they stretch him out to join the rotation. That will likely happen in the minors to start the season.

Below are the rest of the guys in camp, and while there is some talent in this group, they are not likely to be around the Major League camp in the final weeks of spring. That being said, I may move one or two of these guys up if they have a great spring or there is some buzz about them in the press.

icon-axAxed from rotation consideration for now: Kyle Kendrick was the biggest cut this week, as the team released him after he got blown up in his second start. It was a short leash to be sure, but with other options pitching better, there’s no reason to keep a non-roster guy around who is not making his pitches.

The team also moved most of the prospects to minor league camp, along with non-roster guys Madison Younginer and David Holmberg. Veteran Chris Volstad was released after producing similar results to Kendrick.

Casey Kelly and Tyrell Jenkins were also reassigned to minor league camp, as expected.

I’m moving Aaron Blair down here this week. While I was bullish on his chances at the beginning of spring, other candidates have risen above him, and it looks like he does need more time in the minors. John Gant is also still hanging around, but having not pitched above double-A, I can’t see him making the jump to the majors quite yet.

Axed from bullpen consideration for now: Chris Withrow was a surprise cut from the spring roster this week, as he was optioned to Gwinnett. This is likely just to give him more time to regain his form after missing last year because of surgery.

Left Matt Marksberry was given no quarter after a rough outing, as the team sent him packing to the minors. He was looking like a strong LOOGY candidate, but it sounds like the team prefers the veterans Krol and A. Torres.

Hunter Cervenka also encountered some rough waters this week, and didn’t survive the latest round of cuts.

Danny Burawa was sent to minor league camp, and is someone I still believe is a candidate to be slipped off the 40-man roster.

Axed from roster consideration for now: Daniel Castro and Chase d’Arnaud were reassigned to minor league camp this week. We may need to keep a closer eye on Reid Brignac, who is hitting pretty well right now. But with such a crowded infield picture already, even a hot hitting Brignac is a longshot.

************************

40-man roster picture: The Braves 40-man roster is at 40 players right now. Here is one way that the team could find spots for the players that seem to be winning them.

Needing spots (5): Chacin, Ogando, Frenchy, Torres and Torres.

Vacating spots (5): Paco Rodriguez (60-day DL), Andrew McKirahan (60-day DL), Burawa (candidate to be waived), Swisher and Bourn (candidates to be traded).

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Making the Team Meter: Pitchers, Week 2

mbanuelos2The Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) continues as your one-stop shop* for all the team’s spring training roster battles (*initially divided up between pitchers and hitters). The roster is getting trimmed quickly this year, as the team has already made their first round of cuts — some of the earliest significant cuts I can remember.

Every weekly MTM this spring I’ll present the locks for each area of the team, then the guys trending up and down. Those guys trending up and down (listed in red text) are the ones to keep an eye on, and should constitute the bulk of the players competing for open roster spots. The rest of the guys in camp are listed next to the ax, because, well, they will (more than likely) eventually be axed from the spring roster.

First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):

icon-lockRotation locks (3 of 5): Julio Teheran, Bud Norris, and Matt Wisler continue to be locks for the starting rotation. Though neither JT nor Wisler have thrown in a major league spring game yet.

Bullpen locks (3 of 7): Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, and Arodys Vizcaino are all still bullpen locks, with Vizzy striking out the side in order (a “Kimbrel”) during his first Grapefruit League action.

Next up are the players trending up to make the team. There may be more players listed than spots available, but as spring training goes on I’ll whittle these players down.

icon-thumbs-upTrending up for the rotation (1-2 spots): Moving to the trending up section this week is Manny Banuelos. ManBan is apparently penciled in as the fifth starter — a spot in the rotation which won’t be needed until April 12 according to the AJC — even though he has yet to appear in any spring games.

It still looks like non-roster starters Kyle Kendrick and Jhoulys Chacin are in a good position to compete for the remaining rotation spot. Either one of them could also fall to the bullpen, and serve as the long reliever for at least the first two weeks of the season. In their first appearance of the spring on Sunday, Chacin seemed to take the lead with two spotless innings.

