Rants Raves and Writin’

Jeff’s Top Braves Prospects (30-21)

30. Jefrey Ramos – Ramos is one of the few guys signed on July 2nd, 2016 still with the Braves. He has crazy raw power and showed it hitting 6 homers in Gulf Coast League play before being promoted to Danville where he spent most of his time in the cleanup role, but only hit one home run there and seemed to tire down the stretch. He was also only 18 in the Appy League, he may start there again this year, but I could see him ending up in Rome with a strong showing in Spring. He hit .323/.366/.532 in his first 41 games, so we’ll see if he can duplicate that next year with another full offseason. He is strictly a left fielder, but that is just fine if he can continue to crank out extra base hits.

 

29. Ricardo Sanchez – Will 2018 be the year Ricardo finally breaks out? He was solid as a 20 year old in the pitcher friendly Florida State League last year, and it will be interesting to see if the team pushes him to Double A or lets him repeat the level to try and improve on things. His K-rate ticked up from ’16 to ’17 while his walk rate stayed roughly the same. The ground ball % went up an impressive 8%, while his strand rate and HR/FB ratio stayed the same. While he has an impressive curve ball, he always seems to struggle to get through the lineup a 3rd time. Obviously, 21 is way too early to give up on a promising starting pitching prospect, 2018 could be a huge year one way or another for the young Venezuelan.

 

28. Braulio Vasquez – Signed as a smallish glove-first, speedy shortstop on July 2nd, 2016, Braulio has bulked up since then and looks poised to have a breakout season in 2018. 40 stolen base potential with expanding gap power, he should be one to keep an eye on this year. With the loss of so many of his 2016 international classmates I could see him making the jump to Rome to start out at 19.

 

27. Travis Demeritte – I was as high as anyone on Demeritte despite the ever present high K-rate. He started out well, but seemed to fade when the team shifted him off his natural 2B to 3B. He is a plus-plus fielder at second and that skill alone could carry him to the bigs as a utility guy. The question is will he be Jack Wilson or Dan Uggla. If he can start putting bat on ball he’ll make me look stupid for having him so low. (He had a stellar final month after moving back to 2B)

 

26. Dustin Peterson – A guy who looked like he might challenge for a spot as Atlanta’s 4th outfielder last spring, faced the cruel wrath of the baseball gods when an errant pitch broke his hamate bone in the middle of Spring Training and sidelined him until the middle of May. He struggled at Gwinnett last year and his already limited power was completely sapped. I like Dustin and could see him making the bigs one day, but as a guy limited to the corner outfield with a career high of 12 homers he’s not bound for much more than a bench role.

 

25. Lucas Herbert – The best defensive catcher in the system by a lot. Herbert did exactly what you’d want to see in his second tour at Rome in 2017. There’s never been any question about the glove, next year will be interesting as I think he’ll start at Florida and have a shot to move quickly if he shows he can continue to hold his own against more advanced pitching.

 

24. Drew Lugbauer – Slugbauer! An 11th-round draft pick who went on to hit 13 homeruns in 60 games and is solid enough as a backstop to let his hit tool/power carry him to the big leagues. Another guy I haven’t seen much in person, so I’ll just go with – big man carries big stick.

 

23. Huascar Ynoa – Prospecting is all about projections, guessing, hoping and wishing. I’ve never caught Ynoa pitch, just watched video clips, but his numbers show enough that he seems to progressing well for a young guy and he has the stuff/ build to carry on as a starter. Time will tell, as this is as guessy of a guess as there is on this list.

 

22. A.J. Minter – I think most of you have gotten to see why he is on this list by now. If not go watch some highlights and come back to read about #21

 

21. Tucker Davidson – The first time I saw Tucker was in extended spring training in 2016. He came on in relief of Ian Anderson and was throwing harder than the first rounder. One of the coaches mentioned he had 4 pitches and seemed impressed with the lefty. He started last year in the Rome bullpen, then took off as a starter. I was excited about seeing what he could do in 2018 with a full season as a starter then JJ Cooper went on Road 2 Atlanta and got me even more hyped when he put them in the same tier as Bryse and Wentz. Look out for Tuck Tuck y’all.

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My center fielder.

For two years we’ve heard the Andruw Jones comparisons. Writers and fans alike have compared Ronald Acuña to the greatest center fielder of all time – former Atlanta Brave, Andruw Jones.

The Andruw comparisons all started with Randy Ingle and Chipper Jones. Randy Ingle, up until recently, had been the manager for the Rome Braves since 2006. The man has over 30 years of experience in minor league ball (and… fun fact – Randy Ingle holds the record for highest career BA at Appalachian State University) so I think he’s qualified to make such a comparison. Chipper Jones is not only a Hall of Famer, but he played with Andruw Jones himself for a decade, so he is also qualified to make such a comparison.

Since Chipper and Randy made the comparison two years ago, so far (knock on wood) their comparisons look pretty darn good. Ronald Acuña is flying through the minor league system in the same fashion as Andruw Jones did, they have freakishly similar numbers, they have virtually the same swing, they both hit for power, and scouts say they have the same glove.

So, would you actually put “Andruw Jones 2.0” anywhere but center field? Please. I don’t think so.

Keep in mind, Andruw played right field when he was first called up to the Major Leagues. Unless something weird happens with Ender Inciarte, Ronald Acuña will do the same, making his baseball journey even more freakishly similar to the man he’s compared to.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Ender Inciarte is a 27-year-old Gold Glove center fielder who can rake. In my opinion (and I don’t care that he doesn’t hit for power) he’s top 3 best all-around center fielders in baseball. But here’s the crazy thing – If the scouting reports end up being correct, if Ronald Acuña really is the next Andruw Jones (as crazy as that may sound), then Ronald Acuña is going to be better than Ender Inciarte. It’s that simple.

Last winter the Atlanta Braves extended Ender Inciarte to a 5-year $30.5MM deal. In my opinion, this is the best thing John Coppolella did during his time in Atlanta. The Braves are sitting on a gold mine with Ender Inciarte.

