senzel

#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.

austinriley

Digging deep for #Braves bright spots

For the first time in awhile, it looks as if the Braves drafted some bona fide big league talent.

For a kid who’s pitched just six professional innings, top pick Kolby Allard has raised a lot of hopes, striking out 12, walking none and allowing one hit. It’s the smallest of sample sizes but it’s clear this Allard is no Sean Gilmartin and Jason Hursh.

The Braves’ third pick overall has been even more impressive, filling a gargantuan hole in the Braves system. Austin Riley has done nothing but dominate, first w/ the GCL Braves, now in Danville. He’s hitting.308 through 58 games, with 12 HR, 14 doubles and 23 walks. That’s a .941 OPS. The right-handed hitter is batting .317 against lefties, .308 vs. righties. He hits in the daylight (.288) and night (.337). And he keeps getting better, hitting .474 over his last 10 games.

Rio Ruiz, acquired in the Evan Gattis deal, had been a major disappointment through the season’s first four months, but hit .311-.363-.495 in August. He just turned 21 in May, so his early struggles shouldn’t be too alarming. I still think the Braves will come out on top in that trade.

Lucas Sims has also staged a dramatic turnaround. In his last five starts,  covering 29 IP, the 2012 1st round pick has allowed just 5 runs and 14 hits while striking out 34 (and walking 14). Command remains the biggest obstacle for Sims, who’s walked 53 in 85-2/3 IP.

Teammate John Gant has been terrific since coming over from the Mets in the KJ/Uribe trade, winning four of six Mississippi Brave starts with a 1.54 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 39 K’s in 35 IP.

See, losing ain’t all bad. Based on their first draft, I feel pretty good about Hart and Co. holding the number one overall pick.

Ya gotta believe!

maitan

KLaw: #Braves have ‘handshake agreement’ with ‘the next elite prospect’

I’m not going to try and explain the international signing process, which has spurred a flurry of transactions involving the likes of Cody Martin and 2014 2nd round pick Garrett Fulenchek. The objective, beyond signing 16-year-old prospects Cristian Pache, an OF with power potential, and speedy SS Derian Cruz, is to avoid exceeding their bonus pool and incurring penalties in 2016, when the Braves intend to make a huge splash.

According to Keith Law, the Braves already have a handshake agreement with 15-year-old Venezuelan SS Kevin Maitan, whom many scouts are comparing to a future Hall of Famer. Respected FanGraphs analyst Kiley McDaniel, in an article published last September, said they hype is legit.

Maitan has been compared to (Miguel) Cabrera by most of the scouts I’ve asked about him. He’s unusually physically mature for his age and flashes all the tools you want to see to throw that Cabrera comp around: he can play shortstop pretty well now, he’s got more raw power than most kids a few years older than him, he has smooth actions in defense and at the plate and so on.

Obviously, it’s still ridiculously early in the process to anoint a 14-year-old the next big thing, but scouts have already starting doing it, with rumors Maitan has already been offered seven figures by multiple clubs.

The kid already has at a commanding plate presence.

Atlanta Braves top pick in the draft Braxton Davidson (20) takes in batting practice prior to a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies Monday, June 16, 2014, in Atlanta. The Atlanta Braves have signed Davidson, the team's first-round pick in last week's draft. (AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)

#Braves Farm Report: Second look edition

Mike Foltynewicz takes the mound tonight, his second start since his demotion. He was awful in his first start, and there’s been some chatter that he may not be the hardest of workers. I’m still bullish on Folty, who one month ago today, hurled a gem against Milwaukee, allowing one run, three hits and one walk in 7-2/3 innings, with 8 strikeouts. He’ll be back.

Whether he beats teammate Manny Banuelos to Atlanta is another question. The former Yankee prospect is coming off a complete game, two-hit shutout, dropping his ERA to 2.03. He’s still got some command issues, walking 34 in 79 IP, and the Braves are going to keep him on an innings limit, so when he does get the call don’t be surprised to see him working out of the ‘pen. But he’s a safe bet for the 2016 rotation.

