Answers On The Fly: A Reader Mailbag
Welcome to Answers On The Fly. Answers On The Fly is our reader mailbag feature in which our writers give insight into questions fans are asking. This week the @Braves Twitter account held another #AskCoppy event, where fans can ask questions directly to Braves GM John “Coppy” Coppolella. This week, the OFR writers will be commenting along with Coppy on many of the questions brought up during the session.
These are the more baseball-centric questions, and as you would expect many of them had to do with the disappointing injury to first baseman Freddie Freeman. But there was the usual smattering of nonsense and fun as fans discovered that Coppolella likes to eat at Fox Bros. and Yard House at the Battery, had a passing thought about getting Chipper Jones to play first base, would rather fight one chopping cow-sized chicken rather than 100 chicken-sized chopping cows, would choose Rise Against’s “Survive” as his walk-up music, doesn’t think he could even beat Two-Bit in the Home Depot Tool Race, and could use a hug (or maybe a Scotch or a Rolling Rock) after the events of the week.
Now onto the questions. I have sorted them into sections and re-arranged some to help narrative flow:
Q: What was going through your mind at this very moment?
A: “This sucks” — our team was playing great and Freddie Freeman is our best player. It sucks for our team, our fans, and Freddie himself.
Q: How will the team overcome Freddie’s absence?
A: We can’t. For me Freddie Freeman is the best player in baseball. We signed James Loney
and we will continue to explore the trade market.
Andy Harris: The trade market came through with Matt Adams the very next day. Sorry James, enjoy Buford.
Chris Jervis: There is just no viable, available option to ‘overcome Freddie’s absence’. The team made a move to sign James Loney, and established if unspectacular MLB option, and then made a (somewhat reactionary, IMO) trade to acquire Matt Adams from the Cardinals. Neither option at their best is close to Freeman. Combine that with the realistic expectations for the team this year, and I’ll admit that I was a little disappointed to see the Braves give up a rising prospect. One benefit of the trade though is that the Braves will have a solid bench bat when Freeman returns, whether that be this year or next.
Q: How did the James Loney deal come together so quickly?
A: Loney’s agent Brian Peters is really good and we talk often so it was an easy phone call on both ends with help from Billy Ryan.
Q: Was signing Loney an insurance move? I think some fans are concerned about another older player blocking guys like Jace Peterson/Rio Ruiz/Johan Camargo.
A: Loney is an option. It doesn’t cost us anything to sign him and take a look. Not sure any of Jace/Rio/Johan are long-term 1B.
Q: Why not keep starting Jace at 1st and bring up Ozzie Albies to fill in when needed (I know he is primarily 2nd) instead of signing Loney?
A: It’s possible. Signing Loney just presents us with an option at no cost. If it doesn’t look like it will work we don’t have to do it.
Andy Harris: I’m not sure if Coppolella got that the questioner was proposing that Ozzie Albies play first base, but that would be hilarious to see. Shortest first baseman ever?
Chris Jervis: I wonder about our fans sometimes. Because it can happen on MLB The Show doesn’t mean it can actually happen in the show.
Q: Is Matt Adams on your radar if Loney doesn’t cut it?
A: We have talked about a number of trade possibilities, but also want to be cognizant it’s 10 weeks. Acquisition cost can’t be prohibitive.
Andy Harris: After the trade was consummated, Coppolella revealed that trade talks with the Cardinals started on Thursday. It took them two days to come up with Rome third baseman Juan Yepez, who was #23 on my Braves prospect list.
Q: After Sean Rodriguez injury, thoughts on not signing first base for depth? Could have gotten lots of reps while Freddie was at WBC.
A: It’s tough to get 1B depth here because Freddie plays so much — the worst case scenario is a freak injury, and that’s just what happened.
Q: Is there a concern that Freddie might be out for more than 10 weeks or is 10 weeks the most he will miss?
A: Sounds like 10 weeks max right now.
Q: Are there any long term concerns with Freddie’s injury? Is there any consideration about shutting him down for the year?
A: None. Just needs time to heal.
Q: Do you think Freddie’s injury hurts his chances for MVP and will he be in the All star game?
A: It does hurt his chances because he will be out so long — that’s why you feel so bad for him because he was my vote as MVP (if I had one).
Q: How well do you think the team can play without Freddie?
A: Not as well. It’s a huge void. That said, we have a team full of fighters who are going to battle.
Andy Harris: Not to be Debbie Downer, but you can’t replace the best hitter in the National League. Matt Adams is certainly a big improvement over Jace Peterson, but whatever slim chances the Atlanta Braves had to be a playoff team in 2017 went to near 0% when that ball connected with Freddie’s hand.
