Author Archives: Aaron Steen

Braves Sign Yenier Bello

JULY 12: Bello finally has his visa and is en route to Orlando, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez tweets.

MARCH 3: Bello received a $400K signing bonus and an invite to big league Spring Training, according to Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes (Twitter link).

MARCH 1: The Braves are completing a minor league deal with Cuban catcher Yenier Bello, an industry source tells Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. The contract includes a signing bonus and a Spring Training invitation.

Bello has reportedly drawn interest from as many as 20 MLB clubs. Terms of the agreement aren’t yet known, but the 29-year-old wasn’t expected to command a contract in the same range as recent Cuban signees such as Jose Dariel Abreu and Yasiel Puig. Bello is older than 23 and has more than three years of pro experience, so he won’t count against the Braves’ international spending limit.

In Cuba’s Serie Nacional in 2011, Bello hit .274 and slugged 13 homers over the season’s 90-game schedule, so he’s expected to bring some power to the backstop position. Sanchez writes that he’s likely to begin the season in the minor leagues, however. Evan Gattis currently projects as the starting catcher for the Braves, who also have Gerald Laird under contract for 2014.


Quick Hits: Prospects, Pirates, Brewers

Service time is often among the most important factors when determining when to promote a top prospect, a new analysis by Baseball Prospectus suggests (via FOX Sports). For followers of teams such as the Astros, who recently netted themselves an extra year of control of George Springer by waiting two weeks into the season to call him up, the findings don't come as a surprise. The study did produce an interesting data point, however. "Fourteen times in the last seven years, a player who ranked No. 1 on one of our Top 10 prospect lists debuted in April," BP's Zachary Levine writes. Among that group, eight were on their club's Opening Day roster, meaning the team valued that player's potential early-season contributions over the possibility of an extra year of control down the road. While the gaming of service time of top prospects is common, it's perhaps not as rampant as you might expect, the study suggests. Here's a look elsewhere around the majors:

  • Being traded to the Pirates is an excellent opportunity for Ike Davis to maximize his considerable talent, Richard Justice writes for MLB.com, praising the clubhouse environment, management and fan support in Pittsburgh.
  • The Brewers and Mets had several conversations about a potential Davis trade, but never got close, Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash tells Adam McCalvy of MLB.com. McCalvy reports that the Mets wanted young starting pitching, such as righty Tyler Thornburg, in return. 
  • Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan examined what might be fueling Edinson Volquez's early-season success for the Pirates. In addition to showing an improved ability to throw strikes, the right-hander is also throwing better-quality balls when he does miss the zone, Sullivan concludes. If Volquez can maintain these improvements, it'll be yet another successful reclamation project for Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage.

NL East Notes: Mets, Braves

Mets manager Terry Collins says he expects Lucas Duda to settle in and produce now that the Ike Davis trade has opened up the club's full-time first base job, MLB.com's Spencer Fordin reports. Duda, however, says he doesn't feel much has changed. "If I don't produce, I'm not going to play. No matter what the situation is, if I don't get the job done, somebody else will," the slugger commented. More NL East links …

  • A competing GM told Andy Martino of the New York Daily News (via Twitter) that the Mets were right to choose Duda instead of Davis. "They're both platoon guys, but Duda [is] a little better against lefties," the GM said.
  • One MLB executive speaking with Newsday's David Lennon (Twitter link) guesses that the Mets may receive either the Pirates' 2013 fifth- or sixth-rounder as the player to be named later in the Davis deal. That would be either fifth-round pick Trae Arbet, a shortstop drafted out of high school, or sixth-round draftee Adam Frazier, a college shortstop. Neither player was ranked among the Pirates' top 30 prospects by Baseball America this offseason.
  • The Braves brought on Aaron Harang near the end of Spring Training to eat innings in the season's early going, but now that he's posted a Majors-leading 0.70 ERA in four starts, their plans have changed. In fact, Harang was removed after giving up zero hits through seven innings against the Mets yesterday to help preserve his arm. Manager Fredi Gonzalez says he wants 25-27 more starts from the veteran, according to David O'Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


West Notes: Padres, A’s, Angels

Jason Lane, a 37-year-old converted outfielder pitching at the Padres‘ Triple-A affiliate, is turning heads early in the season after posting a 1.00 ERA in 18 innings. Jeff Sanders of U-T San Diego suggests that Lane could be an option for the big league club if the Padres need to add depth later in the year. “If you took away the age factor, I think people would be really fired up about him,” Padres Farm Director Randy Smith said. “But for us, age is irrelevant because his arm is fresh.” Here’s more out of baseball’s Western divisions …

