- Rio Ruiz wasn’t called upon when Adonis Garcia hit the disabled list last week, but after being promoted in the wake of Freddie Freeman’s injury, the 23-year-old corner infielder has impressed the Braves enough that he’ll likely remain their primary third baseman upon Garcia’s activation, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. Atlanta still has some questions about Ruiz’s strikeout tendencies and ability to hit lefties, but his .320/.393/.480 start to his career and .262/.305/.447 effort thus far in Triple-A have apparently earned him some trust. (It probably doesn’t hurt Ruiz’s case that Garcia was struggling to a dismal .237/.278/.348 batting line at the time he was placed on the DL.) With Garcia nearing activation from the DL, the roster spots of Emilio Bonifacio and Danny Santana could be at risk, Bowman adds.
The Braves have recalled right-hander Matt Wisler from Triple-A Gwinnett and designated fellow righty Josh Collmenter for assignment in order to clear a spot on the active roster, according to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution (Twitter link).
The 31-year-old Collmenter turned in a solid April for the Braves but has been shelled in the month of May, allowing runs in six of his seven appearances this month. That culminated in a seven-run shellacking at the hands of the Pirates last night — an outing that lasted just two-thirds of an inning and included three Pittsburgh home runs.
Collmenter proved to be a useful pickup for Atlanta late in the 2016 campaign, tossing 19 innings and allowing just five earned runs on 15 hits and five walks with 16 strikeouts. That performance proved to be enough for the Braves to retain the former D-backs Opening Day starter via arbitration this winter, as Collmenter agreed to a $1.2MM salary for the 2017 season. Because Collmenter has more than five years of big league service time, he’ll earn the entirety of that sum even if he elects free agency upon being outrighted (or if he is released).
In parts of seven Major League seasons (695 1/3 innings), Collmenter has a 3.64 ERA with 6.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and a 36 percent ground-ball rate. He’s worked as both a starter and a reliever and has actually never finished a season in the big leagues with an ERA north of 3.79. However, he’s also never been a hard-thrower, and his velocity in 2016-17 has hovered in the 84-85 mph range, which doesn’t lend much optimism moving forward.
Stephen Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has an interesting interview with injured Braves infielder Sean Rodriguez. He’s working through his rehab in Atlanta, and says that he believes he can make it back to action before the end of the current season. Rodriguez also discussed his stint with the Pirates, saying that his former colleagues were immensely supportive following his family’s involvement in a terrifying offseason car accident.
- The Braves released veteran minor-leaguer Blake Lalli, per BA. The 34-year-old catcher saw a bit of action at the major league level last year, but he has mostly plied his trade in the upper minors in recent seasons. He was off to a rough start at the plate this year at Triple-A, with a .167/.226/.271 batting line through 53 plate appearances.
There’s no more fickle existence in Major League Baseball than that of a relief pitcher. Teams are generally more willing to tinker with their bullpens than their benches, and often need to make changes to account for overworked staffs.
But the tumult also brings opportunity. Relievers who are throwing well at the right moment can find themselves right back in the majors. And there are often wide-open Spring Training battles to be joined and won.
Plenty of relievers signed minor-league deals last winter. And a solid number of them ended up on MLB rosters within the first two months of the season. Despite failing to receive MLB guarantees on the free-agent market, these ten hurlers have provided quite a bit of value in the early going:
Matt Albers, Nationals: With the Nats’ pen struggling badly, Albers has been a desperately need source of reliable frames: 16 2/3 innings of 1.62 ERA ball. A strong 57.8% groundball rate and meager 1.6 BB/9 walk rate tend to support the results, though Albers isn’t getting enough whiffs (7.6 K/9) to keep up quite this level of pitching.
Craig Breslow, Twins: The lefty specialist has been everything the Minnesota front office hoped for when it bought into his new-look delivery over the winter. Like Albers, a minimal BABIP (.217 in this case) helps explain the sub-2.00 ERA, though in both cases the solid early work is enough to entrench these pitchers in their respective pens for the time being.
