Another day, another trade by the Braves. Since the beginning of the offseason, Atlanta has pulled the trigger on nine trades, netting them 14 prospects and two major league pieces (Miller and Vizcaino). The most recent deal consummated by John Hart and Co. happened at the end of January as the Braves sent right handed pitchers David Hale and Gus Schlosser to Colorado in exchange for minor league catchers Jose Briceno and Chris O'Dowd.
Both Schlosser and Hale made their major league debuts in 2014 and Hale exhausted his rookie eligibility, so we won't get into too much detail on him. Briceno, O'Dowd, and Schlosser are still rookies and/or prospects so lets dig deep and start with Atlanta's return.
Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt
Venzuelan catcher Jose Briceno began his professional baseball career in 2010 after signing with the Rockies for $250,000 in the summer of 2009. It took him two years to make it out of the Dominican Summer League, finally making his stateside debut in 2012 at the age of 19 for Grand Junction in the Pioneer League. Injuries limited him to just seven games played for Grand Junction, and he came back the following year with a vengeance.
Colorado initially sent the 6'1, 210 pound catcher to Low A Asheville where he played nine games while filling in for Tom Murphy behind the plate. He was sent back to Grand Junction and proceeded to tear the league apart as a 20 year old. In just 36 games and 160 plate appearances, he hit .333/.356/.614 with nine homers, 16 doubles, and eight stolen bases while drawing five walks (3.1%) and striking out 30 times (18.8%). His wRC+ was 137 in the offense heavy league with a .412 wOBA, and a .365 BABIP. In early August he made another 17 game cameo before heading back down to GJ to assist with the stretch run. He made a total of 96 plate appearances for Asheville with six doubles, a home run, and .264/.302/.363 triple slash. Briceno drew five walks (5.2%) with 20 strike outs (20.8%), a 92 wRC+, a .309 wOBA, and .329 BABIP. Add it all up and you get 256 plate appearances between the two levels with a composite .307/.336/.520 triple slash, 22 doubles, 10 home runs, and a 120 wRC+. He showed a heavy reverse platoon split, knocking right handed pitchers around to the tune of a .326/.352/.545 line with 27 extra base hits in 196 PA's. He only stepped to the plate 60 times against southpaws and hit .246/.283/.439 including three home runs. The batted ball profile shows some issues with popping the ball up, hitting infield flies 13.8% of the time while maintaining league average line drive rates . He also has posted ground ball rates almost 10 points below league average at 35.9%. Behind the dish he allowed 15 passed balls with eight errors and he caught 33% of potential base thieves. His defense improved as the season went along, allowing seven less passed balls in Low A than Grand Junction and he committed two fewer errors while throwing out runners at a 12% better clip.
With a clear opening on the roster, he returned to Asheville as the starting catcher, making 350 plate appearances in the 2014 season. He hit .283/.336/.476 with 12 home runs, 23 doubles, eight stolen bases, and a 125 wRC+ to go with a .367 wOBA and .312 BABIP. Briceno drew 16 walks (4.6%) to 57 punch outs (16.3%), showing solid contact despite an aggressive approach. He went toe to toe with right handed pitchers 224 times and came out with a .293/.338/.488 triple slash including eight of his 12 home runs and 23 extra base hits. Southpaws kept him to a .264/.333/.455 line, but more importantly he suffered a very sharp home/road split. While playing at his home park, he hit .331/.399/.569, an incredible line on the surface, but must be taken with a grain of salt due to the inflated offense in Asheville. On the road he only managed a .232/.268/.381 triple slash over 169 PA's with five home runs and eight doubles with just five walks to 33 punch outs. He still had trouble with pop ups, hitting infield flies 11.6% of the time, almost five points more than league average. Briceno also came in well below league average in ground ball rate once again at 39.3%. In his longest season yet, he allowed just 11 passed balls with 14 errors and a 44% caught stealing rate. He also picked off 19 runners off the basepaths. Over the winter, Briceno has played sparingly for Magallanes of the Venezuelan Winter League, going 8-26 with six home runs, a double, seven strike outs, and zero walks.
Briceno's carrying tool is a cannon arm that gets plus grades from scouts. His arm strength is the main reason behind his excellent caught stealing numbers as he's still rough around the edges on the finer points of catching. Reports of improved agility and softer hands jive with those reports, but he still needs to work on footwork, blocking and consistency with his throws. With the lumber in his hands, Briceno can do some damage with above average power and a potentially average hit tool. His approach isn't the best with a 4.4% walk rate and 17.2% K rate since coming stateside in 2012. As with any catcher, his speed isn't a factor, but he's not slow enough to be a clogger.
