Sunday, July 31, 2011

Braves Acquire Lead-Off Hitter Michael Bourn

My Sunday morning sleep-in was interrupted by my girlfriend barging in saying "the Braves got Michael Bourn!" My immediate response was "who did we give up?!" Her: "Schafer, Abreu and two other guys." Me: "Ummm, Delgado or Minor?" Her: "I don't think so?"

So, I get up and see the Braves got Michael Bourn from the Astros for Jordan Schafer, Gwinnett reliever Juan Abreu and two Double A starters in LHP Brett Oberholtzer and RHP Paul Clemens. For what it's worth (and that's probably not a lot), I had Oberholtzer, Clemens and Abreu ranked 8, 9 and 22 in the Atlanta minor league system, respectively. Yes - Atlanta was able to pick-up a Gold Glove/All-Star center fielder without giving up one of their 'Big 4' (or even Hoover or Gilmartin). Now that's not to say Oberholtzer and/or Clemens aren't solid prospects. Both could end up being middle of the rotation type starters and would be one of the top few pitching prospects for any organization outside of Atlanta.

I won't bother going into all the minutia of how great Michael Bourn is for the Braves. You can go here, here and here for that. But I'll leave you with these few nuggets: with Schafer now gone, Bourn has more steals than all Braves combined (39 vs. 27); Bourn's 2011 OBA is nearly 60 points higher than Atlanta lead-off hitters this season (.363 vs. .306); Bourn has 17 more hits than any Brave (130 vs. Freeman's 113); his dWAR is already 1.1, higher than any Brave (Gonzalez 1.0). Be happy Braves fans, be happy.

Welcome to Atlanta, Mr. Bourn!

EDIT: Bourn also comes with a bit of an Upstate, NY connection. He began his professional career in the Philadelphia system, playing Short Season Class A ball with the Batavia Muckdogs in 2003. He hit .280/.404/.296 with 23 steals in 35 games.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Braves Status Report: 106 Games (61-45)

With Thursday's loss to the Pirates, the Braves finished with a losing week, going 3-4 over the seven game span (CIN 1-2, PIT 2-2). The offense went from bad to anemic, managing just 2.86 R/G. Even that number is better than it looks as the team effectively played more than eight games inning-wise, with Tuesday's 19 inning affair. If your home run production is down and you're not hitting with runners in scoring position, it's kind of tough to score. Atlanta has now been treading water since the All-Star break, going 8-9 over their past seventeen games. Fortunately, the Phillies had a rougher than usual week, so the Braves still sit five games back in the NL East. The week did cause the team to lose some ground in the Wild Card race, though. They're three and a half games above the Diamondbacks with about two months to play.

While Tuesday's game was already tough enough, the night also saw All-Star catcher Brian McCann go down with an oblique strain. He was immediately placed on the DL, pushing David Ross into the starting role. Ross is easily the best back-up catcher in baseball, and would be the starter on a number of teams, but the loss of McCann certainly leaves a void in the Atlanta line-up. That leads to our next subject, more trade talk...

This past week saw Carlos Beltran dealt to the Giants, Colby Rasmus dealt to the Blue Jays and Jonny Gomes dealt to the Nationals. Rumors continue to swirl around a possible Hunter Pence deal with the Astros and talk about a move to acquire Carlos Quentin from the White Sox. Those might be better bats, when speaking generically, but don't necessarily fit into the specific situational needs for the Braves. I'd still prefer Wren to make a move for a high-ish OBA/plus defense type center fielder. Michael Bourn, BJ Upton and even Coco Crisp would work for me. Houston will be asking too much for Pence (and he'll cost A LOT over the next year or two) and Quentin leaves Schafer/McLouth in CF. They would help if Chipper's quad injury ends up being more than just day-to-day, but that could be a very expensive assumption to make. It would also be help to add a late-inning right-hander. If something is going to happen, we'll know about it soon. The trade deadline is Sunday at 4pm.

The Marlins visit Turner Field Friday to begin a three game series in Atlanta. From there, the Braves will make the trip up to the nation's capital to face the Nationals for another three game set. Here are this week's 'cheers' and 'jeers'....

Monday, July 25, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 7/26/11

Here are your Empire Staters for this past week (7/19-7/25)...

