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Braves acquire righty Carle from Pirates

Twenty-six-year-old spent last season with Rockies' organization
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- The Braves added organizational depth on Wednesday, when they acquired right-handed pitcher Shane Carle from the Pirates in exchange for a player to be named or cash considerations.

The Pirates selected Carle off waivers from the Rockies on Jan. 4 and then designated him for assignment to create roster space for the players acquired via the trade that sent Gerrit Cole to the Astros.

ATLANTA -- The Braves added organizational depth on Wednesday, when they acquired right-handed pitcher Shane Carle from the Pirates in exchange for a player to be named or cash considerations.

The Pirates selected Carle off waivers from the Rockies on Jan. 4 and then designated him for assignment to create roster space for the players acquired via the trade that sent Gerrit Cole to the Astros.

Carle made his Major League debut for the Rockies on April 14, but he spent nearly the remainder of the season pitching for Colorado's Triple-A affiliate. The 26-year-old has Minor League options remaining, so there is a chance he could be shuttled between the Triple-A Gwinnett and Atlanta rosters when necessary during the upcoming season.

Carle worked a scoreless inning in two of the three appearances made for Colorado last year. The righty was used primarily as a starting pitcher before transitioning to a relief role during the 2016 season. He posted a 5.37 ERA over 36 appearances (three starts) for Albuquerque last season.

 

Atlanta Braves, Shane Carle

Braves land 3 on top 10 lefty prospects list

Gohara (No. 4), Allard (7), Fried (10) give Atlanta strong talent in Minors
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Alex Wood, Eric Stults and Manny Banuelos were the only left-handed pitchers to make a start for the Braves during a two-season span that began in 2015. Wood accounted for 20 of those 34 starts before being traded to the Dodgers as part of the massive rebuild that has seemingly made it unlikely for Atlanta to experience a similar southpaw shortage over the next few years.

Three of the young starting pitchers -- Luiz Gohara, Kolby Allard and Max Fried -- acquired during this rebuild rank among baseball's top 10 left-handed prospects, per the rankings MLB Pipeline released Wednesday.

ATLANTA -- Alex Wood, Eric Stults and Manny Banuelos were the only left-handed pitchers to make a start for the Braves during a two-season span that began in 2015. Wood accounted for 20 of those 34 starts before being traded to the Dodgers as part of the massive rebuild that has seemingly made it unlikely for Atlanta to experience a similar southpaw shortage over the next few years.

Three of the young starting pitchers -- Luiz Gohara, Kolby Allard and Max Fried -- acquired during this rebuild rank among baseball's top 10 left-handed prospects, per the rankings MLB Pipeline released Wednesday.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

Gohara ranks fourth, sitting behind the Padres' Mackenzie Gore, who was the third overall pick in last summer's MLB Draft, the Athletics' A.J. Puk, who was taken with the sixth pick in the 2016 Draft, and the Yankees' Justus Sheffield, who was taken by the Indians in the first round of the 2014 Draft and later traded to New York in exchange for Andrew Miller.

Sean Newcomb ranked among the game's top left-handed prospects at this time last year, but he no longer qualified for this list after making 19 starts for Atlanta last season. The Braves actually had a surplus of lefty starters by the end of last season, as Gohara and Fried were both given a chance to make a handful of starts in September.

One of the next newcomers to Atlanta's rotation could be Allard, the rising 20-year-old southpaw who ranks seventh on this updated list of the game's top left-handed pitching prospects. Fried ranks 10th.

Video: Top Prospects: Max Fried, LHP, Braves

As Gohara prepares to go to Spring Training with a strong possibility of opening the season in Atlanta's rotation, it remains impressive how far he has come since beginning last year with Class A Advanced Florida. The big lefty continued to draw comparisons to CC Sabathia as he constructed a 2.62 ERA and registered 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings over the 26 appearances (25 starts) he combined to make for Florida, Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett.

Gohara completed at least six innings in four of the five starts he made after getting his first call to the Majors in September. The 21-year-old hurler surrendered just one earned run in two of those outings and opened some eyes as his fastball averaged 96.5 mph -- the fifth-highest velocity among all MLB pitchers who threw at least 200 fastballs last year.

Allard will likely open this season with Triple-A Gwinnett, but there is a chance he could reach the Majors at some point this summer. His stock rose last year as he skipped the Class A Advanced level and then proceeded to produce a 3.18 ERA over 27 starts for Mississippi. He pitched most of the season at 19 years old and did not face a single batter who was younger than him.

Video: Top Prospects: Kolby Allard, LHP, Braves

Fried hasn't necessarily produced eye-popping statistics since returning from Tommy John surgery during the 2016 season. The 23-year-old lefty posted a 5.54 ERA over 21 combined starts for Mississippi and Gwinnett last year. But after making four relief appearances for Atlanta in August, he displayed the potential of his curveball during four late-season starts. He limited the Cubs to one run over five innings at Wrigley Field on Sept. 3 to earn the win in what was his first start.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

 

Atlanta Braves

At plate, Sheffield struck fear in foes

Slugger compiled great career numbers with offensive prowess
MLB.com

The other day, we talked about how, by some defensive metrics, Andruw Jones was the greatest defensive center fielder in history, ahead of Willie Mays and Paul Blair and the rest. This is an extraordinary claim. The legend of Mays, Blair, Garry Maddox, Curt Flood and so many others is such that more people are likely to say that those defensive metrics are nonsensical than agree with the conclusion.

Well, by defensive wins above replacement (WAR), Gary Sheffield is the worst defensive outfielder in history.

