Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Blog Has Moved

After a number of years at blogspot - before and after registering the Walk-Off Walk.net name - we now have moved to dedicated hosting. You can keep up with us at https://walkoffwalk.net and we look forward to seeing you over at the new blog. Thanks!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Organizational Overview: First Base

Freeman | Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
For many of the organizational overviews I do to accompany our prospect rundowns, the current starter or starters at that position may run the gamut between good-to-bad, but there are often two or three really good prospects on the way to supplement them or push them out of the way. First base is the exception as not only is the starter elite, but there are nearly no prospects to speak of. That's not a terrible thing - I mentioned before how many standout first basemen don't start there. But it certainly makes for a relatively sad collection of prospect blurbs like we released on Friday.

I'm changing up the organizational overview slightly. The first section will include where that position projects right now for 2018 in comparison to the league. The second section will look at the near future and the "oh (expletive)!" plan should things go really wrong in 2018. Finally, the third section goes beyond the next couple of years. Some of the information I use comes from recent looks at the roster makeup for next season.

First Base
Signed: Freddie Freeman ($21 million)
Arbitration: Matt Adams ($4.3 million estimate based on Lonnie Chisenhall's 2017 arbitration settlement)
Minor League Free Agents: Carlos Franco, Joey Meneses, Matt Tuiasosopo
Current Projection: $25.3 million

For the Braves, their hopes and dreams for 2018 include a lot of Freeman playing. Next season will be Year 5 of Freeman's big eight-year extension that runs through 2021. The deal was heavily backloaded, which is pretty common for a player signing prior to his big arbitration paydays. Freeman earned $20.5M this year, the first of five years he'll earn at least that much cash. Freeman has yet to play in a playoff game since signing that extension, which is a terrible waste of some of the slugger's best years. Freeman notably played a little third base this year and didn't suck too awfully at it, which was surprising.

Adams is currently projected for the 2018 roster because to lose him for nothing is difficult to believe. When the dust settled on his 2017, it was a pretty solid - and unspectacular - season. Basically, a microcosm of his career. That said, he provides a big bat against right-hand pitching and could be useful for next year's team as support for Freeman and a potential option in left field. You'll lose value with Adams in left because he's a terrible defender, but you can also say the same about the current projected starter out there.

Jace Peterson and Rio Ruiz, not mentioned here, also played some first base for the Braves last year and both could return next season.

Comparison - 2018

Freeman played in 117 games, roughly forty fewer than the other elite options at first base. Despite that, he nearly matched them as far as production goes. Despite swinging a wet newspaper for much of the second half, Freeman's .280 ISO was only bested by rookies Cody Bellinger and Joey Gallo among first basemen. It was the fourth time in five years he posted at least a 4 WAR and only Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt can make convincing arguments that they could be the best first baseman in the game since the beginning of last year.

There is zero reason to believe Freeman, when healthy, won't continue to excel in 2018. He finished last season with the lowest strikeout rate of his career and the best wOBA so he's still improving rather than regressing. Next season will be his Age-28 season so he could be still scratching the surface on what the Best Freeman might look like. That's a scary proposition for the rest of the league right now.

If Adams is brought back, he remains a solid platoon option should Freeman go down, having OPS'd .828 against righties throughout his career. He brings limited value because of his flaws, but when he's on, his bat can launch homers in binges. He's also a tremendous pinch-hitter and I typically don't attach such an adjective to a role that is often difficult to successfully duplicate. Over 155 pinch-hit appearances, Adams is slashing .315/.342/.555 with nine home runs.

You could make the argument that with Adams and a competent platoon option against southpaws, first base would be a strength. But with Freeman, it makes first base an elite strength compared to the rest of the league.

Comparison - The Near-Future/"Oh, (Expletive)!" Plan

For the latter, the presence of Adams gives the Braves a big boost. However, the Braves may find his salary, which could approach $5 million, a bit too rich for their blood. If so, the Braves would be in a dicey position depth-wise short of other moves this winter - basically, the same position they were in when Freeman went down after being hit by a pitch by Aaron Loup in 2017. At that point, the Braves signed the zombified version of James Loney, started Jace Peterson at first base, and promoted Carlos Franco from Double-A to Triple-A. None of those moves gave former General Manager John Coppolella any confidence - as they shouldn't have - and he made the deal for Adams.

If the Braves cut bait on Adams, they should definitely be on the lookout for some help here because they lack any real options to immediately call upon. There's Peterson, who...no. Just no. Rio Ruiz was given a late look last month at first base and also played a handful of games at first base this season for Gwinnett. There was some purpose to these moves as the Braves looked to uncover some added value in Ruiz, whose defensive inflexibility and limited offensive profile as a platoon hitter makes it hard to keep him on the roster. He looked like a guy who hasn't played much first base to no one's surprise. He'll likely continue to get some work there this offseason and spring. If Adams is gone, without additional options brought aboard, Ruiz might be Atlanta's best option at first base should Freeman go down.

This is both a potential strength and weakness. Not many teams - especially in the NL - have an option like Matt Adams to call upon. But if he is non-tendered, depth could be a real weakness that will need to be addressed.

Lugbauer | Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
Comparison - The Future

Here's a brief projection of what 1B might look like next year in the farm system with their rankings in our most recent Top 5 1B in parenthesis...

Gwinnett: Sal Giardina, Minor League Free Agents
Mississippi: Carlos Castro (5), Jonathan Morales
Florida: Drew Lugbauer (1), Kurt Hoekstra, Anthony Concepcion,
Rome: Austin Bush (4), Griffin Benson
Danville: Nicholas Vizcaino

That's not good. Lugbauer is really the only member of this group that would seem like a decent bet to get to the majors and he was an eleventh round draft choice last June. As we talked about on Friday, there's just not a lot else and that includes a pair of players from the Top 5 prospect list, Carlos Franco and Joey Meneses, who I believe are both possible minor league free agents this winter. The Braves could bring back either/both, but that won't help the position much.

That said, with Freeman's youth, first base is simply not a priority. Even if you are still worried about the future, first base could be aided by moving a prospect from another position. Like I pointed out, we saw Rio Ruiz get into some games at first base in the second half of the 2017 season. Another prospect, Braxton Davidson, could be one that gets moved sooner rather than later. When the roster for the fall instructional league was announced in mid-September, Davidson was listed as an infielder despite playing only the outfield after being drafted. Davidson's prospect status has disappeared after an OPS under .700 the last two years at High-A ball, but at just 21-years-old, the Braves aren't going to completely give up on him. He'll have to hit a ton to be a first base prospect, but with little else in the system, it might be a good move.

Austin Riley is another guy who could be switched across the diamond, as our Stephen Tolbert eluded to last week. I'm not there yet with Stephen, but Riley's defense at third base certainly is a work in progress. Others like Brett Cumberland or Alex Jackson could struggle to stay behind the plate, though Jackson seems like a better fit in the outfield.

Again, there's no pressing reason to feel the need to add some big-time talent at first base. Beyond the fact that you can move other players there, Freeman is locked up for another four seasons so when we talk about the future at the position, it's important to remember that the future is already here. In a weird way, despite the lack of any really talented prospects, the future at first base is still a strength. Other teams may have the big first base prospect, but when you have a guy like Freeman who is still pretty young and locked up, you're still looking pretty even without much in the system.

Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

2017-18 Hot Stove Organizational Overviews

Friday, October 13, 2017

WOW's Top 5 First Base Prospects

First base is generally slim pickings when it comes to prospects and that’s not limited to the Braves. Many guys who land at first base in the majors often start elsewhere (catcher, outfield). The Braves have had one legit first base prospect in the last ten years and fortunately, he worked out okay. This crop of first basemen might have one real prospect in the mix, but that’s all. Of all the different position rankings we’ll do, first base is the only one with just one perspective Top 50 prospect on it.