Chris Jervis: Also, the Braves didn’t just lose Freddie’s offensive production. While one can argue abut the accuracy of defensive metrics in some cases, one of the things Freddie was among the best at the league in doing is stretching for a throw. At 6’5″ and fully extended, he made throws from Dansby Swanson and Adonis Garcia shorter by a good foot, or maybe more. That shorter throw resulted in more outs being recorded. Jace Peterson is very athletic, and he’s a capable and versatile defender at several positions. But he’s approximately two feet shorter than Freddie. He can’t extend or stretch as far, meaning Rio Ruiz and Swanson have slightly longer throws, giving the batter a slight advantage. It’s a small thing, and something we don’t often think about, but it matters.
Losing Freeman is a major, major blow.
Q: How is the team responding to Freddie’s injury?
A: Our guys are fighters. Freddie is such a great teammate and leader it’s hard not having him in the lineup even beyond his incredible talent.
Q: Are you optimistic that this team can still make some noise without Freddie Freeman?
A: The chances aren’t as good as with a healthy Freddie, but we will keep fighting. If we can hang in there and he returns, watch out!
Andy Harris: The Adams trade feels more like a PR move than a baseball move. It will play well with most fans, but it probably will play even better in the clubhouse.
Chris Jervis: What that guy above me said. The Adams trade seemed rushed, and unnecessary. We gave up a rising prospect for a guy who will make 3 games difference in the overall scheme. Still, it gives the appearance that the team isn’t just folding and calling it a done season.
Q: Be honest do you think the hit Freddie took was intentional in anyway?
A: No – and neither does Freddie.
Q: Is Freddie out for the season or do you expect him to return?
A: Expect him back in 10 weeks — right around the July 31 trade deadline.
Andy Harris: Hopefully before. Assuming the team is out of contention, hopefully we can flip Adams for at least a Yepez-level prospect.
Roster Moves To Come
Dan Horton (@DatBravesDH): What areas do you look to upgrade, if any, by the deadline this year?
A: Better starting pitching and bullpen, third base, and bench.
Andy Harris: The “better starting pitching” comment is interesting, as it seems Coppolella may still be opportunistic about adding the established, team controlled front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher that he wasn’t able to land in the off-season. The third base remark seems to indicate that he doesn’t think Rio Ruiz is a viable option.
Q: Any plans to look into improving bullpen soon? Seems we could be over .500 without some wins that were given away late.
A: You’re right. We have had a lot of close losses. We are looking to improve the bullpen. Ideally those answers come from our farm system.
Q: Are we looking to add more vets in the bullpen or hoping the young guys take over this year and next?
A: Probably more hoping for the young guys. We have a lot of talent on the way, just need them to get healthy and get up here.
Q: It’s no secret that the bullpen has cost wins this year, but what are some of the options to improve in 2017 and beyond?
A: Need to get Mauricio Cabrera back on track and A.J. Minter healthy. Others who are close with upside include Luke Jackson and Akeel Morris
Chris Jervis: Caleb Dirks was my pick as an under-the-radar option to contribute this year. I expect he could see some time in the second half, and possibly before.
Q: Do you have any plans to improve the bullpen? Andrew Miller is a free agent in two years.
A: There’s another free agent reliever I like in that same class — but obviously can’t comment on who for tampering reasons, etc.
Andy Harris: Zach Britton maybe? If the Braves are spending significant money for a relief pitcher in two years, that means things are going very well.
Q: Could be expecting any more roster moves or trades?
A: Always. Made a half-dozen calls this morning. We are always proactive, but this time of the year it’s difficult to make deals.
Q: Do you see yourself as a buyer or seller this trade deadline?
A: Both. If we see a player who fills a long-term need we will make the trade as we did last summer with Matt Kemp.
Q: Is there any chance you pursue trades for any 3B or SP using some younger guys as currency?
A: Yes absolutely. Some of these young prospects will help the Braves at the ML level and some will get traded for help at the ML level.
Q: With Albies taking over 2B in 2018 our only big hole will be at 3B… Do you plan on trying to make a big splash at 3rd?
A: We will consider it and we have the prospects now to make that type of trade.
Andy Harris: I’ll throw out a possibility: Seattle’s Kyle Seager. They were anticipating contending this season, but it’s not gone well. If they decide to sell off, the Braves could be in a good position to benefit.
Chris Jervis: Also, a side note, based on fan comments seen on Twitter, Facebook, and team pages. Brandon Phillips will almost certainly not play 3B. Dansby Swanson will not play 3B. Ozzie Albies will not play 3B.
Q: I feel if you started to sell, some fans would become irate. Whats your take on that?
A: I love our fans and the passion they have for the Braves. Some would be upset if I didn’t sell. Always just do what’s best for the org.