Now, I know what you’re thinking… “So, Josh… you’re saying the Braves should trade Ender Inciarte?” Not really. Plus, I don’t think the Braves have plans to. Here’s my two cents. I think the Atlanta Braves keep Ender Inciarte, eventually move him back to right field in 2019 and move Acuña to center. Ender has a cannon, and in 2015 he won a Fielding Bible Award playing primarily right field for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In short – The Braves call up Ronnie this spring, put him in LF and then move him to center late in games and/or starts here and there in the event Ender struggles at the plate. At first, it will appear that the Braves are simply giving Ender a night off, but bigger things are going to happen. Like Ronnie playing center field. For years to come. Put that in your pipeline and smoke it.

If I’m completely wrong and the Atlanta Braves stick Acuña in right field for years to come, it’s certainly not the end of the world. Braves fans will basically be watching two Gold Glove center fielders playing next to each other. I can imagine much worse things to watch.

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It’s Time for the Big Reveal; Dan’s 2018 IBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot

With the BBWAA and Hall of Fame announcement coming Wednesday, as well as the IBWAA’s, I thought it a good time to share my Hall of Fame ballot.

When I started writing my opinions and publishing them for the world to see, I never thought it would take me to where I am today. After about a year, though, I discovered the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA). It didn’t take long for me to become a lifetime member. We aren’t affiliated with the BBWAA, the guys and gals who actually have a counting vote for the Hall of Fame itself, but we still cast votes for it and end-of-the-year individual awards. This will be my third time voting with the IBWAA, and I’m sharing my ballot here, with you 80-Grade Knuckleheads.

First, I need to give a little background. You won’t see Vlad Guerrero or Edgar Martinez on my list. These gentlemen were voted in on last year’s ballot for the IBWAA. Because we aren’t associated with the BBWAA and the Hall of Fame, our ballots differ. However, our votes and selections are very similar.

The IBWAA isn’t some second rate organization either. Many of the industry’s top writers are members of the IBWAA. Writers like Jim Bowden, Jim Caple, Jerry Crasnick, Jon Heyman, Brian Kenny, Grant McAuley, Ken Rosenthal, and many others. So, even though the Hall of Fame doesn’t acknowledge the IBWAA, we still have some big names on the roster.

Oh, I almost forgot, last year, the IBWAA voted to expand selections from 10 to 15.

Now, on with the selections.

This year was pretty easy for the first 9 or 10 choices. The last 4 or 5, however, were a little bit more difficult for me, personally. Of course, with the option of voting for 15 players, I displayed a little bias. The first three names checked on my list were Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, and Fred McGriff. As Braves fans, we all know the reasons why these three should be allowed admission in the Hall.

The next four off the list were Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Billy Wagner, and Larry Walker. Thome and Walker don’t really need a disclaimer either. Vizquel was one of the most dominate defenders in his time, and for a middle infielder, he could hit a little bit. Vizquel’s overall WAR for his career is 45.3 in 24 seasons. His dWAR (28.4) nearly matches his oWAR (32.2). Vizquel also had (still has) probably the fastest hands I’ve ever seen.

Next, I have Mike Mussina, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, and Gary Sheffield. Sheffield and Rolen are probably the stretches in this group of four. Sheffield’s offensive output is not the problem, though. His 79.9 oWAR is proof of that; what is an issue, is his defense. A dWAR of a -28.6 kind of hurts him. But, if the writers can elect guys like Ozzie Smith, who’s defense practically got him in, then why not the heavy hitters who’s claim to stardom was their offense?

Now, for the final four names. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Trevor Hoffman, and Jeff Kent. Again, I shouldn’t have to really go into the first three names. However, Kent probably warrants some explanation.

Kent, aside from having an MVP, 4 Silver Sluggers, and 5 All-Star appearances, was a pretty good second basemen. He falls at number 20 on the JAWS scale. In overall WAR, Kent has a 55.2 and good for 19th among second basemen. Above him, in the HOF, are Joe Gordon (18), Jackie Robinson (17), and Craig Biggio (16). Robinson Cano and Chase Utley are still active, but rank 13 and 15, respectively. Above those guys, are Roberto Alomar and Ryne Sandberg, both Hall of Famers.

Kent is in the top 20 best second basemen ever, and even guy big time players below like Bobby Doerr, Nellie Fox, and Bill Mazeroski fall well below that magical JAWS line.

So, his WAR is pretty good, at least good enough to be the 20th best in baseball history for second basemen. Lets look at some other numbers though that might help Kent’s case.

Kent is 13th among ALL second basemen in runs scored, 12th in hits, 4th in doubles, 3rd in RBI, 5th in OPS, and 1st – among any second basemen to play the game, including Rogers Hornsby – in home runs; he had 377. Hornsby had 301. Kent also sustained a .290 career batting average. His biggest knock offensively, second (only to Biggio) in career strikeouts with 1522.

So, there you have it. My 2018 IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot.

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Prospect rankings aren’t Gospel.

Ranking baseball prospects is fun. I’ve done it. Our podcast even had some Braves prospects experts on this past week to wax philosophic about numerous prospects in the Atlanta Braves system. So this isn’t meant to be a hit piece on anyone who ranks baseball prospects.

Ranking prospects is great. For one, it’s a way to get us baseball nerds through the cold off-season. It’s also a fun way to educate ourselves about the future of our beloved sport, and raise our hopes for our favorite team’s future. As we all know, baseball has a farm system like no other sport, which lends itself to pretty honest process (if you’re good, you advance, if you’re not, you don’t), and it’s a blast to follow. A player gets drafted or signed, they make their way up through the system in hopes of one day playing in an MLB stadium in front of tens of thousands (unless you play for the Marlins). So, ranking that talent and making predictions on that talent is great.

Not only is ranking prospects a grand old time, but lists like the Baseball America top-100 end up being fairly accurate. Some of the game’s greats were top prospects at some point along their respective journeys. Harper, Trout, Griffey, Jr., just to name a few.