The other day, we talked about how, by some defensive metrics, Andruw Jones was the greatest defensive center fielder in history, ahead of Willie Mays and Paul Blair and the rest. This is an extraordinary claim. The legend of Mays, Blair, Garry Maddox, Curt Flood and so many others is such that more people are likely to say that those defensive metrics are nonsensical than agree with the conclusion.

Well, by defensive wins above replacement (WAR), Gary Sheffield is the worst defensive outfielder in history.

Are people more or less likely to believe that one?

Sheffield was a crazy good hitter. You can talk about his connection to steroids -- he admitted using "the cream" in 2002 to help his right leg recover from injury -- but beyond that, there hasn't ever been a hitter quite like Sheff. Before the pitch, he waved the bat like he was an out-of-control madman about to go on a rampage. And then the pitch would come, and he was surgical in the way that he smashed the ball in whatever direction seemed appropriate.

Hall of Fame coverage

It was ridiculous how precise a hitter Sheffield was. The only members of the 500-homer club with fewer strikeouts than Sheff are Ted Williams, Mel Ott and, for the time being, Albert Pujols (Pujols will likely pass Sheffield in strikeouts early in the 2018 season). Sheffield only struck out 80 times in a season once, and he played in a time of many strikeouts. He walked 300 more times than he struck out for his career. Sheffield might be the last player to finish a career that much in the black.

Video: WS1997 Gm3: Sheffield homers in 1st for early lead

Yes, Sheffield's career hitting numbers are extraordinary, legendary. He's 23rd all time in Rbat (the hitting component for Baseball Reference WAR), ahead even of surefire first-ballot choice Chipper Jones (not to mention Mike Schmidt, Reggie Jackson, Carl Yastrzemski, Al Kaline and Ken Griffey Jr.).

Lists like these are always a bit deceptive, but they're fun anyway -- here's a list of the eight players in baseball history with 500 homers and 200 stolen bases:
1. Barry Bonds
2. Hank Aaron
3. Alex Rodriguez
4. Mays
5. Griffey Jr.
6. Frank Robinson
7. Jackson
8. Sheffield

Of these, Sheffield has the second-highest on-base percentage behind Bonds, and he struck out by far the least. Sheffield, Bonds and Aaron are the only ones to walk more than they struck out.

Sheffield's hitting is legendary, but if you buy into defensive stats at all, his defense is just about as legendary the other way. By Baseball Reference's figuring, Sheffield was 195 runs below average, an astonishing number that roughly means he cost his teams 20 or so games just with his defense.

Video: MLB Now responds to Kenny's essay on Sheffield

To dig into those numbers even more: Sheffield's 60.3 career WAR puts him a full 13 wins below the average Hall of Fame right fielder, which seems to suggest he has no Hall of Fame case. But his ERA is that low because of how much his defense drags him down. His 79.9 offensive WAR ranks him fifth among right fielders only behind four of the greatest players in baseball history, Babe Ruth, Aaron, Robinson and Ott. This guy was an all-time hitter.

Can someone be such a poor defensive player that it all but cancels out such legendary hitting?

In Sheffield's case, there's a more pertinent question: Why did he put up such poor defensive statistics? Sheffield was a fantastic athlete. It isn't hard to understand why, say, Adam Dunn or Frank Howard struggled in the outfield -- they were big men, not fast, not especially agile. But Sheffield came up to the big leagues as a shortstop. He was fast, nimble, had remarkable hand-eye coordination. He had a pretty good arm. In other words, Sheffield had everything necessary to at least be an average outfielder; he seemed to have everything necessary to be an outstanding one. Bill James, for one, believes he was a better outfielder than these numbers suggest.

Video: WS1997 Gm7: Sheffield robs Thome with sliding catch

But these rough defensive numbers are very real. Take something as simple as putouts. As a right fielder, Sheffield made 1.9 putouts per nine innings -- .2 less than the league average. The stats work out the same in left. That means 32 more baseballs a year dropped when hit in Sheffield's range than the average outfielder. That's a lot of singles and doubles where outs should be.

As for why, it's hard to say. Sheffield was an emotional player. He played for eight teams in his career -- never more than six seasons for any one team -- and no other player of his caliber had that disorienting of a career (with the possible exception of Rickey Henderson, who played for nine teams, but five of them in the last few years of his career when he was trying to hang on).

Sheffield, like Luke Skywalker, always looked away, to the future, to the horizon, never his mind on where he was. Hmm. He was a disappointment with Milwaukee, and he was traded to San Diego. He won a batting title with San Diego, and he was traded to Florida. He was probably the best hitter in the league in 1996, and the next year he won a World Series with Florida. And he was traded to Los Angeles. He averaged .312 with 38 homers and 103 RBIs for the Dodgers, and he was traded to Atlanta. He hit .330 with 39 homers and 132 RBIs with Atlanta, and he left for the Yankees.

Video: FLA@SF: Sheffield homers to tie game in 9th

Some of these moves were his doing, some of them weren't, but it leaves behind an impression of instability. Sheffield made nine All-Star teams and he finished top five in the MVP Award voting three times, but he never seemed to be viewed as one of the greatest players in the game. Since appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2015, Sheffield has not yet drawn 15 percent of the vote. Part of it, maybe even most of it, is the steroid connection. But the poor defensive numbers and the career of many teams have left their marks, too.

I have said before that if I was a pitcher, the two scariest hitters of my lifetime would have been Jeff Bagwell and Sheffield. Bagwell's intimidation came from the still way he would stand at the plate, that big wide stance, that bat just fluttering ever so slightly. This was a guy who meant to turn on a pitch and pull it all the way to Shaker Heights.

And Sheffield was the opposite, all that nervous energy, that bat waving wildly behind him, that glare he would give pitchers that showed this was all very personal. Sheff is almost certainly not going to get elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. But if there was a scary pitcher and hitter Hall of Fame, he'd be a first-ballot selection. I'd love to watch him face Bob Gibson, day after day after day.