Q: Thoughts on Chase d’Arnaud being DFA’d? Any room for him in the roster?
A: Not going to claim him, but he has a prior outright so maybe he will want to sign a minor league deal if he clears. We all like Chase a lot.
Andy Harris: Let’s move on, please.
Chris Jervis: A minor league deal for a minor league player seems appropriate.
Q: Any chance of making some moves for pitching at the deadline?
A: Good chance. We tried to get Chris Sale before he was traded to Boston and have tried to get other starters. Can’t do it with all kids.
Q: Chances Braves swing for the fence and sign Machado in 2018? He would essentially complete the infield for sure.
A: Can’t comment because tampering, but big moves for impact players are easier to do when you have young players and payroll flexibility.
Andy Harris: Manny Machado will be 26 when hits free agency after the 2018 season. He’ll likely get a contract that will exceed $500 million in total value. Even if the roster were Freeman and a bunch of guys getting the minimum, I don’t know if the Braves can play in that neighborhood.
Chris Jervis: Stop killing my dreams, Andy.
Q: Generally speaking, are you more inclined to spend big via FA for pitching or hitting?
A: Hitting. Pitching is so risky that’s why you have to have so much of it and develop it through your farm system.
Chris Jervis: Once again, Coppy explains why the Braves have targeted so many pitchers, often to the chagrin of fans. Pitchers are extremely risky, both in terms of health and effectiveness. And, pitching is expensive, once they have shown to be MLB ready. A 5-man rotation is going to take about 10 SP to work. I get that fans get tired of seeing the team take pitcher after pitcher, but there is a reason for it.
Performance on the Field
Q: What year do you see us actually competing? Please don’t say every year, because with this bench and pitching staff we are not competing!
A: Feel like we could have won a half-dozen games more this year. Before Freddie injury we were 16-21 — we get those six back we are 22-15.
Andy Harris: Coppollela is unhappy with someone, and I expect it’s the bullpen.
Q: Are you disappointed with the veterans brought in? Any of them receiving interest for one last prospect haul?
A: Yes. And I’m sure they are disappointed too. That said, it’s early and plenty of time to turn it around. They will be fine.
Chris Jervis: I always thought Garcia and Phillips were laying over in Atlanta on their way to their final destination. Colon? I think he will generate some calls if he puts together a few good starts to show he still has the ability to go out there and give some innings.
Andy Harris (@k26dp): How much are you folding in Statcast-type data in your personnel evaluations?
A: We definitely use it, but like everything it is just one piece of the puzzle. Lots of factors go into each decision, but it’s cool stuff.
Andy Harris: Fantastic question! And a good answer too. Statcast data helps bridge the gap between scouting and analytics, and I don’t doubt the Braves utilize it quite a bit. That said, Coppolella is right, it’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Q: Did we expect SunTrust to be this hitter-friendly?
A: No. I love the park, it’s beautiful. Very similar dimensions to Turner Field, but wow does the ball fly here. Scary!!
Andy Harris: Kind of alarmed at this answer. The Braves should have been fully aware of the potential for balls to carry out of a place on the aptly named Windy Ridge Parkway.
Q: What do you make of Julio Teheran’s struggles at SunTrust Park?
A: Julio is extremely talented, hard-working, and dedicated to his craft. He is going to figure it out.
Andy Harris: Teheran has pitched all of five games at SunTrust Park, so it’s too early to get that worked up about him home/away splits. That said, his walk rate has spiked this season, which has created more opportunities for big-damage innings, both home and away. It’s just been at home that he’s gotten punished for it so far.
Chris Jervis: As Andy said, it is very early to read anything into home/away splits. that said, Teheran is a high fly ball pitcher. This park, at least thus far in a small sample size (TWSS), seems to have some air currents and patters that let the ball carry more. That could be a very bad mix for a high fly ball pitcher….IF that’s the true nature of the park. Still way early to tell, but it is worth monitoring, IMO.
Q: It’s no secret Dansby Swanson is slumping. Is he staying positive in his approach and getting the support he needs to bounce back?
A: Dansby has been very positive in his approach. He’s had some bad luck, but he’s fighting his way out. Admire his makeup and character.
Andy Harris: Swanson has hit .288/.405/.475 with 3 home runs and a 128 wRC+ his last three weeks. He’s not slumping.
Q: Any concerns about Dansby’s slow start? Were there any thoughts of sending him to AAA to work on things?
A: Not right now. Learning to overcome adversity is part of adjustment to the major leagues and Dansby can do it. He will be better off for this adversity.
