My reaction to released body cam footage of Marcell Ozuna’s arrest 

Friday, December 3, 2021

-Clint Manry 

After months of people aimlessly speculating about what really happened on that unfortunate day in late May, the police body cam footage of Marcell Ozuna’s arrest was released to the public on Wednesday…

First off, obviously the video above doesn’t include EVERYTHING — it is simply what the police witnessed as they entered Ozuna’s home. Of course, more things could’ve took place before the cops showed up… and only Ozuna and his wife Genesis really know what those things were.

BUT, it’s incredibly evident that, at the very least, the Sandy Springs Police department did a horrible job with its initial reporting. If you recall, on the day of the arrest, the Sandy Springs cop that filled out the report stated that he “witnessed the suspect grabbing the victim by the neck and throwing her against a wall.” Sure, Ozuna definitely had his hand up at his wife’s throat in the video, but she was not up against any type of wall, nor was his hand held there long enough to “choke” or “strangle” her, let alone throw her up against anything. And it’s very important that this distinction is known, for the main premise of pursuing felony charges against Ozuna was the very aggressive nature of the police report.

Now don’t get the wrong idea here. I think what’s shown on the released video is absolutely horrible. Ozuna is a fully grown 6-foot-1, 225-pound man who’s putting his hands on his wife. I don’t condone what he did by any means, and just because he’s not physically hurting her in that moment doesn’t make any of it right. But some context should be given. Obviously Ozuna and his wife were having a disagreement, and she had her hands on him as well, so it’s also very plausible Ozuna was, in a way, defending himself or trying to keep her off of him. That’s not an excuse for him to put his hand at her throat, but I’m not entirely convinced he was actually trying to hurt her in any way. 

Regardless, Ozuna will have to deal with this for the rest of his life, not to mention his wife and the three children they have together. Whether or not Ozuna’s actions were right, wrong or a little bit of both, just the fact that he was involved in a domestic violence incident will forever be tied to his name.

I know there are a ton of folks that are absolutely crushing Ozuna, and they have every right to. But MLB obviously saw this video and the league made its decision. I wish it never happened, and as I alluded to above, I’m not necessarily ok with how Ozuna handled himself, but to me the Sandy Springs Police Department comes out of this as the bad guys. Without public evidence, they are the ones providing us with the story of what happened, and instead of being honest, they decided to create a shit storm of unnecessary drama… and that’s really pathetic. Just goes to show you, these high profile incidents aren’t always what they seem, and it’s probably wise to hold off on any type of judgment until you’re able to examine the evidence yourself. I know it’s not as exciting, but it’s the right thing to do.

Ozuna should be punished for what he did… and he was. But it’s clear now that what originally was reported was bullshit. And to me, that’s a real shame. 

Good luck Johan Camargo

Thursday, December 2, 2021

-Clint Manry

After 10 seasons in the organization, Johan Camargo is no longer a Brave. Late on Wednesday night it was reported that the switch-hitter had signed a one-year, $1.4-million contract with the Phillies. The deal comes just a day after the Braves chose not to tender Camargo a contract for the 2022 campaign, which wasn’t really a surprise given the utility player hasn’t contributed much for the big league team lately. He will turn 29 later this month.

While it was definitely time for Atlanta to move on from Camargo, it is sad to see it turn out this way. If you recall, Johan was once expected to become the team’s next homegrown star third baseman, following an impressive 82-game stint with the Braves in 2017 that featured a .299 AVG and 27 XBH in 256 PA. The solid showing the year prior resulted in Camargo winning the third base job for the 2018 season, and the then-24-year-old didn’t disappoint. As part of a breakout performance, Camargo slashed .272/.349/.457 with 19 homers, 27 doubles and 76 RBI in 134 games with Atlanta in ‘18 – good for a 115 wRC+ and 3.2 fWAR.  The future was looking incredibly bright at the hot corner.

However, in November of 2018, the Braves decided to bring more pop into the lineup. GM Alex Anthopoulos signed a player coming off an injury, inking third baseman Josh Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million deal. Instead of trading Camargo, the team chose to use the versatile infielder as a super utility-man. The plan went splendidly for Donaldson… but Camargo struggled mightily in the new role, and while playing in 98 games during the 2019 season, Johan hit just .233 with seven homers, ending the year with a below-average 66 wRC+ and just -0.5 WAR.