According to Andy Harris, of Outfield Fly Rule, players in Baseball America’s top-10 have an MLB success rate of around 90%. Players ranking from 90-100 come in at around a 35% MLB success rate. Andy says that the record is generally better for ranked position players versus pitchers (because of injury risks). Andy goes on to say that of those #1-10 ranked prospects, only 35% end up being elite performers. In short – On any given year, that Baseball America top-10 prospects list you’re looking at only has a few potential stars.

It’s important to remember that prospect rankings are not always the GOSPEL. One of the best things about our sport is that it can be unpredictable. Not only is the game itself unpredictable, but the talent can be, too. Case and point – Ronald Acuna signed for $100,000 in 2014 and is now heralded as the best prospect in the game, and rightfully so.

Sure, Baseball America and guys like Keith Law have certainly gotten it right over the years. But it’s also important to remember that there have been many great ballplayers who were never ranked. Some even had Hall of Fame caliber careers – Jim Edmonds, Jose Altuve, Jeff Kent, Mariano Rivera, Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, Robinson Cano, Josh Donaldson, Daniel Murphy and James Shields were never top-100 prospects according to Baseball America, just to name a few.

The opposite of this is also true. Especially if you, like me, grew up collecting baseball cards. How many guys with “rated rookie” or “future star” on their baseball cards ended up being completely forgotten about? Baseball’s weird.

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Make hay while the sun shines.

The Braves should sign Mike Foltynewicz to a long term contract.

Mike Foltynewicz.

If you’re a Braves fan, the name alone probably brings an opinion to your mind. Bust. Future. Superstar. Wild. Emotional. Overrated. Underrated.

The 26-year old pitcher the Atlanta Braves acquired from the Houston Astros in 2015 for Evan Gattis and James Hoyt is entering a crucial year for his career. In his past 2 years at the Major League level, Folty has been the epitome of unpredictable. His splits vary from month to month, sometimes lefties have dominated him, sometimes he’s owned them. Then suddenly right hand hitters come out of nowhere to be back on top of his stuff. In one month, he goes from being one of the best pitchers in baseball and nearly completing a no-hitter, to forgetting how to throw baseballs the very next month.

Ridiculed as being “too emotional,” Foltynewicz, is a fiery 6’4” 220 lb. righty that brings the heat. He often sits in the upper 90’s well into the sixth or seventh inning, when he lasts that long. His numbers follow his performance pretty accurately, sporadic to say the least. Since joining the Major League rotation, he has seen a dramatic increase in his Homerun/Flyball rate, he’s been caught accidently tipping pitches, and at times he seems to forget how to pitch in certain counts.  

All of that being said, I still think the Braves should sign him to a minimum of a 5 year, $37 million dollar deal.

Wait. What?

Well my papa used to tell me, “Boy, you make hay while the sun shines.”

For those of you who have never baled any hay in the south, you cut it when you don’t expect rain… often even if  it’s not completely ripe and 100% ready to be cut. Because perfect hay is worthless if you can’t get it up off the ground without it getting wet. If it rains on hay, you have to ted it all back out (using a machine to re-scatter it), wait on it to dry in the sun, rake it again, and then bale it. Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate and you can lose the whole crop because of too much rain.

Baseball contracts for mid-market teams are like baling hay. You make hay while the sun shines. Meaning, if you’re a mid-market team, like the Atlanta Braves, who really can’t compete with the ‘big boys’ on huge salaries and contracts, then you have to find a way to gamble on the hay while the weather is nice. Right now, the weather on Mike Foltynewicz is really nice.

The Braves currently have Folty under team control for 4 more years. This is his first year entering arbitration and he is going to get either $2.2 or $2.3 million. This sounds pretty cheap, but when you look at how arbitration figures scale it gets a bit more complicated. $2.2 million for one year certainly isn’t a bad deal, but when you realize someone like Arodys Vizcaino received roughly $850,000 for his first year you realize that $2.2 million for a first year arbitration guy is not cheap.

Arbitration scaling is a bit wonky to say the least, but basically each year it scales up based on performance, league comparisons, and which year of arbitration you are in. Josh Donaldson just received $23M for his final year of arbitration from the Blue Jays. You can see, simply having team control doesn’t automatically mean a cheap contract.  

But why should the Braves sign Folty to a 5-year deal? Julio Teheran may have the answer.

Julio Teheran is what mid-market teams dream of. It’s not that he’s the best pitcher ever; I would even argue he’s probably not a #1 starter on most teams – more of a 2 or 3 sort of guy. But if there is one thing Frank Wren did right for the Atlanta Braves, it was signing Julio Teheran to a 6-year, $32.4 million dollar deal back in 2014. That contract is a gold mine (regardless of his divisive 2017 numbers).

Much like Ender Inciarte’s deal, that John Coppolella negotiated, buying out a young player’s arbitration and giving them a serious deal with your team can be brilliant. Especially for mid-market teams. When Frank Wren locked up Julio Teheran long-term, he had completed just one year of pitching for the Atlanta Braves. One year. While his year entering arbitration had been a bit more consistent than Folty’s was, it’s also important to remember that he had a serious baseball staff behind him that made the playoffs. He was backed by arguably the best modern day defensive shortstop in Andrelton Simmons, had Justin Upton and Evan Gattis smashing homeruns, and Craig Kimbrel closing it down.

If you put Folty in front of the same kind of staff that Julio had in 2013, I think you’d see quite an uptick in his numbers. Not to mention the fact that at times last year, Mike was the closest thing to a number 1 starter the Atlanta Braves had, and often got matched up that way. Mike is a big guy that has never had serious injury concerns. He did have a fluke blood clot steal some weight and time from his first season, but as far as the arm is concerned he’s had no real issues. He’s built big, and he threw 150+ innings last year and probably could have thrown more had his control been a bit better and had Manager Brian Snitker been a bit slower with the hook. He’s a power pitcher who is going to eat innings, a lot of them.