Here’s how we arrived at our list. - each of the three writers at Walk-Off Walk voted on their Top 5 prospects (plus one extra) and we took the composite rank. Ties are broken by the individual’s highest ranking among the voters. Positions are determined by which position a person played the most at (with a few exceptions).

Also receiving votes: Griffin Benson

Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
1. Drew Lugbauer

Tommy: Lugbauer would have crowded the catcher situation if he hadn’t spent so much time in Rome as a first baseman. Lugbauer's selection back in June barely registered because he was an 11th rounder out of college who was expected to provide some organizational depth, but the results spoke for themselves. In 29 games in Danville, Lugbauer nearly ran away from the Appalachian League homerun title after smacking ten of them to go with a .243/.366/.573 slash. After a well-earned promotion to Rome, he still slashed .277/.338/.462 with three more homers. Going from ten to three homers in seven more plate appearances might sound like a big change, but it's worth mentioning that he had one more extra-base hit. It's simply much harder to get homeruns in the South Atlantic League (especially Rome) than it is in the APPY. All the while, he played 25 games at first base, 16 behind the plate, and 14 at third base. I don't think his defense behind the plate will ever be better than average, but that's plenty good enough to keep him in the discussion as a potential super-sub player moving forward especially if he remains spry enough to play third base. If his bat continues to progress, he could hit well enough to secure an everyday job in the bigs. Regardless, if he continues to impress at the plate, it's going to be tough to keep Lugbauer from advancing in this system. I expect him to open 2018 in Florida and could potentially make it to the majors before the end of 2019 season.

Ryan: According to Baseball America’s latest piece: According to Baseball America’s latest piece on SLuGbauer, the Braves think he can stick at catcher, and that would be great!  Hopefully, the Braves have a Brave lifer in Freddie Freeman which means all below will need to find a new position. Regardless, Lugbauer has a serious stick that comes with a K-rate around 25% and a BB-rate around 10%. As long as those numbers have staying power while advancing levels, I agree with Tommy that he could move quickly. Hopefully, for him and the Braves, it’ll be at catcher.

Stephen: So a theme that’s going to run through this section is the reminder that the offensive standard for 1B/DH types is so incredibly high. Lugbauer absolutely has the profile to meet that standard. A 141 wRC+ with a .330 ISO is outstanding work in your first year in pro ball. He wasn’t just swinging out of his shoes either. He added a 15% BB rate to go with that production so the approach was impressive as well. The caveat being he did all this as a 21 years old in Rookie ball so clearly, he needs a higher level of competition and he fares against guys closer to his level will tell a more convincing story.

2. Carlos Franco

Tommy: Carlos Franco might be the closest thing the Braves have to a guy who they could plug in at first base - if they absolutely had to plug a true first baseman in - but that doesn't make him much of an option. He does have some late blooming aspects, hitting 36 of his 54 career homeruns over the last three years, but he's just a few months away from turning 26 (and subsequently dropping from this prospect countdown). He wasn't much of a prospect as a third baseman and playing more first base did little to change that.

Ryan: No hitter...especially a power hitter, breaks out in Pearl, MS in the most notorious pitcher-friendly park in the minors. But that’s what Carlos Franco did in 2017 with an OPS over .900 at AA. Granted he was 25, but it was a good sign for a player that had been in the organization for 9 years, repeated Rookie Ball 5 times, and had been deemed organizational depth well before he even got to A Ball. Unfortunately, he’s likely still org depth as his success didn’t transfer to AAA. He can hit it a ton on occasion and that’s about all I got. I’m not sure he’s even here in 2018.

Stephen: Franco has been in the system forever, debuting in 2009 as a 17-year-old. As he’s progressed and matured Franco has developed some much-needed power. Last year’s spike has some fluky aspects to it so I’m interested to see if he can repeat that performance.

3. Joey Meneses

Tommy: Back in 2014, Joey Meneses looked like an interesting prospect. He slashed .283/.354/.495 that season in 62 games and even hit for the cycle. But, as it so often is, there was a reason to pump the breaks. He was 22 years-old and repeating low-A, things that don't really add up to a big prospect. He would need a year-and-half to find his footing at high-A and a similar story followed him this year. There's some degree of offense here, but there's just little potential for more.

Ryan: Joey just finished up his 7th year in the Braves system and it was another mediocre showing for Meneses. Being limited to an average defensive 1st baseman and a well below average anything else, a .760 OPS just isn’t going to do anything for his future. Like Franco, I’m not sure he’s in the system come 2018.

Stephen: Meneses looks to me more like an organizational guy than an actual prospect. 25 years old, still in AA and putting up .111 ISO as a 1B doesn’t do anything for me. He also hits the ball on the ground more than 50% of the time. Time for a big adjustment.

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4. Austin Bush

Tommy: The Braves did Bush few favors by throwing him to the wolves in the South Atlantic League after he was picked in June. After Lugbauer’s promotion, Bush tried his luck with Danville and was much more successful (.273/.368/.530). Having watched him, I compared him to Cody Johnson, another player I saw in the Braves system back in 2009. At that time, Johnson was in his fourth season after being the Braves' top pick in the '06 draft. He hit 32 homeruns, but when you compared him to the better prospects on that team - namely Freeman and Jason Heyward - you could tell that his success didn't make him their peers. His long swing and questionable plate discipline would be a problem. Johnson made it to Triple-A finally in 2013 for 18 games. It would be the final games he'd play in affiliated ball. I'm not saying Bush has no hope, but he looks strikingly similar as a tall and bulky left-hand hitter with big power and a slow swing. Bush is going to hit homers, but I have my doubts that he'll ever make enough contact to do much else with the bat.

Ryan: As a 21-year-old in Rookie Ball, Bush had a K-rate north of 30%. That’s not going to do much for a career. I’d probably write more, but what is the use. He swings hard and misses a lot, but also walks. I’ll have more to write next year should he maintain power numbers, walk numbers, and cut his K-rate down to 25%. Until then….

Stephen: This is pretty simple for me. I don’t care how much power you have, you strike out 30% of the time as 21 year old in Rookie ball, you aren’t a prospect.

5. Carlos Castro

Tommy: The Other Carlos could be a decent first base candidate - at least as far as organizational types go. He did belt 17 homeruns last year at Rome with a .243 ISO in just 84 games. He was off to a similar slugging pace this year before taking one off the cheek on May 11th. The previous day, he smacked three homeruns in a game and had six on the year. After missing 20 days, he hit just four homeruns over the final three months. One thing I do like with Castro is he has increased his line drive rate each of the last two years. Still, he puts the ball on the ground too much to be considered much of an offensive talent.

Ryan: I feel like this is a copy/paste job as CC (and the Music Factory) seems to be in the same mold as Franco and Meneses). He’s been in the org forever and puts up an OPS that’s between .750-.850. That’s not a difference maker at 1B in any system, much less one bursting with talent.

Stephen: So, first base is a little thin in the system (though I think Austin Riley might be a 1B). Castro is 23 years old and still in Rookie ball putting up meh numbers. I’ve honestly never written, talked, or even thought about him until right now.

Read previous 2017 top positional rankings...

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Organizational Overview: Catcher

Yesterday, we began a series looking at the best prospects by position starting with catcher, but I'd be remiss if we didn't also look at where the Braves stand at catcher right now. After all, just because a position is a strength in the minors doesn't need help right now. Conversely, a position like first base looks pretty weak in the minors, but the Braves aren't that interested in addressing that because of who they have in the majors.

