When news broke Monday that Tommy Hanson was in a coma in an Atlanta hospital after a friend found him not breathing, Braves Country became immediately concerned about the former Brave. The phrase ‘once a Brave, always a Brave’ has never meant as much as it does in times like this. News came Tuesday that Hanson, 29, had died.
In 2009, Tommy Hanson burst on the big league scene after lighting up the minors with his unhittable fastball. His reputation preceded him. In 2008 while pitching for the Mississippi Braves, Tommy threw a no-hitter, earned a MiLBY for Class A Advanced Single Game Performance, was rewarded for a dominant season with a spot on the Baseball America’s Minor League Team of the Year, was the Arizona Fall League’s MVP and was named Braves Pitcher of the Year. It is no exaggeration to say the league was anxiously anticipating his debut.
We often forget how promising Atlanta’s pitching staff was in the late 2000s. Jair Jurrjens, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Craig Kimbrel and Tommy Hanson were either on the roster or making their way through the minors to The Show. Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado were only a year or two away. The front office had acquired Tim Hudson, Eric O’Flaherty, Kenshin Kawakami, Derek Lowe and Billy Wagner to round out the staff and offer veteran leadership to the up-and-coming arms. Of course, pitching rarely works out as planned. Kawakami was a bust, the Braves ate money to move Lowe, Medlen and Beachy required Tommy John and Tommy Hanson, well, Hanson saw the highest highs and lowest lows of the sport.
Hanson did as everyone thought he would: He burst onto the scene in 2009 making his arrival noticed with a 3rd place running in the National League Rookie of the Year vote. That after having debuted in June! People forget that the Atlanta Braves brought Tommy in after cutting none other than Tom Glavine. They had a lot of hope for this young, 6’6″ red head from California. And he didn’t disappoint. His 2009 season is the kind pitchers’ dream of: 11-4, 2.89 ERA and 116 strikeouts (8.2 SO/9) in 127.2 innings pitched over 21 starts. But Tommy wasn’t just a line of stats to the Braves, he was a good clubhouse guy and a great teammate. You won’t find a former teammate that doesn’t say he was a joy to have around and one of the best guys to have on your side.
In 2010, the Braves sent long-time manager Bobby Cox off in style. Their 91-71 record got them the Wild Card. Hanson’s 10-11 record on the season is hardly as telling of his season as his 3.33 ERA. He was a workhorse, going to the mound for 202-2/3 innings of work. Tommy was in or near the top 30 in both ERA and strikeouts that year. The Braves would go home after a mediocre loss to the Giants in the NLDS, but there was hope for a return to the postseason with such strong arms in the Braves’ system.
The Braves did make it back to the postseason in the first ever National League Wild Card game, a game they lost. But Tommy Hanson didn’t pitch, his fellow Californian Kris Medlen did. And at this point, it was clear that something was very wrong with the righthander’s arm.
By the end of 2012, even I, a fan of Tommy, was calling him “a shell of his former self.” In October of that year, I wrote:
“Though it seemed injury was the likely culprit at the end of last season and again midway through the 2012 season, those who follow the Braves are fearful that Hanson’s drop in velocity and dominance is a sign that the Tommy of old will not be returning.”
It was painful watching Tommy fall as quickly as he did. In 2009 he looked as if he had a long career in baseball and one that would, if not consistently at least flirt with dominance. At the end of 2011, Tommy dealt with a nagging injury that can reasonably be blamed for his late struggles.
The trade that sent Hanson to the Angels for Jordan Walden was widely heralded as a wise trade and one that would be good for both players. Anaheim didn’t need Walden to close and the Braves hoped a change of scenery would return Tommy to the pitcher he was when he broke into the league. Tommy’s ERA had been growing, he had spent time on the disabled list with a back strain and he hadn’t looked himself. While it was hard for the team and their fans to part with Big Red, as he had come to be called, everyone was rooting for Tommy Hanson. It was impossible to not root for Tommy.
Despite his struggles within the game, outside the game he remained a great friend and teammate. The outpouring of condolences to the Hanson family from members of the Braves, Angels and Rangers organizations are proof. Something former Brave Kris Medlen said in a text to Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution struck me:
“I also feel bad for anyone who didn’t get a chance to know the man. He was the kindest, most loyal person I’ve ever met. He loved his family more than anything in the world, and his friends felt like family when around them. He was not ‘like’ a brother to me, he was my brother and I’m going to miss him so much.”
We as fans may not have known Tommy personally, but we got to see these young Braves come up alongside him and we got to appreciate just how close they all were.
