Trade frenzy reshaped Braves’ Top 20 prospects

Max Fried was the 7th overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Padres out of a Los Angeles area high school The lefty is now the Braves' No. 3 prospect. (AP photo)
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Max Fried was the 7th overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Padres out of a Los Angeles area high school The lefty is now the Braves' No. 3 prospect. (AP photo)

 

Five of the top 10 and 11 of the top 20. That’s how many newcomers have been added to Baseball America’s updated Braves prospects list since the season ended, a list overhauled much like the team’s roster and its scouting and player-development staffs since the 2014 season ended.

The new prospects all were added to the organization in trades between mid-November and mid-January, beginning with the Nov. 16 Tommy La Stella trade that brought reliever Arodys Vizcaino. That was a mere warmup for the big Jason Heyward trade the next day (Nov. 17), and things rarely stayed quiet over the next 8 1/2 weeks right up through the Evan Gattis trade Jan. 14.

Braxton Davidson fell from No. 6 Braves prospect to No. 11 after a flurry of trades in the past two months. (AJC file photo)

Braxton Davidson fell from No. 6 Braves prospect to No. 11 after a flurry of trades in the past two months. (AJC file photo)

It’s been dizzying. Braxton Davidson, the Braves’ first-round pick in last year’s June draft, was No. 6 in Baseball America’s ranking of the top-10 Braves prospects published after the 2014 season. He wouldn’t have made the top 10 if BA waited till Jan. 15 to do the list.

That’s not a reflection of Davidson so much as a indication of how many prospects that the Braves, aiming more for 2017 and beyond more than for the immediate future, accumulated in their two-month trading frenzy.

That haul includes a pair of pitchers, Mike Foltynewicz from the Astros and left-hander Max Fried from the Padres, who move into the Nos. 2-3 spots on BA’s revamped prospect list, behind only second baseman Jose Peraza.

Five of the top 10 and 11 of the top 20 were acquired in trades. Among the reconfigured top 20 are all seven prospects the Braves got from the Padres and Astros in trades that sent Justin Upton to San Diego and Gattis to Houston.

The Braves farm system would’ve ranked 29th out of 30 major league teams in early November, Baseball America editor-in-chief John Manuel told me this morning in an hour-long chat we had about the state of the farm system. Now it’s at least in the top half according to Manuel, and the top 10 according to some evaluators.

Before this offseason, “the depth was just not there, and the impact potential was pretty hard to find,” Manuel said. “And now, you see the guys that (president of baseball operations) John Hart and (assistant general manager) John Coppollela are looking for. They’re not looking for fives, they’re looking for six, seven, eight.”

On scouting scales, eight — or 80 — represents the rare top ranking for a player’s specific tools.

Braves officials insist it’s not a classic strip-it-down rebuild – after all, they did sign free-agent Nick Markakis to a $44 million deal and acquired a pair of former closers, Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson, to serve as setup men for all-everything closer Craig Kimbrel, whom Hart says the Braves have not discussed with any team as a potential trade piece.

But Hart, who took over as de facto general manager after Frank Wren was fired in late September, made it clear that that restocking an alarmingly thin farm system was the immediate top priority, particularly with pitching.

In that regard, much of the mission has been accomplished. Some critics have howled about the Braves falling behind not just the Nationals but also the Marlins and Mets in the NL East. Many Braves fans are concerned, wondering about the next season or two, worried that the team might lose 90-100 games in 2015.

 

Evan Gattis was traded to the Astros Jan. 14 for three prospects, all of whom rank among the Braves' updated Top 20 prospects list according to Baseball America. (AJC file photo)

Evan Gattis was traded to the Astros Jan. 14 for three prospects, all of whom rank among the Braves’ updated Top 20 prospects list according to Baseball America. (AJC file photo)

Inside the industry, the moves have received mostly favorable reviews from evaluators who believe the Braves, though they might well take plenty of lumps in the short term, have positioned themselves for a far brighter future than if they’d stayed the course and tried to plug gaps with free agents and scrap-heap acquisitions on a mid-market payroll.

The Braves want to field a World Series contender when they move into their new ballpark in 2017, and plan to be able to fill in any gaps with a larger payroll funded by increased revenue streams that will come with that move. For now, Hart and his staff have focused restocking the farm while also trying to maintain a respectable team for the immediate future.

In a span of eight weeks, the Braves made six trades that brought back almost exclusively prospects. That included trading three of the team’s top four hitters – Jason Heyward, Upton and Gattis. Shelby Miller was the only proven major leaguer they got back; the rest are prospects.