With the impending graduation of Christian Bethancourt from the Atlanta system, Briceno will rank as the top catcher on the farm. He's primed to hit the Carolina League in 2015 as the starting catcher for Atlanta's newest affiliate, the Carolina Mudcats. This will be his first season playing for a team that doesn't play in a home park heavy on offense. The upcoming season will be crucial for Briceno as it's his last year before becoming eligible for the Rule 5 draft. An impressive season could put him on the 40 man roster and on the fast track to Atlanta. If Bethancourt becomes the everyday catcher Atlanta thinks he is, that clouds Briceno's future a bit. I believe Briceno could be a solid, starting backstop at the major league level with average defense. A peak triple slash something along the lines of .250/.280/.400 with 15 bombs would be reasonable. Were he to maintain his current K and BB rates over 500 at bats, this breaks down to 125 hits, 23 walks, 90 punch outs, and about 28 doubles. If he breaks in with Atlanta it will be in a reserve role as a backup catcher/first baseman and pinch hitter with some thump.
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Photo courtesy of TinCaps/MLBlogs
Originally a 40th round pick back in 2009 by Oakland, catcher Chris O'Dowd turned down the A's offer and took his talents to the Ivy League with a scholarship to play with Dartmouth. He burst on the scene in New Hampshire with a 1.110 OPS his freshman year and .966 OPS in his sophomore season, but his production fell off a cliff his draft season to a .640 OPS. After his three years with the Big Green, the San Diego Padres snagged O'Dowd in the 23rd round of the 2012 draft. A brutal professional debut where he hit just .181/.303/.217 led to his release at the end of spring training. Three days later his father, Colorado Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd, signed him and sent him to Low A Asheville to begin the year.
O'Dowd's time in Asheville was brief, appearing in just 10 games before being demoted to the short season Northwest League when their season began. Between the two clubs, he hit .270/.322/.374 over 235 plate appearances with a pair of homers, eight doubles, four triples, 16 walks (6.8%), and 49 strike outs (20.9%). He also stole 16 bases while being caught seven times and he posted a .331 wOBA, a .340 BABIP, and 104 wRC+. The switch hitting catcher was used mainly against southpaws where he stepped to the plate 199 times with a .274/.320/.391 line with 13 of 14 extra base hits, 13 walks, and 43 punch outs. He only made 36 PA's against right handed pitchers and managed a .250/.333/.281 line that really means nothing with such a small sample. The batted ball profile for O'Dowd shows ground ball (45.6%), outfield fly (20.1%), and infield fly ball (8.9%) rates below South Atlantic League averages of 44.6%, 26.7%, and 7.2%, respectively. His line drive rate of 18.9% was two points above league average. Defensively he threw out runners at a 23% clip with 10 errors and nine passed balls in 48 games behind the plate.
Despite just 21 career games of experience in full season ball, the Rockies sent O'Dowd to A+ Modesto in the California League to begin the 2014 season. He came to bat 316 times with the Nuts, hitting .272/.325/.415 before getting a promotion to AA Tulsa in mid July. The 5'11, 190 pound Cleveland native knocked 20 doubles for Modesto with five home runs, three triples, 16 stolen bases, and 22 walks (7%) to 67 strike outs (21.2%). This was good for a .326 wOBA and 92 wRC+ even though he sported a .335 BABIP. As a member of the Tulsa Drillers, O'Dowd made 155 more trips to the plate with a .269/.355/.321 line including seven doubles, seven stolen bases, no home runs, 15 free passes (9.7%), and 30 punch outs (19.4%). He benefited from another high BABIP of .346 with a 101 wRC+ and .322 wOBA. It's worth noting that there was a sharp home/road split with an OPS over 100 points better at home, which actually plays as a pitchers park. He posted a .282/.345/.426 line against right handed pitchers over 358 PA's while only hitting .245/.315/.265 against southpaws. His 39.8% ground ball rate was over three points lower than league average with a 17.5% line drive rate and 32.5% outfield fly rate. While donning the tools of ignorance he only caught 19% of base thieves with 13 errors and passed balls in 79 games. The passed balls and errors improved from the year before, but he was ran on 1.63 times per game in 2014 compared to 1.38 times the year before. I interpret this to mean word got out that he's easy to run on. After the season he made a trip to the Arizona Fall League as a taxi squad player that played twice a week. He accumulated 29 plate appearances with a pair of doubles, a home run, and two walks with 13 strike outs.
If you think about how O'Dowd profiles as a player, it's a little odd. His only average tool and his best tool is his speed which is incredibly rare for a catcher. Not only are most catchers slow, they usually have a carrying tool with their bat of defense. He projects as a below average bat with little to no power and would barely crack the Mendoza line given a full season of at-bats at the major league level. He also looks to be a slightly below average defensive catcher although he does call a good game.