Andy Harris: Being better off for the adversity is likely the guiding principle for the Braves aggressiveness in their promotions of their young prospects. I agree with this principle. However, I think we’re starting to see a disconnect between this and wanting to keep enough of a competitive product on the field to keep fans coming out to SunTrust Park. The next 10 weeks will determine what wins out, because there shouldn’t be any reason why Ozzie Albies, Rio Ruiz, Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims, Johan Camargo, and Dustin Peterson shouldn’t be facing the highest level of adversity by the trade deadline.
Q: What was the rationale for bringing up Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair briefly rather than let them build on success at AAA?
A: Blair was need for a couple of days. Wisler the hope was he would take to a bullpen role, but it didn’t happen this time.
Andy Harris: I still like Wisler out of the bullpen and think he could be effective there. I am confused as to why he’s still starting at Gwinnett.
Andy Harris: Blair’s stuff didn’t translate well, and he’s learning to harness new pitches and mechanics; the jury is still out on him. Wisler only really has two good pitches. Banuelos got hurt and couldn’t recover. Jenkins simply can’t miss enough bats to stay viable in the majors. All except Wisler however weren’t the centerpieces of their respective deals. Blair was decidedly the third piece of the Shelby Miller trade. Banuelos was a lottery ticket that we got for a spare part. Jenkins was traded essentially for Jordan Walden.
Chris Jervis: Also, that first wave of pitching prospects, while being closer to MLB ready, were all much less heralded than those behind them. Blair et al were closer to MLB ready by virtue of age and experience, not necessarily by virtue of talent.
Q: How do you evaluate Mike Foltynewicz so far this season?
A: Love what Folty has done. He had one tough start against St. Louis, but other than that has been really good and growing every outing.
Andy Harris: If Foltynewicz continues to establish value, I could see him being a centerpiece in a trade for a starting rotation upgrade. He still has upside, but we have equivalent or better upside percolating at the AAA, AA, and A+ levels.
Q: How is Sean Rodriguez doing? Wife and kids okay, I trust?
A: Sean is rehabbing. The most important thing is he and his family were okay. Sean and his family are amazing people, very close and strong faith.
Q: Any chance we see Sean Rodriguez before the end of the year?
A: There’s a chance. Sean is working really hard and going to try. It’s a long shot, but won’t be for lack of effort.
Andy Harris: This is more pessimistic sounding than what was being said in Spring Training, where a late July return was being discussed. Rodriguez’s car accident changed the trajectory of the Braves season probably more than will ever be appreciated. Of course, that’s small potatoes compared to the possibility of real tragedy.
Q: How’s Dan Winkler?
A: Making progress and throwing bullpens. Probably a few weeks away from potentially going to minor league affiliate.
Andy Harris: Amazingly, Winkler is still under Rule V stipulations. I think the Braves will option Winkler and let Colorado have their shot at taking him back.
Q: Since we lost a fan favorite in Freeman any update on another fan favorite Kris Medlen?
A: Kris is doing great — he threw six shutout innings in his last start in Extended Spring Training. Look for him to join an affiliate in short order.
Andy Harris: In fact, he started Saturday for the Florida Fire Frogs and was terrific: 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 3 Ks.
Q: With Freeman out, has the thought crossed your mind to tear it down this year and, get a higher draft pick and start over for 2018?
A: No. Thought is hang in there until he gets back and try to shock the world. We never tank or try to intentionally lose games.
Q: This is not a question, but please give hope to this tired Braves fan who deeply misses the winning Braves tradition.
A: Thanks for your loyalty. Nothing comes easy, but we are on the right track and so many good things happening. It’s coming.
Andy Harris: The Braves are very PR focused, and I think they are keenly aware of the amount of good will the rebuild has cost them from casual fans. This Matt Adams trade was for those fans.
The Draft and International Free Agency
Q: Primary focus with your first pick in the upcoming draft?
A: Best player on the board. When you pick in the top-five you want to get as much impact and talent as possible.
Q: What is the focus of next month’s Draft? High ceiling prospects at any position like it has been the past 2 seasons?
A: All things being equal, yes — but if there is an impact college pitcher or player we will go that way. Upside is what we seek.
Andy Harris: Baseball America reports that the Braves are interested in Vanderbilt RHP Kyle Wright. I would be stunned if Wright fell to Atlanta at the number 5 pick, but if he did and the Braves took him, it would be the highest pick the Braves had ever taken a college pitcher, beating out LHP Derek Lilliquist of the University of Georgia, taken with the 6th pick of the 1987 draft.
If I were putting money on it though, I think they go with a prep pitcher.
Q: Do you have a favorite for this draft?
A: Not for sure — want to hear what our scouts say first and the discussion in the room. Draft prep is my favorite 2 weeks of the year.
Q: Going into the draft, is there anything different you look for when evaluating HS players vs. college players?
