The Atlanta Braves weren't kidding when they said they had their sights set on 2017. John Hart has completely rebuilt a farm system that was left devoid of depth and impact talent by former GM Frank Wren. The cost was steep though as they've jettisoned 3/5 of the top of their line up. The latest deal made by Hart has catcher/future left fielder Evan Gattis heading to Houston along with minor league right hander James Hoyt in exchange for three prospects. Lets look deeper into the three players Atlanta acquired along with Hoyt before getting to El Oso Blanco.
Photo courtesy of Bryan Green
The Houston Astros signed Rio Ruiz for $1.85M in 2012, going way overslot to sign the California native out of Bishop Amat Memorial High School in the 4th round of the draft. Listed at 6'2 and 215 pounds, the left handed hitting, right handed throwing third baseman missed the majority of his senior season in high school due to having surgery to remove a blood clot in his neck. He debuted like most prep players by going to the rookie level Gulf Coast League for a month before being promoted to Greeneville in the advanced rookie Appalachian League.
Ruiz handled a tough assignment in 2013, making his full season debut at the tender age of 19 for Low A Quad Cities. Despite being a little over two years younger than the league average, Ruiz posted a .260/.335/.430 triple slash over 472 plate appearances, hitting 12 homers with 33 doubles, 12 stolen bases, and 50 walks (10.6%) to 92 punch outs (19.5%). That came out to a 115 wRC+ and .351 wOBA with a .303 BABIP. Oddly enough, he showed a better eye against same side pitchers, tagging southpaws with a .273/.355/.473 line including 14 walks to 26 strike outs and four of his 12 homers in just 125 PA's. Right handed pitchers had better luck, limiting Ruiz to a .255/.329/.415 triple slash over 347 trips to the dish with 36 walks and 66 punch outs. His batted ball profile shows a 46.1% ground ball rate and 30.6% fly ball rate, both within three points of league average. At the hot corner, he made 20 errors in 281 chances which comes out to a .929 fielding percentage and 2.35 range factor, both of which ranked near the bottom of the league.
Jeff Lunhow and Co. kept the pressure on Ruiz by having him tackle the California League in 2014. Over 602 plate appaearances, Ruiz notched a .293/.387/.436 line that included 37 doubles, 11 bombs, and an impressive 82 walks (13.6%) to 91 strike outs (15.1%). He rode a .335 BABIP to a 119 wRC+ and .368 wOBA with 77 runs batted in and he was four of eight in the stolen base department. His splits flipped from the year before, tagging right handers better than lefties (.834 OPS vs RHP compared to a .792 OPS vs LHP). In 444 PA's against right handed pitchers, he hit 10 of his 11 home runs with a .286/.387/.447 line, 64 walks to 57 strike outs, and 29 doubles. Portsiders did a better job of limiting the damage but he still hit .312/.386/.406 off them with 18 BB to 34 K. Its also worth noting his worst stretch of the year came in the dog days of Summer, hitting just .255/.352/.321 in the month of August to finish out the year. Even with his late fade, the Astros decided to send him to the Arizona Fall League after the year where he struggled mightily against the toughest competition he's faced in his career so far. In 89 trips, he slashed just .187/.292/.227 with more solid plate discipline, working 12 walks to 17 punch outs. Looking to his batted ball profile, he posted career worst numbers in line drive rate (just 12.8%) while putting up career highs in fly ball rate (30.8%) and ground ball rate (47.8%).
