- Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman is pleased with how his organization’s rebuild is going, writes Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. “It’s nice to see things starting to form into a team and not just form a minor league system,” says Freeman. “It’s been a tough two years; I don’t think anybody’s gonna sugarcoat that around here. We had a team where most teams said, ‘Oh, good, we’re playing the Braves.’ But I don’t think most teams say that anymore. Last year, we’d be 30 games under .500 at this point. It’s been so much better.” Kepner notes that Freeman has earned plaudits from teammates for his willingness to try third base recently to accommodate the team’s changing roster, even though Freeman himself is a veteran in the midst of an outstanding season. Freeman played 16 games at third, although he’s been back at first base recently, with Matt Adams in the outfield and Brandon Phillips at the hot corner.
The Braves have received first baseman Kevin Franklin from the Reds, per an announcement from the Cincinnati organization. He represents the player to be named later from the February swap that sent infielder Brandon Phillips to Atlanta.
Franklin, 22, was taken in the second round of the 2013 draft. But he has yet to make much progress through the system. Indeed, he has topped out thus far at the High-A level, with tepid numbers all along the way. This year, Franklin has appeared in only 27 A-ball games, posting an ugly .179/.225/.238 batting line.
The trade remains something of an odd one, due largely to Phillips’s no-trade protection and sizable salary. Atlanta took on only $1MM of his salary in the trade, while sending pitchers Andrew McKirahan and Carlos Portuondo to the Reds. Neither of those hurlers has seen much action this year or shown a particular likelihood of contributing at the MLB level.
The Mariners have struck a deal with the Braves to acquire lefty Andrew Albers, per David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via Twitter). Cash considerations will make up the return in the deal.
Albers had been working at Triple-A Gwinnett; now, he’ll help bolster the depth for the Mariners, who have suffered a variety of pitching injuries of late. The 31-year-old has limited experience in the majors, with just 17 total appearances over parts of three seasons, but he has shown rather well this year at the highest level of the minors.
Through his 120 2/3 innings to date for Gwinnett — covering 17 starts as well as nine relief appearances — Albers carries a 2.61 ERA. He’s also carrying 8.6 K/9 against just 1.4 BB/9 as well as a solid 46.1% groundball rate.
Whether Seattle intends to bring Albers up in the near-term isn’t clear. At a minimum, he’ll provide the organization with a new depth piece as it filters arms up to account for the recent DL placements of David Phelps, Felix Hernandez, and James Paxton.
With Phillips’ previous team, the Reds, paying all but $1MM of his $13MM salary for 2017, the Braves are only on the hook for about $300K through season’s end, as Heyman notes. Despite Phillips’ cheap price tag and history of respectable production, no one claimed the 36-year-old. But the Braves have discussed Phillips with multiple teams, per Heyman, who points to the Rays as a potential fit for the right-handed hitter.
While Phillips has lined up almost exclusively at the keystone since debuting in the majors in 2002, the Braves recently shifted him to third to make room for standout prospect Ozzie Albies. Before that, Phillips garnered mixed reviews from advanced fielding metrics at second, with minus-5 defensive runs saved and an Ultimate Zone Rating just above zero. Offensively, Phillips hasn’t fallen off much in recent years. While he’s not the star-caliber producer he was in his career campaign, 2011, he continues to avoid strikeouts better than most, and his .285/.325/.418 line in 416 plate appearances this season is roughly average relative to his position.
“Knocking Down the Door” is a regular feature that identifies minor leaguers who are making a case for a big league promotion.
The Braves were non-contenders in 2016 when they surprisingly called up top prospect Dansby Swanson from Double-A and inserted him into the starting lineup. Out of playoff contention late in the season once again, would they do the same with the 19-year-old Acuña, considering how Swanson has mostly struggled in his first full MLB season?
There is one notable difference between Swanson in 2016 and Acuña in 2017. Swanson was having a decent season in Double-A (.261/.342/.402 in 84 games) at the time of his call-up. Acuña has been absolutely tearing the cover off of the ball and seemingly getting better throughout the season during stints in High-A, Double-A and Triple-A. In 26 games since a July promotion to Gwinnett, the right-handed batter is slashing .347/.426/.574 with four homers, seven doubles, 13 walks and 22 strikeouts.
While the Braves will likely explore a trade for one of their current outfielders this offseason in anticipation of Acuña’s arrival as an everyday player in 2018, they could work him into the mix late this season with three-to-four starts per week.
The 23-year-old lefty was pitching in High-A less than a month ago, so a promotion to the Major Leagues soon after probably seems unrealistic. However, the recent trade of Francisco Liriano and the fourth disabled list stint for Aaron Sanchez has left the team’s rotation so thin that journeyman Nick Tepesch is being added to the 40-man roster to start on Wednesday to replace another journeyman, Cesar Valdez, who was placed on the disabled list after allowing 12 earned runs over his past two starts.