Since the Donaldson signing, Camargo just hasn’t been able to consistently contribute for the Braves. In 2020, Johan played in 35 games but only hit .200, and this past season he spent the majority of his time in Triple-A Gwinnett. Since the start of 2019, Camargo has been worth -1.1 WAR as a big leaguer and his 58 wRC+ has been essentially unplayable.

In 2021, I thought maybe Camargo was on his way to turning things around. The guy raked in the minors, slashing .326/.401/.557 with 19 homers in 104 games with the Stripers. But none of that could translate to success in the majors, and as a result, the Braves were unable to find a spot for him.

It’s not too late for Camargo to turn his career around in Philadelphia, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty of him given he’s staying in the division. But last night’s news will always leave me wondering what could’ve been as I always believed Camargo was destined to become a solid major league player. But for whatever reason… it just didn’t happen.

Braves avoid arbitration with Orlando Arcia, sign outfielder to two-year deal

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

-Clint Manry

One of Triple-A Gwinnett’s top hitters in 2021 is staying in the organization as on Tuesday the Braves gave shortstop Orlando Arcia a two-year, $3 million contract, avoiding arbitration and locking up some solid depth for the major league team.

Coming over from Milwaukee back in April, in a trade that sent both pitchers Patrick Weigel and Chad Sobotka to the Brewers, Arcia had a huge year in the minors in 2021, finishing the campaign with a .282 AVG, 17 homers and 37 RBI in 74 games – good for a 129 wRC+. He didn’t perform quite as well while in the majors this past season (.198 AVG / 48 wRC+), playing in 36 games with the Braves, but he provided much-needed depth in the outfield nonetheless.

Per the above contract, Arcia will earn $1.6 million in 2022 and $1.3 million in 2023. The deal also features a $2-million club option for the 2024 season, which comes with a $100,000 buyout.

I have to say this deal is pretty surprising, but Arcia is a solid glove that can give the Braves depth at several positions. He’s also not too far removed from a pretty decent performance back in 2020, when he posted a 95 wRC+ in 59 games with the Brewers, so there’s always the chance his bat heats up in the majors again.

Along with the news regarding Arcia, the Braves also nontendered several players yesterday as they came up against the tender deadline. Atlanta declined to offer contracts to Johan Camargo, Richard Rodriguez, and they removed Jasseel De La Cruz from the 40-man.

Offseason Prospect Review: Jasseel De La Cruz

Sunday, November 28, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)
  • Cal Conley, SS/2B (link)
  • Daysbel Hernandez, RHP (link)
  • Trey Harris, OF (link)
  • Indigo Diaz, RHP (link)
  • Victor Vodnik, RHP (link)
  • Spencer Schwellenbach (link)

#16. JASSEEL DE LA CRUZ, RHP

24-years-old

2021 stats (AAA):  56.1 IP, 7.03 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 5.2 BB/9, 8 HR

Trend:  Down

Calling De La Cruz’s 2021 performance a down year is probably putting it a bit too mildly. After entering the season as a top 10 prospect in the Braves system (according to me), the righty struggled mightily during his first Triple-A assignment, doing himself no favors when it comes to the argument of whether or not he’s a reliever in the long term. In fact, despite finishing the year with a 7.19 ERA in Gwinnett, there were moments when De La Cruz actually handled himself pretty well out of the bullpen, including the very first handful of games he pitched in 2021 when he allowed just one run in 8.2 innings (1.04 ERA) over four relief appearances. I was probably one of the only ones left that still believed De La Cruz could make it as a big league starter, however, after this past season, I’m not so sure.

I had the opportunity to watch one of De La Cruz’s starts in 2021, a late-July outing in Memphis. The righty struggled to get much swing and miss. And though it was an extremely muggy and uncomfortable evening, it seemed like De La Cruz was laboring more than normal as he allowed five runs in five innings of work. There’s no doubt his fastball/slider combination is sharp, but without a third pitch to really keep batters guessing, it’s as if De La Cruz is forced to work more than he probably should.