Here's the scouting report on Ruiz from our own Wilson Karaman, who laid eyes on him last year out in the California League -
Ruiz spent the entirety of his 2014 campaign at High-A in Lancaster, one of the better hitters’ parks in the California League, and posted a .293/.387/.436 line with 11 homers and four stolen bases in eight attempts. He’s a solid all-around player who was almost three years younger than his average competition, though he lacks a standout tool. At the plate he made significant strides in refining his approach last season, consistently getting himself into hitter’s counts and working pitchers in the second half. He features strong wrists, good balance, and natural bat-to-ball feel. But his swing path can be inconsistent on account of significant length in his pre-pitch load, and he hasn’t yet shown an ability to routinely turn on pitches and punish mistakes. In the field Ruiz's actions at 3B are generally sound, though age-appropriately rough at times in that he can take inefficient angles and lose velocity on his throws with a poor setup. His broad base of skills give him a higher floor projection, though he projects as more solid regular than potential superstar-in-waiting.
I agree with Wilson's projecton on Rio Ruiz's future as a solid regular. I can't see him taking home any MVP's, but an All-Star season or two isn't exactly out of the realm of possibility. The Braves will have him start the upcoming season with AA Mississippi as he essentially replaces Kyle Kubitza as the "third baseman of the future". He should be ready to contribute at the Major League level right about the time Chris Johnson's ill-advised contract runs out.
For your viewing pleasures, here is an at bat by Ruiz from August, compliments of Mr. Karaman.
Video from Wilson Karaman
Photo courtesy of Tammy Tucker
Going 19th overall in the 2010 draft, the Astros inked Mike Foltynewicz with a $1.305M signing bonus out of Minooka High School in Iliinois. He skipped the complex leagues and began his career with Greeneville in the Appy League. It took him two tries to break out of Low A, but he did so with a bang in 2012, winning over half the starts he made while throwing over 150 innings with a 3.14 ERA and 4.20 FIP.
He cracked through to the upper minors in 2013, spending just a month in A+ Lancaster before getting the call to AA Corpus Christi. This was also the first year of the "tandem" starting system in the Astros organization. He made 21 starts and nine relief appearances, throwing 129.1 innings with a 3.06 ERA, a 4.14 FIP, and 1.33 WHIP. Foltynewicz struck out 124 batters (22.7%) while walking 66 (12.1%) with the opposition hitting just .226/.326/.350 with 12 home runs allowed, a .277 BABIP, and 76.2% strand rate. Left handed hitters only mustered a .203/.332/.299 triple slash with 38 walks to 56 strike outs, and just 11 extra base hits over 241 plate appearances. Righties fared a better against him, knocking eight of the 12 homers with a .243/.321/.386 line, 28 base on balls, and 68 punch outs across 305 PA's. He racked up a ground ball rate of 47.6% and surrendered line drives just 14.5% of the time.
The 22 year old split the 2014 season with AAA Oklahoma City and the parent club in Houston, getting the call to join the bullpen for good after the trade deadline. With OKC, he made 18 starts and three relief appearances, totaling 102.2 innings of work with a 5.08 ERA, a 4.79 FIP, and 1.46 WHIP. He struck out 102 batters (22.8%) while issuing 52 free passes (11.6%), and dealing with a .321 BABIP and 66.4% strand rate. PCL hitters launched 10 home runs with a .260/.359/.414 triple slash, and 32 extra base hits. Once he joined the Astros bullpen, Foltynewicz made 16 more appearances spanning 18.2 innings with a 5.30 ERA, a 4.85 FIP, and 1.61 WHIP. Estimators like SIERA like him the most (4.38) while he also sported a 4.88 xFIP. The big right hander struck out 14 and walked seven in his two month stint, allowing 23 hits and three home runs with big leaguers hitting a stout .299/.357/.506 against him, with the help of a .333 BABIP. His splits reversed from the year before, being harder on right handed hitters (.247/.326/.395, 25 BB, 67 K in 280 PA's) than lefties (.289/.394/.469, 34 BB, 49 K in 252 PA's). He put up another season with a ground ball rate higher than league average at 45.9% in AAA, but only got the ball on the ground 29.7% of the time with Houston. One other note in the batted ball profile was a continued ability to induce infield flies the whole year with a 9.2% mark in AAA and a 13.5% rate in the MLB.