Joe Posnanski is a national columnist for MLB.com.

 

Inciarte's elite defense backed by Statcast data

Braves center fielder leads MLB with 47 combined 5-star, 4-star outs past 2 seasons
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- As Andruw Jones faces the possibility of not garnering enough votes to remain on the Hall of Fame ballot beyond this year, his advocates have questioned how this could happen to a 10-time Gold Glove Award winner who has been widely described as one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball history.

Unfortunately for Jones, he played in an era that does not allow for the possibility of quantifying arguments about exactly how he stacked up against Willie Mays and others who have earned the right to be considered in any discussion about the greatest outfielders of all time.

ATLANTA -- As Andruw Jones faces the possibility of not garnering enough votes to remain on the Hall of Fame ballot beyond this year, his advocates have questioned how this could happen to a 10-time Gold Glove Award winner who has been widely described as one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball history.

Unfortunately for Jones, he played in an era that does not allow for the possibility of quantifying arguments about exactly how he stacked up against Willie Mays and others who have earned the right to be considered in any discussion about the greatest outfielders of all time.

Ender Inciarte might never have Hall of Fame credentials that equal those possessed by Jones, whose resume includes 434 home runs. But courtesy of the growing list of defensive metrics supplied by Statcast™, the current Braves center fielder will at least be able to have a better feel for exactly how he stacks up against his contemporaries and future Gold Glovers.

There's no doubt that a keen set of eyes can differentiate an average defender from an elite one. But wouldn't it have been cool to have had Statcast™ in place to better understand how Jones, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Edmonds compared and contrasted as they experienced their respective primes around the same time?

Over the past two seasons, Statcast™ has given Inciarte, Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton, Minnesota's Byron Buxton, Boston's Mookie Betts and the current crop of great defensive outfielders a better idea of just how much ground they successfully defend in relation to each other.

By factoring in the exact start position on the field for each fielder and the hang time of each batted ball, Statcast™'s Catch Probability leaderboard allows us to get a feel for how rare or easy an out might have been in comparison to results of similar batted balls. It can be argued that the difficulty of completing a diving catch might be the same for Inciarte and Matt Kemp. But the age-old eye test is enough to realize most average outfielders would likely not have to dive to record some of the outs Kemp made while sliding across the grass.

A 5-star play is awarded to any outfielder who creates an out on a ball hit with a Catch Probability of 0-25 percent. A 4-star play covers catch probabilities ranging from 26-50 percent and a 3-star play covers those ranging from 51-75 percent.

Video: NYM@ATL: Statcast™ measures Inciarte's five-star grab

Inciarte leads all Major League outfielders with the 18 5-star outs he has recorded over the past two seasons (11 in 2016 and seven in '17). Hamilton ranks second with 14 in that span.

If combining 5-star and 4-star outs, Inciarte once again leads the way with a total of 47 such plays over the past two seasons. Those immediately behind him are Betts (42), Buxton (41) and Hamilton (39).

Statcast™'s baserunning metric to record Sprint Speed says Buxton leads all MLB players with 30.2 feet covered per second and Hamilton ranks second with 30.1 feet per second. Inciarte ranks 175th (sixth among last year's Braves) with 27.2 feet per second.

Baserunning speed and outfield speed are not identical, but it goes without saying that Hamilton would win any foot race against Inciarte, whose defensive prowess is a credit to his great instincts, which include the ability to quickly react to the direction of a ball hit to the outfield.

It should also be noted that Hamilton spent some time this season flanked by Adam Duvall, who has totaled 30 5-star and 4-star plays over the past two seasons. Inciarte has had the opportunity to make more great plays, as he has spent portions of the past two seasons flanked by Kemp and Nick Markakis, who together combined to make 12 5-star and 4-star plays over the past two seasons.

Statcast™ also recently introduced Outs Above Average, which measures the cumulative effect of all individual Catch Probability plays credited or debited to an outfielder. For example, if a fielder records an out on a ball with a 25 percent Catch Probability, the play gets +.75. A player who does not make the play gets -.25.

Buxton led all MLB outfielders with 25 OAA last year and Inciarte ranked second with 19. Betts and White Sox center fielder Adam Engel tied with 16 and the Royals' Lorenzo Cain ranked fifth with 15.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

 

Atlanta Braves, Ender Inciarte

Inbox: Should Atlanta turn Folty into a closer?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman fields Braves fans' questions
MLB.com

How do you feel about making Mike Foltynewicz a closer? In my opinion, it's the best fit for him and solves an issue for our team.
-- Russell I., Woodstock, Ga.

A year from now the answer might be different, but for now, I think it's best for the Braves to give Foltynewicz, 26, a chance to spend one more full season as a starter. Yeah, he's spent portions of each of the past three seasons within the rotation and yeah, he's tallied 65 career starts (one more than Wade Davis made before he made the profitable transition to the bullpen).

How do you feel about making Mike Foltynewicz a closer? In my opinion, it's the best fit for him and solves an issue for our team.
-- Russell I., Woodstock, Ga.

A year from now the answer might be different, but for now, I think it's best for the Braves to give Foltynewicz, 26, a chance to spend one more full season as a starter. Yeah, he's spent portions of each of the past three seasons within the rotation and yeah, he's tallied 65 career starts (one more than Wade Davis made before he made the profitable transition to the bullpen).

But at the same time, he's spent just one full year at the big league level and quite frankly, the Braves have the luxury to extend the trial period as they likely stand at least a year away from constructing a playoff-caliber rotation.