As a mid-market team, the Atlanta Braves have to make gambles to increase the value of their assets. Julio Teheran will be paid $8 million to pitch for the Braves in 2018.  On the open market, even if evaluated as a #2 or #3 starter, it is quite easy to imagine him getting $15M+ per year (probably higher). That is a lot of value in a long-term contract that the Braves can either happily sit on and be content to pay someone much under what they are worth, or they can trade and reap quite a bountiful harvest in prospects and other players based on his value. Either way, for the Atlanta Braves, Julio Teheran is a gold mine.

This is why the Braves should lock up Mike Foltynewicz, yesterday. And there is reason to speculate this may be just what they’re doing.  When the Braves and Folty filed for arbitration literally $100K apart, many Braves fans rolled their eyes. However, this feels fishy. It feels like both parties may have simply said “just file a number while we get a bigger deal worked out.”

If the Braves paid Folty a front-loaded deal, meaning the more expensive years were on the front side of the contract, I think the Braves could create another Julio-type gold mine. Five years for $37 Million is roughly $7.4M a year. This sounds expensive compared to the $2.3M he could make this year, but if you balance it all out and Foltynewicz hits as a true #2 or #3 innings eater, you have struck gold. On top of this, if the Braves front-load the contract so they pay him the most now, while they have some payroll flexibility, it allows them to absorb the cost and manage the risk of the contract in years to come. 

If you look at the state of contracts in MLB in the last 5 years, you will see what I mean. In 2012, the average MLB salary was $3.21Million; in 2017, $4.47 Million. Those numbers don’t sound too far apart, but when you look at it through another lens that is an increase across the board of nearly 72% (stats from Statista). That is insane. Next offseason, arguably the best class of free agents to ever hit the open market will do so, and there is little doubt that average salary numbers are going to continue to skyrocket. If I told you that I could sign a player for about 25% over his current value for the next 5 years that sounds silly, but if I then explained that across the board salaries were going to go up 75% so that at a minimum you were looking at a 50% savings by the end of the contract, I think you would sign up in a heartbeat and that’s the basis of my argument.

Of course the fear is, what if Foltynewicz is a bust? The Atlanta Braves paid R.A. Dickey $7.5M last year at age 42 to pitch for them and be mediocre at best. They paid Bartolo Colon $12M at 43 years old to be complete trash for them. I would much rather see a guy like Folty working through bumps with a chance to build value while eating innings, than guys from a nursing home trying to pad their retirement fund with zero chance of them creating future value.  

The other thing about Folty is this – his stuff is still really good.  He is not a very cerebral pitcher. He’s not going to out-think too many guys, he’s not Greg Maddux and he’s not going to set you up in the first because he’s got a plan of attack for you in the seventh. But his fastball is legit. Let’s say he bombs out as a starter. A guy that can throw 98 in the 8th on his 106th pitch can easily touch 100 if you move him to the bullpen to throw 20 pitches. Not to mention a bullpen role would allow him to narrow his pitches to a smaller mix, and only face hitters one time. (Mike’s stats currently seriously suffer his second and third time through the lineup).  

If Folty busts out and is forced into the pen, the contract still isn’t trash (especially if you front load it). If he develops into a top-tier reliever, you might still have a golden contract; if a mid-level reliever, he might be slightly overpaid, but at the rate of inflation in Major League contracts, even that is doubtful. If he is a total bust, then sure the contract stings, but at the end of the day it’s $37M over 5 years. This isn’t the biggest financial hit this team would have taken by a longshot (see Melvin Upton, Dan Uggla, Matt Kemp, etc).

For mid-market teams, you have to take gambles to make up the gap in money. The Braves have made some really smart financial gambles over the years, like Teheran, Freeman, and Inciarte. I think Mike Foltynewicz should be another one. He’s not perfectly ripened, he’s still a little green in places standing in the field, and there is a risk he won’t be quite as good as the hay down the street, but sometimes you have to mow the hay and bale it while it isn’t raining before it’s perfectly mature. I don’t know if Foltynewicz should be in the Braves rotation 3 years from now, or even in their bullpen, or even on the team, but what I do know is that if you make hay while the sun shines you’re more likely to feed the cows come winter. And if the Braves sign Folty to a long-term deal, they’re more likely to enjoy the value that contract creates than to regret the minimal risk associated with it.

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Bill James has lost his damn mind.

This past week it was brought to my attention, by my replacement-level podcast co-host Ken Hendrix, that Bill James said Johnny Damon was more Hall of Fame worthy than Andruw Jones. Upon hearing this, I laughed and thought that my redneck co-host was just being silly.

I was terrified to learn, after doing some quick searching on James’ Twitter timeline, that what Ken was telling me was the God’s honest truth.

I’ve never been completely blown away by Bill James, but I have always respected the man for his sabermetric research. James is very much the modern predecessor to websites like FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, and he’s done so much for the game that we all know and love. Bill James’ mantra is simple: Gather as much data as possible and then analyze it in a clear and accurate way to make the best possible decision.

How then can a man who preaches this way of thinking honestly believe that Johnny Damon is more Hall of Fame worthy than Andruw Jones? How can such a respected man be so obtuse?

Listen, I know I’m a homer. As much as I’d like to think that I can look at Andruw Jones’ career completely objectively, I cannot, but what in the actual hell is Bill James talking about?

Then, there’s more…

Willie Mays has the second-best DEF grade by a center fielder with 170.1. Andruw Jones has the best with a 281.3. You didn’t read that wrong, Andruw grades 111.2 points higher than Willie Mays. It’s not rocket science – Andruw Jones was the best defensive center fielder of all time and it’s not even close.

How in the hell can having the best DEF grade of any center fielder in baseball history (by over 100 points) not garner any Hall of Fame support for Andruw Jones? Either Bill James isn’t as intelligent as we thought he was, or someone has hacked Bill James’ Twitter account. If you’ll notice, his account isn’t verified, so the later is a possibility.

