Game 126, Mariners at Braves

marc w · August 21, 2017 at 4:10 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Andrew Albers vs. Mike Foltynewicz, 4:35pm

After a successful series in Florida, the M’s could really use a sweep against the rebuilding Braves in Atlanta. The M’s trot out a cobbled-together collection of starting pitchers, as Andrew Albers, Marco Gonzales and Erasmo Ramirez were all acquired near the trade deadline. But Atlanta’s pitching has been dreadful all year, and we’re at the point where I’m actually a bit disappointed that the M’s won’t face Julio Teheran, the nominal ace of this disappointing staff.

The Braves are at an interesting point in their rebuild. A few years ago, they finished 79-83, 2nd in the NL East. With the 2nd wildcard coming in and with a solid young core of players like Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Teheran, Alex Wood, Evan Gattis, Andrelton Simmons and Justin Upton, they appeared ready to contend for several years. Management obviously disagreed, as they undertook one of the most aggressive demolitions of a decent team in recent memory, selling off Gattis, Simmons, Heyward, Wood and Upton in a series of trades. Those moves overhauled their farm system, turning a below-average group to the #1 ranked (by some people) in 2016 and again in 2017. Even after that first wave of deals, they’ve continued to acquire prospects, and currently have a handful of players ranked in baseball’s top 50 prospects. It’s been a painful year or two, but things are looking up as the Braves get used to a brand new stadium, right?

I’m not so sure. The Braves aggressive move to spurn the prospect of “contending” while hanging around .500 seems to have inspired the White Sox and Padres to do the same, and the Sox are the one group that can challenge the Braves for sheer depth of minor league talent. But it’s now 2017, and the Braves really should be further along than they are. That first wave of trades included the Evan Gattis deal with Houston that netted the Braves today’s starter, Mike Foltynewicz. Folty’s blessed with an arm that routinely touched 100 MPH even as a starter when he was coming up in the ‘Stros system, and he averaged 98+ in his first stint in the majors. He’s down to 95 now, which is still well above average and nothing to sneeze at. He’s been one of the Braves best pitchers, too, and while his walk rate (always a concern) is up from 2016, it’s still playable. The problem is that the total package is a bit…underwhelming. He’s now thrown 350+ innings at the big league level, and is settling in at “below average player” kind of levels. He’s not a replacement-level arm, but for a guy with ace potential, you’d like to see a FIP/ERA below the high-4s. At nearly 26, he may still have some development left, but he’s well beyond prospect stages. The problem isn’t that Folty’s been a bust – he absolutely hasn’t. It’s that he’s the high water mark at this point.

Here’s a look at the Braves top 10 prospects from 2016, about 18 months ago. 6 have already made the majors (that’s awesome!), and they’ve contributed -0.1 WAR for the Braves this year (not so awesome). That’s unfair, you say – these are youngsters rushed to the bigs because the big league club is terrible. That’s understandable, and it certainly ameliorates the problem. But the Braves made Dansby Swanson a starter at the beginning of the year, and he needed to be sent back to the minors in July. Ozzie Albies was a little better, but as someone without a ton of power and who may need to move off SS to accomodate Swanson, his ceiling’s limited – and he’s a ways off from reaching it. Sean Newcomb, the big return for Andrelton Simmons, started the season extremely well with quality starts in his first 4 games, but his old control problems clearly haven’t been fixed, and he’s sporting a FIP of 4.80. He’s also 24, just a few months younger than Matt Wisler, whose career ERA is now over 5. Aaron Blair and Max Fried have been hammered in the minors this year and in brief big league trials. Lucas Sims, who’ll start in this series, has seen his MiLB K% drop by more than 50% while he’s maintained the sky-high HR rates he showed in AAA.

Development isn’t a straight line path, and these guys are generally young (and talented) enough that they can figure it out. But if they’re honest, I’m sure the Braves would say that they expected a lot more from the first wave of talent, much of it college-trained and close to the majors, and acquired up to 2+ years ago. Yes, they’ve got another wave in AA headlined by teenage pitchers Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka, but those guys were supposed to be complementary pieces to a core that was supposed to be establishing itself about now. I’m not about to say that there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect, or that the tear-it-down-and-rebuild strategy is doomed; the Astros and Cubs show that it can work if done well. Rather, the Braves are starting to look like a club that’s great at accumulating talent but poor at developing it. This was a serious problem for the M’s (who weren’t even all that great at accumulating talent), and it’s been an issue with a club like San Diego, too. We’ll have to wait and see with the White Sox, too, but it’s always a good reminder that getting a top flight minor league system does not imply an impending MLB juggernaut. The Braves free agent moves haven’t really helped, and if anything look like the kind of easily-undoable moves designed to get around accusations of profit-taking. But they’re also not the point; yes, Bartolo Colon was bad, and no, I’m not really sure why the Braves employ Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp, but those guys aren’t responsible for the Braves predicament. The Braves haven’t been beaten up too much for their poor record, especially as they’re a lot more successful than the 90+ loss clubs of the past two years. But this club shouldn’t be 12 games under at this point in their development, and it’s not impatience to suggest that.