This series of articles will look at both the recent past - especially 2017 - and the foreseeable future. It will take into account the current major league roster, the current depth in the minors, and the future of the position. Think of this series as a way to look at the strengths and weaknesses of a roster before attempting to fix problems moving forward. I will use some of the information I already released about the current roster makeup as a reminder.

Signed: Kurt Suzuki ($3.5M)
Arbitration: None
Renewal: David Freitas and Tony Sanchez
Option: Tyler Flowers ($4M, $300K buyout)
Current Projection: $7.5M

On a roster in flux, there is some degree of stability behind the plate. Tyler Flowers will almost certainly be brought back for 2018 and once again will be paired with Kurt Suzuki. We will get to the details on how effective this duo was in 2017, but it's very important to remember that the price per value here is exceptionally high. The Braves are essentially paying the price for a medium-grade starter for two catchers who are capable of being starters in the majors. However, both are probably better for the time share they played under last season. Catchers are naturally prone to breaking down as the season progresses, but the Braves avoided that by having their duo share the load.

The other 40-man options right now are unlikely to be in the mix by opening day. Freitas is Triple-A filler while Sanchez, more known for his defense, didn't even catch an inning after being acquired at the waiver-trade deadline.

Comparison - The Majors

The duo of Flowers and Suzuki lack the name recognition and neither will be All-Stars in 2018, but for one year, they gave the Braves the best production from behind the plate in the league. Only four teams received at least 4 WAR from their catchers in 2017 and only the Braves pushed over the 5 WAR cliff - finishing with 5.1 fWAR to be exact. They were tied for fourth in homers, third in ISO, first in wOBA, and first in wRC+. Defensively, they were slightly below-average - largely because Flowers gives up defensive value for framing - something he's the best at in baseball.

Because the Braves can keep both Flowers and Suzuki moving forward, the position looks to have zero upheaval heading into 2018. It might be a pipe dream to expect the Braves to get another 5-win season from their catchers - it was shocking that it happened once - but both Flowers and Suzuki credit Kevin Seitzer for their improvements at the plate and the Braves certainly could bring back Seitzer for another season. That would keep a good team together for another year, though the Braves are rumored to look at some considerable alterations to their coaching staff despite bringing back Brian Snitker.

Regardless, the Braves should rank among the top 10 or so teams heading into 2018 behind the plate even if individually, both of their catchers are ranked much lower. The Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, Marlins, and possibly the Mariners should all rank ahead of them on the strength of their number one catcher. The Orioles and Tigers, a combined 7.2 fWAR between them, will be tasked with rebuilding their catching situation. Welington Castillo could return to the Orioles, but after a big year, he'll likely seek out a long-term deal rather than come back on a player's option while the Tigers already dealt Alex Avila last season.

Obviously, there are a lot of dominoes that will fall this offseason, but the fact the Braves have two respectable catchers who put up the kind of numbers that they did in 2017 makes this position a strength heading into 2018 compared to the rest of the league.

Comparison - Immediate Depth

I don't want you to get the wrong idea - this is simply what kind of depth is already projected to be in the minors who could be on the major league roster when the season opens next year. The Braves have a lot of catching prospects - and I'll get back to them - but their best prospects are not likely going to be in the mix next April. However, the Braves do have Kade Scivicque and that isn't the worst thing in the world. Scivicque missed our Top 5, but is probably a Top 50 prospect in this loaded system so don't sleep on him. He doesn't project as much more than a backup in the majors, but is smart and capable behind the plate. He has some gap power and while aggressive at the plate, will make enough solid contact to possibly post a good average if the BABIP allow it.

The Braves could bring back Freitas or Sanchez for more depth and they also have Sal Giardina and Joseph Odom, who both appeared in Gwinnett last year. Neither, however, project as much more than organizational filler and the Braves don't need Freitas or the rarely utilized Sanchez. Beyond them, you have last year's Double-A duo of Jonathan Morales and Alex Jackson. Morales is a lot like Giardina and Odom, but Jackson is a legit prospect if he can stay behind the plate. Actually, with his bat, he's a legit prospect anywhere, but he brings more value as a catcher. Reports were mixed about Jackson, but he did appear to look much more comfortable as the season progressed after moving from the outfield. If he continues to respond to coaching, Jackson could be knocking on the door sometime next summer. Despite not being in the mix when the season opens, Jackson is still slated to open 2018 in Gwinnett if only because that's where the at-bats because there's so much depth behind him. Even if an injury opened a spot in the bigs, I think Scivicque is ahead of Jackson for the time being, but at some point in 2018, that's going to change.

I'd classify the immediate depth as average, but trending up.

Comparison - The Future

The Braves might not have any of their catchers make one of the big Top 100 Prospects list this winter, but the depth here is off-the-charts. I already mentioned Jackson, and he received the most points for our top catching prospect in our recent list. The great thing about the catching depth is that it's spread out pretty well. Here's a brief projection with the Top 5 catching prospects and others that likely will be in the mix.

Gwinnett: Alex Jackson (#1), Kade Scivicque (Honorable mention), Joseph Odom.
Mississippi: Brett Cumberland (#3), Jonathan Morales, Sal Giardina
Florida: Lucas Herbert (#5), Carlos Martinez, Tanner Murphy
Rome: William Contreras (#2), Hagen Owenby
Danville: Abrahan Gutierrez (#4), Alan Crowley, Zack Soria

Not too shabby. The best combinations of offense/defense of the group are likely 2-3 years away in Contreras and Gutierrez, but there's a pair of good offensive talents in Herbert and Cumberland with a lottery ticket in Herbert mixed in whose bat could develop well enough to increase his prospect standing. This list does not include Drew Lugbauer, who was classified as a first basemen due to where he played the most. Still, Lugbauer gives the Braves another possibility even if it's as a part-time catcher/corner infielder coming off the bench.

No matter how you slice it, the future is a major strength for the Braves and likely one of the best catching prospect situations in baseball - if not the best.

The Big Picture

When it comes to the catcher position, there are few teams in a better position than the Braves. Sure, the chances of the Braves having the best production in baseball from their catchers in 2018 is not high, but there's also a strong chance that both Flowers and Suzuki perform well enough to lead the Braves to a solid season from behind the plate. The coming attractions, though, is where the Braves turn the catcher position into something special. It's hard not to think the Braves should be good behind the plate for the next decade.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

2017 Atlanta Braves Batting Profiles

Now that the season has ended, I thought it was a good time to go back and review the batting profiles of some of the Braves' key players. Batting profiles are essentially the nuts and bolts behind a players production and answers the why behind what. Knowing what a guy's wRC+ is useful but knowing how he arrived at that production gives you both a better understanding of a that players present talent, as well as a more accurate projection for what he'll do in the future.

The most recent example of this is Dansby Swanson's 2016 debut. Looking at just the production he put up, it was easy to conclude that Swanson was every bit the star player that he's prospect ranking proclaimed him to be and project him for that production going forward. But as his batting profile was put together, major red flags showed up, specifically in the power department, and it became clear that more than normal regression should probably be expected in 2017. Fast-forward a year later, and that profile proved to be a useful tool as Dansby struggled with all aspects of hitting, especially power, and we can now see more clearly his path to stardom will likely be harder than first thought.

So there is value to be had.

With that, we're going to dive right in. Here's the chart:

We’re going to go through each guy individually but a couple quick things about the chart. I think most of the headers are self explanatory, with the first four being exit velocity metrics followed by standard batted ball types and so on. I ended the chart with wOBA and xwOBA for each guy. If you're unfamiliar, xwOBA stands for expected wOBA. It's a metric from the Statcast guys that basically tries to strip away the randomness that goes into batted ball results and gives what a hitter's wOBA should be based on the type and quality of his contact.