Stepping into the box against Foltynewicz, you have to be geared up for some serious heat. The lowest number you're going to see on the radar gun is 95 mph, and he's been reported at up to 103 mph, regularly hitting triple digits in his starts. At the high end it's straight as an arrow, but when he takes some off he gets sinking action on it. He can spin a good curve with a plus one coming out of his hand every once in awhile in the mid to high 70's. The same thing goes for his change up, which is erratic, but he can slip a pretty good one in there occasionally showing good arm speed and some fade. His command is sketchy as well, looking like more of a thrower than pitcher at this stage in his development. When everything clicks for him, he looks like an absolute monster. The problem is those days are few and far between.
I don't see why Atlanta won't let him fight for the fifth spot in the rotation with David Hale, Manny Banuelos, and James Russell. If the command never takes that next step like the Atlanta front office thinks he will, he can always slot into the back end of the bullpen.
Video from Christopher Blessing
Photo courtesy of Jayne Hansen
A second round pick in the 2013 draft, Andrew Thurman signed for almost $1.4M out of the University of California-Irvine. A 6'3, 225 pound right handed pitcher, he was taken 40th overall as a more polished college product that could be fast-tracked through the system. His debut was in the short season New York-Penn League with Tri-City after signing.
He made 12 appearances for the ValleyCats, throwing 39.2 innings with a 3.86 ERA, a 3.63 FIP, and 1.36 WHIP as he allowed 43 hits and five home runs. Thurman struck out 43 (25.2%) while walking just 11 (6.4%) with an elevated .349 BABIP and 80% strand rate. Albeit in a short sample size, he showed a pretty sharp reverse platoon split, limiting lefties to a .225/.304/.296 line across 80 plate appearances with six walks surrendered and 24 strike outs. Right handed hitters on the other hand pasted a .321/.367/.560 line on him in 91 PA's with 19 punch outs, five free passes, and four of the five homers he allowed. The batted ball profile shows extreme flyball tendencies with the ball being put on the ground just 33.4% of the time and a 0.69 GO:AO ratio.
This past season he spent the entire year with Low A Quad Cities, throwing 115.1 innings with a 5.38 ERA, a 3.74 FIP, and a 1.40 WHIP. He struck out 107 (21.5%) in his age 22 season while walking just 40 (8.1%), allowing 122 hits, and nine home runs. Regression to the mean with his BABIP and strand rate alone will do wonders for his overall line as he was victimized by a .333 BABIP and brutal 58.8% strand rate. In a larger sample than his debut, his splits evened out with right handed hitters showing more power and lefties generating more base knocks. Against batters who stepped into the right side of the box, he limited them to a .267/.323/.440 line with 22 walks and 69 punch outs in 295 PA's. Lefties walked away with a .287/.347/.399 triple slash over 202 plate appearances, walking down to first 18 times with 38 strike outs. Thurman was very flyball prone again, getting 0.81 outs on the ground for every air out, and putting up a 37.9% ground ball rate.
Andrew Thurman succeeds with a classic four pitch mix of a fastball, change up, curve, and slider. As you can see from the video clip below, his fastball ranges from 91-94 mph and he gets some decent movement on it low in the zone. His best offspeed pitch is his change up in the low 80's that he has a lot of confidence in and grades out as above average. The slower, loopier breaking ball is the curve and it hits the high 70's on the gun. He's also got a sharper, low 80's slider in his bag. Both breakers are average at best, but give the hitters another look. The control is above average with each of his pitches, and has been since his college days when his fastball was in the high 80's and he had to have pinpoint control to succeed. He's got a high pitching IQ, knowing how to sequence and read opposing hitters with rave reviews on his makeup and work ethic.
It's a good thing Thurman got out of the Astros system before he was subjected to Lancaster and the California League with his tendencies to get outs in the air. Atlanta will likely start him off A+ Carolina with an accelerated timetable for his age 23 season, potentially finishing out the year as high as AAA.