Jorge De La Rosa, Diamondbacks: A long-time starter, De La Rosa has averaged less than one inning per relief appearance in Arizona. But the results of that change in focus have been quite promising. It’s good enough that De La Rosa carries a 50% groundball rate with 8.8 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9, supporting a 2.35 ERA through 15 1/3 frames. But there could be more in the tank, as he’s also averaging a career-high 94.1 mph with his fastball and generating a huge 19.5% swinging-strike rate.
David Hernandez, Angels: Though he has completed just 11 innings thus far, after making his debut later than most of the names on this list, Hernandez has impressed. He’s showing the same kind of velocity and swinging-strike rates that made him a buy-low option last year for the Phillies, but the real question is whether he can continue to avoid the long balls that have plagued him in recent years.
J.J. Hoover, Diamondbacks: It was anyone’s guess whether the former Reds’ late-inning stalwart would rebound, but he’s showing well through fifteen frames in Arizona. Hoover is walking more than five batters per nine, but has also racked up 12.6 K/9 (on a career-high 12.6% swinging-strike rate) and owns a 3.00 ERA. So far, a new pitch mix (more two-seamers and sliders) seems to be working.
Jason Motte, Braves: After beating out Hernandez to become the next veteran reclamation project in Atlanta, Motte has ascended to the majors and helped stabilize the pen. His peripherals aren’t terribly inspiring — 6.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 53.1% groundball rate — but the results (1.59 ERA) have been there through 11 1/3 innings.
Bud Norris, Angels: The crown jewel of the Halos’ impressive slate of finds, Norris has thrived in the closer’s role that he took over out of necessity. Through 23 2/3 innings, he carries a 2.66 ERA with 11.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, and a 44.2% groundball rate. Norris is bringing more velocity (94.1 mph fastball) and swinging strikes (13.2%) than ever before.
Yusmeiro Petit, Angels: The veteran long man has been stellar, delivering 28 1/3 staff-preserving innings of 2.54 ERA ball through 16 appearances. Petit is carrying 9.5 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9 on the year. (As if the trio of arms on this list weren’t enough, the Halos have also benefited from the strong work of Blake Parker, who had been outrighted off the 40-man roster over the winter.)
Anthony Swarzak, White Sox: There are some very strong performers on this list, but perhaps none has been quite as impressive as Swarzak. He has given the South Siders 19 2/3 breakout innings of 1.37 ERA ball, with 10.1 K/9 and just 0.9 BB/9 in that span. At present, he’s working at a 19.8% swinging-strike rate — about double what he carried over the prior two campaigns — making him quite an interesting potential trade candidate this summer.
Jacob Turner, Nationals: Though he isn’t carrying sparkly numbers, Turner has been an important contributor in D.C. He’s functioning in the swingman role that Petit occupied last year, providing 21 2/3 innings (over two starts and six relief appearances) of 3.74 ERA pitching thus far. While Turner is averaging only 5.8 strikeouts and 3.3 walks per nine, he is continuing to carry the velocity boost he showed last year. Interestingly, he is now working in the zone far more than ever before (50.2% versus 42.1% career average) — though it’s also important to note that his swings and misses are way down (4.8%).
Veteran first baseman James Loney asked for his release from the Braves and was granted that request, according to a club announcement. He had only just signed a minor-league deal with Atlanta last Thursday.
The Braves were clearly searching for solutions in the wake of an injury to starting first baseman Freddie Freeman. While Loney would have represented a plausible fill-in, the club ended up finding a piece with somewhat greater long-term interest not long after coming to terms with Loney.
Atlanta acquired Matt Adams from the Cardinals over the weekend, and he’ll represent the team’s top option at first until Freeman returns. That left little room for Loney on the active roster.
“We wish him all the best going forward,” the Braves when announcing the move. Loney will now look to latch on with another club that has a clearer path to a spot on the big league roster.
Loney, 33, opened the year at Triple-A in the Tigers organization, struggling to a .200/.351/.222 batting line in 57 plate appearances before he was released. Last year, he hit .265/.307/.397 in 366 trips to the dish at the major league level for the Mets.
The Braves have acquired first baseman Matt Adams and cash considerations from the Cardinals for minor league infielder Juan Yepez, according to an announcement from Atlanta. In a corresponding move, the Braves have designated catcher Anthony Recker for assignment.
