Reflecting on the Latest Atlanta Braves Trade

Nov 28, 2016; Gatlinburg, TN, USA; Fire erupts on both sides of Highway 441 near The Spur. Mandatory Credit: Jessica Tezak/Knoxville News Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK

There has been quite a range of emotions over the past 12 hours.  This trade between the Braves and Mariners could ultimately mean little … but we might wish to mark this date anyway.

I would first like to begin this with a message that’s most definitely not about the Atlanta Braves – or even baseball.

I know I’m sharing the sadness of a lot of you in Braves’ Country this morning as we are hearing of the devastation that has happened in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the Smoky Mountains National Park region.  The area has been a joy for many over decades, and this loss will be felt for decades.  So far, injuries are reported to be minimal – that’s the good news.

A completely different kind of emotion – with both surprise and some shock – happened last evening as word of this trade came down… which was clearly not on anyone’s radar at all.

What the Braves Gave Up

A lot of people were high on Max Povse.  Our Ben Chase was not as keen on him as others were – ranking him 28th among Braves’ prospects.  However, Ben placed Robert Whalen 10th overall, which put him highest among all of those who could have be in the running for a 5th starters role this Spring.

For comparison purposes, John Sickels’ latest list put Whalen at #14 and Povse #16.  I won’t even bother with the MLBPipeline rankings – they have been whacked since the Summer.

The Mariners just gave up Taijuan Walker last week to Arizona, so this move gives them back 2 significant prospect pitchers (3 if you want to count Ryan Weber, who they picked up from Atlanta from the waiver wire).  Good work on their part.

Ironically, the Braves could take Weber back now if they’d had the roster space – he’s been DFA’d by Seattle so that Whalen can be added to their roster.

If you want to go back even further, Seattle also has Cody Martin on their roster.  Obviously, they believe in Atlanta’s pitchers… even those left on the curb.

Atlanta probably won’t miss Whalen.  That sounds a bit harsh, but with the addition of Colon and Dickey, the rotation was going to be nearly set, putting him in the position of having to beat out the likes of Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, John Gant, Williams Perez and perhaps others.

In short, Whalen is a victim of the decision to add the ‘innings eaters’ for this season.  The good news for him is that there’s a real chance to break into the Seattle rotation immediately.

However, Povse could have been part of that ‘next wave’ with guys like Mike Soroka, Patrick Weigel, Max Fried, and perhaps Kolby Allard – all of whom could be in the mix sometime between late 2017 and early 2019.

BaseballAmerica commented on Povse’s ability to induce weak contact while his physical stature (6’8″) and delivery don’t help hitters either in terms of timing or in finding the baseball out of his hand.  They think his time to the majors is almost upon us – perhaps for late this season, even.

So if there’s a regret in this deal – that’s it:  that a solid rotation contributor may have been lost.

Sep 30, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto conducts an interview in the dugout before a game against the Houston Astros at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

What Atlanta is Getting

The upside is real for Alex Jackson… if he can harness himself and that bat.  He was ranked as high as a #20 overall prospect after being drafted 6th overall in 2014, but falling to 94th a year ago.  Doubtless, he’ll fall off that BaseballAmerica chart this season, but it’s all about ‘potential’ here.

First, I’ll hit on the speculative parts:

  • Could the Braves use him as bait and flip him in another deal? I don’t believe that’s the motivation here.  This is a ‘needs for needs’ deal on both ends – albeit for prospects on both sides.
  • Jackson is an outfielder, but could be converted to catcher?  While I am hearing rumblings that this is possible, I’m also going to suggest that this probably  won’t be done either.  He was a catcher in high school, but Seattle put him in the outfield immediately.  Either way, the Braves need to work on his bat, and that’s going to be the focus.

The scouting grades on Jackson are… curious.  Currently shown as 45 for his Hit tool.  This sounds low, though is likely colored by early results… we’ll get to that.

Coppy is probably looking at Jackson and thinking ‘Mickey Moniak with power’.  Mickey was the ‘best high school hitter on the draft board’ this past Summer.  This is the label that Jackson had on him when drafted in 2014… but he didn’t start very well.

The key phrase in Jackson’s MLB Pipeline write-up is this:  “The Mariners held him back in extended spring training in 2016, noting that he needed to mature both on and off the field.”

If you’re wondering why the Mariners gave up on Jackson so quickly, there’s probably a couple of factors:

  • He wasn’t obtained on Jerry DiPoto’s watch, so he wasn’t ‘married’ to the investment (a draft day bonus of more than $4 million)
  • They essentially replaced him… and surpassed him… by drafting Kyle Lewis this Summer
  • When Atlanta asked about him for a pair of starting pitchers, then likely leaped at the chance to get that much value for him.

There were signs of improvement out of Jackson in 2016 on the field… no word about other issues… that should encourage the Braves are who they are getting.  A .157 average in A-ball in 2015 was hoisted to .243 in 2016 with an OPS going from .453 (yikes) to .740 (better).  He was hurt (shoulder) in 2015

The power is real, too:  11 homers in 92 games with 20 doubles to go with that this year.  The biggest concern is strikeouts – close to a 30% pace (103 of them) in 381 plate appearances.  However, he also accepted 34 walks.

Jackson will be 21 on Christmas Day, and it will be interesting to see where the Braves’ place him.  It will be either Rome or Kissimmee… and I’m personally hoping for Rome to start with.

If he can harness that strikeouts while maintaining the bat speed and power, then the performance will follow quickly.  Whether he’ll then maintain the discipline to progress is the wild card question that may be the difference between making the majors… or not.

A PLAYER TO BE NAMED LATER?

This is kind of curious from an academic point of view… but that’s about it.

There are a few reasons that a PTBNL might be declared in a trade these days:

  • Because a player needs to clear waivers first
  • Because of a roster issue for the receiving team
  • Because of an injury issue that needs to be reviewed
  • Because the receiving team has been offered the choice of perhaps 2-3 players and they’d like time to review the selection before deciding.
  • Because the choice involves a player eligible for the Rule 5 draft and the Braves want to make sure they actually get to keep somebody.

While it’s probably either the 4th or 5th reasons, I’d like to believe that this is about the second reason and that the Braves would be getting catcher Jesus Sucre.

But that’s almost certainly not the case, for DiPoto had to DFA Ryan Weber to clear space for Rob Whalen. Had a major league catcher been involved, then this would have been known immediately, Weber would not have to be waived, and the Braves would just have to deal with their own roster crunch themselves.

There is a 6-month window on naming PTBNL, but this will likely be resolved by the end of the Winter Meetings.

So this was a “typical” Coppolella trade:  obtaining a high-upside, high-risk/high-reward player.  The Povse loss will likely be felt, but it is also absorbable due to the sheer volume of quality pitching in the minors.

Bats?  The Braves clearly need bats…and just got a pretty good one.  We’ll watch this one closely.

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