I was reminded of when Braves fans everywhere were posting pictures of themselves doing “The Kimbrel” and one of those pictures came from the players themselves. Attending Peter Moylan’s wedding in Hawaii, Tommy joined Medlen, Moylan and Kimbrel to show their support for the unusual stance of their teammate. It is a reminder of something we often forget about these players we watch for 162 games a season: They are first and foremost people. They have friends. They have family. And yes, sometimes their teammates become their family, but that isn’t a given. That Medlen calls Hanson a brother speaks to the kind of man he was.
Baseball is just a game. This comes as a surprise to some, I know, but after the toughest game, the worst loss, the high of winning and even the end of the season, it’s just a game. There is life outside baseball. Both the game and life outside it aren’t always easy. Tommy knew this better than most. As Braves Country heals from this loss and moves on to another season, the last at Turner Field, it’s important not to forget this.
Personally, I will never forget Tommy’s brilliant first half in 2011 and how disappointing it was to not have him named to the All Star team. That summer his finest start came against Houston. He entered that game with 2 games already where he’d recorded 10 strikeouts. That didn’t stop him from topping his best. He went 7 innings with 14 strikeouts and 1 earned run. It was one of those games when you knew this kid was special. Not only was his pitching unbelievable, his spirit was contagious. All 6’6″ of him stood on that mound and in that dugout, his flaming red hair and brilliant smile on display, and showed us that there was truly something special about Tommy Hanson.
May Tommy rest in peace and be forever in our hearts.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.
Coming into the 2015 season, the Atlanta Braves had a lot to prove. On the eve of Opening Day they said goodbye to fan favorite and closer extraordinaire Craig Kimbrel. They had already traded the bats of Justin Upton and Jason Heyward. They let go of a big chunk of relievers. But they also made trades that restocked the farm system and signed talented players in Shelby Miller and Nick Markakis. As it stands, the signees and trades have made a big impact on the club, keeping Atlanta around the .500 mark all season.
Let’s talk about the newbies: Juan Uribe, the latest to suit up in a Braves uniform, came to the Braves with 1st round draft pick Chris Withrow at the cost of Alberto Callaspo, Eric Stults, Juan Jaime and Ian Thomas. While Callaspo and Stults had brilliant moments with their new club, the trade worked out well for Atlanta. Juan Uribe, long remembered for his key hits against the Braves, still has pop in his bat and a surprising amount of agility and range at third base. Withrow is coming back from Tommy John surgery and won’t be on a big league field anytime soon, but come time for the new stadium opening, he may be a hurler the Braves can count on.
Nick Markakis came back to the state where he played high school ball after a successful career with the Baltimore Orioles. The former 1st round pick put together a gold glove career in the field and a steady .291 average at the plate in 9 years with the O’s. With the loss of Jason Heyward, the Braves were looking for a more consistent presence at the plate, someone who could lead off and defense that was adequate. What they got was all of those things plus the gold glove caliber play that Markakis brings to the club. He has been everything they hoped for. His batting average sits at .305 going into the weekend, with a .792 OPS and 34 walks to 33 strikeouts (compared to Heyward’s 12 walks to 41 strikeouts thus far in 2015). He has provided a spark in the lineup and leadership in the clubhouse. The sting of losing Heyward seems to be wearing off.
Coming to the Braves in the Justin Upton trade was a promising young infielder who everyone expected to head to Gwinnett. Jace Peterson played 27 games for the struggling 2014, hitting .113. He impressed Fredi Gonzalez at camp and was slotted in from Opening Day. He has put together a stellar start to the season with 53 hits and 23 RBIs in 219 plate appearances. His .275/.349/.347 line has been a consistent bright spot for a club that has at times struggled for runs. Peterson looks to have a solid career ahead of him with the Braves, evidenced by the willingness of the club to move prospect Peraza to the outfield and utilize Ciriaco off the bench.
Atlanta has also seen unlikely production from Cameron Maybin (.298/.370/.417), opening the door for the release of Eric Young, Jr., baby Brave Kelly Johnson (.273/.319/.511), and backup catcher A.J. Pierzynski (.276/.320/.745) who had a torrid April.
BRAVES DEALT BLOWS TO ROTATION AND ABSORB CHANGES IN ‘PEN…
As much change as the lineup has undergone, it in no way compares to the complete overhaul of the pitching staff. With Kimbrel, Walden, Carpenter, Harang, Santana, Varvaro, Thomas, Simmons, Schlosser and Shreve leaving via trade and free agency and Minor and Simmons going down with injury, there were a lot of holes to fill to put together the puzzle that is the 2015 staff. Additions of Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli shored up the closer spot. Trades that brought Shelby Miller, Mike Foltynewicz and Manny Banuelos to the club were hopefully going to pay off in the rotation, but the Braves bet on Eric Stults over Foltynewicz out of camp. Injury to Minor and inconsistency from Teheran in the beginning opened the door for Folty.