Foltynewicz completed at least six innings and allowed two earned runs or less in 12 of his 28 starts last year and allowed three earned runs or less while recording at least 18 outs in 15 of those 28 starts. He also managed to allow at least five earned runs in exactly 25 percent (7 of 28) of starts. These numbers tell you exactly what your eyes saw last summer: Nearly every start could be described as either pretty good or pretty forgettable.

It should be noted most of those pretty forgettable starts occurred as he allowed five earned runs or more four times within a five-start span from July 31-Aug. 21. His only impressive outing within this span occurred on Aug. 5, when he recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts and limited the Marlins' potent offense to one run over 6 1/3 innings.

Per Statcast™, Foltynewicz's 95.2 mph average fastball velocity ranked seventh among all Major Leaguers who threw at least 1,500 heaters last year. He limited opponents to a .196 batting average with his slider and induced a decent 15.43 percent swing-and-miss rate with the pitch. The .202 xBA (expected batting average) he produced with the curveball provides a glimpse of the soft contact he frequently induced with that pitch.

Foltynewicz has the arsenal needed to become an elite starter. Time will tell whether he can harness the command of both his fastball and emotions enough to live up to his physical potential. But for now, it seems prudent to stay away from the easy solution, which would be to move him to the bullpen.

:: Submit a question to the Braves Inbox ::

Video: Anthopoulos on adjusting to new role with Braves

Is the new general manager honest enough to admit the pains an organization has to go through to be a legitimate contender?
-- Matt H., Belton, S.C.

Looking back, I don't think there were many of you who bought into what John Hart was trying to sell when he approached the 2015 and '16 seasons often saying the team was trying to walk parallel lines. It's impossible to remain competitive while undergoing a rebuilding effort as massive as the one the Braves began after the '14 season, and it's unrealistic to think it can be completed in just a few years.

With that being said, I think some of the frustration that led to your question stems more toward last year, when the Braves added more than $30 million to their payroll and claimed the team was going to be much better. Much of that money was spent on Bartolo Colon, and the club's altered mindset was shown in late July when Jaime Garcia was sent to the Twins for essentially nothing more than cost savings.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos has inherited this team in the fourth year of its rebuild. It's still too early for him to confidently predict a postseason run. But at the same time, part of his job is to surround his club with optimism. If he says, the "team will be better this year," his words will at least seem more genuine than those spoken during the early portion of this rebuild.

Why is it that we refuse to move any of the pitching prospects we have? It seems to me if we wait to do so then some of them will inherently lose value.
-- Ryan L., Douglasville, Ga.

Actually, I think Anthopoulos would be wise to stick with the plan for him and his scouts to make their own evaluations of these young pitchers before making a significant trade. Yeah, there are existing reports and even some holdover scouts who are quite familiar with what the likes of Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka and the others can bring both on and off the field. But it would be much more comfortable to make one of these potentially franchise-altering decisions after having gained the chance to make evaluations with your own eyes and ears.

Video: Top Prospects: Kolby Allard, LHP, Braves

Assuming the Braves sign a third baseman this offseason, do you think it would be a player with a short-term or long-term deal?
-- Bryan O., Kennesaw, Ga.

The Braves could go a few different directions as they attempt to bolster different aspects of their club. But in relation to the possibility of adding a third baseman, there is no doubt they are only looking at short-term options. They do not want to make an acquisition that could block rising prospect Austin Riley or erase the possibility of making a serious bid to buy Manny Machado or Josh Donaldson off next year's free-agent market.

 

Atlanta Braves

Vizcaino, Winkler avoid arb; Folty set for hearing

MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Braves relievers Arodys Vizcaino and Dan Winkler avoided an arbitration hearing, but it appears Mike Foltynewicz will have his 2018 salary determined by an arbitration panel.

Vizcaino agreed to a one-year, $3.4 million deal, and Winkler agreed to a one-year, $610,000 deal on Friday. But because Foltynewicz did not reach an agreement, it appears he will join John Rocker (2001) and Mike Minor ('15) as the only Braves this century to experience an arbitration hearing.

ATLANTA -- Braves relievers Arodys Vizcaino and Dan Winkler avoided an arbitration hearing, but it appears Mike Foltynewicz will have his 2018 salary determined by an arbitration panel.

Vizcaino agreed to a one-year, $3.4 million deal, and Winkler agreed to a one-year, $610,000 deal on Friday. But because Foltynewicz did not reach an agreement, it appears he will join John Rocker (2001) and Mike Minor ('15) as the only Braves this century to experience an arbitration hearing.

Teams had to exchange arbitration figures with any arb-eligible player who remained unsigned as of Friday at 1 p.m. ET. Sticking with their policy as a file-and-trial club, the Braves will not resume any discussions with Foltynewicz about a one-year deal until the hearing, which will be held around the start of Spring Training.

Standing as the Braves' only unsigned arbitration-eligible player, Foltynewicz submitted a salary request of $2.3 million, while Atlanta offered $2.2 million. An arbiter will hear the case before determining which of the two figures will stand as the pitcher's salary for the upcoming season.

Reliever Freeman, Braves avoid arb hearing

Foltynewicz has posted a 4.87 ERA over 85 appearances (65 starts) since he broke into the big leagues as an Astros reliever during the latter part of the 2014 season. The 26-year-old right-hander was traded to the Braves a few months later, and he has spent portions of the past three seasons in Atlanta's rotation.

While posting a 4.81 ERA over his 65 starts, Foltynewicz has been frustrated by inconsistent stretches, during which he has shown his great potential and also provided the reminder he is far from a finished product.

Foltynewicz pitched to a 3.30 ERA through his first 11 starts last season, but then he surrendered eight earned runs over 3 1/3 innings during a June 12 game at Nationals Park. He posted a 2.95 ERA over the next seven starts and then allowed at least five runs in four of the five starts that followed.