A: Statistics come into play a lot more with college. High school it’s more about tools. In the end it comes down to our scouts.
Q: I know you can’t mention specific players, but how many guys are you seriously considering for the 5th pick?
A: 7-8 guys that are legit discussion guys for us. Brian Bridges and Roy Clark and our group do a fantastic job in the draft.
Andy Harris: They really do. The 2015 and 2016 draft have been mother-lodes of talent.
Q: Are there a college players in your top 7-8 that you are considering for the draft or is the focus on prep talent?
A: Multiple college guys. Not just high school.
Q: Do you think you may be able to add another draft pick before the draft?
A: Making calls to that effect multiple times each day. Teams are guarding these picks much closer this year, but we will keep trying.
Q: Last draft you were able to trade for some comp picks. Are you finding it difficult to use that strategy again this year?
A: Yes — but that doesn’t mean we aren’t trying.
Andy Harris: Coppollela’s ability to add compensation picks in trades the last few seasons has been entertaining and profitable. 3B Austin Riley, LHP Joey Wentz, and C Brett Cumberland are Top 30 prospects that were taken with other teams’ comp picks.
Q: When drafting how much value do you place on multi-sport athletes and why?
A: We love multi-sport athletes. Athletes are able to make quicker adjustments than non-athletes and can do more things, flexibility, etc.
Q: You should take a look at Pavin Smith and Adam Hasley out of UVA, both can really swing the bat and Adam is a two-way player.
A: Might go watch them after this chat. BP is at 4:20 at GA Tech.
Andy Harris: He missed it. #AskCoppy didn’t end until around 5:30.
Q: What do you think of Mississippi State’s Brent Rooker? Leading the SEC in almost every statistical offensive category.
A: Impact bat — and he’s from Marietta too. Somebody we like a lot.
Q: Any reason you didn’t get too involved with Luis Robert?
A: Cost-benefit analysis. Really good player, but you can’t sign everybody and would rather allocate resources in other ways.
Andy Harris: Recent Cuban defector Luis Robert signed with the White Sox on Saturday for a reported signing bonus north of $25 million. Because the Braves were already over their 2016-17 period bonus pool, every dollar spent over their pool amount would be subject to a 100% surtax. That means the actual cost of the Braves signing Robert would have been over $50 million.
As good as Robert may be, I’d have to agree with Coppolella here. Spending that much on a 19 year old player just doesn’t compute for the Braves.
Q: Are the Braves going to be interested in stars players posted by the Asian market in the next couple of years?
A: Yes we are very active in Asia so that’s a definite possibility.
Andy Harris: They may be active, but so far that activity hasn’t produced any talent. With the Braves limited in who they’ll be able to sign due to exceeding their bonus pool, I expect this to change as they will have to look harder for talent that will sign for the maximum $300,000 bonus cap that the Braves will have to work with.
Chris Jervis: We could see more activity from the Braves in Asia in coming years. Former Yankee scout and current Braves adviser Gordon Blakely has a very wide network and influence in Asia, and was the force behind many of the Yankees’ Asian signings.
Q: Silver lining to Freeman’s injury. One more high draft pick won’t hurt-Don’t give in to pressure to accelerate the rebuild
A: Thanks Daniel. We won’t give into the pressure. No silver lining to Freddie hurt. Our goal is to pick last — not first.
Minor Leagues and Prospects
Q: What was the very first thing you started on when you got the GM position?
A: Get the farm system better and add young talent to the organization.
Q: What prospect are you most excited about that has gotten off to a great start? Which seems like all of them.
A: All of them — it’s been a great year on the farm with our young prospects. The future is really bright, Braves Country, stay patient.
Andy Harris: With a few exceptions this is true, the Braves top prospects have so far performed amazingly well, many of them despite being pushed to levels high for their age, or different positions or rolls. This week marks the 1/3rd mark of the minor league season and I will be reviewing minor league teams and the top prospects. Come back and check it out!
Q: Why can’t we give Carlos Franco a shot at first base? His stats are great at AA and he is 25.
A: He’s actually headed up to Triple-A today. We are going to look at both Carlos and Loney.
Q: How much does Freeman’s injury affect the movement of guys in the farm system and strategy of calling them up?
A: Limited. I’d be lying if I said promotion of Carlos Franco wasn’t related to the injury, but he earned the opportunity w/ how he’s played.
Q: Possible that Carlos Franco could get a chance with Freeman out?
A: It’s possible — let’s see how he does in Gwinnett.