2022 outlook

Like in 2020, De La Cruz was called up to the majors this past season but never debuted. However, as part of several roster moves on Tuesday, the Braves removed the 24-year-old from the 40-man roster. De La Cruz will turn 25 next June so it’s imperative he makes some strides in Triple-A in 2022. Given it was his first assignment in Gwinnett, it’s likely he gets another chance to prove he can start, however, his leash is probably beginning to run out.

Although, whether he starts or pitches out of the bullpen, De La Cruz can still be an impactful player for the Braves. Homegrown, high-leverage relievers are needed as well, and his two-pitch approach could work well in Atlanta. But I’m sure, like any pitching prospect, De La Cruz would rather make it as a starter. There were some very high expectations for this kid after he broke out in 2019, and it does feel like he’s so close to putting it all together. But we’ll see how he handles another ride with the Stripers this coming season. For now, De La Cruz is minor league bullpen depth for the Braves. However that role could change with a strong showing to begin 2022.

Offseason Prospect Review: Spencer Schwellenbach

Saturday, November 27, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)
  • Cal Conley, SS/2B (link)
  • Daysbel Hernandez, RHP (link)
  • Trey Harris, OF (link)
  • Indigo Diaz, RHP (link)
  • Victor Vodnik, RHP (link)

#17. SPENCER SCHWELLENBACH, RHP

21-years-old

2021 stats:  Did not play

Trend:  N/A

The two-way player from Nebraska didn’t get to show his talents in 2021 as in August he underwent Tommy John surgery, just a month after the Braves drafted him in the second round of the 2021 MLB Draft for a signing bonus of $1 million.

Schwellenbach was named 2021’s John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year with the Cornhuskers, hitting .284 with 19 XBH (6 HR) and 40 RBI at the plate, to go with a 0.57 ERA and 9.7 strikeouts per nine on the mound. He also went a perfect 9 for 9 on stolen bases. Overall at the college level, the ultra-talented Schwellenbach played in 48 games as a position-player last season, all at shortstop, and made 18 relief appearances as a pitcher.

2022 outlook

Obviously Schwellenbach’s ranking within the Braves Top 30 is all about projection, given the 21-year-old hasn’t played as a pro just yet. However, considering the Braves grabbed him to be a pitcher, I think it’s fair to say he should reside somewhere in the top-20, being that he was an overpowering closer at a Power 5 school.

Schwellenbach’s prospect stock will depend heavily on whether or not the Braves view him as a starter or a reliever long term. Evaluators back on draft day this summer reported that the righty currently has two dominant pitches in a high-90s MPH fastball and a whiff-inducing slider. Schwellenbach’s third pitch – a changeup – reportedly still needs some work. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely the kid pitches in 2022, and if he somehow does, it will probably come more in the form of a rehab assignment. I think Schwellenbach is going to be a super exciting player, but it’s just going to take some time.

Offseason Prospect Review: Victor Vodnik

Thursday, November 25, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)
  • Cal Conley, SS/2B (link)
  • Daysbel Hernandez, RHP (link)
  • Trey Harris, OF (link)
  • Indigo Diaz, RHP (link)

#18. VICTOR VODNIK, RHP

22-years-old

2021 stats (AA):  33.2 IP, 5.35 ERA, 10.9 K/9, 5.8 BB/9, 5 HR

Trend:  Down

It’s been a rough year for Vodnik, who, in his first real opportunity to be a starter as a pro, only managed 11 starts in 2021, due to two separate IL stints (one in June and one in September).