I get it. Defensive metrics can be opaque. I preach this all the time on our replacement-level podcast, but if you honestly think that Johnny Damon was a better baseball player (just because he had more extra base hits), then I just cannot take you seriously anymore. Nothing you say matters anymore.

When it comes to defensive metrics, it’s difficult to say that old school metrics aren’t as accurate as newer ones, because other than errors, there aren’t any old school defensive metrics.  This is Bill James’ biggest argument against Andruw Jones being the greatest defensive center fielder of all time, but it’s also why his argument is so flawed. If “old school” players can’t be measured as being worse than Andruw due to a lack of numbers, then they certainly can’t be measured as being better either.

At the end of the day, if Bill James wants to imply that the defensive numbers lie about Andruw Jones then everything is a farce and nothing matters. Statistically, Andruw Jones is the greatest modern center fielder and according to those same statistics, that James’ so adamantly champions, the greatest center fielder of all time.

Knowing that a guy like Bill James has such a convoluted view of Andruw Jones certainly infuriates me. But, in a weird way, it’s not completely unsurprising. Unless you watched Atlanta Braves games from 1996-2005, you truly might not be aware of Andruw’s greatness, despite his insane Hall of Fame worthy defensive metrics.

Numbers don’t tell you that Andruw Jones started running (in the correct direction) before the batter even hit the ball and numbers don’t tell you that guys never tried to stretch a single into a double because Andruw Jones had a cannon of an arm.

With Andruw Jones, you’re talking about a guy with more career home runs than Mike Piazza who was the best defensive center fielder of all time. Everyone’s got bad takes. But if you completely dismiss Andruw’s defensive metrics (WHEN YOU ARE THE GUY WHO PREACHES SUCH THINGS) then please put down the paint chips.

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The Long Dark.

It was a dark day when they came for them. The screams heard across the nation were heart wrenching. Hopes and dreams shattering in a moment. Looking back, perhaps it wasn’t as bad as it seemed, perhaps it was worse.

The colors of the fall had set in fully. The long days of summer slowly trumpeting their retreat. The summer had been challenging, as most are in the sweet plains of Georgia in recent years. The boys had fought bravely, but still were found licking their wounds from the battles that seemed to never end on those late sunsets in the brutal southern heat. The ground that had been gained over the last few years was slow and tedious, but the future seemed bright.

Then came the Fall.

It seems Fall always bring bad news. I guess it should be expected. The trimming back of the fruitfulness of the harvest. The first hints of beautiful color, sending a foreboding warning that barrenness will soon cover the land. They say hindsight is 20/20, but even now I don’t see how we could have seen it coming. You never expect those dearest to you to fall so far, so fast. When our general suddenly withdrew from battle it was a blow to the morale of all the force, and as expected weak links were quickly exposed. Optimism was rich in many, in spite of the fear that gnawed at the hearts of the faithful, while some quickly drew sabres and cast blame. Who could blame them? I certainly had no idea that the outsiders would take back so much ground so quickly.

But alas, that is how the gods operate. Fickle as they may be, always protective of their beloved and always critical of the outsiders. Fearful that someone might usurp their tedious balance of power. As quickly as they had struck down the general, they set about stripping away all of his glorious works. First one cornerstone and then the next, as they gradually unbuilt the perfectly hewn masterworks of the architect they so despised.

Needless to say, the general had opened the door for this. Otherwise, the people would have revolted against the gods. However, the gods can play in the fields of a man’s heart, so long as man gives him the open door. The general believed in few closed doors.

Following his fall, the winter came quick. Icy polar blasts dropped down from the northern reaches. Darkness swallowing up the day, hour after hour, minute after minute. Fifteen of our men would fall to the cold icy blackness. The screams from that day I’ll never forget. It was as if a child was torn from the arms of mothers, obsequious fathers watching as their babes were cast out and sent to live with other homes, never again to see the lights of the fires of home.  

The darkness was all consuming. All encompassing. It stole your very soul, it’s icy tendrils ripping away at the fortitude of the most well built of places like the violence of time etched in the walls of the pyramids. With the cornerstones of the edifice removed, the buildings cracked and crumbled and questions from the faithful turned to the obsessions of mad men. 

One brief fire illuminated the men with a momentary breath of hope. Or was it hate? Seeing men turn on the shipping out of the wounded, no matter their exorbitant costs, shown a dark light on the desperation of the camp. Survival was becoming the heartbeat, all other motivations found secondary to being free of this weight of darkness.

Seeking semblance of normalcy, some turned to the mindless pursuits of endless bartering proposals with the other tribes, some fell away to more droll calculations of remunerations, and some of the purest of heart even found their eyes wandering to the opportunities of the hurricanes of winter.

The cold was paralyzing. If you stood about thinking too long your breath froze to the strands of your mustache like the persistent leak of thick viscous oil. Stoves went out. Darkness settled. The long winter made every second of every day long and tedious. Never ending. No sun, no hope, no future. No barters were made, no whispers spread, the shadows of the taken lingering large in the empty spaces of the farm. No hope of spring.

 

33 days until pitchers and catchers report. If you’re an Atlanta Braves fan this winter sucks.

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Scratching the Yel-itch!

At this point, everyone in Braves country is hearing rumors of the Braves going after Marlins outfielder, Christian Yelich, and perhaps even their catcher, J.T. Realmuto.  While I think Realmuto and Yelich are both terrific players, I’m left with an itch that’s begging to be scratched. Call it a “Yel-itch”.

I’ve always been a big fan of Christian Yelich, and I’ve frequently thought that he has been criminally underrated. His defense is solid, his offense is on the rise, he’s shown flashes of the potential to be a 5-tool player. I even think the future could be brighter for Yelich. He is likely to increase his home run rate, his production, and, away from the prairies of Marlin’s park, improve his defense.

And yet, I’m opposed to the Braves trading for him.

Why?

Good question. There is this interesting operating philosophy in baseball that simply acquiring great players will, in turn, make a great team. Certainly, there is a measure of truth to that idea. However, I also think there has to be more to your philosophy than simply collecting great players.