Mike Foltynewicz has been impressive for a guy who came to the Braves with the question mark next to his name regarding where he would fit in. Bullpen? Maybe. Triple-A? Likely. Now? He is one of the shining stars on the staff. With his regularly lowering 4.72 average in 8 starts (3-2 record), he’s had 45 K’s in 47 2/3 innings. In the control of Atlanta for the years going into the opening of Sun Trust Stadium, his career is promising and looks to pay dividends to a club that took a chance.
The new ace of the staff is without question Shelby Miller. Miller came to the club looking to continue his young career out of the shadow of Adam Wainwright and consistently good St. Louis staffs. It’s incredible that in 78 1/3 innings pitched he has only recorded a 1.84 ERA. A 5-2 record doesn’t do justice to how good Miller has been. The run support has not always backed his strong effort. With the early struggles of Julio Teheran and the attempts by Alex Wood to understand his role and settle into it, Shelby’s success has been the balance required for the rotation to go forward.
Nobody can replace the numbers that Craig Kimbrel put up for the Braves. As the club’s all-time saves leader, Kimbrel’s loss was huge. Jim Johnson’s 3.18 ERA in 28 1/3 innings pitched is hardly reflective of his good outings. A few rough weeks for the ‘pen have ballooned his ERA. His 22 K’s and 3 saves combined with Jason Grilli’s 3.38 ERA, 16 saves and 28 K’s in 21 1/3 innings are pretty comparable to the numbers Kimbrel has put up for San Diego (3.91 ERA and 34 K’s over 23 innings). They don’t bring the heat or the “Welcome to the Jungle” hype, but as replacements go, they hold up.
It was no secret that Atlanta was looking to restock the farm in the offseason as they geared up for the move out of Turner Field. It did come as a surprise that the pieces they added to the roster for the here and now turned out to not only be adequate but fun to watch as they scraped and clawed for every run and every win.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter@framethepitch.
Still reeling from the news that the Braves had traded former Rookie of the Year, perennial all-star and all-time club saves leader Craig Kimbrel to the San Diego Padres, the Braves embarked on the first series of the season in Miami lacking some of the cohesiveness they had broke camp with. Despite the startling news to Kimbrel’s former teammates, they took to Miami with confidence and walked away with a series sweep.
The story of the series wasn’t the remaining members of the 2014 Opening Day roster (Avilan, Freeman, C. Johnson, Simmons and Teheran), but the newcomers to the club. Backup catcher A.J. Pierzynski came through in the final game of the series with a 2-run homer that put the Braves on top and unreachable by the scuffling Marlins. Pierzynski appears to be an addition that can provide offense if given proper rest, an arrangement that is perfect for a club with Christian Bethancourt as its everyday catcher. Pierzynski was signed as the veteran catcher that could mentor the young Bethancourt, any offense he provides is a bonus in the eyes of the club, a bonus that will endear him to fans quickly.
Fredi Gonzalez announced on day one of the new season that he would turn to veteran closer Jason Grilli to come in for the club in save situations with the possibility of another veteran closer, Jim Johnson, getting a few saves when Grilli needs a day off. Grilli stepped in without hesitation and has notched 2 saves on the season thus far. Grilli, who made his MLB debut in 2000, is no stranger to closing and made a name for himself and an all-star appearance in that role with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It wasn’t only the veterans making their mark in the first 3 games of the season. Jace Peterson, who came to the club in the trade that sent Justin Upton to the San Diego Padres, made a splash with a few impressive defensive plays at second base. Peterson was named the starting second baseman over veteran Alberto Callaspo and fellow rookie Pedro Ciriaco. He recorded 2 hits, 2 walks and 2 runs scored in his debut series. His bat will need improvement, but the young man has a promising future and looks to be a great add for a club that has struggled at second base going back to the trade that brought Dan Uggla over from the then Florida Marlins.
Perhaps the trade that will pay the highest dividends for the club this season was the swap with the Cardinals that brought starting pitcher Shelby Miller to Atlanta in exchange for Jordan Walden and Georgia’s own Jason Heyward. Miller brings with him to Atlanta a record 25-18 record over 370 innings pitched. Young and with loads of potential, Miller will be with the club for far longer than Jason Heyward would have been (Heyward becomes a free agent at the end of the 2015 season) and can slot in nicely in the rotation in either the 2 or 3 spot. In his first start with the club, Miller pitched 5 innings of scoreless ball while striking out 4. Miller looked sharp despite only lasting 5 innings.