Entering the year, I had the righty ranked 13th on my Braves Top 30, and during the season’s first month it looked as if he was headed for a top 10 spot as he put together a strong May, pitching to a 2.51 ERA in four starts. But unfortunately, that was as good as it would get for Vodnik. He would go on to post a 9.00 ERA in July and a 6.10 ERA in August. The kid not only struggled mightily versus opposite-handed batters (lefties), but he also routinely failed to get off the mound when base runners began to pile up; his OPS allowed raised by nearly 200 points, compared to bases empty and runners on in 2021 (.709 to .904). And these righty-lefty splits… ouch…

vs. RHB:  70 PA, .159 AVG, 38.5 K%, .486 OPS

vs. LHB:  59 PA, .326 AVG, 16.9 K%, .996 OPS

2022 outlook

It’s a shame, because it appeared Vodnik was headed for a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League this fall. The righty was included on the Fall Stars team, and up to the last month of the season out in the desert, he was one of the league’s best pitchers, sporting a 2.77 ERA with 9.7 strikeouts per nine. However, that final month or so of play must have been rough on Vodnik, because he wound up finishing his AFL stint this year with a 5.70 ERA across four starts overall and two relief appearances.

I’m certainly not giving up on Vodnik. This is still a kid with a 65 FV fastball (reaches upper-90s MPH) and two solid secondaries in a changeup and slider. He definitely has the stuff to stick it as a starter, it’s just his command (currently a 30-grade, per FanGraphs) and consistency that’s holding him back. I look for the Braves to continue allowing him to work on his command and secondary offerings in Double-A in 2022, and simply go from there. As a former 14th rounder, Vodnik has already worked out as a draft pick. But I do still think there’s more to unlock.

The case for signing a familiar friend, Kevin Gausman

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

-Clint Manry

I realize it’s hard to think about anything other than re-signing Freddie Freeman. He and the Braves are supposedly in the midst of contract negotiations. And at this point, retaining the franchise player is the top priority among Braves Country. I still think a deal gets done. As long as the years stay within reason, I don’t believe there’s any way the team lets its first baseman of the last decade plus walk. But, as long as nothing is set in stone, we’ll just have to wait and see.

And in terms of adding other pieces to the team, it’s difficult to get too carried away with that bit of fun as well. With the CBA deadline coming on December 1, and a possible lockout pretty imminent, who knows what the rest of the offseason will look like. Last winter it was COVID and the negative financial impacts of just finishing a shortened season. This time it’s an overdue collective bargaining agreement. It feels like ages since we had a normal offseason in baseball.

But be that as it may, let’s discuss Kevin Gausman. You remember him, right? He was the headline piece in a six-player trade between the Braves and Orioles back at the trade deadline in 2018. You know… the deal that also brought us reliever Darren O’Day (who seemingly remained sidelined for two whole years before finally making an impact with the team). Yeah, at the time, that particular trade appeared to be a steal for the Braves. Gausman went on to pitch to a sub-3.00 ERA in those ten second-half starts in ’18. And as Atlanta entered the 2019 season, we were excited about what the righty could possibly do in a full year with the team. But, we were wrong. Gausman didn’t deliver. And after battling roughly a month-long absence due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot in June and July of that year, the Braves were forced to DFA Gausman and his 6.19 ERA. The fit just didn’t last.

But Gausman has worked hard to rebound his career over the last two seasons. Thanks to a successful stint out of the bullpen during the second-half of 2019, the righty has now put together back-to-back top-of-the-rotation performances for the Giants, tallying 6.4 fWAR since 2020, thanks to a career-high 4.8 WAR this past season. And now the soon-to-be 31-year-old is a free agent.

Over at FanGraphs, Gausman is the 14th ranked free agent on the site’s 2022 Top 50 Free Agents list, surprisingly in front of both Noah Syndergaard and Chris Taylor. Among available starters this winter, this is pretty close to as good as it gets, only behind guys like Marcus Stroman, Robbie Ray and of course Max Scherzer.

And what’s great for a team like the Braves (who very rarely like to invest too much in one single player, especially a free agent) is that the expected contract commanded by Gausman isn’t even all that high. He wants a multi-year deal, and rightfully so, but we’re talking something like three years and $54 million, according to FG’s Ben Clemens. Hell, that’s an AAV less than what Charlie Morton re-signed for this past September, when Atlanta re-upped with the 37-year-old (now 38-year-old, by the way) veteran for another year. In case you just forgot… Gausman is entering only his age-31 season, meaning a potential three-year commitment gets him off the Braves books before he’s 34.