Andy Harris: Franco has been a solid but unspectacular performer since signing with the Braves as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2008. He started the season repeating at AA Mississippi. He’s been fantastic this season and has already tied his career high in home runs with 11. He plays a below-average third base and an average first base. A left-handed hitter, I think Franco’s window of opportunity to make it up to Atlanta in the near-term slammed closed with the Braves acquisition of Matt Adams, but at least he got a well-deserved promotion to AAA Gwinnett.
Q: Any thought to giving Brandon Phillips a look at 1st and calling up Ozzie Albies to play up the middle with Dansby?
A: Ozzie still needs to work on some things before he’s ready to come up and he’s aware of what needs to happen. Great kid with a bright future.
Andy Harris: I would love to know what those things are.
Q: Is there a timetable with some of these successful young pitchers in AAA? Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims are on fire.
A: They are doing great and it’s exciting to see. I think they are an injury or a trade away and that’s exciting for us.
Q: How excited are you by Lucas Sims re-emergence at AAA this year?
A: Love it — Lucas has been tremendous and put himself into the discussion if we have a need for a starting pitcher in the majors.
Q: Lucas Sims has been great in his second run at Gwinnett. How has he improved?
A: Throwing more strikes, changeup has really improved, better fastball command. Still young with big upside.
Andy Harris: I will corroborate Coppolella’s scouting here and add that his already good curveball has been even better.
Chris Jervis: I’ve never been a huge supporter of Sims. Clearly, I want him to do well. But I think his prospect rankings were more of an ‘only fish in a depleted pond’ scenario, and recent acquisitions over the last 2 years sort of show that.
Still, Sims is pitching well this year, and seems on the verge of making his debut. do question whether a career 5+ BB/9 pitcher can maintain a BB/9 of less than 2…but he seems to be doing it. If he can, that’s a potential SP or RP the Braves can add at no acquisition cost.
Q: Any update on Dustin Peterson? Can he play 1st at all?
A: Dustin will be back within a week. Going to play LF for now — he has really come on for us.
Andy Harris: Peterson made his AAA and season debut for Gwinnett that very night, going 1-for-2 with a double and 2 walks.
Q: Not trying to sound rude but can we not do better on bench than Emilio Bonifacio and Danny Santana? Seems we have better options in minors.
A: Tough to ask young players to be on the bench if they don’t play much. Lots of questions about same subject and we are trying to improve.
Andy Harris: To pull a major league paycheck, I don’t think the likes of Lane Adams, Xavier Avery, or Mel Rojas Jr. would mind being on the bench. All of those guys are better hitters than Bonifacio, all are better defensively, and all can hold their own as baserunners.
Q: Could Ronald Acuna see time in Gwinnett later this year?
A: Yes he could — we don’t put limits on our prospects — if he continues to rake he will force our hand, and that would be a good thing.
Q: Mr. Best GM in the world, I’m sure everyone already asked today: Ronald Acuna, is he really pushing you guys to call him up?
A: He’s pushing and we love it.
Andy Harris: I’d give Acuna a 10% chance of getting to Atlanta before the end of this season. It would depend on his performance of course, but also injuries or trades. But if he continues to hit out of his mind, I think the Braves give him the Dansby Swanson treatment and just keep advancing him.
Q: Do you view Acuna’s rise up the ladder similar to that of Andruw Jones? Could he be a September call up this season?
A: Andruw is a HOF in my opinion. Hard to compare anybody to an HOF, but Acuna is really talented and will get opportunities.
Andy Harris: Hey Braves, you know what would help Andruw’s Hall of Fame case? Retire his number.
Q: What are your thoughts on Kolby Allard?
A: Kolby was the first pick from our first draft. Love the talent, but love the person even more and such a great family. Special stuff.
Q: Acuna and Allard look like the 2 top prospects, what’s a realistic ETA if they both keep playing great?
A: Can’t rule out later this year — let’s let them continue dominating and will be fun to see what happens.
Q: How much longer do I have to wait to see Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka and company in the majors? They’re studs.
A: They are studs — and they are also 19. We have pushed them aggressively and they have responded. Wouldn’t rule anything out.
Andy Harris: I’d give Allard a 5% chance of getting to Atlanta this season, less than that for Soroka. I just think the Braves are more likely to protect the heavier investments they’ve made in those guys. That said, they’ve already given themselves a chance to really push things in 2018.
Q: What are your expectations with Michael Mader given his move to the bullpen? Thank you.
A: Mader has been really good in the bullpen and we expect him to continue to progress. Stuff has played up and he is improving.
Q: How do you feel about Wes Parsons on the Mississippi Braves? I’m going to their Away game against JAX tomorrow. What should I look for?
A: Wes has really had a nice year. He was hurt the past couple of years, but to his credit he has battled back and pitched very well.
Q: What are your thoughts on Chad Sobotka in AA? Any chance of a promotion to Gwinnett soon?