Something that was quickly obvious in the first 3 games of the season was the lower strikeout rate of the roster and the ability to move base runners over. They were 10-for-23 with runners in scoring position in Miami, already a huge improvement from the 2014 Atlanta Braves. The rally that they put together in game 2 that gave them a 7-0 lead after the first inning was a sight for the sore eyes of fans who watched many a rally killed last season. The final 12-2 score was a credit to the entire lineup with contributions from Markakis, Freeman, EY Jr., Bethancourt, C. Johnson and newcomer Maybin.
BRAVES HOME OPENER BRINGS OLD FOE TO TURNER FIELD…
The home opener in Atlanta looks to be full of familiar faces as former Braves descend on Turner Field to mark the season in which the Braves left Milwaukee for Atlanta. Bobby Cox, Fred McGriff, Henry Aaron and Chipper Jones are expected to be in attendance.
Friday’s opener will feature Niese v. Stults. Saturday pits Gee vs. Teheran (1-0, 1.50 ERA). And Sunday’s finale will feature a yet to be named Met vs. Wood (1-0, 3.60 ERA).
Eric Stults had a solid spring with his new club, beating out Wandy Rodriguez for a spot in the rotation. Stults isn’t necessarily a name familiar to the casual fan as he really struggled through most of last season with the equally troubled Padres. However, with the help of changed mechanics, he put up a 2.74 ERA in the final 11 starts of his Padres tenure. The Braves toyed with the idea of putting Stults in the ‘pen, but his strong spring would not allow for it. He has a lot to prove to his new club with this start, but with the injury to Mike Minor and the time Mike Foltynewicz needs at Triple-A, Stults won’t be facing competition for his starting job. Stults brings a career 4.12 ERA and a 35-43 record to the club.
With both a righty and a lefty taking the mound, look to see a mix of outfielders with Eric Young, Jr. facing his old team as well as fellow newcomers Cameron Maybin, Jonny Gomes and Kelly Johnson. Gomes and perhaps even Gosselin will get a chance against the lefty.
One other note on the flexible outfield that Fredi Gonzalez has at his disposal: The Braves got word this week that $7.5 million dollar man Dian Toscano has finally arrived in Florida. The Cuban defector had been in limbo in the Dominican Republic while awaiting a U.S. visa. He will attend extended spring training at the Wide World of Sports complex in Florida before being sent to Triple-A Gwinnett.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter@framethepitch.
No, it isn’t April Fool’s Day. No, you read that headline correctly. With hours ’til Opening Day 2015, John Hart and the Braves’ front office pulled the lever sending closer Craig Kimbrel and outfielder Melvin Upton, Jr. (B.J.) to the San Diego Padres. In return, the Braves receive outfielders Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin, Padres’ 4th best prospect Matt Wisler (RHP), outfielder Jordan Paroubeck and the 41st pick in this year’s draft.
Let’s start with the good news: The Braves continue to rake in prospects. In what is now clearly a complete rebuild, Atlanta has brought in some of the best talent in the league and continue that with Matt Wisler. Wisler was ranked by Baseball America as the 4th best Padres prospect and at 22-years-old is knocking on the door of the big leagues after spending half of 2014 with Triple-A El Paso.
In addition to Wisler, the Braves acquired another prospect in Jordan Paroubeck. An outfielder, Paroubeck is a switch hitter who made his debut last season in Rookie ball.
The draft pick the Braves receive is an interesting addition to what has been a winter full of draft selection pick ups. They will now have 4 picks in the first 54 selections of the 2015 draft.
The two big leaguers that the Braves acquired in this trade that are ready and capable of being placed on the field tomorrow are Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin. Speculation is that Quentin will be immediately DFA’d to make room on the roster and so that he can return to an AL team where his skill set is better suited. Quentin’s addition to the trade package evened out the financial sides. Cameron Maybin will be the extra outfielder the Braves had hoped to have on their Opening Day roster but simply didn’t have enough players for. With the absence of Cuban signee Toscano due to visa issues, the Braves had planned on taking the field tomorrow with one less outfielder and one extra pitcher. They will now place Maybin on the OD roster as a right-handed counter to Eric Young, Jr. in center field. The Braves will call up Brandon Cunniff to fill the vacated spot of Kimbrel.
WHY THIS TRADE MAKES SENSE FOR ATLANTA…
Though it’s hard to understand why a player like Kimbrel would be part of this trade package, especially after this winter John Hart said that Kimbrel was a piece he hoped to build the team around, there are financial upsides to this trade that will help the team as the opening of the SunTrust Stadium approaches.