The other thing about the chart is the cells are color-coded. If the player's production is 2 full standard deviations above average, the cell is red. If it's 1 to 2 standard deviations higher than average, it's orange. If it's 0.5 to 1 STD higher, the cell is yellow. If the player's value is .05 to 1 STD less than average, the cell is blue. 1 to 2 STD less than average is green and anything more than 2 STD lower than average and the cell is black. So red and black are the extremes.

Ok, now for the players. We'll just stay in the order they appear on the chart.

Note: I did not include Nick Markakis or Matt Kemp in these profiles because both guys are at a point where year to year profiles mean a lot less for them as age regression changes them so drastically from one year to the next. 

Freddie Freeman

As you can see, Freeman is really good. Shocking, I know. The first thing that jumps out is that insane line-drive rate. LD rate is a noisy metric that can fluctuate severely year to year so what you're looking for is a pattern from a player that shows a clear skill to square the ball up regularly. Freeman has that skill. He consistently runs sky high LD rates which is one of the reasons he's the monster that he is. Freeman also cut his K% down significantly in 2017 to almost a full STD below league average while maintaining a superior BB%. The other thing that makes Freeman one of the elite hitters in baseball is he hits the ball in the air over 40% of the time and crushes it when he does at 94 mph. From top to bottom this is just an impressive profile.

Ozzie Albies

Albies burst on the scene in 2017 as a member of this team's future core so his impressive performance in his debut season was of the high points for Braves' fans. And the good news is the profile supports the results. The first thing you'll notice is he's already adept at keeping the ball off the ground and when watching him hit, it's clear his trying to elevate. This is a good thing regardless of what Joe Simpson tells you and it led to more power than some were expecting. Ozzie's is probably never going to have more than league average power but remember the bar for having average power is as high as it's ever been. That would put him around a .170 ISO and combine that with his incredible speed and defensive value, Atlanta may be looking at a 4 to 5 WAR player. The other really impressive part of his profile is the BB/K numbers. A K rate south of 15% in today's game is especially impressive and it's not because he's ultra aggressive up there swinging at the first good pitch he sees. He'll take a walk. The one thing you'd like to see is a little more velocity on his fly balls. 88.8 mph is a little lite for how much he hits it in the air but it' very likely that increases as he physically matures.  I don't see anything to worry about here.

Dansby Swanson

So I mentioned in the open that Swanson is a prime example for why looking at the underlying skills is so important regardless of the results. Even after his impressive debut in 2016, there were red flags to consider and unfortunately for him, his profile doesn't look any better. The first big problem is having such a high K rate despite not hitting the ball with much authority. You can live with strikeouts as a hitter as long as you're offsetting those Ks with power. Swanson doesn't. He just doesn't hit the ball hard enough to generate it. At least not yet. The other big red flag is the ground ball to fly ball ratio. Even if Dansby was hitting the ball harder, a 47% ground ball rate is tough to do anything with. If almost half the balls you're putting into play are on the ground, there's just not enough opportunities to do damage. He has to adjust. The good news for Swanson is that's two years in a row he's posted better than average line drive rates. He had incredible bad luck on line drives in 2017 but if it turns out he does posses the skill to square up the ball regularly, then that obviously helps. We'll see what the 2018 version brings.

Ender Inciarte

Ender has one of the strangest profiles in baseball. Everything about his quality of contact says he should be an absolutely terrible hitter. Look at that xwOBA. He doesn't really ever hit the ball hard relative to his peers, he hits a ton of grounders and very rarely walks. This shouldn't work. But it does. The last 3 years he's run wRC+  of 100, 97, and 100. Now that's still just league average production, but given the significant value of his defense, it works for him. And it works for 2 reasons. Line drives and lack of strikeouts. Ender has a career BABIP of .328. Go look at those exit velocities and tell me how someone who hits it that softly runs a career .328 average on balls in play. Well he does it by putting a ton of pitches in play and a much higher than average number of them are hit on a line. That's his secret. Objectively, it terrifies me if his LD rate ever fluctuates, as it's been known to do, because that's all he has. But so far, it hasn't.

Johan Camargo

Camargo was the surprise player of 2017, essentially coming out of no where to become a legitimate contributor to the major league club. There's also quite a bit of debate on Camargo about what exactly he is so a breakdown of his profile should help. The first thing that jump out is the 22% line drive rate. Because Johan doesn't have the track record that shows a real skill to barrel the ball up consistently, we have to assume this number is artificially inflated and due for some regression. If he repeats the skill next year, then we have a track record we can stand on it a bit more firmly. The EV numbers show basically league average across the board but given Johan is middle infielder by trade, generating even average power is a plus. The worrisome bits come in two parts. First, the BB/K ratio. A 20% K rate on it's own isn't that big a deal but when it's accompanied by a less than 5% walk rate, that's a bit of a red flag. Walks allow to you to maintain a plus OBP without having to run an astronomical BABIP and as the latter drops for Johan next year he'll need to walk more to help with the former. Second is the GB/FB ratio. Camargo hits his fly balls at almost 93 mph which is a strong number but only hits the ball in the air 31% of the time. Those numbers indicate he's a guy who could benefit from the fly ball revolution that's sweeping across baseball. It's not for everyone but Johan seems like a guy who it could work for so it'll be interesting to see what 2018 brings.

Rio Ruiz

Rio had a very strange year. While in AAA, he put up more than adequate numbers to earn a call up and even some consistent playing time. But every time he got that playing time, the strong hitter he showed in AAA ceased to exist. Part of this was fluky. Ruiz ran a 13.4% LD rate in 2017, which is one of the lowest you'll ever see and a full two standard deviations below league average. I'd venture a guess that Rio could play a 15-year career from this point on and you'd never a see a LD rate that low again. While I've been lower on his prospects as an everyday guy, I will admit the rest of his profile is interesting. Above average overall EV, well above average EV on fly balls, a more than respectable walk rate, and a K rate that won't kill you. A lot like Camargo, where Rio could see the biggest gains is hitting the ball in the air more. a 96.3 mph EV on fly balls but only a 30% FB rate equals a lot of wasted potential. If Rio can maintain the strong plate discipline he showed while improving his batted ball profile, you could conceivably see a break-out player in 2018.

Tyler Flowers

Flowers is another excellent example of why these profiles can be so beneficial. It's very easy to look at Tyler's batted ball breakdown, look at his overall exit velocity, and reach the conclusion that Tyler simply needs to hit the ball in the air more. But a more detailed look shows that Tyler's quality of contact actually goes down as he tries to elevate the ball. He hit his fly balls at 89 mph in 2017, which as you can see by the chart, is below league average. He's a guy whose swing is more geared to hitting line drives and ground balls. Flowers has the track record and the profile of a guy who has found his sweet spot when it comes to his swing plane, and should just be left alone. Every other part of his profile is well within league average so really, Tyler, just keep doing what you're doing.

Kurt Suzuki

As we've talked about guys who could benefit from elevating the ball more, Kurt is hitter who has made that change, and saw the fruits of that labor in 2017. Kurt posted a career high fly ball rate in 2017, almost 47%, and matched that with a 92 mph exit velocity on FB. It's not hard to figure out where the power surge came from this year, and because we can see change in the under-lying skills, I'm more willing to believe his production can be repeated next year. The rest of his profile runs at pretty much league average levels with the one outlier being his low BB and K numbers. Kurt was hyper-aggressive in 2017, jumping on the first good pitch so it'll be interesting to see if he repeats that approach in 2018.

