When the Atlanta Braves lost Freddie Freeman for the better part of the next three months, all knew a move was imminent. Yesterday, that move was made as they sent Juan Yepez to the St. Louis Cardinals for Matt Adams.
As someone who covers the Rome Braves and now Gwinnett Braves pretty regularly, I needed to sleep on this move before I decided if I liked it. Adams is a nice piece, who has middling pop, but he’s certainly no Freeman. His struggles against left-handed pitching have been well documented, making his breakout 2014 seem ages ago.
Adams has since been relegated to a bench and platoon role, unable to pick up any other position at which the Cardinals tried him. With his contract up at the end of the season, the Cardinals basically gave up nothing for something, while the Braves got a short-term answer that they will likely flip upon Freeman’s return.
Verdict: good deal for both sides.
So, who did the Cardinals get in Yepez?
Yepez is 19-years-old. The Braves signed him out of Venezuela in 2014, and he spent most of the past two seasons in the South Atlantic League for the Rome Braves.
Still raw in nearly every aspect of his game, Yepez stands at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds. He batted in the heart of the 2017 Rome Braves order, based on the assumption that his big frame would induce the power this speedy lineup desperately needed.
It just hasn’t shown up yet.
Yepez had a great 2015 debut split between two levels of Rookie ball at the age of 17. He slashed .299/.364/.458. Not even allowed to drive in some states, Yepez showed signs of nice power, blasting four home runs, but 16 doubles in 201 at bats were impressive. He is a big-time pull hitter, as all six of his career home runs have gone over the left-field wall. While he has nice gap-to-gap power, again, most of his doubles go to left.
It’s always hard to judge a teenager's command of the strike zone. Unless they have an immense amount of walks compared to a low amount of strikeouts and complete awareness of the zone, it’s unfair to say they have a bad eye at such a young age.
Yepez falls into the latter category. His 23 percent career strikeout rate is not terribly alarming, but his eight percent career walk rate leaves some to be desired.
I saw Yepez twice in Rome this season. He registered a hit, a RBI, a walk and at least one strikeout in both games, so I saw a little bit of everything. He hits the ball hard, behind a quick swing. He has control of his swing mechanics and should be unleashing more power, it simply hasn’t come yet.
My biggest issues with Yepez is the glove. While heralded as a first baseman, the Braves transferred him full-time to third base this season. He has very good instincts defensively, but they didn’t translate well in person.
Yepez has already made eight errors at the hot corner this season, and I saw two of them. To be fair, the left side of the infield was rough around the edges, as Derian Cruz was already sent back to extended spring training after committing 16 errors of his own. I question Yepez’s range and decision making, but I don’t question his arm. I’m no scout, but I’d give it a 50 to 55 grade if I were.
Again, Yepez is learning a new position. The instincts are there, so I’m not ruling out success. He wasn’t known for his glove work when the Braves signed him, however, so I’m also not going to guarantee it.
I really like Yepez, which was why I had a hard time deciding if it was the right move. That being said, I love this move for St. Louis. He seems like a Cardinals type of guy. One of those guys that somewhat underperforms for much of his minor league career, plays a few positions, comes up to the bigs and breaks out in a big way.
I can’t imagine the Cardinals advancing Yepez to a higher level, so I expect him to stay with the Peoria Chiefs in Low-A.
While I personally would have liked to see the offensive prospect-depraved Braves hold on to one of the nice pieces they have and trade a lesser pitching prospect instead, I understand the necessity Adams was.
Overall, I think both teams came out ahead and the Cardinals got an exciting piece in return.