Video from Baseball Prospectus
Photo courtesy of Flickr user GoBrAAves
If you think Evan Gattis has an interesting story, you should enjoy Hoyt's as well. Justin Kempfeld of ABC13 in Virginia did a great job telling it here. He signed with the Braves a little over two weeks after his 26th birthday after enduring a season split between two Independent League teams, the Edinburg RoadRunners and Wichita Wing Nuts, then a Mexican League outfit, Olmecas de Tabasco. A Braves scout noticed him in Mexico striking everyone out (shades of Steve Nebraska if you ask me), and signed him for a monstrous bonus of 7,334 pesos ($500 USD).
His professional debut came with A+ Lynchburg in the Carolina League as a 26 year old. He made 17 relief appearances as the elder statesman, striking out 72 hitters (33.8%) while walking 25 (11.7%) in 49.2 innings of work with a 4.89 ERA, a 2.81 FIP, and 1.29 WHIP. A .321 BABIP and 62.5% strand rate didn't help his cause, but he limited the opposition to a .213/.305/.306 triple slash. In mid May he was promoted to AA Mississippi where he finished out the year making 22 more relief appearances. The 6'5, 220 pound right hander tossed 32.2 innings with 33 punch outs (25.4%), 13 walks (10%), and a 2.48 ERA to go with a 2.58 FIP and 0.92 WHIP. The BABIP gods were on his side in Mississippi, limiting the opposition to a .195 BABIP and a .147/.238/.233 triple slash with one home run, 17 hits allowed, and a 74.3% strand rate. Right handed hitters only put up a .222/.307/.294 line against him throughout the whole year with 21 walks to 56 strike outs in 205 plate appearances. Lefties were even more helpless, mustering a pitcher-esque .134/.239/.252 triple slash to go with 49 punch outs and 17 walks in 138 PA's. In the batted ball results, he induced ground balls 52% of the time and a 1.41 GO:AO ratio.
The 2014 season got him one step away from the bright lights of the Major Leagues as he finished the year out in AAA Gwinnett after breaking camp in AA. The Idaho native took on a larger role later in games. He made 28 appearances with AA covering 31.2 innings with a 1.14 ERA, a 1.83 FIP, and 0.92 WHIP with just 19 hits and one home run allowed. Hoyt struck out 43 (34.1%) with 10 walks (7.9%), and a .250 BABIP to go with an 87% strand rate. He limited Southern League hitters to a .171/.235/.248 triple slash and just six extra base hits. Another mid May promotion got him on the cusp of the bigs, which for the Atlanta organization is about 45 minutes up I-85. For AAA Gwinnett, he made 24 more relief appearances that spanned 28 innings with a 5.46 ERA, a 4.50 FIP, and 1.86 WHIP. Hoyt struck out 34 (24.3%) with 14 free passes issued (10%) while allowing 38 hits and four home runs. A brutal .395 BABIP undermined his time in Gwinnett with a 74.4% strand rate and an opponents triple slash of .314/.388/.463, a stark contrast to his performance earlier in the year. In 154 plate appearances, right handed hitters put up a .212/.293/.348 line against him with 14 walks, 49 punch outs, and 80% of the home runs he surrendered. Lefties meanwhile hit him a little harder, posting a .287/.348/.366 triple slash with 28 K's and 10 walks. The script was completely flipped in his batted ball profile from the year before as his ground ball rate dropped to just 39.9% while his fly ball rate jumped over 7.5 points to 31.3%. He did post an even 1.0 GO:AO ratio though.
Hoyt is a two-pitch pitcher, utilizing a mid 90's fastball that can reach 96 mph, and a sharp slider as his breaking ball. With an imposing 6'5, 220 pound frame, Hoyt gets good plane on his fastball, coming from a high 3/4 arm slot. His slide piece is a true out pitch with vicious bite that could be considered above average. He's still raw as a pitcher and doesn't always know where the ball will be going, but he's done a good job at racking up K's throughout his brief pro career. If he can keep the walks in check and keep improving on the smaller details like holding runners on and fielding his position, he could easily wind up being a useful, cheap bullpen option for Houston as soon as 2015.
