Mike Foltynewicz Rumors

Chris Johnson Has Fractured Hand; Braves Call Up Foltynewicz

Braves third baseman Chris Johnson will go on the disabled list with a fractured left hand, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports on Twitter. Top prospect Michael Foltynewicz will take his roster spot to make his first big league start after picking up 16 relief appearances last year.

Johnson, 30, has not been forced to the DL since a short stint back in 2010. And he continues to produce an excellent batting average, hitting right in the range of his career mark this season.

Of course, the issue with Johnson has never been his ability to generate hits; it has been his inability to consistently hit for power or reach base by other methods, combined with substandard defense. His career slash stands at .283/.319/.418, right at the league average. But by measure of wins above replacement, he has produced less than a full total win in over 2,500 turns at bat. This year, likewise, Johnson currently owns a sub-replacement level mark (by measure of Baseball-Reference) in spite of a sturdy-enough .286/.340/.381 line.

His best season, of course, came in 2013, when he turned from a bit piece in the Justin Upton trade to a highly productive regular. Somewhat unfortunately for Atlanta, that coincided with the team’s aggressive push to lock up multiple players to extensions. Of the deals signed, only Johnson’s really looked bad from the early going. The three-year, $23.5MM pact kicked in this year, leaving Atlanta on the hook for $17.5MM (including a 2018 option buyout) in 2016-17.

Johnson has worked in a timeshare this season, as Alberto Callaspo, Kelly Johnson, and Phil Gosselin have all seen time at the hot corner. While that means that the Braves have plenty of options to fill in for Johnson, the club surely hopes that he will be as productive and healthy as possible given his contract. Even if the team can’t stay in the race this year, it would surely like to find a taker for some of Johnson’s contract.

As for Foltynewicz, a 23-year-old righty, Atlanta will get a chance to see one of the key pieces it acquired in the winter’s Evan Gattis trade. He is off to a strong start at Triple-A, allowing just five earned in 21 2/3 frames while posting 12.5 K/9 against 4.2 BB/9. The Braves will surely give him every chance to succeed as a starter, though some believe his future will be in the late innings as a reliever. Foltynewicz was a consensus top-100 prospect last year, though his stock slid somewhat after an unproductive 2014. MLB.com does still list him as the game’s 78th overall prospect.

NL East Notes: Utley, Brown, Saltalamacchia, Braves

Much has been made of trade rumors surrounding Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon over the course of the winter, but Chase Utley‘s name has rarely come up due to the veteran’s 10-and-5 rights that allow him to block trades. However, Utley told reporters today, including Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News, that he’d consider any trade scenario brought to him by GM Ruben Amaro (Twitter link). However, Utley doesn’t sound like a man with an urge to get out of a Phillies uniform. “I want nothing more than to play for this organization as long as I can,” he told the media.

More on the Phillies and the NL East…

  • Domonic Brown tells MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki that he’s not sure exactly what the Phillies have in store for him, but he consider’s last year’s struggles a learning experience and believes he can post better numbers. Brown wouldn’t comment on whether or not he was more comfortable playing right field now that Marlon Byrd has been traded to the Reds. As Zolecki notes, another poor showing from Brown could very well mean that the team will search elsewhere for corner outfielders in the future.
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia hasn’t looked at defensive numbers from 2014, he tells Juan C. Rodriguez of the Miami Sun-Sentinel, because he already knows he didn’t perform up to his expectations. Both Saltalamacchia and manager Marlins Mike Redmond spoke about how the catcher can improve in the second year of a three-year, $21MM pact with Miami. As Rodriguez points out, Saltalamacchia has graded out well in terms of pitch-framing before but ranked as the league’s worst framer in 2014, according to Baseball Prospectus.
  • Though the Braves are hopeful that right-hander Michael Foltynewicz, who was acquired in the Evan Gattis trade, is a starter in the long-term, the team hasn’t ruled out opening the year with him in the bullpen, tweets MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. Foltynewicz instantly became one of the Braves’ best young arms in that trade, and using his 100mph fastball in the bullpen to get him acclimated to the Majors while going with a veteran such as Eric Stults in the fifth spot of the rotation may have some merit in the team’s eyes.
  • Speaking more in depth on those trades, president of baseball operations John Hart tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien that he doesn’t consider the Braves‘ offseason moves to be a full-on rebuild. Rather, according to Hart, the team tried to walk a “parallel path” in which Major League pieces were subtracted to shore up the farm system while other MLB pieces were brought in to help the 2015 team. The Braves’ core players appear to be on board with the moves, Hart adds, saying he’s received “nothing but positive (feedback)” from them.

Astros Acquire Evan Gattis

The Astros have added more right-handed power to their lineup, acquiring catcher/outfielder Evan Gattis and minor league right-hander James Hoyt from the Braves, the teams announced. In return, Atlanta will acquire a trio of prospects: right-handers Michael Foltynewicz and Andrew Thurman as well as third baseman Rio Ruiz.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Pittsburgh Pirates

With the DH role likely going to Chris Carter and four catchers on the 40-man roster, the Astros will use Gattis primarily in left field, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart tweets. He’ll also be used sparingly at catcher and first base, per McTaggart.

