Going into the trade deadline, it’s probably fair to venture that most of us were bracing ourselves for a devastating prospect trade. Ever since the Braves’ teardown that began after the 2014 season, the prospects acquired through savvy trades and high draft picks have become more than just players. Coming into 2018, watching them and projecting them as the organization’s future was often more fun than watching the big league product. Many of us have grown attached to certain players for a multitude of reasons.
When news of the Kevin Gausman trade leaked out just before the 4pm ET deadline on 7/31, we collectively held our breath and awaited the news of the return. Did the Braves have to give up Luiz Gohara? Did Baltimore manage to pry Ian Anderson away? What will become of Lucas Herbert?
Instead, Anthopoulos was able to upgrade without sacrificing any top-flight prospects. For this, he has been widely lauded.
The flip side of this coin is that rather than sacrificing small amounts of high quality to upgrade the team, he sacrificed a wide amount of medium quality. To acquire Kevin Gausman, it took four prospects - two in the back half of MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 - and international slot money. For bench upgrade and occasional platoon partner Adam Duvall, it took three AAAA players who could serve as starters on a rebuilding team, but had no place on Atlanta’s roster during the playoff push.
For massive bullpen upgrades Brad Brach and Jonny Venters, it didn’t take prospects at all - it took the right to spend $500,000. Not even the money itself, just the right to spend it. Savvy.
The resulting impact on the big league club has so far been worth every prospect sacrificed. But, for those of us who grow somewhat attached to any player who ever wears the tomahawk, there is still some lingering curiosity about how these guys are doing with their new teams.
We won’t know who “won” these trades for several years, but until then, let’s have some fun with small sample sizes.
Phillips was the lone Major League piece that went to Baltimore in the Gausman trade. Despite a fantastic season with Gwinnett (1.99 ERA / 2.08 FIP over 40 ⅔ innings), his time in the majors was uneven in both performance and tenure. He struggled with his control in Atlanta - 4 walks over 6 ⅓ innings - and this trend has worsened in his time with Baltimore. Over 4 appearances with the O’s, Phillips has walked 6 in 3 ⅓ innings, resulting in a gross 16.8 BB/9 rate. His 8.53 ERA / 10.26 FIP in Atlanta was unsightly; his 21.60 ERA / 11.56 FIP is a trainwreck. There is obviously plenty of time for him to turn it around, but after getting annihilated by the Mets last night, Phillips has been optioned to AAA to work some things out.
Jean Carlos Encarnacion
JCE was one of the headlining prospects in the deal that brought Gausman to Atlanta. JCE’s is oozing with offensive tools, but is still incredibly raw. His aggressiveness was often on display in Rome, and this has carried over to his new Delmarva squad - riding a 27.3% strikeout rate against a 2.3% walk rate. His walk rate in Rome was already miniscule (3.4%), and it’s almost impressive that he has found a way for it to dip. All things considered, JCE’s .302/.318/.465 line with the Shorebirds is a mirror of his .288/.314/.463 line with the Braves. His natural abilities with the bat made him a worthwhile gamble for Baltimore, but his current level of plate discipline demonstrates he still has a long way to go.
A gifted raw hitter who rocked an incredible mustache, Cumberland’s up-and-down tenure with the Braves left many fans wondering what level of prospect he actually was. When hot, he has a Justin Upton-esque way of carrying an offense. When cold, he makes Rafael Belliard look like Ronald Acuña. Cumberland had recently garnered himself a promotion to Double-A Mississippi, and was struggling to adjust to the elevated level of pitching, posting a .311 OPS and -4 wRC+ in his first 5 games before the trade. His first five games for Double-A Bowie have gone better but not by much, posting a .167/.231/.417 line and a 74 wRC+ that is buoyed by a home run he hit during his third game. Going from High-A to AA is often noted as one of the hardest jumps to make, so it could be a while before Cumberland’s bat adjusts.
Like Cumberland, Zimmermann’s mustache was part of his legacy in the Braves’ farm system. Zimm was a quick rising cult prospect who took major steps forward in 2018. After his promotion to Mississippi - skipping over Florida altogether - his control, which was a hallmark of his game since his days at Mount Olive, began to abate. Despite being traded on the 31st, he has only made one start for Double-A Bowie, during which he looked like the Zimmermann of old. He allowed 1 run over 5 innings, struck out 5, with only 1 walk. Zimmermann, a Maryland native, grew up an Orioles fan, and now has a chance to eventually make the big leagues with them.
Once a top prospect who was acquired in the Craig Kimbrel deal, Wisler’s prospect star faded after inconsistencies that spanned nearly three years in the Braves organization. You could occasionally see flashes of great stuff, but he had been leapfrogged by a number of pitchers in Atlanta, and was thus considered expendable. The Reds gambled on him in the Adam Duvall swap. Working primarily as a reliever for AAA Louisville - a role which never seemed to suit him with the Braves - Wisler has shown promise, putting up a 1.42 ERA / 1.64 FIP over 5 appearances (one start). One of his biggest bugaboos was the home run, and if he makes it to the Reds, he will have to work hard to keep the ball inside the confines of Cincinnati’s tiny Great American Ball Park. As of yet, he has not allowed a home run.
Sims’ story is similar to that of Wisler. Both were rather frustrating prospects for the Braves, as they seemed to always show well in Gwinnett but scuffle upon being promoted. After being traded to Cincinnati in the Duvall deal, the Reds placed Sims in Louisville alongside Wisler, and he has continued his good work at the highest level of the minors. Over his first three starts in the Cincinnati organization, Sims has posted a 3.31 ERA / 3.09 FIP, and has averaged 10.47 K/9 against only 1.65 BB/9. Whether Sims can ride this wave into success at the big league level will be interesting to track, but as a former first round pick, he has the pedigree to make it work with a few small tweaks.
Tucker was a great early-season story for the Braves, as he excelled while keeping Ronald Acuña’s seat warm for until late April. As the only piece of the Duvall trade who has seen big league time so far, Tucker battled a foot injury after the trade but has now settled into their everyday lineup. His power should play well in the bandbox that is GABP, as he hit his first Reds HR last night and is currently slashing .240/.345/.400 with 105 wRC+.