Trending up for the bullpen (4-5 spots): With the Braves indicating they will not need a fifth starter until April 12, that opens up the bullpen competition to one more spot. Mike Foltynewicz is still on the bubble between the rotation and the bullpen, so an eye will be kept on how long the team stretches him out in games.

aogandoMoving to the trending up section this week is Alexi Ogando. He has received a lot of praise throughout the spring, and it sounds like Atlanta want’s another veteran reliever in the pen. If the reports of his rejuvenated velocity are true, he could be a nice find.

Chris Withrow looks good in early spring action, and is likely a week or so from becoming a bullpen lock. Ian Krol sounds like the early favorite for the LOOGY role, even though he got Krolshed™ on Sunday.

While it’s been mentioned that the Rule 5 relievers Rutckyj and Winkler might be hard-pressed to make the club, Daniel Winkler remains trending up after two impressive appearances. Out of options reliever Jose Ramirez has also tossed two scoreless innings.

The next group of players are trending down. For one of these guys to make the team they would have to have an amazing spring, or there would have to be an injury to a player above.

icon-thumbs-downTrending down for the rotation: Aaron Blair moves to he trending down section this week. I still want to be bullish on his chances, but with ManBan now penciled into the fifth spot, and Kendrick and Chacin hoovering, Blair seems to be crowded out of a rotation spot to start the season. Besides, there’s no reason to rush the young hurler.

Even before tweaking his delivery, Tyrell Jenkins had drawn praise for his good work in camp — though like Blair, there’s no need to rush him. Williams Perez and Ryan Weber are still options, but they both seem to be further down he depth chart at this point.

rweberCasey Kelly is hanging around, and like Perez and Weber, he’s a long-shot right now.

Chris Volstad hurt his chances by getting rocked in his first game action of the spring, and David Holmberg hasn’t had any buzz about him. Both 4-A veterans are likely to be among the next round of cuts and become triple-A depth.

Trending down for the bullpen: While Matt Marksberry has pitched well and has received praise from the coaching staff, his available minor league option and the veteran relievers ahead of him will likely push him to open at Gwinnett. Fellow lefty Hunter Cervenka finds himself in a similar spot.

Both Alex Torres and Carlos Torres have thrown well and received some praise, but they are still likely behind other non-roster options such as Ogando, Chacin and Kendrick. With the Braves wanting to stash some experienced bullpen depth in the minors, the not-brothers Torres fit the bill perfectly.

Danny Burawa did not have the kind of first outing in this crowded field that gets him noticed in the right way. With another bad outing he becomes a candidate to be slipped through waivers as the team looks to create 40-man roster space.

Another victim of the roster space battle could be Rule 5 lefty Evan Rutckyj. He moves to the trending down section this week.

Below are the rest of the guys in camp, and while there is some talent in this group, they are not likely to be around the Major League camp in the final weeks of spring. That being said, I may move one or two of these guys up if they have a great spring or there is some buzz about them in the press.

icon-axAxed from rotation consideration for now: No change in the ax status of John Gant, Chris Ellis, Sean Newcomb, and Lucas Sims.

Madison Younginer has received some praise, but is still a ways away from major league ready.

Axed from bullpen consideration for now: The two big shocking pieces of news this week were the release of OG David Carpenter, and the probable second Tommy John surgery for Andrew McKirahan. Carp’s unexpected early release was likely due in part to two main factors, the lack of an available roster spot and a continued decline in velocity. While he had appeared in only one game, the Braves staff has a gun on every pitcher virtually every time they throw, and they know where a pitcher’s velocity should be at this point in the spring. OGDC’s velo likely wasn’t keeping up with other non-roster guys like the Law Firm of Ogando, Torres and Torres ©.

Shae Simmons is on the new 15 month recovery plan in return from his TJ surgery. Mauricio Cabrera and his 100 mph heat have been talked about this spring, but ultimately his control is not yet ready for prime time.

Ryan Kelly was released along with Carpenter.

The hitters MTM will be up at the end of the week.

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Atlanta Braves 2016 Making the Team Meter: Hitters, Week 1

ffreeman16Week 1 of the Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter (MTM) continues with a look at the hitters in camp. While there is a slew of competition and uncertainty about who will ultimately make up the pitching staff, there only seems to be a decision or two regarding the lineup and bench.

This year’s lineup and bench construction lend themselves to a lot of platoons, especially in the lower half of the order. That might not be such a bad thing on a team like the Braves that will likely lose a lot of games. Allowing many of the veterans on the team to play in beneficial platoons in the first half of the year should maximize their output and make them more attractive trade targets at this year’s trade deadline.