By adding Gattis, the Astros are adding another big right-handed bat to a lineup that already features two of them in Carter and George Springer. As I wrote in a profile of Gattis as a trade candidate, the bat-first backstop has limited defensive value (whether behind the dish or in the outfield) but has established himself as a legitimate contributor on offense. After posting a .243/.291/.480 slash with 21 home runs over 382 plate appearances in 2013, Gattis stepped things up with a .263/.317/.493 line and 22 long balls last year in 401 turns at bat.

Of course, Gattis also comes with an attractive contractual situation. He will play at league minimum for the final time this year before qualifying for arbitration in 2016. Though his power numbers should inflate his earnings, Gattis will nevertheless remain an affordable piece for some time.

The 28-year-old Hoyt, meanwhile, is an interesting story. After going undrafted out of Centenary College of Louisiana, he began working on sailboats for a living before an independent league tryout got him back into baseball (via Baseball America’s most recent scouting report on Hoyt [subscription required]). Eventually, he was picked up by Atlanta at age 25. Hoyt rose through Atlanta’s ranks, compiling particularly impressive marks at the Double-A level in 2013 (1.82 ERA, 11.5 K/9, 4.2 BB/9). That earned him the No. 30 ranking on BA’s list of top Braves prospects, with BA praising his 94-96 mph fastball and a slider that could develop into a plus pitch.

Another fact that becomes all the more obvious with this move is that the Braves are not playing for 2015. Atlanta has undergone a significant amount of roster turnover this offseason, with new president of baseball operations John Hart driving the change. The club already dealt away its two star corner outfielders, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, and replaced their expiring contracts with a four-year deal for free agent Nick Markakis.

Without Gattis to plug in left, current options are few. The club could strike a deal for a younger player, make an upside play for someone like Colby Rasmus, or make a run at Nori Aoki — a solid, high-OBP veteran in the general Markakis mold.

The Rangers also expressed heavy interest in Gattis and were even next in line to acquire him, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweets. The deal took awhile to get across the finish line, as there was some significant concern as to how Gattis’ back and right knee would look when examined by doctors, per Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). Those concerns ultimately failed to derail the deal.

As with the Braves’ other moves, young pitching will come in return. Foltynewicz, who briefly reached the bigs last year as a reliever, sat at number three on Baseball America’s list of the best ‘Stros prospects and at fourth on the MLB.com version. He will likely be given a chance to continue his development as a starter, and could even have a shot at a MLB rotation spot this year. Thurman, 23, was taken in the second round in 2013 but has struggled to adapt to pro ball. Last season, pitching at the Class A level, he threw 115 1/3 innings of 5.38 ball with 8.3 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9.

Ruiz was set to jockey with trade deadline addition Colin Moran to be Houston’s third baseman of the future, and was ranked by BA right aside Moran at eighth amongst the team’s minor leaguers, with MLB.com placing him ninth. The 20-year-old slashed .293/.387/.436 with 11 home runs in 602 plate appearances at High-A last year. Ruiz fills a gap in the club’s corner infield pipeline created by the recent trade of Kyle Kubitza.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today first reported on Twitter that Gattis was slated for a physical and that there were advanced negotiations with the Astros. Braves blogger Martin Gandy was first to tweet that something might be in the works between the clubs. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution first tweeted that the deal was in place, pending the physical. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported the return for Gattis (Twitter links). MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reported the deal’s completion and Hoyte’s inclusion (Twitter links).

Top Prospect Promotions: Foltynewicz, Ranaudo

Two well-regarded young arms both got the call for their respective teams. At this point, even if both players stay on the MLB roster the rest of the way, they will of course not be able to accrue enough service time to set them up for eventual Super Two qualification. On the other hand, they’ll bank plenty of service days now and begin moving towards arbitration eligibility. Let’s take a look:

  • Righty Mike Foltynewicz will get his call-up for a relief role with the Astros, reports Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). The 22-year-old with a big fastball currently ranks 65th on MLB.com’s list of the game’s top 100 prospects, with Baseball America ranking him 59th coming into the year. With Foltynewicz, the big question is whether he can develop his secondary offerings to the point that he will stick in a rotation, but Houston will plan to use him in relief this season and give him a chance at earning a starting role in the spring (according to a tweet from MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart).
  • Meanwhile, Anthony Ranaudo will take the bump today for the Red Sox after previously scheduled starter John Lackey was dealt away, as Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal tweets. Ranking 82nd among the game’s prospects per MLB.com, the 24-year-old righty has put up excellent results in each of the last two seasons as he climbed through the minor league ranks. This year, he owns a 2.41 ERA through 119 1/3 innings at Triple-A, with 7.5 K/9 against 3.7 BB/9. MLB.com praises his sinker and sharp curve, though says he still was work to do refining his change.