We could look back through history and find, time and again, where teams that were comprised of “great” players simply didn’t win. Revisionist history would tell us that it was because some of those players perhaps were not as “great” as we originally thought, but perhaps there is more to it than that. Perhaps, the team they were on and the role they were asked to play made them less great.

Unless your team is the Cleveland Browns, I don’t believe in bad luck or sacred goat curses. However, I do believe that team chemistry is important. And by team chemistry I don’t mean clubhouse personalities and how people get along (although there is some truth to that as well).  What I mean is that a team has to be comprised of players that fit a big picture purpose for the baseball team.

For me, it was the downfall of Fredi Gonzalez as a baseball coach. Fredi seemed convinced that he could massage and manipulate lineups that put players in different positions on a weekly, and sometimes daily basis, to maximize match-ups and play to the current ‘momentum’ of the team. But baseball is a job at the end of the day, and a player needs a clear picture of the job that he’s been hired to perform.

‘I mean why don’t he just hit baseballs and play gud defense, ain’t that what every gud baseball player does’

It’s true that hitting baseballs and playing defense is the core of the game, but those terms are broad and often misleading. The truth is – it’s more complex than that. Much more complex.

Do you want your leadoff man to get on base? Is that his primary role? If so, he needs to take more pitches, be more selective, work more counts, and shorten his swing and aim for more singles. Or maybe you want a leadoff man with a higher WRC+ who has more pop and power? Unless his name is Mike Trout, you pretty much need to understand he’s going to get on base a bit less, going to strike out more, and swing away at more first pitches.

Philosophically, do you want your best hitter hitting second? He’ll get about 60 more at-bats a year if you do. Or maybe you’re a traditionalist that likes him batting 3rd, do you want him to aim for power? Swing away? Do you need to protect him in the lineup? Oh, and if so, what do you protect him with? Power? Is that still the answer in today’s strikeout heavy world of power hitters?

At the end of the day, I think the Braves have some philosophical holes to fill. Is Ender your leadoff hitter or Ozzie? What are you looking for from your #2 hole hitter? Is Acuna going to bat 2nd? And if so, how long before you get him there? So far, the Braves have always used Freddie to bat 3rd, so where is Yelich? Is he really a 4th hole hitter?

Yelich has traditionally hit 3rd for Miami, yet last year he only hit .282 with 18 home runs. I mean that certainly isn’t bad, but let’s compare that to Freeman who batted .307 and hit 28 home runs (oh, and missed 6 weeks). Is a .282/18HR guy really what you want protecting Freeman?  (Protection matters.) Do we really need another 15-20 HR guy with good defense or would we be better served with a 30+ HR guy that might lack a little defensively, or not have the greatest OBP (ie. Martinez, Duvall, etc). 

Perhaps Yelich will make up for it on defense?

Well, just as on the offensive side of things and creating a lineup, you have a defensive philosophy as well. Yelich is a terrific defender, right? Well, that’s what people keep telling me, yet in 2017, he saw a significant decline in his defense, finishing the year with -6 DRS. I’ll be the first to stand up and scream that defense runs saved isn’t the best stat ever, but it is an indicator for sure.

Yelich’s potential value is primarily built upon the idea that he will continue to get better. And he certainly may, but the biggest part of the puzzle is always cost/value. To acquire Yelich is going to be an expensive overpay. I’m the kind of guy that’s sometimes guilty of over-valuing prospects, but I’m actually ok with overpaying for pieces I think fit the right holes in the philosophy and have future value in line with what you’re giving up. Any trade is risky. Yelich is young and on a mostly cost-friendly contract. There are reasons to think he will soar to his potential value. But many Braves fans (and now Cubs fans) are familiar with 26-year-olds with great stats and superstar potential don’t always pan out … sometimes they suddenly can’t remember how to hit baseballs and their entire 5 tool concept suddenly becomes 2 tools. Yes, I’m looking at you, Jason Heyward.

If we were talking about Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, even my personally-hated Bryce Harper, I think there is very little room to doubt the future ascent of their rise to franchise anchoring status. At one point, I thought Yelich was headed there. But while I think he was once undervalued, the perception of him may now have gone in the other direction, and his perceived value may actually be higher than reality. It’s not that he has significantly declined, or regressed. In fact, he may continue right on up, yet even at his best, I wonder if he is truly a top-tier player worth the cost that he inevitably will demand. His K% is league average, his DRS is slightly above average, his 18 HRs is a little above average, his slugging .463 is a little above average. I think Yelich is better than average, but is he really a superstar? And even if he is a superstar, is he the superstar the Braves need to empty their coffers for?

Is it really worth giving up four prospects from your top 15, and perhaps seven from your top 25, some of which project to be a good bit better than just above average? (I’ll be the first to admit prospects bust frequently, but from the richest farm in baseball that’s not chump change.) It’s easy to want splashy moves for names we like. It’s much harder to stay the course, stick to your philosophy, and find the answers to the holes you have on the team you are already fielding. When I look at the Braves I don’t see the hole begging for Yelich. I see a team missing power, missing defense, and missing quite a few other roles (3B, pitching, etc) that Yelich simply cannot fill.  Would he be another great player on the Braves team? Absolutely. Would it make the Braves a much better team? I’m not so certain.

The answer to Yelich’s value to the Braves is an itch I’m not sure I want to scratch.

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Jeff’s Top Braves Prospects (31-40)

Hello Knockahoma Nation, you probably know me from Twitter or from the handful of podcasts I’ve popped up on with Josh and Ken. I live down in Tampa, Florida and while that doesn’t allow me to go to SunTrust Park as much as I’d like, it puts me within driving distance of lots and lots of baseball.

I have seen most of the prospects I’m about to list either on the backfields in extended Spring Training, Gulf Coast League or Florida State League games. If I haven’t seen a guy in person, all I have to go on is MILB.tv like the rest of you. I’m not a scout, and thus, do not try to act like one, I just watch a lot of baseball and tell it like I see it. If you don’t agree with where I have a player ranked or have questions, hit me up on Twitter at @ProspectsBraves or my personal account @JonesBWP. I am pretty active on there.