As the team’s all-time saves leader, Kimbrel has a place in Atlanta that will leave a hole for some time to come. His salary, however, will give the Braves opportunities to sign other players as they build for 2017. The Braves owed Kimbrel $33 million over the next 3 seasons. Additionally, they owed Melvin Upton, Jr. $46.35 million over that period from a deal that has turned out to be one of the worst in Atlanta’s history. Losing close to $80 million has a huge upside for a club with a sub-$100 million salary each season.
In terms of what they pick up in salary, the Braves take on $11 million plus a 2016 buyout on Quentin and $16 million for 2 years of the services of Maybin.
Keeping in mind that Upton would be starting the season on the disabled list, the Braves would be sending Eric Young, Jr. out to center field every day. While his defense is acceptable, his bat is not built for both right-handed and left-handed pitching. Adding Maybin gives the Braves flexibility in center as well as lineup options.
In the offseason, the signings of Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli seemed to bolster the bullpen and create questions regarding what a team would do with essentially 3 closers. Now without Kimbrel, either Grilli or Johnson could slot in at closer. Both have worked in camp with Roger McDowell to get back to the form they were in when they were best with Pittsburgh and Baltimore, respectively.
The Opening Day roster appears to be as follows for Atlanta: Pitchers Avilan, Cahill, Grilli, Jaime, Johnson, Martin, McKirahan, Miller, Outman, Stults, Teheran, Wood; catchers Bethancourt and Pierzynski; infielders Callaspo, Freeman, Gosselin, Johnson, Peterson, Simmons; outfielders Gomes, Johnson, Markakis, Maybin, Quentin, Young, Jr.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter@framethepitch.
Atlanta Braves’ relief pitcher Arodys Vizcaino was suspended Thursday for testing positive for PED use in violation of the Major League Baseball Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Vizcaino will serve an 80-game, unpaid suspension beginning with the regular season next week.
Reports are that Vizcaino tested positive for Stanozolol, a synthetic anabolic steroid. It is his first positive test.
Vizcaino was assigned to Triple-A Gwinnett Monday after struggling mightily in Grapefruit League play. His performance ended the hope that he would be part of a revamped bullpen. Vizcaino’s eight innings of work over seven appearances at camp resulted in 8 runs allowed on 9 hits and a head-scratching 8 walks. The Braves decided getting Vizcaino right in Triple-A would be beneficial when the ‘pen needs reinforcements. They will now have to look elsewhere until Vizcaino returns in 80 games.
Over the winter, Arodys Vizcaino was acquired from the Cubs with international signing money for middle infielder Tommy La Stella. While the Braves have lost Vizcaino for 80 games at the cost of a promising young player in La Stella, they were able to sign 8 players with the $830,000 in international signing cash they received from Chicago. Additionally, La Stella had lost his starting spot with the signing of Callaspo and the trade that brought Jace Peterson to the club.
In the absence of Vizcaino, the Braves continue to make decisions regarding the opening day bullpen spots.
When the Atlanta Braves arrived at Champion Stadium this spring, nobody in baseball knew what to expect of the revamped, ragtag group of players assembled by the team’s front office in the offseason. In fact, many of the players themselves didn’t know what to expect, but were excited about the talent and youth coming together. The team looked so different that Craig Kimbrel had shirts printed for all of the players with the humorous ‘My Name Is ______’ tag. Humorous as it may have been, it turns out there are many players that not only broke camp with the club that no casual follower of the club has heard of or knew was with the team but many of those players look to be on the opening day roster.
Coming into camp, the common wisdom was that there would be one roster spot up for grabs. This changed when Mike Minor began his throwing program and reported shoulder discomfort and tightness. Minor is no stranger to this ailment, but the timing of it made for an unexpected battle for not one but two rotation slots. The news now is that Minor has begun a throwing program after a series of exercises prescribed by Dr. Andrews improved his range of motion. The hope is that what plagued Minor throughout 2014 will no longer bother the lefty. But even with his progress, Minor is expected to miss at least a month of the season. This has opened the door for none other than veteran Wandy Rodriguez.
You’ll remember that Wandy Rodriguez was cut loose by the Phillies’ front office after failing a physical as spring training was getting underway. The Braves signed Wandy to a minor league contract with an invite to camp. If he makes the 40-man roster on opening day, he will received $2 million for his services in 2015. This, of course, is no longer an if. Barring any catastrophic outing between now and opening day, Wandy has secured the 4th rotation spot after a fantastic spring with his new club. Rodriguez holds a 91-94 record with a 4.06 ERA in his career. Additionally, he posted 6 consecutive seasons with an ERA under 4.00 while playing for the Astros and Pirates.
