With trade, Angels eye postseason, Braves rebuild
The Angels and the Braves stayed true to their current missions Thursday. They engineered a five-player deal that sent Andrelton Simmons and high Class A catcher Jose Briceno to Anaheim and Erick Aybar and pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis to Atlanta.
The Angels, who haven't won a playoff game since 2009 and finished a game out in the American League Wild Card race in 2015, are in "win now" mode. They added baseball's best defensive player in Simmons, who is signed through the next five seasons for the very reasonable total of $58 million. Acquiring the two-time Gold Glove winner did cost an already-thin farm system its two best prospects in Newcomb and Ellis, who were first- and third-round picks, respectively, in the 2014 Draft.
By contrast, the Braves are rebuilding with an eye toward returning to contention when they move into their new suburban ballpark in 2017. Since naming John Hart president of baseball operations last October and promoting John Coppolella to GM last month, Atlanta has focused on stockpiling pitching prospects -- and now adds two more.
Newcomb, 22, immediately becomes the Braves' top prospect. The 15th overall choice in 2014, he surpassed Jeff Bagwell as the highest-drafted player in University of Hartford history. The left-hander reached Double-A during his first full pro season while ranking second in the Minors in strikeouts (168), third in strikeouts per nine innings (11.1) and eighth in opponent average (.199) and 18th in ERA (2.38).
Newcomb has a pair of potential out pitches: a 92-96 mph fastball that can reach 99 and a hard curveball. While his changeup is a work in progress, and he needs to polish his control and command, he profiles as a front-line left-handed starter. Newcomb's 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame is built for durability, and he also could make a dynamic late-inning reliever if starting doesn't work out.
Ellis' ceiling isn't nearly as high, but the 23-year-old right-hander is a possible mid-rotation starter. A University of Mississippi product, he also advanced to Double-A during his first full year as a pro. In 26 starts between that level and Class A Advanced, Ellis posted a 3.90 ERA and 132/63 K/BB ratio in 140 2/3 innings.
Another strongly built starter at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Ellis works primarily off a lively low-90s fastball. His slider and changeup show flashes of becoming solid offerings but lack consistency. Though Ellis generally throws strikes, he ran into control issues in Double-A.
Parting with such a gifted defender and affordable player as Simmons underscores the faith the Braves have in low Class A shortstop Ozhaino Albies, their best position prospect. It wouldn't be surprising to see them flip Aybar, a former All-Star and Gold Glove winner coming off the second-worst offensive season of his decade-long big league career, for more youngsters.
Briceno changed addresses for the second time in 10 months, having joined the Braves via the Rockies as part of a deal for David Hale in January. The 23-year-old Venezulean is a backup at best. Briceno led the Class A Advanced Carolina League by throwing out 36 percent of basestealers this year, but he also hit just .183/.215/.267 with four homers in 88 games.
The Angels now have baseball's most barren farm system, though they won't worry about that if the Simmons trade sparks a return to the playoffs in 2016. The Braves continue to demonstrate that no one on their team is untouchable if they can add quality arms in return.