Matt Adams

The easiest way to describe Matt is a poor man's Freddie Freeman and his profile in 2017 is just a lesser version of Freeman's. Matt hits the ball as hard as Freeman does, hits in the air actually a little more than Freddie, and maintains his power as he elevates. The big differences are he's never had the ability square the ball up consistently like Freeman and the plate discipline overall is significantly less. But Matt is still a decent hitter. His xwOBA was .343 in 2017 so he's no scrub. The problem for him is really doesn't have a position on a team where 1B is occupied so a move in the off-season seems most likely. But hitting the ball 94 mph in the air and hitting the ball in air 42% of the time means there are times when Matt will be a force in your lineup. You just have to live with the below average plate discipline and limited defensive value.

Lane Adams

Other than Camargo, Lane was the breakout player of 2017. After opening some eyes with his play in AAA, Lane finally got called up to the big league club mid-way though the year. Playing time was hard to come for some reason but once he started getting regular AB's, he produced like a major league caliber player and showed potential that have some very excited. His profile, however, has some red flags. The first one that sticks out is his K rate. Striking out 30% of the time by itself can kill hitter's production but doing so while only producing an 85 mph average exit velocity is a serious problem. Lane has some pop but not nearly enough to run those kind of plate discipline numbers. He survived in 2017 with a higher than average line drive rate, but as we've already gone over, that's the least stable of all these skills and without a track record to back it up, we need to expect regression. The good news is even with the expected regression, Lane has enough defensive and base-running value to more than likely hold down a bench spot on the team. But to be more of a weapon as a hitter, Adams is going to have to make more contact.

Ok, there are your 2017 Atlanta Braves batting profiles. We'll do this again a couple months into 2018 when we'll have more data on guys like Albies, Swanson, and Camargo as well as what I'm guessing is a first look at Ronald Acuna.

WOW's Top 5 Catching Prospects

The 2017 season for the Atlanta Braves has come to a close and now we begin to look forward into 2018 and beyond. This week, we begin a series that looks at each position and the prospects that the organization currently have - starting with a position of great depth in catcher. It wasn’t long ago that the Braves had Cristian Bethancourt and that was about it. Nowadays, that has changed as all five catchers who made this list likely will be in our preseason Top 50 (provided they aren’t traded). In fact, a sixth catcher will likely get included in our Top 50 who wasn’t voted into this Top 5. That’s how deep this position is now.

Later this week, we’ll publish the first base list, which is...well, not quite as deep. Or deep at all.

Here’s how we arrived at our list. - each of the three writers at Walk-Off Walk voted on their Top 5 catchers (plus one extra) and we took the composite rank. Ties are broken by the individual’s highest ranking among the voters. Positions are determined by which position a person played the most at (with a few exceptions).

Also receiving votes: Kade Scivicque

Top 5 Atlanta Braves Catching Prospects

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1. Alex Jackson

Tommy: With Jackson, the question is less his bat, but it's still worth starting there because he had the kind of year many expected would be the norm for him after being the sixth overall selection of the 2014 draft by Seattle. He slashed .267/.328/.480 on the year with 19 homeruns while taking his first swings at both High-A and Double-A ball. Now, we can't NOT mention the 26% strikeout rate with a walk rate about 20% less, but it's still a solid showing for his Age-21 season. This was also Year 1 of the catching experiment. A backstop in high school, Jackson was converted to the outfield after the Mariners selected him and remained there for the first three years of his career. He wasn't an asset behind the plate, but he looked more and more comfortable as the season progressed and the Braves gave him more and more time as a catcher. Early returns on his framing were encouraging in that he looks average there. I say that's encouraging because if your baseline is average, that means you could improve to make framing a solid skill. He's got the arm for the position, but the footwork and pop-time will need a good deal of work. Keep in mind - this season was about finding out if Jackson could catch at a reasonable level. I think he can do that enough to stay there. He may never be a defensive marvel, but he could be better than Evan Gattis and with his offensive potential, that's plenty of value. Of course, a switch back to the outfield remains a possibility.

Ryan: I saw some video early in the season of Alex Jackson behind the plate and it was being nice to say he needed work. However, I watched quite of bit of him catching throughout the season and he improved considerably. By season’s end, one could squint and see a catcher in the making. Still, it was barely over a 50 game sample and that’s just not enough to prove/disprove anything. I think he ends up being a catcher at the big league level but it could take 2 more full years for that to happen.

Stephen: So, I’m usually the low man on Jackson’s ability to stay at catcher. I personally asked two scouts while at AA game what his future position would be and both said outfield without hesitation. This lines up with just about everything I’ve read from scouts and evaluators. He’s still young enough where nothing is written in stone but if his bat starts advancing at a higher rate than his glove, the organization is going to have to decide whether a Bryce Harper-like path is optimal for Alex. If putting him in the OF gets him in the lineup quicker, they might make the move. The biggest thing he has to work at the plate is the K rate. Get that under 20% and he’s a major league hitter right now. I’ve got high hopes for Jackson as a hitter and as a LF, I think he’s a major league regular.

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2. William Contreras

Tommy: The only reason - and I mean the only reason - that Contreras wasn’t my #1 was because he’s still in rookie ball and I think Jackson’s bat is so good that he’s on a path to the majors regardless of position. That said, I may change my mind by the time we reconvene for a preseason Top 50. Contreras is a joy to watch from a defensive standpoint. Such a joy that you almost forget that he hit .290/.379/.432 this season as a 19-year-old in the college-age Appalachian League. The defense, though, is worth the price of admission (well, at least in the minors). He’s smooth behind the plate and athletic. The framing is difficult to judge at this point, but he seems to have a feel for it. Footwork needs improvement, but the arm is a true 70-grade weapon - at least. Frankly, the more I write about him, the more I want to change my vote. If you followed me on Twitter during the Danville Braves' games I saw this year, you know that my man crush for Contreras grew every time I saw him. In an organization full of exciting prospects, only a select few are more intriguing to me than Contreras.

Ryan: Contreras is the guy that we as Braves fans should be most excited about in terms of a real catcher. He’s got the pedigree (obviously) and every scout out there drools about his athletic ability behind the plate. However, passed balls and blocking balls have been an early problem and that brings nightmares of Christian Bethancourt back into my mind. Hopefully, Contreras will disprove my insecurities this upcoming season and take that step forward that Bethancourt could never seemingly get past. If so, he’s the number #1 catching prospect for the Braves and could be knocking on the door of number #1 in baseball by the end of 2018.

Stephen: The other reason I think Atlanta will be more inclined to move Jackson to the OF is the emergence of Contreras. The reason I ranked him number one on my personal list is one, there’s zero doubt he stays at catcher, and two, his bat is much more than just an afterthought. Everything he does behind the plate is smooth and will only get smoother to go along with a howitzer hanging off his right shoulder. The bat is quick and produces hard contact consistently, putting up wRC+ of 125, 120, and 121 in his first 3 seasons. He’s going to have to hit the ball in the air more to produce more power but the talent is real and tools are there.