With 2 rotation spots, the battle for the 5th roster spot continues. Another surprise this spring is the promise of Mike Foltynewicz. When the Braves made their trade with the Houston Astros sending away Evan Gattis, it wasn’t expected that any of the prospects coming back would be big league ready. Despite a tough outing Tuesday when he was lit up by the Phillies, Folty remains in the mix for a rotation spot. Also fighting for the spot is former Padre Eric Stults, veteran starter Chien-Ming Wang and former Yankee Manny Banuelos.
ATLANTA’S ROSTER COMING TOGETHER ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BALL…
Coming into camp, the Braves expected big stories from some of their newest acquisitions. What nobody expected was for Andrelton Simmons to walk into camp with his offense and defense firing on all cylinders. In 10 games and 30 ABs, Simba is hitting .467 with a club-leading 12 RBIs.
Joining the hot bat of Simmons are the two guys battling for the spot as his double-play partner. The Braves signed Alberto Callaspo in the offseason with the assumption that he would be their opening day second baseman, but his presence in camp has not yet materialized in much positive. Instead, Jace Peterson and Pedro Ciriaco have stepped up in big ways. Showing adequate defense for their age and lack of experience, the true test was whether either player had progressed at the plate. In 41 ABs over 16 games, Peterson has 14 hits and 8 walks with a .341 average. However, with those astonishing numbers come 11 strikeouts. Ciriaco has a comparable 41 ABs in 17 games. Over that span he has put together 15 hits, 9 RBIs and a .366 average. The major difference between the two 2B candidates is OBP. Jace at .449 and Pedro at .372.
The biggest acquisition for the offense over the winter was veteran outfielder Nick Markakis. It came as both a surprise and a blow immediately following his signing when he underwent cervical spinal fusion surgery. For much of the winter it was unclear when Markakis would be able to return to full baseball activity. That he wouldn’t be ready for opening day seemed a foregone conclusion until he made his spring debut this week and put all doubts to rest. In his first 2 games and 6 ABs, Markakis has 2 runs, 2 hits and a .333 average. His progress on the field seems to indicate that he will be ready for the April 6th first game against the Marlins.
A regular that came into camp with something to prove that has remained unproven is third baseman Chris Johnson. Johnson had a major fall off after his first remarkable year with the club, but the Braves remain hopeful that last season was the anomaly and not his successful batting title-contending year. However, Joey Terdoslavich has been given some time at the hot corner to determine whether he can pick it. With Terdoslavich in the mix as well as veteran Callaspo, Johnson’s starting job looks not to be as solid as previously thought. As we saw more and more at the end of 2014 with B.J. (now Melvin) Upton and former (and still on the payroll) Brave Dan Uggla, the team will not allow for one player to bring down the lineup day in and day out.
Still in contention for bench spots are the aforementioned Terdoslavich, the rejuvenated Kelly Johnson and Almonte. Much of what happens with the bench will come down to who wins the 2B starting position, whether Eric Young, Jr. is the starting center fielder and how much the Braves think they can rely on Alberto Callaspo and Johnson.
While many old faces left Atlanta this winter, the Braves more than doubled the number of players joining the club. Expecting to take roster spots throughout the farm system and even a few with the big league club, Atlanta’s newest faces are largely unknown to Braves’ fans. They aren’t all unknown, however. A few old friends will join the club or be given invites to Spring Training to make their case for joining the 2015 Atlanta Braves.
Let’s start with the returning faces, known quantities who once wore the tomahawk proudly on their chests:
The latest former Brave to be announced by the club as returning is Kelly Johnson. Johnson, once one of the “Baby Braves” has signed a minor league contract. Johnson is listed as a third baseman though he played second base when he was with the club in the pre-Dan Uggla era. Johnson was a 1st round pick for Atlanta in the 2000 draft and made his MLB debut with the club in 2005. Since 2011, Johnson has played for every club in the AL East, his most recent stint with the Orioles.
The list of new faces joining the Braves is extensive. The transactions of the offseason thus far are as follows (in chronological order):
2B Alberto Callaspo has 9 years in the big leagues, the last 2 with the Oakland A’s. Callaspo signed a 1-year, $3 million deal with the club. Callaspo has the potential to play anywhere on the infield and was expected to play 2B with the departures of La Stella, Uggla and Pastornicky. The signing of Kelly Johnson may impact where Callaspo will play, but his versatility makes him a key piece for the club both on the field and off the bench.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter@framethepitch
If any question remained what Atanta’s offseason plan was, it was made perfectly clear Wednesday when the Braves traded fan favorite Evan Gattis to the Houston Astros for a package of three prospects. The Braves are undoubtedly rebuilding for the 2017 debut of their new stadium, Sun Trust Park.