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
Another week, another couple effective outings for Varvaro. He's part of a solid relief core at Gwinnett, going along with Jairo Asencio, Juan Abreu and Jaye Chapman. All of Varvaro's season stats look great expect for the walk rate (5.3 BB/9) and even that's mitigated a bit by the high strikeout rate. Could he really be any worse than Scott Proctor?

This Week: 2 G (0-0), 2.2 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 1 HR, 2 K, 0 BB
Season: 33 G (2-6), 50.2 IP, 2.66 ERA, 59 K, 30 BB

Cory Brownsten, C (Low A - Rome)
Brownsten remains on the DL with the fractured right thumb he suffered on July 16th. When he returns, he'll be stuck behind the reigning South Atlantic League Player of the Week Evan Gattis at the catcher's spot.

This Week: DL
Season (Rome and Lynchburg): 13 G, .163/.234/.209, 0 HR, 0 RBI

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Braves Status Report: 99 Games (58-41)

With Atlanta's victory over Colorado on Thursday, the team cliched a winning week, going 4-3 over the past seven games. The three losses allowed the Phillies to add to their division lead as the Braves now sit four games back. But the team's still on pace for nearly 95 wins and do own a 5.5 game lead in the Wild Card race.

While the week featured games against the Nationals and Rockies, you just could not escape all the trades rumors swirling around television analysts, bloggers, twitters, etc. First it was that the Braves were moments away from announcing a 3-1 deal for Hunter Pence, then it was likely that Atlanta would be acquiring Jonny Gomes from Cincinnati. Most recently, talk heated up that the Braves were close to bringing Carlos Beltran on board for a package that included Mike Minor. With only a week and a half left before the standard trade deadline on July 31, the 'sellers' are understandably holding out for the best deal. Although Atlanta does have the chips to make a blockbuster change, I still think a move for a 4th OF/bench-type right-handed bat and/or a right-handed late inning reliever is most likely. The team does have the fourth best record in baseball while still battling injuries (Chipper has yet to begin his post-knee surgery rehab assignment).

The Braves continue their twenty games in twenty days stretch as they make a trip to the launching pad that is the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Atlanta will play three games against the Reds before heading back home for a four game tilt with the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates at Turner Field. Here are this past week's 'cheers' and 'jeers' (7 games)....


Freddie Freeman - Boy does Freeman enjoy playing against the Rockies. After lighting up Colorado at Turner Field earlier this month, he again teed off on the team's pitching this past week. That performance helped lead to a 10-30, 3 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI week. It's quite sobering when you remember this guy is a twenty-one year old rookie hitting clean-up for one of the best teams in baseball.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 7/19/11

All four current Empire Staters saw action, while a former Empire Stater made his major league debut this week. Let's see how the current crop performed over the past seven days (7/12-7/18)...

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
Varvaro again saw action in two games over the past week. But instead of throwing just an inning plus per appearance, he stayed in for multiple innings each game. As Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez realize their need for RHP help out of the pen, perhaps Varavro's auditioning his flexibility as a last-resort internal option? If he could someone manage his walks, he might have a slight chance.

This Week: 2 G (0-0), 5 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 1 HR, 5 K, 3 BB
Season: 31 G (2-6), 1 SV, 48 IP, 2.63 ERA, 57 K, 30 BB

Cory Brownsten, C (Low A - Rome)
Brownsten made his obligatory two starts this week, going hitless in four AB. Unfortunately, that wasn't the worst of it. The Lockport, NY native fractured his right thumb during play on Saturday. That injury earned him a trip to the 7-day DL, effective July 18th. This is Brownsten's second DL stint this season, having missed nearly two months with an oblique strain earlier in the year.

This Week: 2 G, 0-4, 2 BB, 1 SB
Season (Rome and Lynchburg): 13 G, .163/.234/.209, 0 HR, 0 RBI

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Braves Status Report - All-Star Edition: 92 Games (54-38)

This week's Status Report post is an abbreviated one with the All-Star break having limited the Braves to just one series. Atlanta dropped that three-game set at Philadelphia one game to two. The good news was Brandon Beachy and Tommy Hanson went toe-to-toe with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, respectively. The bad news was that the Braves wasted a chance to pick up ground on the division-leading Phillies by getting blitzed 14-1 on Sunday. Spirits picked up Tuesday as the National League topped the American League 5-1 in the All-Star game, earning the senior circuit home field advantage in the World Series. Brian McCann started behind the plate and Jair Jurrjens, Craig Kimbrel, and Jonny Venters made back-to-back-to-back appearances for a combined  2.2 scoreless innings.