A: Chad has had a really nice year. Big arm, big upside, continuing to improve. We are happy to have him as part of organization.
Q: Assessment of Mississippi pitching so far in 2017?
A: Thumbs up!!
Q: How about this Travis Demeritte guy in Mississippi?
A: Travis playing very well — lots of power and speed — happy we were able to add him to the organization.
Andy Harris: Strikeout rate was the biggest negative mark on Demeritte after last season. So far he has lowered it from 33% to a still high but much more reasonable 25.1% so far this season. I think he’s also benefiting now from having Acuna hit in front of him; since Acuna’s promotion, Demeritte is hitting .267/.361/.567 with 3 home runs, good for a 165 wRC+.
Chris Jervis: Protection from a guy hitting IN FRONT? Seems like I’ve heard some loudmouth suggesting that for about a year…
I like the increased plate discipline from Demeritte. A K rate of 30+% would not play in MLB with his power. But getting it down to 22%-25%? That might work, if he maintains his BB rate and power.
Q: How is Cristian Pache doing?
A: Pache doing very well. One of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League and hitting close to .300 with tremendous defense. Exciting young talent.
Q: Thoughts on Randy Ventura in Rome?
A: Randy has been tremendous this year, great speed and terrific leadoff type. Great signing by our international staff.
Andy Harris: Along with the just-traded Juan Yepez, Pache and Ventura have been the stars of Rome so far this season and worth the price of admission. Ventura turns out to be more than just a speed guy, he’s got a very good hit tool, and a surprisingly strong arm. Look for him on more top 30 prospect lists soon.
Q: Of Lucas Herbert, Kade Scivicque, Brett Cumberland, Alex Jackson, and the rest, who do you see appearing at catcher in a Braves uniform soonest?
A: Scivicque is the closest at Double-A (all others in A-ball) so would go with him. He’s done a nice job for us in Mississippi.
Andy Harris: I’d go with that. Not mentioned is Fire Frog catcher Jonathan Morales, who I think will climb faster than Jackson, Herbert, or Cumberland.
Q: I’m really excited about what Alex Jackson has done so far this year. Is he close to going up to AA? Is he a catcher long term?
A: We think he can do it as a catcher. He’s been really impressive this year and we are thrilled to have him in our system.
Q: Alex Jackson has been one of the biggest breakout performers on the farm. Anything in particular you’d point to for that?
A: All the credit should go to Alex and our coaches. Sometimes a change of scenery combined with hard work and good makeup lead to breakouts.
Andy Harris: I’d add that apparently the Mariners have trash player development. Jackson was acquired along with fellow early season strong performer Tyler Pike from Seattle for middlin’ prospects Robert Whalen and Max Povse this offseason. The Braves also acquired former Mariner prospects Luiz Gohara and Thomas Burrows in a separate trade.
Q: With the Alex Jackson DL news today, are you thinking about adding bubblewrap to the equipment list?
A: Lots of bad luck with injuries. We don’t know severity of Jackson injury, but not a fracture — just soreness.
Q: Why is there so much secrecy with minor league injuries?
A: Part of it are HIPAA laws where you can’t divulge information about the health of others without consent, etc.
Q: What is the status on Rex Brothers? Any chance he gets some innings at Gwinnett?
A: Like Medlen, we have seen a lot of progress with Rex. He, too, is expected to join an affiliate very soon.
Andy Harris: Brothers made his season debut Saturday night for Mississippi, pitching a clean inning and striking out two.
Q: Do you think we’ll see Kyle Kinman pitching anytime soon/at all this year? Not sure what even happened to him.
A: Kyle had TJS. He will be out for this year, but we hope he will be back in 2018.
Andy Harris: As far as I know, this was breaking news, because I hadn’t seen anywhere that he’d had Tommy John surgery. And I was looking hard for the Braves System Depth series. Hopefully Kinman will make a full recovery, he’s an intriguing left-handed reliever.
Q: How is AJ Minter coming along with his injury? Starting pitching activities yet?
A: He’s been throwing and hopefully we can get him back in the minors in a few weeks. Making progress.
Q: Are there any updates on Luiz Gohara’s injury?
A: He was placed on 7-day DL. Going to miss one start, but we expect to him to make the next start. Precautionary with a special arm and person.
Andy Harris: This was perhaps the best news of the entire Q&A. Gohara has been outstanding so far this season.
Q: Can we get an update on Kevin Maitan? Is there a minimum age before he joins an affiliate?
A: We expect him to join an affiliate this summer, either Danville or Gulf Coast League.
Andy Harris: Rome needs a third baseman…
Q: Where’s Kyle Muller at?
A: Extended spring training. Likely to head to Danville.