The Braves’ trade of Gattis continues a busy offseason with trades of big names and big bats including Justin Upton to the Padres, Jason Heyward to the Cardinals, Jordan Walden also to the Cardinals, David Carpenter to the Yankees, Tommy La Stella to the Cubs and Anthony Varvaro to the Red Sox. Nearly all of the trades resulted in no big league ready players returning to the club. Additionally, the Braves parted ways with Ramiro Pena, Tyler Pastornicky, Gerald Laird, Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Jonny Venters, Gavin Floyd, Erwin Santana, Ryan Doumit, Aaron Harang, Emilio Bonafacio and Cory Gearrin, most to free agency. Atlanta’s trades and departures have accounted for holes in two of the three starting rotation spots, a lack of backup catcher or starting catcher, depending on the status and maturity of Christian Bethancourt, loss of right fielder, left fielder and second baseman and a completely depleted bench. They have filled some of the holes in the return for trades and via free agency, but there is no question than an exodus has happened out of Atlanta.
Evan Gattis had been projected to play left field for the Braves in 2015 with the loss of Justin Upton, but those around the Braves knew if the price was right the Braves would trade him for the right prospects. That right price seemed to come together with the Houston Astros, pending a physical, when the Astros offered prospects Rio Ruiz (3B), Andrew Thurman (RHP) and Mike Foltynewicz (RHP).
The Astros will have Evan Gattis for 4 years of control and will likely use him as a DH. Gattis has always been a player with great potential in the American League. He has potential to be 30-HR hitter in the AL, especially at Minute Maid Park, a middle of the pack park in terms of hitter friendliness with the wall in right field being 315 feet from home plate. In 3 career games at Minute Maid Park, Gattis has hit .250/.250/.500, his 3 hits all doubles.
Gattis, in addition to falling into a new role as DH with an American League team, will be going home. El Oso Blanco was born in Dallas, Texas and raised in that part of the state where he became an elite high school baseball player prior to walking away from a baseball scholarship at Texas A&M.
We here at BravesWire wish Evan nothing but luck with his new team. He has been a thrill to watch with the Braves and every indication is that he is a truly nice young man. Gattis homering in his first hit off of Doc Halladay will not soon be forgotten in Atlanta.
BRAVES CONTINUE TO COMPILE HIGH QUALITY PROSPECTS…
John Hart and the Atlanta front office have brought in top prospects in nearly every trade they have conducted this winter. While only a couple of the prospects are nearing what would be considered big league ready, notably Max Fried though he is currently coming back from Tommy John surgery (acquired in the Justin Upton trade), they are positioning themselves well for being competitive in 2017 and beyond. That trend continued with the Evan Gattis trade.
The big name in the Gattis trade returning to the Braves is Mike Foltynewicz. MLB.com ranks Folty as #57 among prospects in baseball. He is listed as the #3 prospect in the Astros’ system by Baseball America where they say he has “crazy arm strength . . . if he can’t harness delivery, hard-throwing reliever.” He touts a triple-digit fastball, a respectable changeup and has been working hard on his curveball.
Third base prospect Rio Ruiz comes to the Braves having hit .293/.387/.436 with 11 homers and 77 RBIs in high-A in 2014. Given the recent trade of Kyle Kubitza, Atlanta’s top 3B prospect to the Angels for pitching prospects Nate Hyatt and Ricardo Sanchez, the Braves desperately needed depth at 3B and may look to groom Ruiz for the future without Chris Johnson.
Both less known and less appreciated, Andrew Thurman (RHP) was a 2nd round pick for the Astros in 2013. He spent the 2014 season in single-A Quad Cities where he put up a 5.38 ERA in 20 starts (115 1/3 innings) with 107 strikeouts, a 1.405 WHIP and a 7-9 record. Both Thurman and Foltynewicz are solid arms that could both break into the rotation, with Folty having the fallback option of relief work.
With this trade, the Braves have certainly restocked the farm, but how they will compete in 2015 remains a question mark. Braves fans may need to prepare themselves to finish fourth in the NL East behind the Nationals, Marlins and Mets as they look to 2017 and beyond.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch
In a much anticipated move, the Braves traded away slugger Justin Upton for a package of prospects. Friday the front office completed a 6-player trade with the San Diego Padres. Joining Upton in the trade to San Diego is Aaron Northcraft, minor league RHP prospect. In return from the Padres, the Braves receive much-touted prospect Max Fried (LHP), Jace Peterson (INF), Dustin Peterson (INF), and Mallex Smith (OF).