All in all, the first half was extremely successful. The Braves went 54-38 and own the fourth-best record in baseball. While they're in second place in their division, they do have a relatively comfortable five game lead in the Wild Care race. All that was done with one of the league's worst-performing offenses and varying injures to a number of Atlanta's starters.

Heading into the final two and a half months of the regular season, the question is whether or not Frank Wren will make a move to improve the team. If so, will he make a big splash in the trade market or will he go the more modest route in hopes that a small tweak will make the difference needed to transform the Braves into a serious World Series-caliber team? A number of the 'Braves Reads' on the left side of this post provide details on specific potential trade targets, but it's clear the team has two main needs. One, a right-handed bat. Whether that's a starting CF type or a fourth outfielder to replace Schafer or McLouth will be dictated by the market. Two, a right-handed set-up type reliever. This RHP would ideally relieve some 7th/8th inning appearances from O'Flaherty and Venters. The news of Kris Medlen's set-back likely increases this already pressing need. A secondary concern would be some sort of back-up/utility infielder. Right now the team is shuffling between Julio Lugo, Brandon Hicks and Diory Hernandez. There's definitely room for improvement there.

Atlanta begins the second half with a three-game home series against the Nationals on Friday, then makes the trip out to Colorado on Monday to start a four-game match-up. While the Braves front office makes and fields potential trade calls over the next few weeks, here are the 'cheers' and 'jeers' from the series against the Phillies...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mid-Season Awards

As promised, here are my mid-season picks for the three main awards in each league - Most Valuable Player, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year.  I listed my choice for each award, followed by the 'Next 5.' As you might notice, the Next 5 are conveniently listed in alphabetical order instead of ranked order. Let me know who I left out or who I included that's not deserving....

AL MVP: Jose Bautista (TOR) - There are a lot of players having great seasons in the AL this year, but Bautista has been mind-boggling. The guy's a dangerous power hitter (leads the planet with 31 HR) but is still a near-impossible out with a .468 OBA. His 74 walks (against just 54 K) shows a patience at the plate not often seen with such sluggers. His current 1.170 OPS (217 OPS+) would be a monster month for even All-Star type players. He also provides some defensive versatility, having recently moved from RF to 3B.

Next 5 - Miguel Cabrera (DET), Adrian Gonzalez (BOS), Curtis Granderson (NYY), Paul Konerko (CHW), Kevin Youkilis (BOS)

NL MVP: Matt Kemp (LAD) - Kemp has recovered from a disappointing 2010 campaign to lead the way for the Dodgers in 2011. His .313/.398/.584, 22 HR, 68 RBI first-half has been about as quiet of a performance at that level as possible. Jose Reyes might be the trendy pick here (at least pre-injury), but even Kemp's speed/base running have been impressive. His 27 SB (against 3 CS - 90% success rate) compare favorably to Reyes' 30 SB/6 CS.

Next 5 - Lance Berkman (STL), Ryan Braun (MIL), Prince Fielder (MIL), Andrew McCutchen (PIT), Jose Reyes (NYM)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pre-Season Prediction Review

Less than 24 hours before the 2011 season began, I offered my predictions for how the upcoming year would play out across the major leagues. Since I'm sure everyone reading this readily recalls those offerings (Anyone? Bueller?), I thought it worthwhile to revisit that post to see how I'm doing.

Correct:  Giants leading the NL West, Brewers leading the NL Central (tied with STL), Rangers leading the AL West, Red Sox leading the AL East
Incorrect:  Braves leading the NL East (2nd place, 3.5 G back, WC lead), Phillies leading the Wild Card (leading NL East), Rays leading the Wild Card (5 G back), Tigers leading the AL Central (4th place, 6 G back)

NL East:
Atlanta - Prediction: 94-68 / On Pace: 95-67
Philadelphia - Prediction: 92-70 / On Pace: 101-61
Florida - Prediction: 82-80 / On Pace: 77-85
New York - Prediction: 75-87 / On Pace: 82-80
Washington - Prediction: 72-90 / On Pace: 81-81

AL MVP:  Evan Longoria isn't even on the MVP radar. At .239/.321/.456 with 11 HR and 42 RBI, his numbers are well below what most people (including myself) were expecting. His season has been limited to 61 games to due injury, but even a big second half will leave him well behind a number of players.