So without further adieu let’s get started.

40. Jesse Biddle –

A former first round pick by the Phillies, Biddle was a top 100 prospect before having Tommy John surgery, being waived, subsequently scooped up by the Pirates, dropped and picked up by the Braves where he recovered from said TJ. I happened to be at his first appearance after surgery against those very same hometown Phillies in Clearwater and he looked good, especially for his first appearance. He ran it up to 94-95 and displayed his customary plus curveball, which is a slower offering to go along with a solid changeup. He pitched the entire 2017 year in Mississippi and posted solid numbers – 49.2 IP, 9.60 K/9, 2.90 BB/9 and a 2.90 ERA. Expect him to get a crack at a bullpen spot in Atlanta as he’s already been on the 40-man for 2 years. He’s a lefty with reverse splits and while I would’ve worried about that last year, Anthopoulos seems to have Snitker nose deep in Bill James’ Baseball Abstract right about now.

NOTE – There are a handful of other relief prospects that could’ve been featured here most notably – Corbin Clouse, Devan Watts, Phil Pfieffer, Caleb Dirks, Michael Mader and Evan Phillips.

39. Akeel Morris –

Why is water wet? Why is the sky blue? Why can’t Akeel Morris get a fair crack at the Atlanta bullpen? All questions that surely have an answer, but none of which I can name off the top of my head. Blessed with an unreal changeup, Akeel continues to put up solid numbers in the minor leagues (54.1 IP, 2.65 ERA, 65 K, 25 walks) what else can the guy do? Maybe 2018 will be the year he gets more than a week in the show!

38. Anyelo Gomez –

The Braves most recent dip into the Yankees talent pool is from the 2017 Rule 5 Draft. Gomez had a breakout year in 2017 – 87 strikeouts and just 21 walks in 70.1 IP, 1.92 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, only gave up 2 HR all season. He just couldn’t make the cut on the Yankees stacked 40 man/bullpen and the Braves look to have pulled a Robin Hood here. He will be in the mix for the 2018 bullpen or we’ll be forced to ship him back to the Yankees. His fastball sits in the mid 90s with a solid changeup out of a funky delivery.

37. Jacob Lindgren – 

Another guy scooped up thanks to the Yankees bullpen being ridiculous, Lindgren was a college reliever taken in the 2nd round back in 2014  out of Mississippi State. A hard throwing lefty who has already made his major league debut but unfortunately had to have Tommy John surgery in 2015 after at first being shut down for bone spurs. He’s pretty much the same pitcher as A.J. Minter – literally Minter is 6′, Lindgren is 5′-11″. They both throw mid to upper 90’s with a devastating slider, both pitched out of the bullpen in college and both have already had TJ. They’re also only 5 months apart. SEC! SEC! SEC!

36. Tyler Pike – 

Pike came over in the Alex Jackson trade as the player to be named later and started the year in High A Florida not far from his hometown of Winter Haven. After being jerked back and forth between levels and getting stuck in the hitter’s paradise that is the PCL on more than one occasion he seemed to settle in back closer to home. In 12 starts he hummed along to the tune of a 2.20 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 69.2 innings with a decent 3.49 BB/9, after appearing in the Florida State League All Star Game he was promoted to Mississippi. That is where he seemingly hit a wall with 6 starts with 5 or more walks, he ended up with a K/9 over 10 in the Southern League but a BB/9 of 7.59 is just not going to cut it. I think he’ll get another chance to start in the cavernous ballpark that is Trustmark Park but if he doesn’t find a way to cut down on the walks I still think he could be a useful reliever with the potential for even more strikeouts.

35. Isranel Wilson –

Signed all the way back in 2014, Wilson is a big kid with pop who plays a smooth center field. As a former shortstop, he also has a cannon for an arm, which I’ve witnessed on a few occasions. A talented kid no doubt, his biggest enemy has always seemed to be himself as he has all the tools to be an excellent player.  He will only be 20 come Opening Day 2018 and I’d expect him to open up as Rome’s starting center fielder with Cristian Pache graduating to Florida. After having his 2016 season cut short and only playing 60 games last season, it will be interesting to see what he does with a full season this year. I’ll make somewhat of a bold prediction here and guess he comes close to matching his career home run total of 18.

34. Tyler Neslony –

Ah, The Pony, Josh’s pride and joy. He was drafted in 2016 and was still playing in the College World Series so I had a chance to watch him right away and flat out, the kid can hit. Tyler Neslony doesn’t crack Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects, and he doesn’t crack most Braves blogger’s top 50. But here’s a fun fact – Tim Hudson, David Price, Daniel Murphy, Robinson Cano, Jose Altuve, Tim Wakefield, Jeff Kent, Jim Edmonds (just to name a few) were never ranked prospects. Truth is, ranking prospects can be like predicting the weather 15 days out.

Neslony’s ceiling is probably Nick Swisher. And that’s a hell of a ceiling. His floor is a guy who makes it to AAA and sells insurance in three years. With Tyler, it’ll really come down to his defense and his ability to hit more advanced pitching. He can rake, but can he rake against the best? We’ll see. – JB

 

33. Anfernee Seymour

“Speed, I am speed.” – Lightning McQueen or Anfernee Seymour? Seymour is pretty much always the fastest player on the diamond and I’m not quite sure why the Marlins tried to shoehorn him into a middle infield position after signing him. I was extremely pleased to see him starting in center field the first time I caught him at extended Spring Training in 2017, the dude is a gazelle out there. He hit .282/.342/.357 in 110 games between Florida and Rome with the majority of them coming in Florida. He was caught on 20 of 45 stolen base attempts, but he truly does have 80 grade speed and that may just be him needing to adjust to better catchers at higher levels. I probably would’ve had him higher on my list but he was suspended after the 2017 season right before heading to Arizona for the Fall League so we didn’t get a chance to see him against elite competition. The reason for the suspension was never made clear, the Braves always keep that sort of thing pretty tight lipped but the one tweet I did see is a really dumb reason and unfortunate for Anfernee. Hopefully it motivates him and he is able to break camp to Mississippi with his pal Touki.