Every weekly MTM this spring I’ll present the locks for each area of the team, then the guys trending up and down. Those guys trending up and down (listed in red text) are the ones to keep an eye on, and should constitute the bulk of the players competing for open roster spots. The rest of the guys in camp are listed next to the ax, because, well, they will (more than likely) eventually be axed from the spring roster.

First up, the locks for roster spots (barring injury, of course):

icon-lockLineup locks (5): Atlanta’s lineup is coming together quite nicely, and the top half of the order looks to be set. Newcomers CF Ender Inciarte and SS Erick Aybar will likely bat at the top of order, followed by lefties 1B Freddie Freeman and RF Nick Markakis. Now-left-fielder Hector Olivera will likely follow, and then it gets platoony…

Lineup platoon and bench locks (6 of 8): There will most likely be three platoons on the diamond for Atlanta. A.J. Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers will share the catching duties. Gordon Beckham is apparently trying to start at third base, though he was already considered part of a platoon at second base with Jace Peterson. Kelly Johnson could figure into parts of platoons at second, third and left field, and Emilio Bonifacio could see some starts in addition to being the super utility player.

That leaves just two spots from a slew of other candidates. In terms of positional need, there doesn’t seem to be any. Bonifacio can fill in everywhere on the diamond and Beckham can play all over the infield in a pinch. Johnson can cover the field as well. So there’s no need to carry a player just to backup shortstop or center field.

Next up are the players trending up to make the team. There may be more players listed than spots available, but as spring training goes on I’ll whittle these players down.

icon-thumbs-upTrending up for the lineup or bench (2 spots): The questionable wrist of Freeman will probably have the Braves keeping first base backup Nick Swisher around, just in case. The team would no doubt still like to trade him if anyone came calling, but they’re probably less likely to cut him with Freeman questionable. If Swisher is indeed fully healthy again, as he claims, then keeping him on the team to build some value leading up to the trade deadline would fit with the Braves’ de facto intention to trade off most of their veterans leading up to July 31.

Adonis Garcia should be a heavy favorite to get a lot of playing time at third base, if not win the job outright. Though even with a strong ElOsoBlanco-esque showing in winter ball, Garcia still has questions about his bat and even bigger questions about his glove. Still, it sounds like Atlanta want’s to see what they have in Garcia, and intend on giving him playing time to let him show it.

The next group of players are trending down. For one of these guys to make the team they would have to have an amazing spring, or there would have to be an injury to a player above.

icon-thumbs-downTrending down for the bench: The other weighty outfield contract after Swisher, with seemingly nowhere to play is Michael Bourn. Before Atlanta acquired Inciarte it looked like Bourn had a definite spot to begin the year in a mentoring role for M. Smith, while starting about half the time. Inciarte pushed Bourn to the bench, but still with a definite spot. The arrival of Jeff Francoeur muddies the water. A hometown favorite like Frenchy might be tough to keep off the team when they’re desperate to sell a few extra tickets in Turner Field’s lame duck season with a 100-loss team.

jfrancoeur16Both Bourn and Francoeur’s roster chances are hurt by a roster that doesn’t seem to have any spot for them… right now. Injuries, ineffectiveness or trades can all create spots.

Daniel Castro and Mallex Smith are the only other position players on the 40-man, and each are worthy of a mention above the Axed section. Castro can play all over the infield, and could see time if Aybar or Bonifacio are injured. Smith likely has little shot this spring unless Inciarte is traded.

Below are the rest of the guys in camp, and while there is some talent in this group, they are not likely to be around the Major League camp in the final weeks of spring. That being said, I may move one or two of these guys up if they have a great spring or there is some buzz about them in the press.

icon-axAxed from roster consideration for now: None of the remaining Braves non-roster invitees are of too much interest. Reid Brignac is a former top prospect turned 30-years-old. Nate Freiman may have the right last name to be an Atlanta first baseman, but that’s it.

Chase d’Arnaud and Matt Tuiasosopo have major league experience, but don’t hit enough to warrant higher consideration.

After them the rest of the fielders in camp include the team’s top prospects getting a taste of big league camp: Dansby Swanson, Ozhaino Albies, Rio Ruiz and Braxton Davidson.

Ryan Lavarnway is a non-roster catcher, and probably the first one called if AJ or T-Flo get injured.

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