Mallex Smith joins Folty and Banuelos at Gwinnett tonight after tearing up Double-A: 340 BA, .418 OBP, .830 OPS, 23 SB. Peter Gammons recently quoted one scout who compared Mallex to Kenny Lofton (hopefully not the Lofton who played one season in Atlanta).

Elsewhere:

Braxton Davidson may not be a bust after all. Last year’s top draft pick has been raking at Rome, lifting his BA to .271. The power’s starting to come, too (6 HR, 11 doubles) and his eye remains sharp (48 walks). And he’s just 19.

Rome teammate Max Povse, chosen in the third round in the 2014 draft, has been a stud, with a 1.106  WHIP and 2.56 ERA. The 6’8 right-hander has struck out 50 in 59 IP. Southpaw Ricardo Sanchez, the 18-year-old acquired from the Angels, has been much better of late. Rome’s rotation just got better with the acquisition of Touki Toussaint, set to make his Braves debut.

Others of note:

Ozhaino Albies continues to rake: .322-.376-.407. Jose Peraza is flirting with .300 again, but his OBP remains too low (.327).

Peraza_la0ncaid_3q4hltas

#Braves Farm Report: Speed to burn

For years we’ve been clamoring for the Braves to add speed. Since Rafael Furcal stole 46 bases in 2005 only three Bravos have stolen more than 20 bases: Michael Bourn (22 in 2011; 42 in ’12), Jay Hey (21 in ’12, 20 in ’14) and Melvin Jr. (20 in ’14).

This year’s team is equally plodding, with only Cameron Maybin on pace to steal 20 or more. But that should soon change.

Three of the Braves’ top prospects are on pace to steal well above 50 bases this year: SS Ozhaino Albies (19 SB, 6 CS at Rome), 2B Jose Peraza (14 SB, 1 CS at Gwinnett) and CF Mallex Smith (16 SB, 2 CS at Mississippi).

They all have room to develop: Peraza has only 9 walks and a .334 OBP while Smith has 32 Ks in 38 games (but a .396 OBP). Albies, meanwhile, is only 18 but his plate discipline (17 BB, 26 Ks) suggests he may ready for the bigs before he can legally drink.

It wouldn’t be surprising if one of them is dealt for a power bat, the organization’s biggest need. Rio Ruiz has 0 homers and a .165 BA while Braxton Davidson (.370 slugging) remains a work in progress. Telling, then, that his four homers in 2015 are tied for most in the organization.

 

 

braveslose

Hard to find silver linings for #Braves

Their top two starters are struggling. The bullpen is imploding. And A.J. Pierzynski isn’t going to hit .400 all season long.

It gets worse. Folty is the only one of the organization’s top prospects pitching worth a damn. Matt Wisler got lit up again tonight and now has a 6.75 ERA. Manny Banuelos has a 4.43 ERA and is averaging a walk every two innings.

At Mississippi, Tyrell Jenkins has a 2.33 ERA but is not missing many bats, with 8 strikeouts and 9 walks in 19-1/3 IP. Lucas Sims, repeating at High-A, continues to regress; his ERA nears 9.00 and his WHIP, 2.00.

The hitting prospects aren’t faring much better. Jose Peraza is hitting .274 with 5 steals but is getting on base just 32 percent of the time. Rio Ruiz has just one extra base hit in his last 14 games and is hitting .224 overall with a .286 slugging percentage. Mississippi teammate Mallex Smith is batting .322 with 6 steals but needs to improve on a .344 OBP.

It’s early, at least. That’s about the best thing you can say about 2015 thus far.

folty

A line score worth savoring

Gwinnett Braves
Player IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
Mike Foltynewicz (L, 0-2) 8.0 3 1 1 1 9 0 1.62
Totals 8.0 3 1 1 1 9 0 3.09

The Braves would do well to keep Folty in Gwinnett a while longer, let him string some quality starts together. But this is a very promising sign.

Evan Gattis, meanwhile, has 2 extra base hits and 17 strikeouts in 42 ABs with Houston. Something tells me we’ll be talking about this trade 20 years from now.

mallex

Down on the farm

Mallex Smith, the speedy CF prospect acquired in the Justin Upton trade, is having no problems adjusting to Double-A pitching. batting .361 with 6 steals and a .400 OBP. The idea of Smith and Peraza atop the Braves line-up is a tantalizing one, though Jose is off to a bit of a slow start, however, hitting .195 with 1 SB, Teammate Eury Perez has a .395 OBP and 7 SB. Not sure why management seemed to cool on him during Spring Training.