The Braves already have one of the elite first basemen in baseball in Freddie Freeman, but he suffered a fractured wrist earlier this week and could miss nearly three months. Without any obvious replacements inside the organization – including the recently signed but highly flawed James Loney – the Braves ventured to the trade market for Adams, who MLBTR’s Steve Adams suggested would be a sensible fit in the wake of Freeman’s injury.
Matt Adams was the Cardinals’ primary first baseman from 2013-14, when he combined to hit .287/.327/.474 in 882 plate appearances, but both his performance and playing time have fallen off dramatically since then. The Cardinals moved former third baseman/second baseman Matt Carpenter to first in the offseason, further decreasing Adams’ chances of picking up at-bats in St. Louis. After it was unable to trade Adams over the winter, the club tried the big-bodied 28-year-old in the outfield earlier this season as a way to get his bat in the lineup. However, the Cardinals quickly abandoned that experiment after Adams fared poorly in the grass. Consequently, Adams has totaled just 53 plate appearances this season, hitting .292/.340/.396 along the way.
Having combined for 12 Defensive Runs Saved and a 4.6 Ultimate Zone Rating in nearly 3,000 career innings at first base, Adams should fill in for Freeman with aplomb in the field. But there will be a major drop-off at the plate, especially given that the lefty-swinging Adams has essentially been unusable against southpaws during his career. Adams has posted a woeful .210/.240/.348 line in 283 PAs versus lefties, making him a platoon bat, though the Braves don’t currently have any right-handed hitters with significant first base experience on their bench.
Regardless of Adams’ flaws, the Braves’ hope is that he’ll help them stay afloat in the National League until Freeman returns. Once that happens, the Braves will likely relegate Adams to a pinch-hitting role, and they’ll then have to decide whether to keep him over the winter as he enters his final arbitration-eligible season. Adams is currently on a $2.8MM salary.
To acquire nearly two years of control over Adams, the Braves surrendered a relatively anonymous prospect in the 19-year-old Yepez, whom they signed out of Venezuela in 2014. The majority of Yepez’s work since last season has come at the Single-A level, where he has batted .275/.309/.387 in 152 PAs this year. When Yepez joined the Braves, Baseball America’s Ben Badler wrote that the righty-swinger has “quick hands, a loose swing and good balance with solid power,” adding that his future could be at either corner infield spot. This past winter, Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs credited Yepez for his “above-average raw power,” but he suggested that Yepez will need to vastly improve his approach to remain a prospect.
As for Recker, he joined the Braves last May in a trade that saw them send cash considerations to Cleveland. Recker picked up 112 PAs with the Braves last season and held his own with a .278/.394/.433 line. The 33-year-old has tallied just seven major league PAs this season, though, as Atlanta has gotten terrific production from fellow backstops Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki.
Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch first reported the trade (on Twitter). Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Braves have acquired right-hander Enrique Burgos from the Diamondbacks in exchange for cash considerations, as announced via the D’Backs Twitter feed. Burgos, 26, was designated for assignment by Arizona earlier this week.
[Updated Braves depth chart at Roster Resource]
Burgos has a 5.27 ERA over 68 1/3 career innings in the big leagues, all with the D’Backs in 2015-16. He has spent his entire career in Arizona’s organization, originally signing an amateur contract with the team in 2007 and then posting a 4.39 ERA, 9.6 K/9 and a 6.2 BB/9 over 428 2/3 minor league innings with the Snakes, pitching exclusively as a reliever since 2012.
At both the MLB and minor league levels, control issues have plagued Burgos, as he simply hasn’t been able to command his explosive (96mph) fastball on a consistent basis. Burgos has been able to miss bats with his big heater and he posted some good grounder rates over his minor league career, so there is certainly some late-bloomer potential here for the Braves if they can figure out how to cut down on Burgos’ walks.
5:12pm: It’s a minors pact, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweets.
3:46pm: The Braves have agreed to a deal with veteran free agent James Loney, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag reports on Twitter. ESPN.com’s Buster Olney had just reported via Twitter that a deal was close. It’s unclear at this time whether it’s a MLB deal, though that certainly seems plausible in this case.