Meanwhile, Borucki has been outstanding since a promotion to Double-A, posting three consecutive seven-inning starts with a total of 18 strikeouts while allowing only one earned run, 11 hits and three walks in 21 innings. The former 15th-round pick, who idolized Mark Buehrle as a kid and is comparable in many ways, is already on the team’s 40-man roster and only at 119 innings on the season.
In six games since the July 31st trade that sent him from the Dodgers to the Rangers for Yu Darvish, Calhoun is 7-for-25 with four homers, pushing his season total to 27. Not only can the lefty-swinging Calhoun hit for power—he also had 27 homers and 25 doubles in Double-A in 2016—he’s one of the toughest hitters to strike out in the Minors. Hitting 25+ homers in the upper minors is notable, but accomplishing that feat while striking out fewer than 100 times is extremely rare. The 22-year-old struck out 65 times while drawing 45 walks in 2016. He has 36 walks and only 50 strikeouts this season.
The good thing about being traded to the American League is that Calhoun’s future position in the Major Leagues, whether it’s second base or the outfield, probably doesn’t have to be sorted out before he gets the call to the Majors. The kid can flat out rake. With Mike Napoli struggling—he’s 4 for his last 32 with 17 strikeouts— the Rangers could give Calhoun plenty of at-bats at the DH spot with an occasional look at second base or in left field.
After an impressive stint in Double-A earned him an early-season promotion to Triple-A in 2016, Crawford appeared to be on the fast track to the Majors. Of course, only the “light-hitting” Freddy Galvis appeared to be standing in his way at the time. But in an unpredictable turn of events, Galvis went on a home run binge while the 21-year-old Crawford, considered one of the top prospects in baseball, struggled during his first taste of Triple-A. Since last July, Galvis has homered 24 times in 706 plate appearances while posting an OPS over .700.
Crawford was never going to simply be handed the starting shortstop job, but any chance of a 2017 promotion was dwindling unless he forced himself back into the picture. His performance in July, and so far in August, probably fits that description. With an OPS over 1.000, 10 homers, six doubles, three triples, 21 walks and 27 strikeouts over that span, Crawford has earned a late-season look as the Phillies’ regular shortstop. Galvis, who will be a free agent after the 2018 season, has probably done enough over the past year to generate some offseason trade interest whether he plays regularly down the stretch or not.
With the Phillies committed to giving Tommy Joseph a full season to show what he can do as the team’s starting first baseman, it appeared that Hoskins, one of the most productive hitters in the Minors over the past three seasons, would probably have to wait until 2018 before getting a chance. But following the release of Michael Saunders, the trade of Howie Kendrick, and Aaron Altherr’s second trip to the disabled list, the Phillies’ outfield is looking thin enough that the 24-year-old Hoskins was given the green light to play left field for the first time in his professional career on Monday. He played there again on Tuesday.
While a slight increase in defensive versatility could be a key to Hoskins arriving in the Majors this season, maybe as soon as this week, it’s hard to imagine him not being the starting first baseman in 2018. Joseph is having a below-average season for a first baseman (.741 OPS, 16 HR, 97 K) and is currently in a 1-for-22 slump. Hoskins still has to prove that he can hit MLB pitching, but his current .280/.383/.571 slash line with only 75 strikeouts is a pretty good indicator that he will do just that.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Camargo will head to the 10-day disabled list, but it looks like Braves fans can breathe a sigh of relief, as MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweets that the MRI revealed no structural damage in Camargo’s right knee. Instead, he’s been diagnosed with a bone bruise. Camargo has been told he’ll miss anywhere from 10 to 14 days (Twitter link via Bowman). While not an ideal outcome, it’s a better prognosis than some may have feared when seeing the 23-year-old helped off the field and struggling to put any weight on his right leg. It’s likely that Swanson will take Camargo’s roster spot, though that has yet to be announced by the team.
- Braves infielder Johan Camargo suffered a leg injury prior to tonight’s game and has been initially diagnosed with a hyperextended knee, tweets David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Camargo hopped over the chalk line while taking the field and seemed to trip in doing so, ultimately crumbling to the ground and needing to be helped off the field (video link via FOX Sports Braves, on Twitter). O’Brien notes that Camargo is set to undergo an MRI, and Dansby Swanson has already been pulled from the game with the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate in Gwinnett. The Braves figure to have further word on the injury later tonight.
Atlanta pursued a trade for right-hander Sonny Gray before the Athletics dealt him to the Yankees at this past Monday’s non-waiver deadline, but he wasn’t the Braves’ prime target among controllable pitchers. Rather, the Braves had greater interest in Tigers righty Michael Fulmer, reports FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (Twitter link).
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While the Tigers ended up retaining Fulmer, they could revisit trade talks involving the 24-year-old during the offseason, suggests Rosenthal. The Braves would presumably still covet Fulmer, as would many other teams, considering he ranks among the game’s best young starters. Fulmer fired 159 innings of 3.06 ERA ball en route to American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2016, and he has also notched strong results in his sophomore campaign. Thus far, Fulmer has recorded a 3.59 ERA, 6.41 K/9, 1.99 BB/9 and a 49.7 percent ground-ball rate across 140 1/3 frames. Although he’s not exactly a strikeout machine, Fulmer has offset that by seldom allowing hard contact on balls put in play – he ranks a solid 26th among starters in infield fly percentage (10.2), and hitters have posted a meager .280 wOBA against him (compared to a .296 xwOBA, per Statcast).