O'Dowd looks to battle with Tyler Tewell for playing time behind the plate at AA Mississippi. I honestly don't see him making enough improvements in his game for him to be a major league asset. He's likely to stick around as organization depth until he decides to hang up his cleats and likely become a front office member like his old man. On the other hand, he could be a candidate for a position switch, perhaps taking the Craig Biggio route moving to second base.
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Photo courtesy of Dan Hickling
The Atlanta Braves selected Gus Schlosser in the 17th round of the 2011 First Year Player Draft out of Florida Southern College. The 6'4, 225 pound right hander made his professional debut with advanced rookie level Danville Braves in the Appalachian League, but the stay was brief as he was called up to Low A Rome after two games. The next year he won Pitcher of the Year honors and was a Carolina League post-season All-Star.
Building off an impressive first full season, Schlosser anchored the AA Mississippi rotation by making 25 starts with a 2.39 ERA and 2.99 FIP over 135.1 innings of work. The 23 year old struck out 101 (18.2%) while issuing 44 free passes (7.9%) with an opponents triple slash of .234/.304/.302 with a .282 BABIP and 78.1% strand rate. Right handed hitters weren't even able to collectively crack the Mendoza line with a .199/.256/.272 line over 312 plate appearances with four of five home runs allowed, 20 walks and 69 strike outs. Lefties saw him much better, hitting .281/.361/.346 through 244 PA's with 24 walks and just 32 strike outs. Because of his arm slot, this will most likely always be the case. One thing he did very well was induce ground balls, sporting a 1.67 GO:AO ratio and a 54.7% ground ball rate that was 10 points better than the Southern League average. He was tabbed a mid-season Southern League All-Star for his efforts.
The 2014 season brought Schlosser his first crack at the Major Leagues as he broke camp with the Braves as a middle reliever. The 25 year old made nine appearances before being sent down to AAA Gwinnett at the end of April to get stretched out as a starter. Outside of a double-header at the end of June he stayed with Gwinnett until rosters expanded in September. Schlosser made 15 starts and 10 relief appearances for AAA, throwing 99.1 innings with a 4.17 ERA, a 4.53 FIP, and 1.42 WHIP with 48 walks (11.1%) to 70 strike outs (16.2%). His .288 BABIP and 71.6% strand rate are around league average and he kept International League hitters to a .249/.343/.362 line with just seven long balls. While with the parent club he made 15 total relief appearances that spanned 17.2 innings of work with a 7.64 ERA, a 4.89 FIP, and 1.64 WHIP. He struggled as his command completely disowned him with six walks to just eight strike outs and Major League hitters tore him up with a .329/.370/.557 triple slash including three home runs. He posted an insanely low 51.5% strand rate and a .328 BABIP, along with a 0.87 GO:AO ratio and 29.7% ground ball rate which is quite different from his minor league career averages of 1.64 and 52.1%. For the first time in his career he did not show a platoon split with left handed and right handed hitters posting an OPS near .737.
It's not often you see a guy as big as Gus Schlosser utilize the sidearm delivery. His fastball his a heavy two-seamer that averaged 89.5 mph in his major league stint, and he went to it 70.9% of the time. A mid to high 70's slider with cutter-like action and low 80's change up with slight arm-side fade round out his repertoire. He's shown in the past he can handle a starter's workload, but he can also work as a situational reliever with his proclivity for worm burners. The long man/spot starter role could be an option as well to soak up some low leverage innings.
Even though the Rockies aren't exactly bursting at the seams with starting pitchers, I believe Schlosser is going to be utilized as a bullpen piece going forward. The Rockies new AAA affiliate in Albuquerque appears to be pretty stacked when it come to their rotation. With three former first round picks projected to account for 60% of the rotation (Jon Gray, Eddie Butler, and Tyler Anderson), a former Top 100 prospect in Chad Bettis, and a group of veterans like Jair Jurrjens, John Lannan, and Aaron Laffey, there is a very good chance Schlosser has started his last game. I'm sure a few of those guys won't be around at the start of the season due to cuts, promotions, or injuries, but it looks like he's the odd man out. His major league role is probably going to be a ground ball specialist or mop-up man, similar to how Atlanta used him this past season. While he's not an impact arm, he's a useful piece to have when you play half your games a mile above sea level.