It is hardly surprising to hear of this match. Atlanta was in sudden need of a first baseman after losing Freddie Freeman for an extended stretch. And Loney had only recently been cut loose by the Tigers organization, where he had been playing at Triple-A.
Atlanta did also just promote corner infielder Rio Ruiz, though it seems he’ll likely remain at his natural third base for the most part. Understandably, the Braves did not have a natural replacement for Freeman, a fully established hitter who had stepped up to new heights thus far in 2017. Of course, the club had inked elder statesman Ryan Howard earlier this year, but he was released after a brief and unsuccessful run at Gwinnett.
It goes without saying that Loney won’t match Freeman as a middle-of-the-order threat. Even at his best, Loney delivered value by getting on base at a solid clip and playing good defense, not by delivering significant power. The 33-year-old has bounced around in recent years, most recently slashing .265/.307/.397 over 366 plate appearances last season for the Mets — who added him under similar circumstances to those now impacting their division rivals. While he has been a regular player at times in his career, Loney was hitting just .200/.351/.222 in his 57 trips to the plate at Triple-A thus far in 2017.
2:22pm: The Braves announced that Freeman has indeed been placed on the disabled list, though their release indicates that Freeman will miss “approximately 10 weeks.” The Braves added that Ruiz has been recalled from Triple-A to replace Freeman on the roster.
1:33pm: As the Braves feared, first baseman Freddie Freeman suffered a fractured wrist in last night’s game when he was hit on the left wrist by a 94 mph fastball from Aaron Loup, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter link). Freeman is expected to miss at least eight weeks with the injury, though Rosenthal adds that he won’t require surgery to repair the injury.
The Braves, of course, aren’t contending for a division title (their current second-place status notwithstanding), but the injury derails an MVP-caliber season for the face of the franchise in Atlanta. Freeman has posted a sensational .341/.461/.748 batting line with 14 home runs, 11 doubles and a triple through his first 164 plate appearances of the season. Dating back to Opening Day 2016, in fact, Freeman’s park-adjusted offensive performance (162 wRC+) trails only Mike Trout among active players with at least 300 plate appearances.
[Related: Updated Atlanta Braves depth chart]
Looking to the Braves’ roster, it’s not clear who exactly will replace Freeman at first base. Atlanta’s bench doesn’t include any big leaguer with significant experience at the position, as the team’s four reserves are currently catcher Kurt Suzuki, infielder Johan Camargo and utilitymen Emilio Bonifacio and Danny Santana. First base options in the upper minors are scarce as well, though third base prospect Rio Ruiz worked out at first base during Spring Training, as David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently noted (on Twitter). Theoretically, Ruiz and fellow infielder Jace Peterson (who played first last night following Freeman’s exit) could share duties there in the short-term.
FanRag’s Jon Heyman reported earlier today that the Braves were already discussing potential outside additions, though options aren’t exactly plentiful. The free-agent market doesn’t offer many options, either, though veterans James Loney and Ben Paulsen were released by the Tigers and Twins, respectively, earlier this month. Atlanta had Ryan Howard playing with its Triple-A affiliate on a minor league deal earlier this month, but he struggled at the dish and was also released. Fellow veteran Justin Morneau remains unsigned, but he hasn’t been playing regularly since suiting up for Team Canada in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
As far as the trade market goes, the Braves likely don’t want to part with any significant prospects to fill a relatively short-term gap in what doesn’t look to be a winning season. Speaking from a purely speculative standpoint, Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams was shopped this past offseason and still doesn’t have a clear path to regular at-bats in St. Louis. Veteran Pedro Alvarez is currently with Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate, though he’s struggled to a .174/.265/.289 batting line thus far. There are also numerous players with MLB experience that are currently on minor league deals and performing reasonably well at Triple-A, including Ji-Man Choi (Yankees), Efren Navarro (Tigers), Matt Hague (Twins) and Christian Walker (D-backs), the latter of whom was briefly property of the Braves this offseason. Certainly, none of the names listed will generate much excitement among Braves fans, though any could picked up as a depth option at a reasonably low cost.