Unfortunately for Fulmer, he hasn’t gotten through 2017 unscathed. He dealt with shoulder bursitis earlier in the year and landed on the disabled list Thursday with ulnar neuritis in his right elbow. The Braves, though, view him as less of an injury risk than Gray, and they also greatly value Fulmer’s team control. Fulmer hasn’t even gone through arbitration yet – that will happen as a Super Two player after the 2018 season – whereas Gray is on track to become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2019 campaign.
Considering his combination of performance, youth and club control, Fulmer would be at the center of a bidding war if the Tigers were to place him on the block in the winter. While any team would struggle to pry Fulmer out of Detroit, the Braves might be in the best position to make it happen. They have the premier farm system in baseball, according to recent assessments from Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law (subscription required and recommended), and may be willing to move prospect capital for young, proven commodities in an effort to leave their rebuild behind. At 50-58, the Braves are on their way to a fourth straight sub-.500 season.
The Pirates have acquired utilityman Sean Rodriguez from the Braves, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman writes (Twitter links). In return, the Braves will receive minor-league 1B/OF Connor Joe, according to FanRag’s Tommy Stokke (on Twitter). The move is now official. The two sides consummated the deal after the Pirates put in a waiver claim on Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, of course, played for the Pirates in 2015 and 2016 and had his career-best season with the Bucs (.270/.349/.510 over 342 plate appearances) in 2016 before signing a two-year, $11.5MM deal with Atlanta last winter. Later that same offseason, however, Rodriguez and his family were in a serious car accident, and Rodriguez spent the first few months of the season working his way back from a shoulder injury. He finally returned in mid-July and has batted .162/.326/.351 in 47 plate appearances since.
Now, though, the Braves don’t have the need for Rodriguez they once might have — as Bowman notes, Johan Camargo has hit well while playing the leftmost three infield positions for the Braves this year, and the team added another versatile player, Danny Santana, in a trade in May. Meanwhile, the Pirates have been left without Jung Ho Kang this season as the third baseman struggles to get a visa, and the team has gotten poor production at various points from bench players like Philip Gosselin, John Jaso and Max Moroff. Rodriguez will provide them with another option around the infield and at the corner outfield spots. In addition to the remainder of his salary this season, he will make $5MM in 2018.
The 24-year-old Joe was the 39th overall pick out of the University of San Diego in the 2014 draft, but he’s moved through the minors slowly for an early college pick, owing in part to a 2014 back injury but also to his struggles to generate offense commensurate with the corner positions at which he’s played. This season, he’s batted .240/.338/.380 in 28 plate appearances for Double-A Altoona, demonstrating a good batting eye (with a 12.1 BB%) but modest average and power. He did not rank in MLB.com’s list of the Pirates’ top 30 prospects.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- The Braves are “almost certain” to retain manager Brian Snitker next season, Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. Snitker took over as the Braves’ interim manager last season, and the Braves hired him full-time (although only for a one-year deal plus an option) after he led the rebuilding club to a 59-65 record following a brutal 9-28 start under Fredi Gonzalez. After a 50-58 start this year, it appears both the Braves’ players and its front office appreciate having Snitker around. Snitker has “done everything possible to help us win,” says Freddie Freeman. “He deserved the managerial job when he got, and we all hope that he’s back.” Team president of baseball operations John Hart suggests Snitker will return. “[L]et’s just say that Brian hasn’t done anything to make us look around for candidates like we were doing at this time last year, when we were compiling names,” says Hart. “If you broke into my office in the dead of night, you would find no slips of paper in my desk.”
The Braves have struck a deal to acquire some international spending capacity from the Reds, both teams announced. In return, Cincinnati will receive minor-league outfielder Randy Ventura.
$1.25MM in pool money is changing hands, per Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer (via Twitter). Under the new bonus system that goes into place this year, there’s a hard cap on spending. The Reds had started with $5.25MM in availability, while Atlanta had $4.75MM. It’s permissible for teams to trade away their entire allocation, though clubs can only boost their original pools by 75%.
This exchange of spending capacity is more about the volume of signings than aiding the pursuit of bigger fish. Both teams are serving bans on doling out bonuses of over $300K after blowing past their allocations in the prior signing period (when that was still permitted, albeit with penalties).
Both clubs have been rather aggressive with their international outlays in recent years — Atlanta, in particular. Indeed, that’s how the Braves landed Ventura, who signed during the 2014-15 period.
Despite a slight build, Ventura has drawn some attention for his tools — especially, his speed. He swiped 55 bags in just 58 games in the Dominican Summer League upon signing and has stolen 29 through 95 games of Low-A ball this year. That said, he has also yet to develop any pop, with his on-base percentage out-pacing his slugging percentage in each of his pro seasons. Through 413 trips to the plate in 2017, Ventura owns a .294/.338/.325 batting line.