Folty and Banuelos have identical 2.08 ERAs and are averaging more than a strikeout and nearly a walk per inning. Until they demonstrate better command the Braves are wise to keep them at Gwinnett. Matt Wisler, meanwhile, had a terrific debut but was bombed in his second start. Tyrell Jenkins, pitching for Mississippi, has a 2.35 ERA but has struck out only 1 and allowed 8 hits in 7-2/3 IP.

Rio Ruiz, playing 3B for the M-Braves, is hitting .286 with a .375 OBP. Teammate Matt Lipka, no longer considered among the organization’s top prospects, is raking thus far: .393-.438-.536. Jason Hursh, another of the previous regime’s questionable top picks, is fooling no one, logging only 5 IP in two starts, walking 5 and yielding 5 runs. The more highly regarded Lucas Sims, pitching for the High-A Carolina Mudcats, has also struggled through two starts.

Speaking of struggling first round picks, last year’s No. 1 selection, Braxton Davidson, playing for the Rome Braves, has picked up where he left off in 2014, which is not good. He has 2 hits through 8 games, though he did hit his first professional homer. About the only thing he’s shown a capability for so far is drawing walks.

Braves 2.016

No team has assembled more young  talent at the big league level than the Bravos, but a variety of missteps — including some questionable draft picks — has left the farm system bereft of prospects.

They have some useful parts, but only two potential difference-makers. Three, if Christian Bethancourt learns how to hit, and there’s promising signs on that front. (We’re not counting Alex Wood, since he’s already in the majors.)

Lucas Sims seems to have reversed the trend of lamentable first-round draft picks, developing as you’d expect from an elite prospect. Sims, who touches 97 MPH with his fastball,  may not be there yet, but he’s improved across the board this season for the Rome Braves, averaging 10 strikeouts, 3 walks and 6 hits  per 9 IP (down from 8.7 a year ago at Danville). The Brookwood High grad has yielded only 2 HR in 67 innings.

On offense, the cupboard is bare. Real bare. But the Braves should have a dynamic replacement for Uggla in 2016 when Fan’s contract finally expires. In just 70 games, Jose Peraza has stolen more bases (38) than anyone in the majors. And he’s been caught just 7 times. His .348 OBP isn’t great, but the swtich-hitting Venezuelan is learning to be more selective at the plate, drawing as many walks this season as he had during the previous two combined. He appears to be the player the Braves thought they were getting when they selected Matt Lipka with their first in the 2010 draft.

Sims and Peraza, both 19, are teammates at Rome and figure to move up concurrently.

Where’s Randall Delgado?

He’s at Reno, pitching horribly.

Randall has 0 wins and a 9.09 ERA in 8 starts with a 1.933 WHIP. As for the other prospects shipped to Arizona:

*Zeke Spruill has struggled since his promotion from Double-A Mobile, striking out only 6 in 18 IP.

*Don’t expect Nick Ahmed to get promoted any time soon — he’s hitting .162 with 1 XBH in 111 AB’s at Mobile.

*Brandon Drury is raking at Single-A South Bend but the third baseman is a marginal prospect at best.

Randall surprises me. He had his moments last season but those may have been the highlights of a briefer than expected major league career.

Who replaces Avilan?

Losing Luis hurts. But his injury doesn’t appear as bad as it looked — just a left hamstring strain, according to the great Jerome Jurenovich, though he’ll be re-examined tomorrow.

Even the bad news is good for these Braves.

Still, Avilan is likely to miss a month, at best.