32. Leudys Baez –

A guy I pinned last year as a rebound candidate came back from a injury plagued 2016 season and tore it up out of the gate in Danville to the tune of a 1.000 OPS in 25 games. He was deservedly promoted to Rome, where he cooled off a bit hitting just .268 with a .733 OPS in 31 games. Like Isranel Wilson, he’s a “toolsy” guy who checks all the boxes and will look to build on the progress he made last year. I assume he’ll play in High A Florida in 2018.

31. Derian Cruz –

Formerly the highest paid International signing in Braves history, Derian had a rough 2016 to put it lightly committing 16 errors in 26 games Rome and struggling at the plate before being demoted. He is still just 19 and will more than likely repeat at Rome where, thanks to outside circumstances, it looks like he’ll get another shot at short. He is an athletic, hard working kid and I expect him to rebound and make me look foolish for having him this low on my list.

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I Don’t Know’s on Third

The famous Abbott and Costello skit “Who’s on First” unforgettably amuses the audience as Abbott befuddles his pal Costello with the confusing names of the players on his baseball team. In the skit, the third baseman is “I Don’t Know”.  The Braves feel like they’re right in the middle of that skit when it comes to the identity of their 2018 third baseman and “I Don’t Know” is on third for Atlanta.

Most of us know the usual characters and options that are sitting there available, so I’ll not waste your time by giving a detailed analysis of each player that could be a 2018 third base option for the Atlanta Braves, but I will skim them.

Todd Frazier

Frazier batted .213 last season.  Yep, .213. He did crush 27 home runs, though. He had a terrible BABIP. But even projections for this next year have it only jumping up about 20 points. He’s a plus defender at 3rd. The end.

Josh Harrison

He’s a name not heavily talked about, but the Pirates have made it known that he’s available. While I think Harrison is one of the best utility players in the game, his third base defense is average at best, and his batting has traditionally suffered when he plays the hot corner. Not only is he owed $10.25MM in 2018, but his asking price could be hefty. While I think Harrison wouldn’t be an atrocious stopgap, ultimately he costs too much.

Martin Prado

With the Marlins turning into the Flea Market of baseball, it feels like Prado is probably available. Prado’s name will always be loved in Braves Country, but at this point I believe getting Prado would be a bit like grabbing the Matt Kemp of infielders. While he’s not quite as overpaid as Kemp was, he’s still getting $28M + for two more years. That’s not great for a guy coming back from some serious knee issues. Besides, his defense was only slightly above league average for the last few years before he was injured.

Nick Castellanos

Yeah he’s my darling pick. Anyone that follows me knows that I love the idea of Castellanos at the hot corner and seeing what he can do.

He hit 26 bombs last year. The knock on Nick is his defense. It’s not good. In fact, last year it was so bad the Tigers moved him to the outfield. I personally believe Ron Washington is a miracle worker and if he can make Freddie Freeman into an incredible third baseman, he can fix anyone. But even if Castellanos doesn’t stick at 3B, he could certainly move to left field and add quite a bit of pop to the lineup. With the Tigers in a rebuild it feels like you could get him without having to give up too much, but you can’t be sure.

Johan Camargo

Last but not least, Camargo. Some have complained about his splits, but when you dig a little deeper he actually doesn’t have any problems against lefties or righties. He did struggle against relief pitchers, many of which had a single very dominant pitch.

However, he batted .305 against RH starters and .296 against LH starters. He also crushed the ball when he hit it. His average exit velocity was 88.12 mph. For comparison, Freddie Freeman’s average exit velocity in 2017 was 89.68 mph.  Undoubtedly, Camargo hasn’t shown the pop and home run power that you traditionally expect from a third baseman. But I also think it might still be in hiding in there. In the winter league, Camargo is slugging .511. That’s only 1 home run, but a triple and 5 doubles in only 54 at bats.

I mentioned Josh Harrison earlier as an option for third, but the truth is the Braves already have their Josh Harrison and his name is Johan Camargo.  Unless the Braves want to try a double fix with a move for Castellanos, with Camargo backing him up as a utility man with lots of playing time or taking over at third if Castellanos can’t play defense, I prefer they stay put with Camargo.

Frazier may have more pop, but his batting average is atrocious and he doesn’t seem destined to make any giant leaps. (Hitting baseballs matters.) I know Atlanta could use a bit more pop in their lineup, but slugging may be the better measure of just what Camargo can add than simply his home run totals, and Camargo out-slugged Frazier last season by more than 24 points despite only hitting 4 home runs.

Somehow, over the course of this offseason, it feels as if fans have forgotten how solid Johan Camargo was this year. Prognosticators have chalked it up to a high BABIP or pitchers not figuring him out. Skeptics have questioned his power while ignoring his slugging. He’s not the sexy big money name of Machado (oh by the way the Braves would be insane to pay for one year of Machado). He’s not the traditional third baseman that Todd Frazier is, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a place on this team and it doesn’t mean that place couldn’t be third base. He currently fits a bit more of a utility profile, but I think limiting him to a utility role is short sighted and judgmental.

I’ll be honest Johan Camargo is an “I Don’t Know” for me. I don’t know what he will hit, I don’t know what his power will be, I don’t know how his defense will end up, and I don’t know that he’s the permanent answer for the Atlanta Braves.

At the end of the day, this team is young. Very young, and very fast. I like the idea of creating a culture of young guys discovering exactly who they are. Challenging the assumptions about who they are and who they are not. Not being limited to trying to fit some mold that the previous guy has always played to answer the Who’s on First, What’s on Second and I Don’t Know is on third. If I’m making the decisions, I Don’t Know is playing third for me, but I do know who he is. He’s Johan Camargo. 

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