Of course, there’s some risk that would be involved. For one, this is actually the first offseason in some time that the Braves starting rotation (at least on paper) already appears pretty well stocked. With Morton coming back, along with Max Fried and Ian Anderson, the top-half of the staff features a trio of strong arms, not to mention two young guys that are now battle-tested in the postseason, in both Fried and Anderson. And as back-end starters, as well as depth pieces, Huascar Ynoa, Kyle Muller, Kyle Wright, and even prospect Tucker Davidson seem like as good of a backup plan as any in the event the Braves rotation suffer some pretty unfortunate luck in the injury department in 2022. And hell, I didn’t even mention Mike Soroka, who, ideally will be back to at least contribute during the final few months of the year. The Braves need bats, a starting center fielder, perhaps a left fielder and more bullpen help. Investing over $50 million in a starting pitcher probably doesn’t feel like the appropriate use of whatever the hell the team has to spend this offseason.

But there’s also the reward of lengthening an already damn-good looking starting staff. I mean, could you imagine? Perhaps push Morton down a bit in the rotation to prevent so many innings and allow him to remain fresh next year, but either way you slice it the Braves would be absolutely stacked in the starting pitching department in 2022.

A Braves starting rotation (with Kevin Gausman)

Max Fried, LHP

Kevin Gausman, RHP

Ian Anderson, RHP

Charlie Morton, RHP

Huascar Ynoa, RHP

It’s a righty-heavy staff for sure, but who cares, right? Plus, Gausman’s unique, mostly two-pitch mix, featuring a fastball to go with a splitfinger he leans on roughly 35% of the time, makes him much more than just any other right-hander on the mound. In case you’ve never heard of Gausman’s famous split, the guy induced a 45.9% whiff-rate with the offering in 2021, while allowing a measly .133 AVG from opposing batters. Yeah… it’s filthy.

So what do you say? Why don’t we quit obsessing over Freeman for just a few minutes and look at a pitcher who would no doubt help make the Braves pitching even stronger, and just so happens to be an old familiar friend? Gausman is looking for a nice payday, and he definitely deserves it. And even better, his potential payday shouldn’t really impact the Braves ability to also fill its other needs this winter.

The team will have to make some tough decisions this offseason, and several of those decisions will come next Tuesday when the deadline to tender arbitration-eligible players comes. But signing Gausman just feels like a great move. It checks a lot of boxes: He’s one of the top starters available on the market and is still young, he’s a player familiar with the team AND his expected contract shouldn’t wreck the Braves chances at re-signing its franchise player or fulfilling its other needs to prepare for another season. So let’s get it done!

Daily Notes: Tender deadline moved up as Braves must decide on 14 arb-eligible players

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

-Clint Manry

On Tuesday it was announced that MLB and the player’s union has agreed to move the upcoming deadline for teams to offer contracts. With the CBA deadline looming, and a lockout very possible, the new tender deadline was moved from December 2 to November 30 at 8 PM (ET). This deadline to tender a contract goes for any player with fewer than six years of major league service, including those who’re eligible for salary arbitration. The Braves have 14 such players…

  • Adam Duvall
  • Orlando Arcia
  • Johan Camargo
  • Grant Dayton
  • Max Fried
  • Guillermo Heredia
  • Luke Jackson
  • Tyler Matzek
  • A.J. Minter
  • Sean Newcomb
  • Austin Riley
  • Richard Rodriguez
  • Mike Soroka
  • Dansby Swanson

At $9.25 million, Swanson’s projected salary for his final year of arbitration is the highest among the list of Braves above. Adam Duvall ($9 million), who declined his mutual option earlier this month, is a close second. For more details on projected arbitration salaries, as well as who’s likely to be nontendered, I highly recommend checking out Ryan Cothran’s write-up from a few weeks ago over at SportsTalkATL.

I think most of these are pretty straight-forward. Duvall’s salary will be a bit expensive, but given he provided some much-needed power for the Braves lineup during the second-half of 2021 and the fact that Marcell Ozuna likely doesn’t return, I believe retaining him is pretty crucial.