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3. Brett Cumberland

Tommy: Cumberland's season was a study in streaks. As May 17th began, Cumberland was slashing .183/.426/.338 due to 30 BB+HBP in 101 PA. From that date until his promotion to High-A a month later, Cumberland hit .317/.437/.663. A similar story happened after the promotion as he hit .188/.297/.281 in his first 20 games with Florida, but rebounded to hit .314/.430/.407 the rest of the way. All told, Cumberland slashed his way to .266/.409/.445 with Rome and Florida, hitting 27 doubles, 11 home runs, and being hit-by-a-pitch FORTY-ONE times! That's, well, unusual. As pitchers' control improves while he progresses through the system, the HBP numbers seem likely to fall. Frankly, for Cumberland's safety, that might be for the best. Guys in the majors throw hard, Brett. You don't want to get hit that frequently by the ball. Similar to Jackson, there are a lot of issues behind the plate for Cumberland and I'm less positive about his chances of putting it together well enough to play long-term behind the plate than I am Jackson. He's smart, works hard, and will give it everything he has, but a move to first base might be inevitable for Cumberland - though I wouldn't mind being wrong.

Ryan: Short and sweet, in my opinion, Cumberland’s going to have to hit a TON in the Minors to get a shot in the Majors as a catcher (very similar to Gattis). I just don’t see it happening, but like Tommy said, I would love it if it did. He works hard and that is a skillset in itself.

Stephen: I have very little faith Cumberland stays at catcher but the power is real and eventually I think he can be used as a nice piece in a deal with AL club looking for 1B/DH. Like Tommy said, the numbers are artificially inflated by HBP numbers that can’t be counted on as consistent production so he’s going to need to continue to develop at the plate the make up for having very little defensive value.

4. Abrahan Gutierrez

Tommy: Gutierrez may have been a guy that could have benefitted from a year in the Dominican Summer League. Just 17 years-old, he was thrown to the wolves in the Gulf Coast League and faced just one pitcher all season he was older than. Nevertheless, he held his own with a .264/.319/.357 slash over 141 PA with a homer in his final at-bat of the year. Defensively, he might not be Contreras' equal, but might be a tad more athletic behind the plate and did cut down 38% of potential base stealers. Potential-wise, though I love me some Contreras, Gutierrez still has the highest ceiling of any of these catchers on the list from an overall talent perspective.

Ryan: Can’t say much other than I think the bat improves, especially in the power department. At 17, he’s a big dude (6’2, 214 lbs) and already has a healthy K and BB rate so if the power develops, he’ll be another catching stud.

Stephen: Gutierrez is young and tooled up. Wasn’t a great debut season for him but it wasn’t a disaster either. He’ll get plenty of time to develop his skills and the best thing he has going for him is he’s young and tooled up.

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5. Lucas Herbert

Tommy: I was in the Outfield Fly Rule facebook group during the 2016 draft and after Cumberland was selected, I believe it was Brent Blackwell who stated if you combined Herbert's defense with Cumberland's bat, you'd have one of the best catching prospects in baseball. A torn meniscus killed Herbert's 2015 season almost before it began, but he was still given an aggressive promotion to Rome with only five plate appearances in rookie ball to open 2016. It didn't go so hot and early returns this season were pretty abysmal as well (.195/.290/.352 over the first nearly 150 PA). He improved after that, hitting .267/.318/.377 after June 4. It's not going to stand out much on this list, but progression was important for the kid with the questionable bat. Defensively, he has a great arm and is smooth behind the plate. Like all young catchers, the footwork and framing need improvement, but he's a leader on-and-off the field with a strong work ethic and a desire to improve. I'm not sure if the whole package will ever come together for him, but he could be a sleeper heading into 2018.

Ryan: While Herbert repeating Low-A in 2017 was a setback in itself, his overall slash-line improved as AVG, OBP, and SLG all went up, while his K% went down. Also, it’s worth noting that catchers tend to take longer to develop offensively, so keep an eye on Herbert. If his OPS gets to the .750ish range in 2018, he could move quickly as his defense is top notch.

Stephen: I’m watching Jeff Mathis play in post-season baseball after finishing his 13th season as a major league catcher. I bring this up because Jeff Mathis has a career wRC+ of 50. FIFTY. Point is, if you can get the defensive part of the position, you can have a legitimate career. This is the reason Lucas might have the highest floor among Braves’ catching prospects despite having probably the lowest ceiling. Dude can flat out play defense.

Did you disagree with our ranking? Let us know in the comments.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Walk-Off Talk 2.1: Figuring Out the Hot Corner

A couple of weeks ago, we tried to help out John Coppolella out by finding the new manager of the Braves. That kind of seems like a waste now, but this series continues as we look into finding the Braves a new third baseman. The next general manager can thank us later. A month-and-a-half ago, Stephen went over some options the Braves could look at this winter, but we may need to dive even deeper into this subject. As Stephen astutely pointed out, this is the fifth year since Chipper Jones retired and third base has been a weakness for the Braves nearly every season - save that one year Chris Johnson made a deal with the devil. Once you take that season (2013) out of the equation, the Braves have amassed 4.6 fWAR from their third basemen. To put that into perspective, a half-dozen third baseman just this year had 5 fWAR or better.

Suffice it to say, third base needs help. Which, interestingly enough, is why we're here today. There are some options hitting the free agency market this offseason and others who may be potentially available in trades that could help turn third base from its horrid current status and make it at least bearable - maybe even a plus. Furthermore, despite the struggles this season at third base, there are even some options already on the payroll that could work for Atlanta in 2018 and maybe beyond.

I think I'll start with that last option.

In-House Options

Tommy: As I said, it seems difficult to advocate for much more of the same next season with so little production from the hot corner this season, but there is hope. It begins with Johan Camargo. Miscast as a middle infielder because of iffy range, Camargo is a natural fit at third base where his arm is a plus even by third basemen standards. While it's very difficult to feel confident about the defensive metrics with so few innings to judge (roughly 300), Camargo's defense was between very good and potentially excellent during his short time at third base. Again, the metrics are susceptible to short sample size problems, but I can say that my eye test agrees with the metrics. That might have more value if my favorite team will ever give me a job as a scout - which probably would be a mistake for the Braves (but I’m good with that).

Offensively, questions will remain about Camargo much like they did for the guy many compare him to - Martin Prado. Until he repeats his new-found offensive success, people naturally will be skeptical. I think it's safe to say he wasn't the hitter we saw during the first few months when he posted a .357 wOBA before the All-Star Break. In the second half, and this includes time missed with injury, Camargo posted a .310 wOBA. Why, you might ask, did that happen? A nearly 100 point drop in BABIP will do that to ya. That said, what I do like despite the discrepancy in splits stats is that he still had similar rates of grounders, line drives, and quality of contact stats. We may not know what kind of hitter Camargo ultimately is right now, but it's hard for me to think he hasn't at least proven that he deserves a spot on the 2018 roster.

That spot could be as a platoon partner for Rio Ruiz. The one thing about Camargo is that he's done a great deal of his damage against lefties. His wOBA against them is closer to .500 than it is .400. That could suggest that Ruiz, who has struggled throughout his minor league career against southpaws, might fit in nicely with Camargo as a platoon. It’s worth mentioning that Ruiz hasn't done much of anything against right-handers this season despite the Braves' best efforts to shield him from southpaws. He posted a .235 wOBA in 138 PA against them. That said, you have to believe that his ultra-low .218 BABIP will also climb just like Camargo’s pre-All-Star Break BABIP was destined to regress.

Even from people who like Ruiz - and I'm one - the common belief is that he profiles as a platoon option at best in the majors. What does concern me with Ruiz is that he's always put the ball on the ground a lot and major league pitchers are only turning that issue into a bigger one. He hits the ball hard, but when it's on the ground, it still turns into an out at a high rate. Maybe increased work this offseason to elevate his launch angle will lead to more balls finding the outfield, more hits, and more extra-base hits. I will say that his defense, which has had commentators split on its quality, looks much-improved in 2017. He can't match Camargo defensively, but I think he'll be good enough to be league-average with a chance of being potentially better.