Heading into the 2015 season, James Hoyt will be 28 years old the whole year and will probably break camp with AAA Fresno after his subpar debut there to end last season. He's got two legit big league pitches, but in order for him to make the Houston squad, he will have to be added to the 40 man roster and leap frog a few pitchers in the system with better control and pedrigree.
Video by Northeast Baseball Prospects
In Evan Gattis. the Astros acquired an established Major League slugger with the one attribute that's in short supply throughout the league, right handed power. He's not going to hit .300, and he probably will never draw more than 40 or 50 walks in a season. What he can do though, is put at least 30 balls into the seats with a full compliment of plate appearances over the course of a season. To those familiar with the confines of Minute Maid Park, you'll remember a train that runs above the concourse in left center field. It would not surprise me in the least bit to see Gattis park a few up on the tracks, some 450 feet away from home plate. With the short porch of the Crawford Boxes in left field, El Oso Blanco should see his power numbers increase due to that alone. The Astros will also hold the rights to Gattis' contract for the next four years with 2015 being the last of his pre-arbitration years where he makes near the league minimum. Those four years will be his age 28-31 seasons, essentially the physical prime of a baseball player's career.
For his career, Gattis is a .253 hitter with a career high in walks of 22, set last season. He's never had more than 401 plate appearances in a season, but has hit 43 home runs in his two years in the league. His career OPS+ is 117 while wRC+ has a 117 mark for him as well, putting him 17% better offensively than MLB average. If you are the type that enjoys seeing improvement from year to year, his triple slash went from .243/.291/.480 in his rookie campaign to .263/.317/.493 last year. Gattis' wOBA went from .329 to .352, his line drive rate rose 2.3%, his wRC+ rose 16 points, and he went from being worth 0.9 fWAR and 0.5 rWAR his rookie year to 2.3 fWAR and 2.2 rWAR last year.
The more I sit here and look at this deal, the more I'm drifting from my initial reaction of Atlanta not getting a big enough return for Gattis. Initially, I thought with the amount of team control Houston retained with Gattis would outweigh his defensive limitations, especially if he was going to be getting a lot of reps at DH. While that would decrease Gattis' overall value, it would increase his offensive production and provide some of the younger Astros hitters some protection in the line up. After all, not many MLB players have a "legend" attached to their name. I'll also admit that my first reaction to the Braves return was pretty meh, a pair of future relievers and a high AVG/OBP third baseman that lacked thump. My deeper look at the three players headed to Atlanta changes my opinion. I think Foltynewicz could stick as a back end option in the rotation with a Plan B of being a high leverage reliever. I also may have shortchanged Ruiz initially, as it looks like once he fully matures, some of those doubles will end up leaving the park. Ruiz may need to make some adjustments to his swing to unlock his power and create more lift though. It seems as if Thurman has encountered some bad luck in the batted ball department lately, and some regression to the mean could make those surface numbers a little shinier. An innings eating back end starter isn't the worst thing to bring into the organization even if he doesn't have the lofty ceiling. Thurman actually reminds me a lot of another starting pitcher in the Braves organization, Cody Martin.
If I'm calling a winner and loser here, I'd say Atlanta came out on top here. Gattis didn't fit their timeline of contention so John Hart flipped him for more future assets. In the perfect world for us Braves fans, we end up with our starting third baseman of the future with the potential to make a few All-Star games, a flamethrowing #3 or #4 starter, and a #5 starter who can keep us in the ball game until the relief corps is ready. More than likely though, they picked up a decent third baseman, a back end starter and some starting pitching depth in exchange for four years of a bonafide MLB slugger, and a late blooming middle reliever. To me, that still leaves the scales tipped in Atlanta's favor, and not just because that's my team.