— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) January 14, 2015
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) January 14, 2015
Joel Sherman has reported that the Atlanta Braves have traded catcher Evan Gattis to the Houston Astros for right-handed pitcher Michael Foltynewicz, third base prospect Rio Ruiz and pitching prospect Andrew Thurman. Gattis has already reported to Houston for a physical.
Gattis has batted .253/.304/.487 with 43 home runs in 783 plate appearances for the Braves across his first two seasons.”El Oso Blanco” (The White Bear), as he’s known to Braves fans, quickly became a fan favorite when he debuted 2013 as a 26 year-old rookie. While he only batted .243 with a .298 on-base percentage, his 21 home runs helped him finish the season with a .771 OPS (9 percent above average). His batting line jumped to .263/.317/.493 last season, though, good for a .352 .wOBA, 5th best among catchers with over 400 PAs per Fangraphs. Gattis has primarily played catcher, with the Braves carrying 3 catchers for most of the last 2 seasons, with brief stints in left field in 2013 to address the Braves’ depth problems due to injuries. After the Braves traded Jason Heyward to the Cardinals and Justin Upton to the Padres, it appeared that Gattis could become the everyday left fielder in 2015 in spite of not playing in the position at all in 2014. Gattis’ reputation defensively as a catcher has been poor, with catcher framing metrics viewing his work as well below average in 2014. Brian McTaggart, of MLB.com, reports that Gattis will mostly play left-field with some time at catcher and first base.
Parting with Gattis will be sorrowful for Braves fans. The Braves drafted Gattis in the 23rd round of the 2010 amateur draft after he hit .403 with 11 home runs at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. The story that endeared fans to Gattis was what he did before his return to baseball in 2010, though. Between quitting baseball and Seminole State College in 2006 and his return to the game in 2010, he followed various new age spiritual gurus throughout the Western United States. Gattis famously (well, famous in some circles) uses a photo of his ID badge while working for Jan-Pro during that time as his Twitter profile picture. Until now, it looked like Gattis would form part of the young core that would stay with the Braves through their move to SunTrust Park in 2017, but that core has changed rapidly during John Hart’s short tenure.
The Braves will miss Gattis’ power tremendously in 2015. In the Braves’ current projected starting lineup, only Freddie Freeman and AJ Pierzinsky slugged over .400 last season and Pierzinsky is expected to split time with young catcher Christian Bethancourt. With light-hitting Nick Markakis in right field, hitting enigma BJ Upton in center field and a giant question mark in left-field, the Braves’ outfield depth chart looks starved for offense with a month to go before Spring Training. While Pierzinsky batted his way to a .351 wOBA in 2012, he’s now 38 years old and slid to a .277 wOBA in 2014. Plenty of questions surround Bethancourt’s bat, as well, as he managed only a .679 OPS in 7 minor league seasons and a .548 OPS in 17 games in the majors last season. While the Braves need to focus on improving their on-base percentage, as a 24th place finish in that stat last season helped lead them to finish 29th in runs scored, Gattis at least provided something with his bat.
In Michael Foltynewicz, the Braves have acquired a 6’4″ high upside power pitcher who has the potential to pair with Julio Teheran at the top of the rotation if he can learn to harness his high-90’s fastball and improve his secondary offerings. A first round pick in the 2010 amateur draft, Foltynewicz made 16 appearances for the Astros in relief last season, posting a 5.30 ERA with 14 strikeouts and 7 walks. Considered the second best pitching prospect in the Astros’ organization by Baseball America, his fastball sits 95-97 mph as a starter. In spite of his gaudy strikeout numbers in the minors, he averaged less than 2 strikeouts per every batter walked due to his control issues, something he will need to work on if he is going to stick in the rotation. Foltynewicz may have a chance to win a spot in the opening day rotation, given the abundance of 4-5th starters currently on the Braves’ roster. He has yet to burn any options given that he was first added to the 40-man roster for his call-up in 2014, so he could also be sent to AAA Gwinnett to work on his control issues and develop his secondary pitchers.
Rio Ruiz was listed as the Astros’ #8 prospect by Baseball America and #5 by Fangraphs entering the 2015 seasons. Ruiz played football and baseball in high school and moved consistently through the Astros’ system for a player who appeared somewhat raw according to some accounts out of high school. His .293/.387/.436 line as a 20 year-old last season in High-A Lancaster looks like a breakout season until you consider the offense-friendly environment of the Cal League. The left-handed batter ranked 8th in OBP out of 19 players age 21 or younger in the Cal league last season, better than average but not quite as good as future AA teammate Mallex Smith (acquired from the Padres in the Justin Upton trade) and his .414 OBP. Rio and Mallex should team up for an exciting name-tool tandem in AA Mississippi for the Braves next season.
Right-handed pitcher Andrew Thurman should not be overlooked in this trade. According to Kiley Daniel at Fangraphs, Thurman’s fastball sat in the low-to-mid 90’s in 2015, an uptick from other seasons, but this spike in fastball velocity during added command issues. So far Thurman has struck out 150 batters against 51 walks and compiled a 4.99 ERA in 2 levels of minor league baseball. Once seen as a pitch-ability guy, it looks like Thurman still has mid-rotation upside if he puts everything together.
The Braves appear to be more committed to their rebuild than they were when they signed Nick Markakis, Alberto Callaspo or Jason Grilli earlier in the off-season. It’s hard to believe Gattis will be more valuable over the course of the rest of his pre-arbitration and arbitration years than the combination of Foltynewicz, Ruiz and Thurman, even if Ruiz takes a couple more years to arrive and Foltynewicz and Thurman end up relievers. Gattis has injury issues on top of his defensive limitations. If he plays left field in Houston, he’s going to have to really hit to overcome the amount of runs he’ll allow with his glove. Back and knee issues arose in his physical with the Astros. In a world where the Phillies can’t seem to get anyone to part with premier prospects for Cole Hamels, this appears to be a fairly significant haul for a player like Gattis. If nothing else, John Hart continues to make his mark on the Braves’ organization.Next post: Clippard for Escobar: An Evaluation in Three Heads
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