Andy Harris: Muller spent his first full pro season with the Gulf Coast Braves, so an assignment to Danville this season is a normal progression. It really only seems slow because everyone else seems to be advancing so quickly.
Q: Do you think William Contreras has the potential to be as good as his brother Wilson Contreras [of the Chicago Cubs]?
A: He’s a really under-the-radar prospect that we like a lot.
Andy Harris: I don’t think I was aware they were related.
Q: Is there a prospect whose performance has been below your expectations thus far?
A: Yes, but it’s not fair for me to single out any of our young players. They are all trying their best. It’s a hard game.
Andy Harris: I don’t know what Coppy’s expectations were, but I’ll name my biggest disappointments so far: Braxton Davidson, Derian Cruz, Ray-Patrick Didder, Connor Lien, Dylan Moore; Max Fried, Evan Phillips, Carlos Salazar (since released), Corbin Clouse, Josh Graham, and Jeremy Walker.
Q: With most of our big time prospects being a year or two out, why should fans expect to compete in ’18?
A: We may see a lot of these prospects later this year and they could be on our team in 2018. We will improve every year.
Chris Jervis: There are ways to add talent outside of prospect progression. Teams may want our prospects who are 2 years out in order to rebuild themselves, giving us current MLB talent in exchange. Also, there is the FA market. Just because our big-time prospects may be 2 years away doesn’t mean we are 2 years away from competing.
Questions From the Dark Side
Q: Where all this supposed talent we traded for is? Minor leagues does not count.
A: Most of the talent is in the minors. That said, we have traded for Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, Matt Kemp, and Brandon Phillips.
Andy Harris: Also Mike Foltynewicz, Jaime Garcia, Jace Peterson, Rio Ruiz, and now Matt Adams. “Minor leagues don’t count” is a weird thing to say. Don’t count for what?
Chris Jervis: Coppy has more restraint than I do.
Q: At what point is the front office to blame for the product on the field?
A: At every point. We put this team together. Our plan from the start has been to build with young players and we haven’t deviated from it.
Q: How many years away do you feel the organization is from seriously contending for a World Series?
A: There’s no right answer here. If I say 10 years, the sky is falling. If I say one year and it doesn’t happen, the sky is falling.
Andy Harris: 2019 looks realistic to me if we have average luck on prospects and payroll stays constant. That would make for a four year rebuild, ahead of the pace set by the Cubs.
Q: Why is the turnaround taking so long?
A: It’s been two years. It takes time to rebuild an organization. Ask the Cubs, Royals, Pirates, Astros, Rangers, Indians, etc.
Q: Can the Orioles have Nick Markakis back please?
A: Nick has been really good for us. Professional hitter with tremendous makeup. We are all glad we have him.
Andy Harris: What a strange comment about a guy who is hitting .311/.386/.397 right now and has been pretty much all the Braves realistically could have hoped for when they signed him. I admittedly wasn’t thrilled when the Braves signed him, but Markakis has held up his end of the bargain.
Q: Do you not have any money to spend or prefer not being good?
A: We have money to spend. Need to be smart about how we spend it, for both short- and long-term ramifications.
Andy Harris: The Braves will never be a top 10 payroll as long as they still have to work within their current TV contract.
Q: Do you feel stupid yet for giving R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon all of that money?
A: No. Long season. RA has pitched very well. One pitch away from a shutout on Sunday. Bartolo has struggled, but he always battles back.
Andy Harris: They’re pitching so Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler won’t have to. This is OK.
Q: Do you regret dealing Alex Wood?
A: Yes. The Hector Olivera trade was terrible and that’s on me. Alex is a tremendous pitcher and even better person. Rooting for him.
Andy Harris: I wonder how many more years Coppy will have to answer some form of question about the Hector Olivera trade. By the way, I’m delighted that Alex Wood has been so good this season.
Q: Why did you get rid of every prospect developed under Wren? Except Freeman and Sims. But you block Sims with two old wash ups.
A: It’s about getting better. Our farm system was ranked last and now it’s ranked first. Do the math.
A: Signing veteran pitchers allows young pitching prospects like Sims to concentrate on what they are doing in the minors and not worry about the major leagues.
Andy Harris: Top prospects still in the system that were acquired under Frank Wren include: Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, Lucas Sims, Braxton Davidson, Juan Yepez, and Ray-Patrick Didder. Also, John Coppolella worked under Frank Wren, so those prospects are also just as much “his”. This question was the only one of the entire Q&A that rated a two-tweet response, and that “do the math” comment was the one time that felt like Coppy lost his cool a bit. He did much better that I ever would have done.
Chris Jervis: The sense of entitlement from fans in this last series of questions just makes me wish we could rebuild the fan base alongside the team.