Vizcaino has served as Atlanta's closer during portions of each of the past three years, and he will likely own that role to open the upcoming season. The 27-year-old right-hander debuted with the 2011 Braves and then spent most of the next three seasons battling back from Tommy John surgery. He has posted a 3.26 ERA over 163 career appearances, and he has successfully converted 33 of 41 save opportunities dating back to the 2015 season.

Video: ATL@MIA: Vizcaino retires Yelich to earn the save

Winkler has made just 21 career relief appearances, but he gained arbitration-eligible status because he has spent most of the past three seasons on the 60-day disabled list while recovering from Tommy John surgery and the fractured elbow he sustained while pitching for Atlanta during the first week of the 2016 season.

Video: ATL@NYM: Winkler K's Taijeron to escape trouble

After being promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett near the end of this past season, Winkler flashed his potential to be a key piece in this year's bullpen. The 27-year-old right-hander posted a 2.51 ERA over 16 appearances (14 1/3 innings).

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

 

Atlanta Braves, Mike Foltynewicz, Arodys Vizcaino, Dan Winkler

MLB Pipeline's 2018 All-Defense Team

Nats' Robles receives most votes in survey of front-office execs
MLB.com

Though home runs and upper-90s fastballs may be more eye-catching, defense wins an awful lot of championships. The 2017 Astros were nothing special with the glove, but the 2016 Cubs recorded one of the best season-long defensive performances ever while the 2015 Royals and 2014 Giants also excelled at turning balls in play into outs.

Defensive metrics are improving, giving clubs a better handle on how valuable individual players are in the field, yet it's still far from an exact science and even less so at the Minor League level. In MLB Pipeline's annual survey of front-office executives asking them to identify baseball's best defensive prospect, the 19 respondents tabbed 14 different players.

Though home runs and upper-90s fastballs may be more eye-catching, defense wins an awful lot of championships. The 2017 Astros were nothing special with the glove, but the 2016 Cubs recorded one of the best season-long defensive performances ever while the 2015 Royals and 2014 Giants also excelled at turning balls in play into outs.

Defensive metrics are improving, giving clubs a better handle on how valuable individual players are in the field, yet it's still far from an exact science and even less so at the Minor League level. In MLB Pipeline's annual survey of front-office executives asking them to identify baseball's best defensive prospect, the 19 respondents tabbed 14 different players.

Video: Jim Callis on best catching prospects

Top 10 Prospects by Position

Nationals center fielder Victor Robles, the lone repeater from our 2017 All-Defense Team, led all prospects with four votes. Phillies shortstop J.P. Crawford and Rangers center fielder Leody Taveras were the only others to get multiple mentions and join Robles on our 2018 squad, which is based on our survey results as well as separate discussions with scouting and development personnel:

Catcher: Jake Rogers, Tigers
Some scouts considered him the best defender in the entire 2016 Draft, when he went in the third round to the Astros, who used him to pry Justin Verlander from the Tigers last August. Rogers erased 46 percent of basestealers in his first full pro season, enhancing solid arm strength with a lightning-fast transfer and impressive accuracy. His agility and soft hands also make him an outstanding receiver and blocker who excels at framing pitches.

"His defense is so slick," an assistant GM with an American League team said. "He has more of a 55 arm [on the 20-80 scouting scale] but it's so quick and accurate. He has such a pretty release."

Video: Rogers has potential to win a Gold Glove in future

Catcher was the toughest call on our All-Defense Team. The Athletics' Sean Murphy, another 2016 third-rounder, has similar receiving skills and even more pure arm strength but hasn't had the same success nabbing basestealers.

Video: Jim Callis on whether defense is still valued

First Base: Evan White, Mariners
Like Cody Bellinger, the first baseman on last year's All-Defense Team, White could be a Gold Glove first baseman or an everyday outfielder. He has more range than most first basemen, excels at digging errant throws out of the dirt and one scout said he's the best defensive first baseman to come out of college since Nick Swisher. White also has plus speed and solid arm strength, so he's potentially capable of handling all three outfield spots.

Second Base: Luis Guillorme, Mets
He could have challenged for shortstop honors if the presence of Amed Rosario in New York hadn't led the Mets to shift Guillorme to the other side of the bag last June. He's not the quickest middle infielder, but his hands, reflexes and instincts are as good as anyone's in the Minors. He has solid range and arm strength, and he would have led the Double-A Eastern League in fielding percentage at both second (.983) and short (.968) last year if he had played enough at either position to qualify.

Video: Guillorme's defensive versatility at short and second

Third Base: Nick Senzel, Reds
He saw time at second base and shortstop at Tennessee and didn't become an everyday third baseman until his junior season in 2016, when he was the No. 2 overall pick. Senzel is faster and more athletic than most players at the hot corner, where his hands and strong arm are also assets.

Tweet from @Vol_Baseball: ICYMI: Here's a look at @Vol_Baseball third baseman Nick Senzel's No. 1 #SCtop10 play on @SportsCenter tonight! pic.twitter.com/LQTNRPytH0

Shortstop: J.P. Crawford, Phillies
After getting significant support when we assembled our 2016 and 2017 All-Defense Teams, he makes it this time around. Crawford's range at shortstop belies his average speed, and his quick hands, strong arm and uncanny internal clock help him make all the plays. He moved all over the infield for the Phillies last September, looking very good at second and third base for someone with little experience at either position, but is their unquestioned shortstop after they traded Freddy Galvis to the Padres.

"He's very advanced at a premium position," a pro scout with an AL club said. "There are others with better tools at shortstop, but this guy can really play the position and his tools are still plenty good. His feel for shortstop, secondary tools and defensive intangibles help separate him from others."

