Rockies net 2 RHP prospects from Braves for Johnson

July 24th, 2023

WASHINGTON -- The Rockies continued their plan to collect pitching depth when they traded veteran righty reliever Pierce Johnson to the Braves on Monday for right-handed pitching prospects and .

Vodnik, a reliever, was ranked 10th on the Braves’ Top 30 prospects list, per MLB Pipeline, and is now No. 20 in the Rockies’ system. Gordon, a starter, was ranked 26th for Atlanta and is not in Colorado’s Top 30. It is the club’s second trade this season of a veteran for a pitcher who can be developed. On June 25, the Rockies sent corner infielder Mike Moustakas to the Angels for righty Connor Van Scoyoc, who was strong in High-A (combined 5-5, 2.92 ERA with 78 strikeouts to 30 walks in 86 1/3 innings) and has been promoted to Double-A Hartford.

The 32-year-old Johnson, a Denver native and Arvada (Colo.) Faith Christian Academy star before pitching at Missouri State, spent the early part of the season as the Rockies’ closer and went 1-5 with a 6.00 ERA with 13 saves (tied for 10th in the National League) in 43 appearances. Johnson, who signed a one-year, $5 million contract with his hometown team in December, anchored the bullpen during the first month-plus before Daniel Bard came off the injured list.

“First and foremost, Pierce as a person is a good teammate who helped everybody in the bullpen and showed up with a smile on his face no matter how he performed,” Rockies general manager Bill Schmidt said. “He did a good job for us, and the bullpen was the strongest. He has a chance with a team that believes it is putting together a championship team.”

Both acquisitions were playing at Double-A Mississippi in the Braves’ system and will be assigned to the Rockies’ Double-A Hartford affiliate.

Vodnik, 23, a 14th-round MLB Draft pick in 2018 out of Rialto (Calif.) High School, is 3-1 with a 3.10 ERA, four saves and 56 strikeouts against 25 walks in 40 2/3 innings. Gordon, 25, a sixth-rounder out of Indiana University in 2019, struggled at Triple-A (1-4 record, 8.28 ERA in six games, including five starts). At Double-A, he is 4-5 with a 4.61 ERA and 55 strikeouts to 15 walks in 56 2/3 innings.

“We got two of their Top 30 prospects,” Schmidt said. “It’s similar to when we traded Moustakas. We’ve added three in those two deals, and with what we did in the Draft, we just keep adding depth with the goal of getting quality.

“Vodnik has a good arm, and we’ve seen him up to 99 and 100 mph, with a good changeup. We scouted him out of high school. Gordon has been pitching better in Double-A, and we see potential there.”

Rockies manager Bud Black indicated that Johnson may not be gone from “his favorite team” forever.

“He got some saves for us, helped a lot of younger pitchers and helped us win games in his short time here,” Black said. “My hope is that when November rolls around, there's a conversation between the Rockies and Pierce -- which he mentioned today as we spoke. It looks to me like a trade that will help the Braves and help our future.”

Right-hander Karl Kauffmann will be added to the Rockies' 26-man roster to replace Johnson, and he could be a factor Monday night against the Nationals, when long reliever Jake Bird will start a bullpen game.

The Rockies have the possibility of building their system out more by dealing any of several veterans in the last year of their contracts: relievers Brad Hand and Brent Suter, outfielders Randal Grichuk and Jurickson Profar and first baseman C.J. Cron. There may be interest in All-Star catcher Elias Díaz, but he is in the middle year of a payroll-friendly three-year, $14.5 million contract, so Colorado would need a sweet deal to part with him.

The Rockies began adding to their pitching ranks through trades last offseason, when they acquired Triple-A righty Jeff Criswell from the Athletics for righty reliever Chad Smith, Double-A righty Nick Garcia from the Pirates for utility man Connor Joe and righty Connor Seabold from the Red Sox for a player to be named or cash considerations.