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Photo courtesy of Brett Davis/USA Today Sports
Now for the only guy who is no longer a rookie, right handed pitcher David Hale (shown at the top with a menacing grin). Another product of the prestigious Ivy League, Hale was selected out of Princeton University in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft. As the 87th overall selection that year, he received a $405,000 signing bonus to forego a future as a center fielder and moved to the mound full time. He debuted with advanced rookie level Danville of the Appalachian League after signing and made his full season debut in 2010 with Low A Rome at age 22. Pitching out of both the rotation and bullpen, he struggled with consistency and throwing strikes (69 K to 44 BB over 93.2 IP with a 4.13 ERA and 3.72 FIP), but racked up grounders by the bushel (1.88 GO:AO ratio).
Hale spent the entire 2011 season with A+ Lynchburg, once again splitting time between the rotation and pen with 13 starts and 15 relief appearances. He worked 101 innings, cracking the 100 IP threshold for the first time, with 86 strike outs to just 30 walks, a 4.10 ERA and a 3.87 FIP. The 2012 season was spent with AA Mississippi and was his first season working exclusively out of the rotation. He made 27 starts spanning 145.2 innings of work with a 3.77 ERA and 4.01 FIP while striking out 124 and issuing 67 free passes.
Hale made his Major League debut in 2013 with two very impressive starts in September where he struck out 14 and walked just one in 11 frames with one run crossing the plate. Prior to that he made 20 starts and a pair of relief outings for AAA Gwinnett that added up to 114.2 innings. The 6'2, 210 pound righty struck out 77 (15.6%) while walking 36 (7.3%) with 123 hits allowed, a 3.22 ERA, and 3.89 FIP. He showed better control against right handed hitters (54 K to 13 BB), but they hit him harder than their left handed counterparts with a .284/.331/.436 triple slash across 264 PA's. Lefties gave him more trouble keeping the ball in the zone with 24 BB to 37 K, but only hit .267/.333/.366 against him over 277 PA's. The ball was put on the ground 48.5% of the time with a 1.60 GO:AO ratio while posting line drive and fly ball rates below league average at 17.9% and 25.3%, respectively.
Atlanta kept Hale on the MLB roster for the entirety of the 2014 campaign, using him as a spot starter and in a variety of bullpen roles. Over the course of the season he threw 87.1 innings with a deceptive 3.30 ERA and more realistic 4.31 FIP. His command wasn't as sharp as it had previously been with a brutal 1.13 K/BB ratio courtesy of just 44 strike outs (11.5%) to 39 walks (10.2%). The 75% strand rate wasn't outrageous and the .288 BABIP wasn't too far from league average, but he did rack up a 54.6% ground ball rate, a 1.77 GO:AO ratio, and only allowed five home runs all year. His platoon splits switched from 2013 with lefties tagging him with a .769 OPS over 176 PA's while right handers posted a .667 OPS over 207 PA's, but he still had command issues with left handed hitters as he walked 22 and struck out only 17. Other aspects of his batted ball profile were better than league average with a 16.5% fly ball and 20.8% line drive rate, each 4.1 points better than the MLB average.
The scouting report on Hale is that he uses a four pitch mix of a low to mid 90's four seam fastball, a low 90's sinker, a low 80's slider, and a change up in the same velocity range. While the four seam fastball was his most used pitch at 41% in his first full season, he went to the sinker 30% of the time, and both the slider and change up 14% of the time. He gets excellent downward action on the sinker and hitters pummel it into the ground often. The slider is an average pitch with sharp two plane break while the change up has taken a big leap forward. It's currently an average pitch as well with above average movement to his arm-side and good depth while maintaining his arm speed and getting around 10 mph of difference off his fastballs. Occasionally he'll throw a change with excellent tumble and fade, but it's been inconsistent and would rate out as average and his fourth best pitch. Hale is extremely athletic and played more in center field in college than he pitched, which translates well on the mound. He's able to repeat a simple delivery, he fields his position exceptionally well, and he has quick feet with an excellent pick off move to first and second. Coming from an Ivy League school, its not hard to guess he's an extremely heady ballplayer that utilizes scouting reports well and knows how to sequence his pitches to change eye level.
Now that he's out in Colorado, Hale looks to battle for the 5th starter role in spring training with Eddie Butler, Christian Bergman, and Yohan Flande. They're all on the 40 man roster and each have a good shot at it, but I believe Hale's arsenal and track record for being an extreme ground ball pitcher will win out. If he can regain command over his pitches he could become a solid back end starter that could handle the rigors of pitching half his games in Denver.
Looking at the deal as a whole, I like what Colorado did by picking up two pitchers with profiles that fit Coors Field and only giving up one real prospect. If it all clicks for Briceno, he could swing it in Atlanta's direction, but a lot has to go right for that to happen. Meanwhile, Hale and Schlosser can contribute immediately for the Rockies. Mark this one down in the win column for Colorado.