Video: NYM@PHI: Crawford makes a slick spin and throw

Outfield: Cristian Pache, Braves
Braves überprospect Ronald Acuna can do almost anything on the diamond, including play quality defense in center field, but he'll eventually have to cede the position. That's because Pache's blazing speed and fine instincts allow him to cover more ground in the outfield than perhaps any other prospect. He also has plus arm strength, unusual for his position, and used it to top the low Class A South Atlantic League with 17 assists last summer.

Watch: MiLB Video

Outfield: Victor Robles, Nationals
If Pache doesn't have the best range among outfield prospects, then that distinction might belong to Robles. He not only has plus-plus speed but also the arm strength to match. While he could cruise on natural ability, he has worked diligently to improve his reads, routes and throwing accuracy.

"He's a game-changing defender," a National League farm director said, "with both his arm and his glove."

Video: WSH@NYM: Robles shows off defensive skills in right

Outfield: Leody Taveras, Rangers
One of the best athletes available during the 2015-16 international signing period, Taveras is highly advanced for a teenager. He makes the most of his plus speed in center field, getting quick jumps and taking direct routes, and his solid arm strength would fit anywhere in the outfield.

"He plays center field so easy," an AL farm director said. "I bet Carlos Gomez was like that as a teenager. It's a similar body and an explosive athlete."

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

 

After '17 progress, Allard excited for next step

Braves' No. 2 prospect confident after overcoming challenges last season
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Kolby Allard breezed through the early portion of last season, and he finished with a flurry that strengthened his status as one of baseball's top pitching prospects. But his most beneficial stretch occurred midway through the season, when he struggled for a couple of weeks and then provided a glimpse of his mental resolve.

"I think [the rough stretch] made me a better player, and I'm super excited about the way I matured," Allard said. "After I struggled, I said to myself, 'There are two ways you can go about this. You can roll over and coast the rest of this year, or you can make some adjustments and battle through it.' I was really happy about how I finished the year."

ATLANTA -- Kolby Allard breezed through the early portion of last season, and he finished with a flurry that strengthened his status as one of baseball's top pitching prospects. But his most beneficial stretch occurred midway through the season, when he struggled for a couple of weeks and then provided a glimpse of his mental resolve.

"I think [the rough stretch] made me a better player, and I'm super excited about the way I matured," Allard said. "After I struggled, I said to myself, 'There are two ways you can go about this. You can roll over and coast the rest of this year, or you can make some adjustments and battle through it.' I was really happy about how I finished the year."

A little less than three years removed from graduating high school and being selected by Atlanta in the first round (14th overall) of the 2015 MLB Draft, Allard ranks as MLB Pipeline's No. 22 overall prospect and the No. 2 prospect in the Braves' talent-rich farm system. The 20-year-old southpaw overcame challenges as one of the youngest players in the Southern League last summer, and he'll likely open this season with Triple-A Gwinnett.

"I'm a completely different guy this year," Allard said. "I can't give enough credit to [Braves director of player development] Dom Chiti and [Double-A Mississippi pitching coach] Derrick Lewis. I learned more about myself this year than I did during any previous year. That's kind of what pitching is, knowing your strengths and weaknesses and ultimately going out and getting outs. If you can execute and know who you are, that's the ultimate."

Video: Top Prospects: Kolby Allard, LHP, Braves

Allard and his close friend Mike Soroka have developed a strong bond since being selected by the Braves in the first round of the 2015 Draft. They were not fazed when given a chance to skip the Class A Advanced level last year, and next month, they'll come to Spring Training knowing either one of them could be just a few months away from pitching in the Majors.

Soroka, who ranks as MLB Pipeline's No. 34 prospect and the No. 4 prospect in Atlanta's system, welcomed Allard to his western Canada home in November, and the two were reunited last weekend as they participated in MLB's Rookie Career Development Program in Washington. They have spent this week together at Allard's Southern California home.

"It's really nice to go through it with somebody, especially somebody who is a good guy and a very hard worker," Soroka said. "I think we feed off each other, both on the mound and during those days between starts. I know he's done a lot to help me, and I hope he can say the same [about me]. I'm glad we can go through this together, and hopefully we can pitch in Atlanta for a long time together."

Allard posted a 1.23 ERA through his first eight starts for Mississippi last year, but he began struggling with his command near the end of May. The young southpaw posted a 5.55 ERA over his next 12 starts. But after making some mechanical adjustments, he proceeded to produce a 1.83 ERA while recording 43 strikeouts and issuing just six walks over his final seven starts (44 1/3 innings).

"I'm not going to say I'm going to go out and dominate this or dominate that, but I'm confident in what I do as a pitcher," Allard said. "I'm super excited about getting to camp, and hopefully I'll throw the ball pretty well. We have a lot of good arms. So it's fun to get to camp, where everyone is on the same field. It ultimately pushes you to be a better pitcher."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

 

Atlanta Braves

Grissom gives back to game with Dream Series

MLB.com

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Marquis Grissom thinks Marquis Grissom has a chance to be a good ball player.

The former Major Leaguer is also doing his part to make sure his teenage son, Marquis Grissom Jr., and the other participants in this week's Dream Series grow up to be good men.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Marquis Grissom thinks Marquis Grissom has a chance to be a good ball player.

The former Major Leaguer is also doing his part to make sure his teenage son, Marquis Grissom Jr., and the other participants in this week's Dream Series grow up to be good men.

"I had coaches who provided me with equipment, rides back and forth to the ballpark, mentorship and just giving me all the things I needed to prepare for life," said Grissom, who played 17 years in the Major Leagues with the Expos, Braves, Indians, Brewers, Dodgers and Giants starting in 1989. "It wasn't just about baseball. It was getting me ready to become a fine young man and to be productive. I know that's what I'm supposed to be doing, too."