“All these guys aren’t going to work out, and I think we all should know that about prospects,” Manuel said. “I really do think the industry, in some ways, some of these teams do overvalue their prospects at times. But that’s why we go 30-deep. I think you can see how much deeper the Braves’ system is now than if we’d stopped at 10.”

The only Braves trade that brought a proven major leaguer was a Jan. 17 deal that sent Heyward to the Cardinals for Miller and a pitching prospect, Tyrell Jenkins. Miller is 24 and four years from free agency, and the Braves wanted to be sure they added at least one major league starter after losing Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang to free agency.

“As a total picture, I like the moves the Braves have made this offseason,” Manuel said. “There definitely is a bigger gap, like your co-worker (AJC columnist Mark Bradley in a Jan. 19 blog) wrote, a bigger gap between the Nationals and the Braves, getting bigger and bigger for 2015. But as you’re pointing down the road, the Braves are in a better position to contend with a team like Washington, and eventually with a team like New York, which you would imagine one day would be run like a large-market team, not a small-market team.”

Manuel provided the AJC with an updated Baseball America ranking of Braves prospects. Here’s the top 20, with comments on each member of the top 10, as well as comments on the other recent acquisitions appearing in the next 10.

  1. Jose Peraza, 2B: Hit .339 with .364 OBP and 60 steals in 110 games in high-A and Double-A in 2014. Retains his top ranking despite the new trade acquisitions. Only 20, the converted shortstop could take over as the Braves’ second baseman and leadoff man at some point in 2015. “In October you almost felt like the Braves were going to push this guy to the majors as soon as possible,” Manuel said. “Now you think they can be a little more patient…. You have to think this guys can be a table-setting shortstop as well as a table-setting second baseman. I saw him in A-ball, there’s a little more arm strength there. That to me is why he’s a No. 1, because he’s also a potential table-setting shortstop if there were to trade him at some point.”

Jose Peraza remains the top prospect in the Braves organization, though the next two on the list changed this offseason. (AP photo)

Jose Peraza remains the top prospect in the Braves organization, though the next two on the list changed this offseason. (AP photo)

  2. Mike Foltynewicz, RHP: First-round draft pick in 2010, he made his major league debut with the Astros in 2014 and was their No. 3 prospect. Top-of-the-rotation potential, has a 96-100 mph fastball (topped out at 102) and above-average breaking ball. Why him over Fried? “No. 1, because of health,” Manual said. “And No. 2, his high level (ceiling). His floor is as a seventh- or eighth-inning impact relief pitcher, as hard as he throws. And reports are the breaking ball is good.” Manuel compared him to Angels starter Garrett Richards.

 3. Max Fried, LHP: Big lefty will miss 2015 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but regarded as another legit potential ace. “Our international guy made some points about him and (No. 8 Ricardo) Sanchez, said he would grade out their stuff very similar. This list 3 through 8 is malleable. Reason (Fried) was available was basically he missed most of 2014 and will mss all of 2015 cecause they tried to rehab without surgery. So you may not know what you have till 2016 or even 2017. But he’s an athletic left-hander who showed  you good stuff, amateur track record pretty strong. Other clubs when looking at Braves prospects like sanchez better than Fried. I think that’s very reasonable. l we felt like Fried was a little more higher ceiling than Sanchez.”

 4. Lucas Sims, RHP: Braves first-round draft pick in 2012 out of Brookwood High, was No. 2 on BA list before the winter trades. Only a 4.19 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 156 2/3 innings in high-A, but after striking out 4.9 per nine in the first three months he struck out 7.6 per nine the rest of the way. “One of those guys, you can’t look too much at the stats,” Manuel said, “or if you do you need to drill down a little further to where were the trends going in second half of the year. He was healthy all year, handled that full load, has a durable body. A couple of our writers were unimpressed in May after seeing him, but he kept getting better. Improved his command of the fastball.”

5. Christian Bethancourt, C: Penciled in as the Braves’ primary catcher for 2015 after showing flashes of solid offensive potential during two stints with big-league club. Undeniable defensive skills made him a top prospect, but he remains shaky at time on that side of the ball. “All the tools have been there,” Manuel said. “He was a little sloppier defensively than you’d like to see him. He’s consistently been a passed-ball guy. (Question marks have) always been consistency, focus, however you want to characterize it.”

6. Jason Hursh, RHP: Braves’ 1st-round draft pick in 2013, had a 3.58 ERA and 83 strikeouts (43 walks) in 148 1/3 innings in Double-A. “Has a loose arm, which is weird to say for a guy who had Tommy John,” Manuel said. “I can see where he can get better. Above-average fastball, chance to be above-average changeup. Keeps the ball in the park. Should be a guy (eventually) in middle of the rotation, a 3-4 guy. Sinker-slider guy, when he misses he generally misses down…. He has a pretty high floor, but not a cinch front-line starter.”

7. Ozhaino Albies, SS: Another gifted shortstop from Curacao, Albies hit .364 with a .446 OBP and 22 steals in 57 games in two rookie leagues at age 17. “Our guy who did the Appalachian league for us just got hired in Indians player development. He went to a few games and Albies just jumped out to him so much in that league. He just checks all the boxes for a young hitter — stays inside the ball, hand-eye coordination with good contact, good pitch recognition. Lot of walks for a kid. Accurate arm, above-average range. He’s not big, but everything else, the arrows point straight up.”

8. Ricardo Sanchez, LHP: The Braves traded third-base prospect and minor league pitcher Nate Hyatt to the Angels for Sanchez, 17, who was rated Anaheim’s No. 3 prospect. Low- to mid-90s fastball and impressive curveball, had a 3.49 ERA in 12 appearances (nine starts) in rookie ball while striking out 43 in 38 2/3 innings. “I like (Braves Nos. 9-10 prospects) Jace Peterson and Rio Ruiz, but to me, that top eight is a lot closer together,” Manuel said. “If you were going to do a first tier and second tier of Braves prospects, that first tier is that top eight…. We had reports on him hitting 95; I don’t think he pitches there, but to see him do it at age 17, you think this is a guy who can grow into maybe doing that fairly consistently. And then he flashes an above-average breaking ball. He’s shown you the ability to spin a breaking ball. That fastball in the Arizona League was generally sitting in that 90-91 range; not bad for a 17-year-old.”

9. Jace Peterson, 2B/3B: Another who came from San Diego in the Upton trade. Hit .307 w/ .402 OBP and 33 extra-base hits (three homers) in 382 plate appearances in Double-A and Triple-A in 2014. “For some people he’s just a (potential) championship-caliber utility guy,” Manuel said. “I think we see him as guy who could be a solid second baseman. We throw out Adam Kennedy comps a lot, because he wasn’t a star but he was a regular on good teams for a long time. This guy might have a chance to be that kind of hitter, and maybe even a little bit better athlete than Adam Kennedy was. Adam Kennedy was a purer hitter, but this guy runs better, so maybe he ends up with a similar average and on-base percentage even though he does it pretty differently.”

Max Fried was the 7th overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Padres out of a Los Angeles area high school The lefty is now the Braves' No. 3 prospect. (AP photo)

Max Fried was the 7th overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Padres out of a Los Angeles area high school The lefty is now the Braves’ No. 3 prospect. He was among four prospects they got in the Justin Upton trade, along with No. 9 Jace Peterson, No. 18 Mallex Smith and No. 19 Dustin Peterson. (AP photo)

10. Rio Ruiz, 3B: Second-best prospect to come from Astros in Gattis trade. Former high school quarterback standout committed to play football at Southern Cal before signing with Astros. Ruiz, 20, hit .293 with a .387 on-base percentage and 50 extra-base hits (11 home runs) in high Single-A, and replaces Kubitza as Braves top third-base prospect. “For me he’s the other interesting guy here. The Astros gave this guy $1.85 million. And then as soon as they could trade for Colin Muran (from the Marlins), they did.  I saw Colin Moran for three years at UNC. I did their games on TV, did his whole regional in 2013. I’ve seen a ton of Colin Mran; I’ve seen a decent amount of Rio Ruiz on video. I think those guys are going to be really similar. I think the Astros chose the guy who’s a little less athletic in Colin Moran.”

11. Braxton Davidson, OF

12. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP: Came from St. Louis in the Heyward trade. He’s another former college quarterback recruit (committed to Baylor before signing with the Cardinals in 2010). Career slowed by injuries including shoulder surgery. Had 3.28 ERA in 13 starts for Class-A Palm Beach this year, then a 2.22 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings in Arizona Fall League. “You see the arm strength, the body. I think it’s just a matter of how much does the athleticism really play,” Manuel said. “Everybody sees he’s athletic. The way I’d characterize it is, he’s not 100 percent fluid sometimes on the mound. It’s a little mechanical, a little robotic – now I do this, now I’ve got to do that. I think the key will be just kind of letting that flow. You see plus arm strength and a real athletic body; usually those things do translate. I mean there’s certainly risk there, because he hasn’t taken that next step.”