The headliner headed to San Diego is Justin Upton, of course. But the Padres also receive 24-year-old pitching prospect Aaron Northcraft. Northcraft had a rough 2014 season when he went from a pitcher with a 7-3 record and 2.88 ERA while at Double-A to an 0-7 pitcher with an elevated 6.54 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett. He never had the speed or power to be a piece of the Braves’ bullpen and given his struggles in AAA, he wasn’t projected to be a possibility for the rotation. While he could add depth eventually to the Padres’ young rotation, his loss isn’t one the Braves can’t absorb.
In 2 seasons with the Braves, the 27-year-old Upton hit 27 and 29 home runs, some would say at the cost of 160+ strikeouts per year. His .263 and .270 averages came up short of the marks he tallied the previous 4 seasons in Arizona. His defense seemed to be down while in Atlanta, though that could arguably be due to the shadow of the greatest defensive right fielder in the league–Jason Heyward–to compare him to. While playing with his big brother B.J. didn’t seem to hurt or help his game, the opposite was true for B.J. There is always the possibility that B.J. might play better without his brother on the roster with him. Time will tell.
Upton’s bat will be replaced in the lineup by the full-time bat of Evan Gattis, presumably. Gattis will man LF while rookie Bethancourt takes on the responsibility of being behind the plate full-time.
BRAVES MOVE AHEAD IN PUSH FOR 2017 STADIUM OPENING…
For fans who don’t quite grasp what the Braves are doing with their offseason moves, it is helpful to understand that in 2017 the Cobb County stadium (SunTrust Park) will open. This isn’t the type of fire sale that would see the team sell off their highest valued pieces for a load of young prospects to restock the farm. This is simply letting go of players that they would otherwise only have control of for a year before they left for free agency, the case with both Heyward and Upton. In return, the Braves may not be receiving pieces that are big-league ready (which is the case with all but Max Fried in the Padres trade), but they will be by 2017 when the team hopes to have a club that can not only only compete, but can win it all.
That said, don’t count Atlanta out. Adding Shelby Miller makes for a young, talented rotation with Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Alex Wood and possibly David Hale. Adding Nick Markakis gives the Braves’ lineup some pop, pop that will come with less strikeouts than the Braves’ OF has brought to the equation in the last 2 years. With the signing of Callaspo, the Braves add a sure hand that can provide leadership for the up and coming young players like Pastornicky, Gosselin and Perraza.
Trading with the Padres brought 4 prospects to the club that will help in various ways with the current plan to build for a great 2017 run. Max Fried, the prospect most likely to break into the big leagues first, had Tommy John surgery near the end of the 2014 season. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing for Atlanta, however. Fried was the No. 7-overall pick in the 2012 draft by San Diego and with the TJ surgery behind him, he could prove to be similar to Alex Wood in his availability once healed. At 20-years-old, Fried had a successful 147 innings in Class A rookie ball this year before being shutdown with elbow soreness. He posted a 3.61 ERA in 38 appearances.
With Fried come 3 fielders. Jace and Dustin Peterson, of no relation, are both infield prospects. Jace played 27 games with the Padres last season and Dustin was the second round pick of the Friars in 2013. Mallex Smith is the 3rd position player in the group and was drafted in 2012. He hit .327 in 55 games in A-ball in 2014. All 3 of the fielders are 24 or under.
Going forward John Hart hasn’t ruled out additional trades, but he has suggested that they’ll “circle back” on free agents. For now and likely for the 2015 season, Evan Gattis and Chris Johnson will remain with the club.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.
Freddie Freeman: @FreddieFreeman5
Andrelton Simmons: @Andrelton
David Carpenter: @DCarpenter29
Alex Wood: @awood45
Todd Cunningam: @Todd_Cunningham
Justin Upton: @JUP_8TL
Chris Johnson: @C_Johnson28
Evan Gattis: @BulldogBeing
Craig Kimbrel: @kimbrel46
B.J. Upton: @BJUPTON2
Julio Teheran: @Julio_Teheran
Joe Terdoslavich: @JoeTerdoslavich
Luis Avilan: @lavilan70
Christian Bethancourt: @ChristianBeth27
Tyrell Jenkins: @TyrellJenkins14
Shelby Miller: @shelbymiller19
Mike Minor: @MikeMinor36
Shae Simmons: @Shae_Simmons
Chasen Shreve: @chasenshreve
Phil Gosselin: @PGosselin15