Tweet from @JesseSanchezMLB: Buenos dias from the desert. The #DreamSeries starts today at Tempe Diablo Stadium and continues through Monday. https://t.co/RVKEWZCYuP pic.twitter.com/oE6oYPjWh0

The Dream Series, an initiative from Major League Baseball and USA Baseball that features a diverse group of some of the nation's top high school pitching and catching prospects, began workouts Friday and continues through Monday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, the Spring Training home of the Angels.

The series, which is connected to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, features on-hand coaching from former players like Grissom, presentations on baseball career opportunities on the professional and collegiate levels, and athletic assessments through the Prospect Development Pipeline Premier Events.

"I love teaching, I love development, and I love to see a kid smile," Grissom Sr. said. "When a kid gets it and starts having some success at it, and we're not talking just about baseball, things begin to change. He begins to change, and has more confidence in himself. There are more of us in this space, teaching and developing. Hopefully, we can expand and change the game, and impact as many people as possible that want to pursue the game of baseball."

Tweet from @Shannon__Ford: Hi ho, hi ho, it���s off to work we go. First event of the year @MLB #DreamSeries is underway!! Welcome back Baseball, you were dearly missed. pic.twitter.com/huzvGDJoiC

Joining Grissom on the coaching staff is a list that includes Tom Gordon, Charles Johnson, Kenny Hill, Junior Spivey, LaTroy Hawkins, Darren Oliver, former MLB manager Jerry Manuel and many others.

"The coaches were calling us, asking if we were doing it again because they wanted to be a part of it," said Tony Reagins, MLB's senior vice president of youth programs. "We have probably got about 100 years of Major League experience here. For those guys to share their experience with these kids and hopefully give them some insight on things they never thought about before, it's huge."

Grissom, who retired in March 2006, made a seamless transition from full-time player to full-time youth coach after his playing days were over. It was an easy move, he said, because he coached his two older sons and most of the neighborhood kids in his free time during the final 10 years of his playing career. The former outfielder has spent the last dozen years dedicated to coaching youth.

"This is the perfect time for this event," Grissom said. "It's Martin Luther King weekend, we've got about 80 kids here from all over the country working with 15 to 20 former Major League instructors and we are all trying to get them to understand themselves a little better and understand what it's going to take to become a professional student and baseball player. This is what I've been doing for the last 12 years."

Grissom Jr., 16, is also playing in his second Dream Series. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound right-handed pitcher has participated in MLB's Elite Development Invitational twice and on two MLB Breakthrough Series teams. He says he loves having his father around, and he jokes he is still coming to terms with how good of a player his father really was during his prime

"I just really want to learn a lot from all the veteran players that are here and just to see the level of competition that I'll see in the future as I proceed to, like, college and upper levels," Grissom Jr. said. "Just to know that I'm a prospect feels good to me, but it doesn't stop, because I want to always improve as a player."

The Grissoms realize how fortunate they are to participate in the Dream Series. Grissom is hopeful the experience in Arizona will help his son grow as a player -- and as a person.

"He gets sick of hearing it from me, but when you get a chance to hear it from 10 or 15 other guys, hopefully something might stick," Grissom Sr. said. "And I'm excited for him, I'm excited to be here, and for me, this is what it's all about. I've had a lot of opportunities to go coach at the Major League level, but this is what I enjoy doing right here."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.

 

Reliever Freeman, Braves avoid arb hearing

MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Left-handed reliever Sam Freeman and the Braves avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal that was announced by the team on Thursday night.

Freeman agreed to a one-year, $1.075 million deal. Also arbitration-eligible were righty relievers Arodys Vizcaino and Dan Winkler, who agreed to deals Friday, and right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, who appears headed for an arbitration hearing. All Major League teams had to exchange arbitration numbers with any arb-eligible players who remain unsigned as of 1 p.m. ET on Friday.

ATLANTA -- Left-handed reliever Sam Freeman and the Braves avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal that was announced by the team on Thursday night.

Freeman agreed to a one-year, $1.075 million deal. Also arbitration-eligible were righty relievers Arodys Vizcaino and Dan Winkler, who agreed to deals Friday, and right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, who appears headed for an arbitration hearing. All Major League teams had to exchange arbitration numbers with any arb-eligible players who remain unsigned as of 1 p.m. ET on Friday.

Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos will extend the club's status as a file-and-trial club. With this policy in place, any arb-eligible player who remains unsigned as of Friday afternoon will almost certainly have his 2018 salary determined by an arbitration hearing, barring the possibility that the two parties are willing to discuss a multiyear deal.

After spending most of the 2016 season in the Brewers' Minor League system and opening last season with Triple-A Gwinnett, Freeman enjoyed a resurgence and once again proved he could be effective at the Major League level. The 30-year-old southpaw constructed a 2.55 ERA as he recorded 59 strikeouts and issued 27 walks over 60 innings (58 appearances).

Freeman produced a 2.74 ERA as he combined to make 111 appearances while pitching for the Cardinals and Rangers from 2013-15. He is projected to once again serve as a key middle-relief option for the Braves this year.

 

Atlanta Braves, Sam Freeman

Garcia released by Braves, to play in Korea

MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Having seen his reign as the Braves' starting third baseman end this past summer, Adonis Garcia will now go overseas to extend his baseball career.

The Braves announced that Garcia was released Wednesday to allow him to pursue his desire to play in South Korea. He has reportedly reached an agreement with the LG Twins, a Seoul-based member of the KBO League.

ATLANTA -- Having seen his reign as the Braves' starting third baseman end this past summer, Adonis Garcia will now go overseas to extend his baseball career.

The Braves announced that Garcia was released Wednesday to allow him to pursue his desire to play in South Korea. He has reportedly reached an agreement with the LG Twins, a Seoul-based member of the KBO League.

