In addition to declaring that the rebuilding, last-place Braves need to start winning in 2017, general manager John Coppolella touched on the statuses of three of his team’s players in a Sunday interview with MLB Network Radio (Twitter links). Specifically, Coppolella mentioned outfielder Matt Kemp and a pair of right-handers, Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair.
Coppolella believes Kemp, a much-maligned defender, will be able to contribute more in the field if he gets in better shape.
“A big part of why he isn’t real good in left field is because he’s out of shape,” Coppolella said. “If he gets in shape, he’ll be much better.”
Unless Kemp has been out of shape since his major league career began with the Dodgers in 2006, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to expect a significant defensive turnaround. Metrics like Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating and UZR/150 have regularly given Kemp negative grades in the field. So far, the 31-year-old has compiled minus-98 DRS, minus-116.6 UZR and minus-12.6 UZR/150 in the big leagues.
Given his power-hitting ways, Kemp has fewer limitations at the plate, but he’s still batting just .261/.292/.480 in 510 plate appearances this season. Of greater concern, perhaps, is that Kemp has the ninth-worst BB/K ratio (.21) in baseball among 158 qualified hitters. In combining the flaws in his game with his salary, it’s not surprising that Kemp passed through revocable trade waivers unclaimed. The Braves, who acquired Kemp from the Padres prior to the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline, owe the ex-MVP candidate $18MM per year through 2019. Kemp entered Sunday with a .242/.320/.379 line and one homer through his first 66 at-bats as a Brave. Now, having only traded the toxic Hector Olivera for Kemp, Coppolella will hope his high-profile pickup improves his conditioning and becomes a legitimate producer in Atlanta.
As for Wisler and Blair, they’ll have to fight for rotation spots next season. During his interview Sunday, Coppolella named starting pitching and the catcher position as two areas the club will focus on upgrading in the offseason. In doing so, he described Wisler and Blair as “hard to count on” at this juncture.
Wisler, also a former member of the Padres organization, has not fared well since debuting with the Braves last season. In 231 career innings, Wisler has posted a 4.95 ERA/4.96 FIP/4.99 xFIP trio to go with a 36 percent ground-ball rate. The 23-year-old, once a well-regarded prospect, hasn’t pitched for the Braves since July 28. Wisler has since been at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he has fared better in 26 2/3 frames. Still, Wisler’s 3.71 ERA, 7.43 K/9 and 1.69 BB/9 in the minors haven’t earned him another big league shot yet and won’t guarantee him a place in the Braves’ starting five next season.
Like Wisler, Blair’s quality prospect status hasn’t yet transferred to the majors, and he’ll have to earn his place in the Braves’ 2017 rotation. After joining the Braves last offseason as part of their return from the Diamondbacks in the famous Shelby Miller trade, Blair has recorded a 7.99 ERA with a matching K/9 and BB/9 (5.15) in 50 2/3 big league innings. As a result of that disastrous output, the 24-year-old Blair has spent the past two months at Gwinnett. While his 4.59 ERA at the Triple-A level isn’t inspiring, Blair has put up much better strikeout and walk rates (9.18 and 3.78) than the ones he compiled in the majors before his late-June demotion.
Thanks in part to the early struggles of Wisler and Blair, Coppolella will have his work cut out for him during the winter as he tries to find complements to the Braves’ ace, Julio Teheran.