  • Sean Doolittle‘s five-year deal with the Athletics is out of step with Billy Beane’s traditional approach to relief pitching, SBNation’s Steven Goldman says, adding that it’s generally advisable not to go long-term with relievers. However, Doolittle does have his merits, Goldman says, noting his lack of a platoon split and relatively fresh arm. Ultimately, the move may be aimed at saving on arbitration costs if Doolittle starts racking up saves for the A’s as the team’s closer, his article notes. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd offered the same theory in his writeup of the Doolittle deal.
  • Albert Pujols doesn’t want to distract his Angels teammates as he nears 500 career home runs, but tells MLB.com that he’s “pretty sure I’m going to be pretty emotional about” reaching the milestone. As MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez notes, Pujols is at 498 total homers after adding his sixth of the season today.

Ryan Zimmerman To Miss Four to Six Weeks

TUESDAY: Zimmerman will not need surgery, which is good news for the long term but does not shorten his timetable to return, Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com reports on Twitter

SATURDAY: Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has fractured his right thumb and will miss four to six weeks, Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com tweets. Zimmerman left tonight's matchup with the Braves early after injuring the thumb.

The development is a significant blow for the Nationals. Zimmerman was one of the majors' top hitters in the early going, posting a Herculean .355/.382/.613 line in nine games.

Fortunately, the Nats have several talented infielders on hand who should be able to help carry the team in Zimmerman's absence. Anthony Rendon appears likely to shift from second to third, his natural position, as a replacement, while Danny Espinosa could be adequate as a temporary solution at the keystone. Espinosa struggled mightily in 2013, but he's off to a hot start for the Nats this season, triple-slashing .294/.368/.471.

Looking further ahead, the injury may have implications for the third baseman's ability to stay healthy long-term. Zimmerman has managed 145 and 147 games in the previous two seasons, but he's locked into a deal through 2019 and has missed significant time in the past. Zimmerman's shoulder was described as "arthritic," then "degenerative" by manager Matt Williams in recent interviews, and despite 2012 surgery, completing the long throws across the diamond has been a struggle at times. Moving Zimmerman to first base to try and insulate him from nagging injuries could be one solution, but Adam LaRoche occupies that position for the Nationals at present.


NL Central Notes: Cubs, Pirates

Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Gordon Wittenmyer opines that the Cardinals should be the model for the Cubs as they work to establish a player development pipeline. The reigning NL champs haven't drafted in the single digits in 16 years, but have continued to find major league contributors in later rounds, including 2013 All-Star Allen Craig. "Anybody can pick out a No. 1 selection and think that’s a great deal," former Cubs GM Dallas Green commented. "But you make 30 or 40 selections [in a draft], and three or four of those guys have gotta play." Here are two more NL Central links:

  • Cubs scouts and crosscheckers convened last week to discuss the team's strategy for this year's draft, but the front office isn't ready to narrow its draft board down to a final 25 players, according to GM Jed Hoyer (via a report from MLB.com's Carrie Muskat). Club executives have reportedly been in attendance at recent starts by high school right-hander Tyler Kolek, who has shot up draft prospect lists this spring.
  • Bob Cohn of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review profiled Pirates prospect Stetson Allie, who was drafted as a pitcher but is now a first baseman. In just 26 2/3 innings across low- and high-A, Allie compiled a 7.76 ERA and walked 37 batters. He dominated low-A in 2013 as an infielder, however, hitting .324/.414/.607.

Minor Moves: Clement, Hensley, Threets

We'll round up tonight's minor moves here:

  • Jeff Clement has retired, The Des Moines Register reports. Originally drafted third overall in 2005 by the Mariners, Clement never caught on in the majors, and ends his career with a .218/.277/.371 Major League line. His last big league appearance came in 2012 with the Pirates. Now a father of four, the 30-year-old tells The Register that he plans to return to school.
  • The Orioles have signed Steven Hensley, who was released by the Rockies in March, Baseball America's Matt Eddy reports. The 27-year-old has never appeared in the majors. He worked almost entirely out of the bullpen for upper-level affiliates of the Rockies and Mariners last season, compiling a 4.24 ERA.
  • The Dodgers have signed lefty Erick Threets, who was pitching for the independent Long Island Ducks, according to Eddy. Last we heard, Threets was looking for a job in Asia.
  • The Marlins have inked infielder Rich Poythress, who was released by the Mariners in March, per Eddy. Poythress, who has yet to reach the majors, was sent to Double-A.
  • The A's have signed second baseman Colin Walsh, who was let go by the Cardinals last month, Eddy reports. The 24-year-old reached Double-A for the Cardinals last season.
  • Dontrelle Willis was added to the active roster of the Fresno Grizzlies, the Giants' Triple-A club, according to a tweet from the team. D-Train struggled in 21 innings with the Angels' Triple-A affiliate in 2013, posting a 6.43 ERA. 
  • The Nationals have selected the contract of starter Blake Treinen, the International League transactions page shows. Treinen was pitching at Triple-A, and has never appeared in the majors. The right-hander came over in last winter's three-team trade with the Mariners and A's. He's been used almost exclusively as a starter in recent years in the minors, where he owns a 3.73 ERA. Baseball America ranked him as the Nats' 23rd-best prospect this year, but wrote that most evaluators expect him to end up in middle relief.
  • The Nats have inked right-hander Paolo Espino, formerly of the Cubs organization, according to Eddy. The right-hander, who works as a swingman, has yet to reach the majors but has significant Triple-A experience.

