Less than an hour before the Braves kicked off a series in St. Louis and the Mets host the Dodgers, the two NL East squads matched up on a deal. Atlanta continues to follow their plan of attack by stockpiling young pitching, jettisoning another pair of veterans in that quest.
Acquired by Atlanta earlier in the summer from the Dodgers, 3B Juan Uribe now heads to the Big Apple alongside the resurgent LF/3B Kelly Johnson. In exchange, Atlanta receives RHP John Gant and RHP Rob Whalen. Let's take a deeper look at the Braves newest arms, Gant and Whalen.
RHP John Gant, 22 years old
Ht/Wt - 6'3/175LB, Acquired - 2011 Draft, 21st round
Photo courtesy of so and so
The Mets selected Gant in the 21st round of the 2011 draft, giving the New York native an overslot $185,000 bonus. Gant breezed through the lowest levels of the minors in his first three years before posting a dominant performance in the South Atlantic League in 2014. The lanky 6'3/175 LB righty posted a 2.56 ERA and 3.31 FIP over 21 starts while racking up 11 wins, a .221 opponents average, a 22.4% strike out rate (8.34 K/9), and 7.8% walk rate (2.93 BB/9). Two other stats I always look at are the average on balls in play (BABIP) and the percentage of runners stranded on the bases (strand rate or LOB%). His BABIP and strand rates were in the normal area at .293 and 72%, respectively. He really didn't show any statistical red flags that year and even showed a slight reverse platoon split with left handed hitters posting a .573 OPS compared to right handers and their .623 mark.
The front office felt Gant was advanced enough to have him skip a level and debut with AA Binghamton of the Eastern League for the start of the 2015 campaign. He struggled to find his footing early on, only lasting seven starts before being demoted to St. Lucie in the Florida State League. He threw to a 4.75 ERA over 36 frames while walking 21 and striking out just 24 with 42 hits allowed.
His stint in the Sunshine State was much better - six dominant starts spanning 40.1 innings with 48 punch outs, 10 walks, 27 hits allowed, and a 1.79 ERA.Sandy Alderson and Co. brought him back up to AA at the beginning of July and the surface numbers have looked very similar to his first turn through the Eastern League. In four starts, he threw 23.1 frames with a 4.63 ERA, but he only walked five with 25 hits allowed and 19 strike outs.
For the entire season up to this point, Gant has toed the rubber for 99.2 innings of work with a 3.52 ERA, a 3.32 FIP, and a 1.30 WHIP. He's punched out 91 batters (8.22 K/9, 21.3 K%) while issuing 36 free passes (3.25 BB/9, 8.4 BB%) and allowing 94 hits for an opponents batting average of .242 and a .667 OPS. His BABIP stands at .301 while sporting a 68.8% strand rate, both within the realm of normalcy.
While he doesn't have an enormous ceiling of a front of the rotation arm, he's likely to have a high floor of a bullpen piece or 5th starter with his sinking high 80's two seamer, a four seam blend of cheese that tops out at 94 mph, a good split fingered change up in the high 70's, and a decent hook. There's some funk to his delivery, some would describe it as "happy feet", but he repeats it well with solid command and a good amount of deception. He cuts off his finish by straightening his front leg at contact, which could be the cause of him having occasional issues getting the ball down in the zone. The most recent video I could find on him (embedded below with a hat tip to Jeff Paternostro of Amazing Avenue) is from April 2014, but should give you a good idea of what he looks like.
He fell outside all of the major outlets top 10, 20, or 30 lists for the Mets as some scouts have questions about if his stuff will hold up as he climbs the ladder. He's stalled a bit in AA so far, but looks to have figured something out in his second stint with Binghamton. He's got #5 potential, but likely winds up in the bullpen as a long man or starting pitching depth at AAA. He will now head to Atlanta's AA affiliate, the Mississippi Braves in the Southern League.
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RHP Rob Whalen, 21 years old
Ht/Wt - 6'2/200LB, Acquired - 2012 Draft, 12th round
Photo courtesy of Linwood Ferguson/St. Lucie Mets
After a so-so senior season in high school near Lakeland, Florida, Rob Whalen slid down the draft to the 12th round of the 2012 draft where the Mets scooped him up and signed him with a $100,000 bonus. He only made one appearance after signing, really starting his career in 2013 in the Appalachian League. He tore through the league like a Ronco knife through a tomato, posting a 1.87 ERA over 72.1 frames with 76 punchies (9.46 K/9, 25.7 K%) to just 17 walks (2.12 BB/9, 5.7 BB%) and only 50 hits allowed (.184 opponents batting average).
He began the 2014 campaign in full season ball as a 20 year old with Low A Savannah. He only made four starts before a cut on his hand developed a bacterial infection that required hospitalization and eventually surgery. He missed two months to the freak injury, made three tune up starts in the Gulf Coast League, and was back with the Sand Gnats by mid July. He made it into 14 games spanning 69.2 innings with 63 strike outs (8.14 K/9, 22.3 K%), 21 walks (2.71 BB/9, 7.5 BB%), and 48 hits allowed (.188 opponents batting average).
Whalen has spent the 2015 season in the High A Florida State League with St. Lucie, making 15 appearances with a 3.36 ERA before the deal. He's thrown 83 frames with 61 strike outs (6.61 K/9, 17.1 K%), 34 walks (3.69 BB/9, 9.6 BB%), and 72 hits allowed (.229 opponents batting average). He's in uncharted territory when it comes to innings pitched as he's already 10+ innings over his previous career high. It remains to be seen if the oppressive heat and humidity of late Summer in Florida will take a toll on him, but he's hit a rough patch since the beginning of June with a 4.17 ERA in his last 36.2 innings, 30 strike outs, 23 walks, and 32 hits allowed. He's also developed a distinctive reverse platoon split, limiting lefties to a .536 OPS while hitters from the right side have a .704 OPS. Odd for a guy with such a good breaking ball, as it's usually the fastball/change up guys that show this type of split since the change up is best used against opposite handed hitters.
His bread and butter is a heavy, low 90's, bowling ball fastball, and a potentially plus high 70's curve with 2-7 break. Those two pitches alone could help him carve out a long career in a bullpen, but he also mixes in a potentially above average change up and an average slider with decent command of his arsenal. He's put an emphasis on improving his change up this year and it shows in his splits. Whalen has a deceptive delivery he can repeat well and is looking like a viable option to start. He should get every chance to continue to do so for the foreseeable future and should slot into High A Carolina's rotation.
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(h/t to MLB Prospect Portal)
Of the two prospects Atlanta is getting back in the deal, Whalen has the best chance to stick long term in the bigs. By the time he's ready for the bright lights and third decks, he should have three above average pitches and average command, a recipe for a #4 starter. If he can't handle the workload, he could be a great groundball specialist in the pen capable of multiple innings. Gant's lack of a stand out secondary pitch puts him behind Whalen and pretty low on Atlanta's totem pole with their improving starting pitching depth.