NL MVP:  At .268/.337/.488 with 17 HR and 57 RBI, my Troy Tulowitzki pick certainly looks better than my Longoria selection, but Tulo's also behind a stocked NL MVP candidate group. A production-charged second half (as Rockies are known for) could have him picking up some votes come the end of the season, but it's a pretty safe bet he'll be beat out.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 7/12/11

As the parent club heads into its mid-season All-Star break, here's how the Empire Staters performed over the past week (7/5-7/11)....

Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
Two more appearances for Varvaro this past week, which has been about par for the course. He did manage to pick up just his second win of the season, working to balance out a misleading 2-6 record. Varvaro continues to be one of the most called upon arms in the Gwinnett 'pen.

This Week: 2 G (1-0), 3 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 2 K, 2 BB
Season: 29 G (2-6), 1 SV, 43.0 IP, 2.72 ERA, 52 K, 27 BB

Cory Brownsten, C (Low A - Rome)
It looks like Brownsten has been only getting the start every fourth or fifth game since his return from the DL a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, he's not doing much with the infrequent opportunities he's given. This past week was no different.

This Week: 1 G, 0-3
Season (Rome and Lynchburg): 11 G, .179/.220/.231, 0 HR, 0 RBI

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Braves Status Report: 89 Games (53-36)

Well, that was a fun week! The Braves used a four-game sweep of the Rockies to finish off a 6-1 week and were a Scott Proctorization away from a perfect 7-0. The team finally made up some ground on the Phillies, now sitting 2.5 games behind the division leader. They make the trek up to the City of Brotherly Love to begin an exciting three-game series at Citizens Bank Park. If you don't enjoy math, I'll do it for you: an Atlanta sweep would mean the Braves head into the All-Star break with the NL East lead.

The past seven games represent the best of the Braves. The pitching staff excelled, surrendering less than two and a half runs per game. We also began to see glimpses of what this team's offense is capable of. A .281 AVG with 5.3 R/G is what Atlanta fans have been waiting for. While it's unrealistic to expect both the pitching and offense to continue to perform as well as they did over the past seven games, it's nice to see what the team can do when they're firing on all cylinders.

The other big news from the week was this past Sunday's All-Star selections. Brian McCann was indeed selected as the National League's starting catcher. No brainer. Jair Jurrjens was selected and is neck-and-neck with Roy Halladay to be named the NL's starter. Jonny Venters was picked in just his second major league season, defeating the 'set-up man' monicker. Chipper Jones was a bit of a surprise selection, but he's having a solid enough season and probably got some legacy votes from the players. The two clear snubs were/are Tommy Hanson and Craig Kimbrel. Hanson is among league leaders in nearly every major pitching category and is likely a top-five Cy Young candidate. Kimbrel has put up some insanely jaw-dropping numbers and is battling with Venters for the 'best reliever in the NL' title. Either or both may still get in if current All-Stars can't/don't play, but the fact that the best pitching staff in baseball only had two pitchers selected really leaves me dumbfounded.

Ok, on to the 'cheers' and jeers' for the past week (7 games)...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Empire State Braves Prospects: 7/5/11

A lot of playing time for the Empire Staters this past week. Looking at the picture below, you may notice (well, I guess if you read this series often enough) that there are now only four players listed. Brendan Rowland had been listed, but I haven't been able to confirm that he's still with the Atlanta organization. He's not listed on the Gulf Coast League team roster, nor is he listed with the team on his Baseball Reference page. I will add him back if I'm able to find that he is indeed with the team, but for now he's out.

On to the highlights over the past week (6/28-7/4)...


Anthony Varvaro, RHP (Triple A - Gwinnett)
Varvaro's impressive month continued through this past week. In two games, he threw two scoreless innings while surrendering two hits. He struck out four against two walks. Over the past month (10 G, 12.2 IP), the Staten Island native has a 2.13 ERA and 20 K. While he's behind a number of quality bullpen arms in the Atlanta system, he might make a useful add-in when the Braves consider trade options over the next month.

This Week: 2 G (0-0), 2 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 4 K, 2 BB
Season: 27 G (1-6), 1 SV, 40.0 IP, 2.70 ERA, 50 K, 25 BB