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And maybe that's fine for the Braves as they wait for a couple of reinforcements like Travis Demeritte and Austin Riley. Demeritte had a lost year at the plate in Mississippi, but by midseason in 2018, he could be in the mix if he bounces back. Defensively, I think he'll be fine though the arm profiles better at second base. The question is his bat and while he'll always have his flaws, I think there is enough value here if he is able to rebound. Riley surprised a lot of onlookers with a 48-game run in Mississippi where he slashed .315/.389/.511. He'll next try his hand at the Arizona Fall League, which could help propel him into the discussion for a spot with the big league club at some point next year. That said, the .393 BABIP in Mississippi and short sample size makes me pump the breaks. Certainly an exciting prospect, but not yet ready to bring out the anointing oils as Coach Bill Parcells might say.

There's also Adonis Garcia.

So, what do you guys think about staying in-house? Would you be comfortable with that option even if it's not your preferred path or believe the Braves would be making a mistake by playing it cheap and conservative this winter?

Ryan: I was headstrong on Johan Camargo and I thought it was beyond ridiculous that the Braves, who were in the late stages of the rebuild and should covet 40-man roster spots, would waste one on a player that had done nothing at any level in the minor leagues. I’m glad the Braves have scouts that can weigh talent better than I can.

Camargo has really grown on me and, in my opinion, is the exact type of player that the Braves need...but not as an everyday player. A switch-hitter that can put up quality at-bats and can play all infield positions well defensively, that’s a Javier Baez-like weapon and I want it for 2-3 starts/week to give ample rest to all around the diamond.

Rio Ruiz is someone I have yet to grow fond of as I just don’t see the potential. At best, he’s a player that needs a platoon partner. At worst, he’s a player that doesn’t succeed even as a platoon partner. Right now, I don’t know which way his career will go but there’s nothing in his MLB or MiLB numbers that give me confidence that he should be given a role as a big leaguer.

I’m still holding out hope on Demeritte or Riley, but it’s my opinion that the Braves should not solely depend on these guys to be ready in 2019. With that being said, unless the Braves can make a huge splash and lock up a stud 3B for many years, I’d like to see a 2-year commitment to a free agent or trade acquisition in hopes that these guys could take over in late ‘19 or early ‘20.

Stephen: Hello boys! Yeah as Tommy said, I just recently wrote some of this up in a post but 3 opinions on the subject certainly allow for a more comprehensive look so I’m pumped to see what you guys think.

The best thing I can say about going in-house for 3B is it doesn’t cost anything. It’s kind of a holding move. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing given where Atlanta is in the winning cycle. It gives the future GM one more year to evaluate guys like Demeritte and Riley before committing move. There’s a perfectly rational argument that’s exactly what they should do and not just at 3B.

As for the guys themselves, I see both as bench guys more than everyday guys. Camargo is a guy I would turn into Javy Baez and allow his defense and versatility drive his value. Then, anything you get offensively is a plus. Rio is a straight bench bat for me. In a one-year, still-rebuilding-situation, I could live with him as ½ half of a 3B platoon but I certainly don’t believe he’s the long term answer.

Adonis Garcia is a hard no. I think that’s self-explanatory.

Free Agent: Mike Moustakas

By Arturo Pardavila III [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Ryan: If there’s any high profile free agent that gets my stomach all in knots when thinking of future production, it’s Moose. At 29 years old next year, Moustakas will likely sign at least a 5-year deal that would take him through his age 33 season. While I’ve made a point recently how absurd it is to think players turn into pumpkins at 30, the thick body type of Moose does give me nightmares of Uggla. He’s going to get a big contract and I hope it’s not with the Braves.

Stephen: Overall, I like Moose as a player. The power is obviously real and the defense isn't going to kill you. He’s solid over there. Another plus is he’s left-handed which I think will end up fitting better with what’s going to be here in 2018. The knocks against Moose include the potential contract. As Ryan pointed out, he’s going to get big money as the best hitting 3B on the market. And with other richer teams looking to fill 3B as well, I don’t see how Atlanta competes in free agency.

The other knock on Moose is for all that power, he still put up just a 114 wRC+ last year, mostly because of a .315 OBP. Don’t get me wrong, a 114 is solid but when compared with the contract he’s going to get, plus the likelihood there will be some age regression, it’s not hard to talk yourself into the idea that replacement level performance is in his near future.

Conclusion, I don’t see Atlanta treading in the deep end of free agency and Moustakas ends up with someone else.

Tommy: I just don’t get it. I haven’t gotten it with Moose for a while now. His defense could be on the decline - too early to truly state that but his numbers took a big step back this year in nearly every metric. It's easy to overvalue defensive metrics, but coming off his ACL injury in 2016, it's something to keep an eye on. Stephen mentioned that it's kind of shocking how little overall value he brought to the table considering the power numbers he posted. The guy had 38 homers after all. Despite that, he finished the season with a 2.2 fWAR. Let someone else pay his salary for the upcoming year and the several to follow. The flaws are just too great for me to think the salary the market will pay matches the value he brings.

Free Agent Todd Frazier

Stephen: Frazier is not a guy I mentioned in my original post and he is kind of interesting. Always with plenty of power and always solid with the glove, Frazier offers an outside-the-organization holding move. He’ll start 2018 at 32 years old so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the best he’s going to do is a 2 or 3-year deal. A 2-year deal allows you to plug a hole without any long-term commitment and gives you plenty of time to understand what you have. In 2 years we’ll know way more about guys like Riley and Demeritte and even Kevin Maitan.

Conclusion, in a 2-year deal, I’m fine with it. Anything more and I have serious reservations.

Tommy: Frazier is a tough sell. We're talking about a guy who's hit under .220 the last two seasons and heads into his Age-32 season for the first year of any new deal he signs. However, what Frazier brings is value. He's amassed 21.2 fWAR over his first six-plus seasons and has turned into a consistent, albeit quiet, source of power. The most intriguing thing about Frazier is the way he's reinvented himself over the last two years. He's cut down significantly on his swing rates and as a result, he walks at roughly a 5-7% higher rate than he did prior to 2016. He's not striking out more or sacrificing power, though the hits have stopped coming at the same rate and much of that is due to an oddity in what happens after he hits the ball. This season, his BABIP dropped to .226 after being .236 the previous year. Before 2016, his career BABIP was .288. So, the new approach is costing him hits, but he's supplementing it with walks. I'm not entirely sure what prompted this change, but it's rather interesting.

Defensively, he fits the bill of the solid gloveman who won't win many awards.

I think we're all in agreement about one thing - we like Frazier, we like the value, we don't like a long-term commitment. That said, this is a situation that could work in the Braves' favor as teams bid on Moustakas. If the Braves are sold on Frazier, make him your priority - and make him know he is - and put the potential deal on the table for the corner infielder. It could turn into a nice match.

Ryan: I’ve always had a fondness for Todd Frazier.  By many, he’s said  to be a “3 true outcomes” guy, but that’s just not true. Yes he walks a lot and hits dingers a lot, but his K% is right along the lines of normal power hitters and not even in the same conversation as a player like Adam Dunn. Also, Frazier’s defense is a pretty strong commodity at 3B, even at 31 years old. If the Braves could secure Frazier on a 2-year deal with a 15-18MM annual salary, I think he would be a great fit behind Freddie Freeman.

Free Agent: Eduardo Nunez

Ryan: The Braves tried to trade for him when he was a Yankee, but it didn’t work out. Now Nunez is putting up solid, yet unspectacular numbers, at 3rd base. Essentially capable of playing anywhere on the diamond, he would be a good addition to any team...that didn’t already have a younger version of him in Johan Camargo. There was a window, after Omar Infante and Martin Prado, in which Nunez made a lot of sense for the Braves. Now, Camargo’s gloves of different lengths have a firm grasp on that window.