Possible replacements:

  • If he was on the 40-man roster, Ryan Butcher would be the most likely call-up. The 26-year-old lefty, formerly of the Cubs and Nats organizations, is off to a rousing start at Gwinnett, striking out 10 in 5-2/3 IP. Butcher had a 1.31 ERA last year at Mississippi, striking out 50 and allowing just 24 hits in 41-1/2 IP.
  • Wirfrin Obispo, or Wirf, as I like to call him, made a big impression on the Braves hierarchy this spring and has dominated at Gwinnett, albeit with spotty control (9K, 6 BB, 2HA, 6-2/3 IP). Like Butcher, the hard-throwing right-hander, who pitched in Double-A last season with the Reds after five years in Japan, is not on the 40-man roster.
  • Righty David Carpenter –who allowed 18 runs in 30-1/3 IP with Houston and Toronto last year — is, although a shaky spring and unimpressive start at Gwinnett (11 HA in 9-/13 IP) may put the 27-year-old’s roster spot in jeopardy.
  • If Avilan’s injury is more serious than first diagnosed, J.R. Graham might get the call. The Mississipi righty gave up just one run in 6 IP last night and was clocked consistently in the upper-90s. But I doubt the Braves want to interrupt his development for a short-term fix. Then again, this organization isn’t afraid to promote guys ahead of schedule (i.e. Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal), and Graham is on the 40-man.
  • Alex Wood is not on the 40-man, either, but his spring performance puts him on the radar. The UGA alum is the only lefty besides Butcher on this list and has dazzled at Mississippi, striking out 13 and walking just two in 9 IP.

And I haven’t forgotten JV, though it’s doubtful he’ll be ready before Avilan.

Teheran, Delgado inspiring little confidence

June, when Brandon Beachy is expected to return to full health, may not come fast enough for the Braves, who are counting on prospects Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran to fill the 5th spot in the rotation.

I’ve been high on Delgado but was a little troubled by his mediocre performance after being demoted to Gwinnett. Teheran was wildly erratic in Triple-A, though he finished strong.

Unfortunately, both are struggling in winter ball.

White Bear

Evan Gattis rarely comes up in any discussion of what to do if/when Brian McCann leaves the organization but maybe he should. He mashes wherever he goes, and while he’s got some work to do defensively B-Mac isn’t exactly Benito Santiago. But because he’s 26, most dismiss him as a prospect. Usually, they’d be right, but Gattis is a particular case.

First, he’s not 25, at least not in baseball years. He missed out on 4 years of development, blowing his scholarship at Texas A&M. After a year at Oklahoma Junior College, Gattis dropped out again. Then, following three years on the road, Gattis managed to land at a Texas college I’ve never heard of before being drafted by the Braves (which, considering his background, speaks of his talent).

You could make the argument, and you would be right, that Gattis is dominating more seasoned competition. They may be younger, but most have more minor league experience and/or hail from programs a tad more prestigious than Texas Permian-Basin.

Julio Teheran returning to form?

The Braves top prospect isn’t all the way back, but there’s signs of progress. On Aug. 14 he pitched 8 dazzling innings, striking out nine and allowing just one run. He repeated those numbers Saturday night, though in his previous start he didn’t make it out of the third, allowing 7 runs. Don’t be surprised if he’s in the parent club’s rotation next April.

J.R. Graham may not be far behind. The 2011 4th round draft pick, whose fastball has been clocked as high as 100 MPH, has put together an impressive season: 12 wins, 2.71 ERA, 1.049 WHIP. And he’s pitched even better since his promotion to Mississippi, raising his K/9 IP from 6.0 to 8.5 and lowering his H/9 IP from 7.7 to 6.5 in 8 starts. At 6’0 and 185 pounds he doesn’t have the build of your typical power pitcher but otherwise there’s little separating him from the game’s best mound prospects.

One more reason not to trade Randall Delgado, and the deal I would offer

Randall Delgado may well be the Braves’ best pitching prospect.

Julio Teheran failed to pitch past the 4th inning for the 6th time this season, allowing six runs and eight hits in 3-1/3 IP, according to DOB. His ERA now stands at 5.34, nearly 3 runs higher than in 2011, at the same level. His strikeouts are appreciably down and his WHIP has neared 1.500. Pinto is either hurt or he’s hit a wall.

Delgado projects as a  third starter, though I think he’ll become a solid #2. I won’t argue that he’s an ace, but right now he’s the best we’ve got. An inflexible budget that will soon pale in comparison to its rivals — thanks to Time Warner trading the team’s broadcasting rights for a bag of peanuts — demands young starters like that.