Folty throws a four-seam fastball and a hard slider with a slurvy curveball and a rare change-up. He’ll mix in quite a few sinkers, but he’s not a ground ball pitcher; he’s bounced around 40% GBs for a few years. All of those fly balls have made him somewhat homer-prone, though his pure velocity helps him somewhat there. SunTrust park seems to suppress HRs a bit, but it doesn’t seem extreme. All in all, his stuff looks like a souped-up version of Lucas Sims, whom the M’s will see in a few days, and a bit like the Rays’ Austin Pruitt. Folty, like Aaron Blair, Lucas Sims and Matt Wisler, has the pedigree of a prospect once ranked in MLB’s top 50. Pruitt and fellow ray Jacob Faria were never ranked anywhere close to that, but have outperformed the Braves contingent at this (early) stage.

1: Segura, SS
2: Alonso, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Haniger, RF
6: Gamel, LF
7: Zunino, C
8: Martin, CF
9: Albers, SP

Albers of course was in the Braves org until a few weeks ago. At 31, he wasn’t in the Braves youth-focused plans, but was having a great year in AAA. Since he was last in MLB (with Minnesota), he’s changed in a few important ways. First, he’s now throwing a sinker. In his prior stints, he had a four-seam fastball with some armside run, but he’s now throwing two very distinct fastballs instead of a single one that sort of blended elements of both. Second, he threw his slider a ton the other day – about 1/3 of his pitches. It’s not a great pitch in terms of movement and velo, but it’s worked fairly well, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him continue to rely on it. Third/finally, he’s throwing a tick or so faster than he used to as a starter. He’d average 90 as a one-inning reliever, but only 87-88 as a starter. He averaged 89 with his four seam and 88 with the sinker the other day. Both are still below average, but I’ll take 89 over 87 any day.

Hope everyone got to see the eclipse today and I hope your eyes are still functioning. It was pretty fun, I’ll admit, though I would’ve loved to be in the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes stadium to see the big eclipse in the park promotion. I’m glad the clouds stayed away from pretty much the entirety of the northwest; suck it, Carbondale, IL.

Clinton played a day game in Peoria today, another park that had an eclipse promotion. But their big eclipse glasses promotion fell through when suppliers couldn’t deliver any glasses, and then Clinton went and beat the Chiefs 7-6.

Tyler Cloyds faces off with Kyle Lloyd tonight at Cheney Stadium. Modesto and Arkansas are off tonight, but Anjul Hernandez takes the mound for Everett, and Clinton’s already won.

El Paso beat the Rainiers 5-1 last night, spoiling a solid 4 IP start from Andrew Moore who K’d 6 and yielded 1 hit and no runs.

Lindsey Caughel got roughed up and the Travelers couldn’t figure out A’s prospect AJ Puk in a 9-1 loss to Midland yesterday. The Travs are off today.

Modesto’s Reggie McClain got much the same treatment vs. Stockton on the way to a 15-3 loss. Clinton got blanked 2-0 by Peoria, and Everett lost to Vancouver 5-3, so it was a clean sweep of M’s affiliates yesterday.


5 Responses to “Game 126, Mariners at Braves”

  1. WTF_Ms on August 21st, 2017 6:09 pm

    No comments? Did we all go blind this morning?

  2. mksh21 on August 21st, 2017 6:29 pm

    I hate National League baseball so I’m not that interested other than checking to see if they won tomorrow morning. Cruz on the bench. Pitchers who cant hit or bunt in predictable situations. YAWN

  3. Grayfox3d on August 21st, 2017 6:42 pm

    Someone needs to remind Pagan that this game still means something…. Seriously this bullpen is gonna give me an aneurysm.

  4. Grayfox3d on August 21st, 2017 7:58 pm

    Dunno how we pulled that out, seems like no one was really interested in winning, oh well! I’ll take it.

  5. mksh21 on August 22nd, 2017 2:53 am

    Seems we’ve been in a lot of games that have turned in to 1 run games late. But massive swing hanging on. Twins went 1 and 1 and Angles lost.

    If we need extra comments I can make a few more harmless jokes that triggered dead users out of the woodworks .

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