Garcia served as Atlanta's starting third baseman the past two seasons, but he did not factor into the team's plans for the upcoming season. The 32-year-old Cuban's role diminished after he was sidelined over the final two weeks of May with a hamstring injury and then missed most of the next three months while recovering from finger surgery to repair a torn ligament suffered on June 6.

As the Braves have been planning for the upcoming season, Johan Camargo has been considered the favorite to open 2018 at third base. Rio Ruiz has been considered the second most likely internal option. But president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos has remained open to the possibility of acquiring a short-term veteran via trade or free agency.

Hot Stove Tracker

While Camargo showed he was capable of handling the position by making 30 starts (nine in September) at third base last year, he doesn't necessarily fit the role on a long-term basis. Rising prospect Austin Riley could be deemed Major League ready at some point during the 2019 season, and the Braves may be serious bidders for Manny Machado or Josh Donaldson when they enter the free-agent market next offseason.

Garcia hit .267, belted 29 home runs and constructed a .714 OPS as he played in 244 games over the past three seasons for Atlanta. The Braves signed him after he was released by the Yankees at the conclusion of Spring Training in 2015.

After spending most of his first four months in Atlanta's system with Triple-A Gwinnett, Garcia took advantage of the unexpected opportunity he gained when he was called to the Majors after Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe were traded to the Mets on July 24, 2015.

Garcia tallied 10 homers while totaling less than 200 at-bats in 2015 and added 14 homers while tallying 532 at-bats the following season. He committed 17 errors through is first 139 career chances at third base. But after being demoted to Gwinnett during the early portion of the 2016 season with the assumption he'd return as a left fielder, Garcia returned and proceeded to make just 16 more errors over the 345 chances that followed at the hot corner.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

 

Atlanta Braves, Adonis Garcia

Minter could play big role in Braves' bullpen

Vizcaino, Ramirez also among Atlanta's best late-inning options
MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Arodys Vizcaino will likely remain the Braves' closer at the beginning of the season, but it might not be long before he relinquishes the role to A.J. Minter, the young southpaw who spent the final two months of this past season showing his potential to anchor Atlanta's bullpen for many years to come.

With the start of Spring Training just a month away, the Braves have continued to look for ways to add experience to their relief corps, which currently features Vizcaino, Minter and Jose Ramirez as its best late-inning options. Sam Freeman and Dan Winkler would provide quality depth if they can extend last season's success. But history has shown it's unwise to bank on the consistency of unproven relievers.

ATLANTA -- Arodys Vizcaino will likely remain the Braves' closer at the beginning of the season, but it might not be long before he relinquishes the role to A.J. Minter, the young southpaw who spent the final two months of this past season showing his potential to anchor Atlanta's bullpen for many years to come.

With the start of Spring Training just a month away, the Braves have continued to look for ways to add experience to their relief corps, which currently features Vizcaino, Minter and Jose Ramirez as its best late-inning options. Sam Freeman and Dan Winkler would provide quality depth if they can extend last season's success. But history has shown it's unwise to bank on the consistency of unproven relievers.

Below is a look at how the bullpen might be structured on Opening Day and over the course of the season.

BULLPEN IF THE SEASON STARTED TODAY
Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
Jose Ramirez, RHP
A.J. Minter, LHP
Sam Freeman, LHP
Dan Winkler, RHP
Chase Whitley, RHP
Lucas Sims, RHP
Josh Ravin, RHP

Video: ATL@MIA: Vizcaino retires Yelich to earn the save

STRENGTH
Minter didn't make his Major League debut until Aug. 23, but somewhere in the process of striking out 17 of the final 31 batters faced and inducing a 19.35 percent swing-and-miss rate per Statcast™ (MLB's fourth-best mark with a 200-pitch minimum), the talented left-hander provided a glimpse of how dominant he can be when healthy. Bolstered by an improved walk rate, Vizcaino converted 12 of 13 save opportunities after regaining the closer's role late last season. Ramirez notched a respectable 3.19 ERA over 62 innings, but those numbers would have been better had he not seemingly fatigued as he surrendered nine earned runs and four homers in his final 12 2/3 innings.

Video: ATL@STL: Ramirez gets two key outs to escape a jam

QUESTION MARK
As the Braves attempt to compensate for inexperience in their rotation, they seem to be leaning toward an eight-man bullpen. Their depth will improve if Mauricio Cabrera and Jacob Lindgren can prove themselves. Whitley and Sims can serve as the multiple-inning options manager Brian Snitker might need. While Freeman had previously enjoyed successful seasons with the Cardinals and the Rangers, Winkler still must prove himself; he posted a 2.51 while making 16 of his 21 career appearances last year.

Video: ATL@NYM: Winkler K's Taijeron to escape trouble

WHAT COULD CHANGE
While the Braves were likely wise to avoid spending big on a free-agent reliever thus far, they may be able to add some valuable experience to their bullpen as the costs drop with Spring Training nearing. A couple of familiar faces who could fill the need include Peter Moylan, who had a 3.49 ERA over an MLB-high 79 appearances last year, and Matt Belisle, the former Braves prospect who fashioned a 1.41 ERA over the final 36 appearances (38 1/3 innings) he made for the Twins in 2017.

Along with Cabrera and Lindgren, Rex Brothers, Jason Hursh, Akeel Morris and Jesse Biddle will come to Spring Training vying for one of the final available bullpen spots. Ravin joined the competition in November, when general manager Alex Anthopoulos acquired him from the Dodgers for cash considerations.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

 

Atlanta Braves

Braves hope young rotation steps up in 2018

Teheran, McCarthy only projected members with more than 65 career starts
MLB.com