Tommy: Hard to fathom that Nunez has posted 4.8 fWAR the last two seasons while playing in three different cities. I like the idea of Nunez in much of the same role the previous general manager thought of when he signed Sean Rodriguez. Nunez could fill in all over the field and provide depth should the Braves need it. I'm less of a fan of Nunez as the unquestioned starter at third base, but as a stop gap/super utility player, it's hard not to like the value if the money doesn't get too crazy.

Stephen: Where Nunez is interesting is he figures to be right in Atlanta’s wheelhouse in terms of cost. He certainly not going to move the needle in terms of World Series odds but he’s a solid major league 3B, which is a lot more than they’ve had the last 5 years. It just deepens the roster. Allows Camargo to play that super utility role. Allows you to be more selective with how and when you use Ruiz. Gives you insurance in case Dansby struggles again and Camargo has to play more SS. It just gives you options, at what I’m guessing is an affordable rate. I’d be fine if they went this route.

Free Agents With No Fanfare:
Brandon Phillips

Ryan: As Brandon is the only player on this list that I do not despise watching, I’ll put in my opinion on Phillips. I don’t want him back on the Braves team...ever again. He was fun enough to watch, but he’s not coming to play 2nd base for this team and his demeanor when moved to 3B wasn’t good for the team.  I thank him for being an entertaining Brave. Good luck in the future with another team.

Stephen: Brandon is a no for me. I guess I can make some sense out of a 1-year deal for 4 or 5 million but I really don’t want to. If this becomes an option then I’d just prefer going in-house and using the money elsewhere.

Yunel Escobar

Stephen: Man, it’s hard to get excited about Yunel Escobar. He’s a soon-to-be 35-year-old who just put a sub 1 WAR season so I’m going to echo my Brandon Phillips thoughts. If it gets to this point just go in-house and save the money.

Jose Reyes

Tommy: Jose Reyes actually got hot toward the second half of the season, slashing .288/.356/.472 after the All-Star Break with a 121 wRC+. Defensively, he was a mess, though. He's not much of a shortstop at this stage of his career and is pretty much limited to second base. Hard pass - and that's without getting into the PR mess for a front office that doesn't need any more bad press.

Danny Valencia

Tommy: Two years ago, Valencia was a guy who finally was figuring it out after posting just the second 2-win season of his career. In the 260 games since, Valencia has been pretty bad. He has some value against left-hand pitching, but the Braves already have Camargo. Signing Valencia would be a waste of resources as he doesn't provide anything new for the Braves.

Shot in the Dark: Zack Cozart 

Ryan: Memphis, Tennessee. Home to lots of cool things including Zack Cozart. And if I’m not mistaken, Memphis is still located in Braves Country. Would Cozart make a transition to 3B to come play with the Atlanta Braves? My guess is heck no. He still has a ton of value as a good defensive SS and would lose a good chunk of that value should he make a transition to 3B. But like the suggestion with the Toddfather, could the Braves entice Cozart to come to the hot corner with a little extra cash, say something like 2 years/30MM? I doubt it, but his glove and power potential would be a welcomed addition.  If I had to rank all of the free agent candidates, he’d be at the top of my list, but like the title says, it’s a shot in the dark.

Stephen: Yeah, I don’t really see Cozart as an option but I guess that’s why he’s in the shot-in-the-dark section.

My reasoning for Cozart is simply I think someone will pay him handsomely to be their everyday SS and Atlanta won’t come close to some of the offers he gets in dollars or years. He is 32 though so I could be misreading his market. Maybe a 2-year deal is the best he can do but I wouldn’t bet on it. He just put up a 5 WAR season so I’m guessing someone offers a 4-year deal at which point Atlanta is out regardless of what the money is.

Tommy: I look at this much like Ryan does - it’s just too hard to see it happening. That said, one thing that could make Cozart a possibility is a shallow market at shortstop. With so many young shortstops emerging right now, a lot of the older guys will be left in the dust. That could limit Cozart's options this winter. Remember how Ian Desmond entered the free agent market a few years ago and couldn't find any takers? To be fair, Desmond was entering the market after a down year while Cozart was one of the best players at his position last year. Nevertheless, Cozart might entertain a one-year deal and try his luck again next winter when more jobs potentially become available. Could he also entertain a move to third base for a season? Just as difficult to imagine, but hey...shot-in-the-dark, right?

Trade/Non-Tender Candidates

Ryan: I think everyone that has seen my Twitter feed in the past few weeks will know who I am going to discuss in this section. I want me some Josh Donaldson. I want to trade for him. I want to extend him for 25MM/year for 4 years total, and I want him to bring some fire to this team. Yes, I know he’s on the wrong side of 30 and no, I don’t expect him to become a pumpkin next year. Yes, he’s had injury concerns this year, but he’s as elite as it gets when healthy and likely the most underrated playing in the Major Leagues. If the price isn’t outlandish, let’s bring Donaldson back home to Braves country and watch him help bring the World Series to Suntrust!

Edit note: Bob Nightengale dropped this bombshell concerning the Cardinals pursuit of Josh Donaldson this offseason, and I have to say that if that happens, Jedd Gyorko would be a good consolation prize for the Braves as he’s good for 2-3 WAR, can man 3rd base regularly, but also has the flexibility to play other infield positions should an injury occur.

Stephen: I think by now people know my affection for Yandy Diaz of the Indians as I’ve written about him multiple times now so I’ll go somewhere else for this one.

I’m going to expand on Jedd Gyorko, though. 29 years old, under contract for 2 more seasons and has put up really solid numbers for St. Louis the past couple of years. If the Cardinals end up going after Donaldson as reported, then Gyorko could be had. Jedd isn’t the type of guy who changes your fortunes as a franchise but he has hit 50 HRs the last 2 years while playing above average defense. And again, he’s only under contract for 2 mores years at a total of 22M. That’s well within Atlanta’s budget. There’s also a club option on his deal in 2020 which makes his deal even more club friendly. Trading for him wouldn’t dominate the news cycle but it would add a really solid player to your team for 2 or 3 years.

Tommy: Luis Valbuena crashed and burned after signing with the Angels last winter, but he could be a nifty pickup for the Braves this offseason. He'll be heading into his Age-32 season and is owed at least $8.5M through the end of next season (additional $8M if 2019 option is picked up). The Angels are going to have to help the Braves out with some salary relief. Sadly, they already have an overpriced aging DH so any wishes of a Matt Kemp destination seems ridiculous, but Atlanta could ship Nick Markakis to the Angels. Before you say "lose one of our most consistent hitters for a guy who hit .199 last year," since Markakis became a Brave, Valbuena has slightly better .327 wOBA over Markakis' .323. That's with Valbuena's struggles last year in which he hit a buck ninety-nine.

The Angels would probably have to sweeten the deal with some cash considerations or a C+/B- prospect, but both teams could benefit from this type of trade in my mind. You could get deeper down the rabbit hole and bring Matt Adams into the deal while trying to pilfer some relief arms or prospects, but that's a bit too much for this article.

To sum up...

If somehow Cozart is cheap on a short-term deal...

If Frazier is willing to go short-term without engaging in a bidding war...

If Nunez is cheap enough...

If Donaldson, Gyorko, or Valbuena can be acquired without upsetting the rebuild...

Those would be the only reasons to go away from just staying in-house and trusting your young players to do the job in 2018. Short of something falling in Atlanta's lap, it's just not worth the investment.