Quick Hits: Pineda, A’s, Sandoval

MLB officials plan to discuss the Michael Pineda pine tar incident with the Yankees, though a suspension isn't expected, Brendan Kuty of NJ.com reports. Pineda had what Kuty describes as a brown, oily substance on his hand during Thursday's start against the Red Sox, but league spokesman spokesman Pat Courtney notes that the right-hander was never seen applying a foreign substance, and the Red Sox never raised the issue. A couple more Major League notes on a slow night at MLBTR:

  • The rotating cast for the closer's job in Oakland has continued despite the club's acquisition of Jim Johnson this offseason, writes MLB.com's Tracy Ringolsby. The A's have had eight different pitchers lead the team in saves over the past 13 seasons. Manager Bob Melvin says he "can definitely see" Johnson regaining the role, however.
  • Giants manager Bruce Bochy says Pablo Sandoval has assured him that his contract situation hasn't been a distraction in the season's early going, according to a report from Alex Espinoza of MLB.com. Sandoval is hitting just .143/.265/.238 thus far. He's scheduled to become a free agent after the season, but extension talks with the Giants have reportedly been shut down.

Quick Hits: Angels, Rays, Astros

Though he's arguably already baseball's best player, Mike Trout is working to improve his arm strength, Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com writes. Some might say Trout's arm is the weakest of his five tools, which has produced "a little chip on his shoulder," according to Angels bench coach Dino Ebel. While the outfielder was once a fringe-average thrower, he's improved the tool so that it's now average or better, Ebel says. Here are more Saturday night Major League links:

  • The Rays are known for aggressively locking up their young stars long term, but the team increasingly shows a willingness to go multiple years with veterans, notes Adam Berry of MLB.com. Today's Yunel Escobar extension the most recent example, but the club has also recently given a two-year deal to David DeJesus and a three-year commitment to catcher Ryan Hanigan. "I think the common denominator is that they're three guys that we like a lot, that fit us well, that will help us win games in the current," GM Andrew Friedman said.
  • Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt both signed one-day contracts and officially retired as members of the Astros organization today. Alyson Footer of MLB.com has the details on a pregame ceremony in which the two greats were given personalized rocking chairs and custom Stetson cowboy hats.

Quick Hits: Rangers, Braves, Pirates, Giants, Nats

Rangers amateur scout Jay Heafner is on hand for Nick Martinez's major league debut against the Rays tonight, and discussed scouting him as an amateur with MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan. Heafner liked "the way the ball came out of his hand, the way his delivery worked and his presence" when watching Martinez, then an infielder, work out of the bullpen. Texas ultimately selected him in the 18th round of the 2011 draft. Recognizing the right-hander's potential from limited looks as a reliever has to be considered a major win for the Rangers' scouting corps. Here's more from around the majors:

  • Braves righty Cory Gearrin will seek a second opinion before submitting to Tommy John surgery, reports MLB.com's Mark Bowman. Both team doctors and Dr. James Andrews have recommended that Gearrin undergo the procedure.
  • David Golebiewski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review examined what allows Pirates reliever Mark Melancon to avoid home runs. Since joining the Pirates, the right-hander has increased his use of the cutter to 56.1 percent of all pitches thrown, which helped boost his ground ball rate to an amazing 60.3 percent in 2013.
  • In addition to slimming down this winter, the Giants' Pablo Sandoval got instruction from Miguel Cabrera on his right-handed swing, CSNBayArea.com's Andrew Baggarly reports. "See if they can command the fastball in, because that tells you a lot," Sandoval said when asked what advice he received. "And early in the count, get a pitch to drive."
  • Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman discussed his throwing problems with Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post, commenting, "it’s hard to explain to people that have never played baseball." The early-season cold weather isn't helping matters, but Zimmerman hasn't felt right since 2012 shoulder surgery, which affected his mechanics. "I don’t like really saying things about [the issue] … everyone who plays baseball has something like that," Zimmerman said.