If I was FW, I’d offer Milwaukee Tommy Hanson, under team control through 2015, and Sean Gilmartin (Minor  lite) for Greinke. I’d throw in a marginal prospect if need be.

Hanson will be arbitration eligible next year and, despite his recent struggles, he’s due a big raise. That money could go be used to re-sign Greinke, who reportedly wants to play here. Perhaps I’m giving up on Tommy too soon but he seems to take a step back each season. If that trend continues the Braves will be stuck with another JJ, likely to be non-tendered.

A rotation of Greinke, Huddy, Sheets, Minor and Delgado is a little thin; the Brewers would probably throw in Randy Wolf and pay his remaining salary. He’s sucked this year but has pitched better of late and would at least provide a fallback with a decent resume.

By the way, Greinke was stellar tonight, allowing only three baserunners and one run in 7 IP.

Filling the game-less days

Listened to a Baseball Prospectus podcast yesterday, and it was right good. BP is known for sabermetrics, I guess, but the hosts, Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks, offered a nice blend of stats and older school viewpoints, and even a little humor. They sound like they actually like to get out and see players, you know, play baseball.

Of most interest here, they discussed Teheran and Bethancourt. On Julio, Parks said he still views him as an elite prospect. He believes Teheran’s problems this year are typical of a young pitcher refining his arsenal of pitches and adjusting to high-level hitters. He noted that Teheran is only 21, the same age as many highly regarded prospects in the lower minors.

Parks said that while Teheran might not be a sure-fire future ace, he is still “a monster,” and likely to become a very good No. 2 or No. 3 starter. Nothing wrong with that. He added that he senses the Braves are unlikely to deal him, even for a No. 1 starter-type.

As for Bethancourt, Parks and Goldstein marveled at his arm and overall defensive skills. Offensively, it’s a different story. He’s hitting just .254 with no homers and a .278 OBP at AA Mississippi. Neither of the BP podcasters sounded particularly optimistic about Bethancourt’s future with the stick. He’s not even 21, though.

Sounds like his defense is without peer among minor league catchers. He’s a very different player from McCann, in other words. Yadier Molina wasn’t much of a hitter in his first couple seasons, and he’s improved dramatically. Maybe Bethancourt can do likewise.

Tomorrow’s prospect today

Baseball America reports on a 17-year-old southpaw off to a promising start in the minors:

• Luis Merejo, lhp, Braves: When we reviewed Atlanta’s 2011 international signings(subscription required), we tabbed Merejo as the sleeper of the group. Signed for $65,000 last October, Merejo earned an aggressive assignment to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and has not disappointed. Through four outings, Merejo has a 2.25 ERA and a stellar 25-1 K-BB mark in 20 innings. He’s only 6 feet, 175 pounds, but both his feel for pitching and his stuff are advanced for a 17-year-old. Merejo commands a fastball that sits in the low-90s and backs it up with two potentially above-average secondary pitches in his curveball and changeup. Merejo may not be a widely-known prospect yet, but that could change very, very soon.

Zack Greinke to the Braves?

Bowman writes that a trade for Milwaukee’s ace is a very real possibility, with the Braves then signing Greinke, whose agent is NOT Scott Boras) long-term.

There’s many reasons to endorse a Greinke trade. He’ll be 29 on Opening Day. He’s topped 200 innings three times and is on pace to do so again. The former Royal has 9 wins and a 2.82 ERA this year and is averaging a strikeout per inning with only 22 walks.

It’ll cost something approaching the $112.5 million deal signed by Matt Cain. So be it. Aces don’t come cheap and the Braves need one, this season and beyond.

Even if it takes Julio Teheran to get one.

Braves pursuing top Cuban prospect

This qualifies as a pleasant surprise — according to Buster Olney, the Braves are making a serious push to land Cuban uber-prospect Jorge Soler, a 19-year-old right-handed hitting slugger who projects as a corner outfielder with big power and plus defensive skills.

The second round of bids is due this weekend, with the price tag expected to top $25 million.

Don’t get your hopes up, however — the Yanks, Cubs and Dodgers are said to be the other finalists, along with the Braves. On the other hand, who would’ve thought the Reds and A’s would land Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes.