#Braves brickbats

The Braves lost their 40th game today. The ’98 Braves, which won 106, didn’t lose their 40th until August 11. Snitker’s scrubs have, after 56 games, four less wins than the lowly ’88 squad and one less than the 1935 Boston Braves, who finished a franchise-worst 38-115. The 2016 Braves have the same record as the ’62 Mets: 16-40.

We knew the first half would suck but expected  an infusion of prospects would at least make the second half interesting. But that looks unlikely now. Lucas Sims has pitched atrociously at Gwinnett, where his ERA ballooned to 7.40 after giving up 8 runs, all earned, in 2-1/3 IP. He’s walked 31 in 41 Triple-A innings. Meanwhile, Ozzie Albies is hitting .230 with 12 errors in 34 games at Gwinnett and Rio Ruiz is batting a soft .250, with just 3 HR and 54 strikeouts in 49 games. There is some bullpen help on the horizon, with Shae Simmons rehabbing and Tyrell Jenkins, moved from the rotation, primed for promotions. One rung down, Sean Newcomb has pitched better of late but still has 33 walks in 57 IP. Chris Ellis has pitched well but is not a difference-maker. Thank God for Dansby, but I don’t see the need to rush him.

So the results of the rebuild are decidedly mixed, making the next two drafts among the biggest in franchise history. In the late 1980s Bobby Cox’s drafts yielded Steve Avery, Mike Stanton, Ken Mercker, Mark Wohlers, Ryan Klesko and Chipper Jones. Last year’s top pick, Kolby Allard, has yet to pitch this year, though second pick Mike Soroka has pitched impressively at Rome, with a 2.66 ERA, 56 Ks and just 13 walks in 61 IP. This year, the choice appears to be between a high school pitcher (Jason Groome or Riley Pint) and a college bat (Corey Ray, Kyle Lewis or Nick Senzel).

Of the pitchers, I’d opt for Pint. There are some concerns about Groome’s command, and the Braves already have enough talented arms who struggle to throw strikes.

The 6’4” Pint is a featured player in Jeff Passan’s compelling new book, The Arm. He emerged as a top amateur prospect in the summer 2013, before his 16th birthday, and hit 100 miles per hour with his fastball two years later as a junior in high school. According to Passan, Pint’s father prevented his son from participating in the sort of year-round youth competition that has increasingly been associated with Tommy John surgery early in a pitchers’ professional career.

That could help soothe the concerns of teams who might read Law’s description of Pint as “one of the hardest-throwing prep arms of all time” as a red flag rather than a selling point. Passan also portrays Pint as an excellent student who considers soda a problematic beverage, giving him high marks for character that, in combination with his big frame and impressive stuff (he also throws a changeup and slider), make him a likely top-five pick in June.

Still, I’d prefer the Braves draft a bat. Ray has the highest ceiling, Lewis, the most power (though he’s faced inferior competition playing for Mercer). Senzel, a right-handed hitting third baseman, fills a big need, is the most polished bat and, according to scouts, the surest bet. But few expect the Braves to draft him, even if he’s still available. Bet on Groome.

I’m sure all three would welcome some face time with Chipper. Great players may not make good managers, but, as Edgar Martinez and Barry Bonds have demonstrated, they make pretty good batting instructors. No reason to think Chipper, a student of hitting, would be any different. Clearly the Braves need a different voice — name one hitter who’s improved under Kevin Seitzer’s watch.

I’m not sure anyone can reach Hector Olivera, but it now appears management is going to hang onto their worst mistake. It’ll be fun cheering for a guy who beat the shit out of a woman, won’t it?

Next year’s free agent class is not as feeble as it once appeared. Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond, Martin Prado and Wilson Ramos are among the names who would look good in a Braves uniform.


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