Prospect Rumor Roundup: Astros First Rounders

If not for the hapless Miami Marlins, the Astros would be in line for the worst record in baseball for the third straight season. Clearly, it's been a rough stretch for the Houston fan base. The good news is that a strong group of reinforcements is on the way to The Show. The fans will have to take a leap of faith while the high-ceiling, minor-league talent rises to the surface.

The last two-plus years of mediocrity in Houston have allowed the organization to receive the first overall draft picks in both 2012 and 2013. An astute group of talent evaluators and baseball minds in the scouting department has helped to ensure the organization not only made the most of its first overall selections, but also made some clever trades for young talent while shedding players that did not figure into the rebuilding vision.

General Manager Jeff Luhnow has worked to ensure the club is pointed in the right direction as it moves to recapture some of the organization's past successes. But, truth be told, the club's front office and scouting department began to find its footing in 2010 — almost two years before Luhnow was hired away from the St. Louis Cardinals to replace ousted GM Ed Wade.

From 2000 to 2009 the Astros' drafting efforts bordered on brutal — especially when focusing on the club's first choice each season. Current Astros catcher Jason Castro (2008) stands out as the lone bright spot in an otherwise dreary decade. It certainly didn't help that the club's free agent exploits cost the scouting department three first round selections (2003, 2004, 2007) and resulted in the selection of forgettable prospects such as Robert Stiehl, Derick Grigsby, and Max Sapp.

As mentioned above, the 2010 season began the major shift for the Astros and the past five first round draft picks are among the 10 best prospects in the system. Let's have a closer look at them:

2010 — Delino DeShields Jr., 2B, Georgia HS: Reds prospect Billy Hamilton received a ton of hype last year for breaking the century mark in steals, but DeShields also swiped more than 100 bags in a much quieter fashion. It's been a slower go for the 20-year-old Astros prospect in 2013 as he's managed just 15 steals in 24 attempts. He's holding his own at the plate with a .280 batting average but has yet to have a true breakout to solidify himself as one of the top prospects in the game.

2010 — Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, Illinois HS: Foltynewicz flew under the radar for a few seasons but the hype is starting to build — and it's easy to see why. The right-hander's velocity has crept up in the past year and he's been clocked as high as 98-100 mph in recent starts. Only 21, he opened the 2013 season in the offense-padding launching pad in Lancaster (High-A) and held his own before a promotion to Double-A in early May. Since that time, hitters have batted just .157 against him, and he has a 1.41 ERA in nine appearances. Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle recently took a look at Foltynewicz and highlighted both his talent and his drive to succeed. "Everybody knows what kind of power and strength he's got… But the encouraging part is since he's been here we're starting to get better down location, OK, and his breaking stuff and changeup (are) really coming along really nice… you won't find much better talent than he's got."

2011 — George Springer, CF, University of Connecticut: It took a couple of years but Springer has officially sprung. The young outfielder is tapping into his raw power on a more consistent basis (18 homers, .618 slugging percentage) while treading water with his contact rates. Springer still strikes out a lot (77 strikeouts in 61 games) but the tradeoff for the power output is worth it. He could be ready to patrol the outfield in Houston before the 2014 All-Star break. In another piece for the Chronicle, Smith featured Springer, and the prospect said he's not trying to put too much pressure on himself: "It's just kind of one of those things where I'm not too concerned about the results. I just try to go out and compete and play hard and develop as a player," Springer said. "It's one of those things where I was told to just let the results happen… For me, it's all about slowing myself down, having a lot of fun…"

2012 — Carlos Correa, SS, Puerto Rico HS: One of the youngest hitters in A-ball at 18, Correa has started to heat up and has become more consistent while flashing the tools that caused him to go first overall in 2012. After hitting .221 in April, the young Puerto Rican's batting average is now up to .292, and he's walked 30 times in 50 games. Correa is still at least two years away from adding stability to the Astros' big league shortstop position but the wait could be well worth it. Brandon Simes of MiLB.com recently spoke to the young infielder and Correa gave his thoughts on what Mark Appel should look to do now that he's been drafted by the Astros. "Just focus on making the organization proud, keep working hard and try to get to the big leagues as fast as possible," Correa said. "I saw him getting called. I'm very excited to have him here with us in the organization. I'm looking forward to meeting him and being able to play together."

2013 — Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford University:  Appel is not property of the Astros just yet — and something could still go terribly wrong — but there is a very good chance that the college senior will eventually come to terms with his hometown club. After turning down the Pittsburgh Pirates as the eighth overall selection of the 2012 draft, the right-handed pitcher's gamble paid off as he has become an even better player, will earn a larger signing bonus, and appears ready to develop into one of the top pitching prospects in the game.

As the saying goes, things are always darkest before the dawn, and – if the minor league system is any indication – Houston fans are in for a bright future.