13. Manny Banuelos, LHP: Former No. 1 Yankees prospect is still trying to regain form since October 2012 Tommy John surgery. Braves got him in trade for relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve. “I’ve always felt the Yankees were pretty good at developing pitchers; I always though the problem was at the big league level, guys stopped getting better in the big leagues. There’s a lot of Yankees who’ve had success outside of New York…. To me he was a great risk to take. He’s left-handed, he’s shown plus stuff, he’s had success at Double-A. The Braves don’t necessarily need him in the major leagues right now, so I think he was a great risk to take. He kind of got overshadowed (this offseason). He’s going to have to prove himself again (coming off Tommy John). I’d rather prove myself again in a new organization than in front of an organization where there were a lot of preconceived notions of what I can and can’t do.”

14. Garrett Fulencheck, RHP

15. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP: Former Braves prospect who returns after an injury-plagued few seasons with the Cubs, much of it spend recovering from Tommy John surgery. “He’s the prospect who won’t die,” Manuel said. “I think he has one of longest entries in our (prospect) handbook. But all of our reports from last year are still a lot of 97-98 (mph).. It’s the kind of stuff you see out of an eighth-inning guy in the playoffs. Not necessarily closer command, but a guy who comes out there and just blows cheddar for an inning. That’s him. And it doesn’t hurt that he spins a breaking ball.”

16. Shae Simmons RHP

17. Mauricio Cabrera, RHP

18. Mallex Smith, OF: Part of the package the Padres gave up for Upton, Smith hit .301 with a .403 OBP, 41 extra-base hits (five homers) and a minors-leading 88 steals in 120 games in Single-A. “Best case scenario he’s kind of a Michael Bourn type,” Manuel said. “I don’t quite think he has Michael Bourn’s strength at the plate, so maybe more realistic is more of a Jarrod Dyson kind of ceiling, where he’s a fourth outfielder, a guy who can play center fielder, can really fly. You really talk about the speed as the tool for him. In pro ball he’s added a  little bit more skills to the speed, but the tool you’re buying there is speed.”

19. Dustin Peterson, 3B: Another who came from the Padres in the Upton trade, he’s not related to Jace Peterson but is the brother of Mariners corner-infield prospect D.J. Peterson. “He’s not too dissimilar from an older brother, D.J.,” Manuel said. “You hear scouts talk about them, they were just two kids who’ve got great natural hitting timing and rhythm. He’s a guy who’s almost always get his foot down, almost always has his hands in the right position to hit. And it’s really a matter of how much impact he has with the bat, because all the other tools are secondary. The defense and the speed and those other kinds of things lag behind the bat. Eventualy we se3 him winding up maybe even as a left fielder.”

20. Andrew Thurman, RHP: Third of the prospects who came from Astros in the Gattis trade, Thurman was a second-round pick in 2013 and went 7-9 with a 5.38 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 115 1/3 innings last season in Single-A. Projects as a potential back-of-the-rotation starter in the majors. “A college guy in the low-Class A Midwest League, we kind of thought he’d tear that league up, and he didn’t,” Manuel said. “He’s shown three pitches that he can throw for strikes, he’s shown an above-average fastball that he can throw for strikes. It’s just a matter of doing it consistently.”

• And we’ll close with this classic from Todd Rundgren, since introductions will be in order at spring training with all the newcomers. And by the way, Rundgren’s son, Rex, was a minor leaguer with the Marlins back in the day when I was still covering the Marlins right after the turn of the century. Seriously.

“HELLO, IT’S ME” by Todd Rundgren

Todd Rungren

Todd Rundgren

Hello, it’s me
I’ve thought about us for a long, long time
Maybe I think too much but something’s wrong
There’s something here that doesn’t last too long
Maybe I shouldn’t think of you as mine
Seeing you
Or seeing anything as much as I do you
I take for granted that you’re always there
I take for granted that you just don’t care
Sometimes I can’t help seeing all the way through
It’s important to me
That you know you are free
‘Cause I never want to make you change for me
Think of me
You know that I’d be with you if I could
I’ll come around to see you once in a while
Or if I ever need a reason to smile
And spend the night if you think I should
It’s important to me
That you know you are free
‘Cause I never want to make you change for me
Think of me
You know that I’d be with you if I could
I’ll come around to see you once in a while
Or if I ever need a reason to smile
And spend the night if you think I shouldThink of me
Think of me
Think of me

 

 


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