  • As far as Soroka: Sure, you could say he’s a candidate to be nontendered, but at roughly $3 million, I don’t see the Braves doing that. It may be late in the season before he’s able to actually contribute at the big league level, as I’m sure the team will be even more carful then before, but this is still the guy that made a run at the Cy Young in 2019 and posted a 2.68 ERA over 174.2 innings. Hopefully he can get back to 100%.
  • I think we’ve seen the last of Camargo, who in his second year of arbitration is expected to get just under $1.3 million. Over the last three seasons, spanning 148 games, Camargo has been worth -1.1 fWAR with the Braves, and now entering his age-28 season, I don’t see him turning this around. And frankly, I’ve grown a little tired of his lack of effort when he has been given an opportunity. The guy can hit Triple-A pitching – that’s for sure (shown by his 155 wRC+ with Gwinnett this past year). But as far as a major league player, I just don’t see it anymore.
  • Richard Rodriguez is another interesting one, and Cothran made a nice point in his piece regarding the reliever’s case, pointing out that arbitration salaries are not guaranteed. Testing him out in Spring Training seems like a solid plan.

Anyways, we’ll find out who’s tendered soon enough as the deadline is now less than a week away.

Offseason Prospect Review: Indigo Diaz

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)
  • Cal Conley, SS/2B (link)
  • Daysbel Hernandez, RHP (link)
  • Trey Harris, OF (link)

#19. INDIGO DIAZ, RHP

23-years-old

2021 stats (A+ / AA):  45 IP, 1.20 ERA, 16.6 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, HR

Trend:  Up

Maybe you hadn’t heard of Diaz prior to the 2021 season. As a 27th round pick out of Michigan State in 2019, the kid only pitched 10.1 pro innings in the Braves system during his draft year and his 3.48 ERA with the GCL Braves wasn’t anything extraordinary. However, after the season he just had, I’m sure you’ve heard of him now.

Diaz did more than dominate in 2021 – the kid almost looked bored out there. First it was High-A Rome, where he averaged a ridiculous 18 strikeouts per nine and pitched to a 1.00 ERA over a 27-inning stretch. Then, it was Double-A Mississippi, where he not only continued with the incredibly-stingy numbers but also finished up the campaign by holding opposing left-handed batters to a .372 OPS. Platoon advantage or disadvantage, bases empty or runners on, Diaz was the same overpowering guy on the mound, which is why in the span of a few months he went from nowhere on my radar to the 19th ranked prospect in the organization. This kid put together one of the most impressive minor league pitching seasons I’ve seen in a while, and the attention will certainly be pointed his way heading into 2022.

2022 outlook

With all that said above, though, I hate to report that Diaz actually struggled mightily in the Arizona Fall League. Over the last couple of months in the desert, the 23-year-old righty pitched to a 12.79 ERA in 6.1 innings as he walked more than he struck out. And I know it’s a bit disappointing, and the rough AFL performance may be a cause for concern for some, but honestly, I wouldn’t look into it too much. For one, the sample-size is incredibly small, and though Diaz has had some control problems throughout his career, I don’t think his middling numbers with the Peoria Javelinas this fall should spoil what he accomplished during the regular season.

In fact, I’d say Diaz is a Braves prospect that’s perhaps on the cusp of contributing at the big league level – maybe even one of the closest among the system’s prospects. The kid has flown through the organization, skipping Single-A altogether, but even with only 45 innings of full-season ball under his belt, I could easily see him getting the call to Atlanta at some point in 2022.

Which means… I expect Diaz to begin the season in Triple-A Gwinnett, where he’ll not only be tested for perhaps the first time but where he can also continue to work on his control and his still-developing breaking ball. The kid already wields a spin-heavy, high-90s MPH fastball, but being able to also use his curveball will be huge in his quest to becoming a late-innings reliever in the majors. I certainly think he has what it takes. Let’s see if he can keep it up.

The Wander Franco extension is another example of just how incredible locking up Acuña and Albies was

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

-Clint Manry

Just a few hours ago, it was announced that Wander Franco and the Rays had agreed to an 11-year, $182 million extension, which includes a $25-million club option for a 12th season. As the latest incredibly young player to become locked up by his team, Franco (20-years-old) should be a Ray on into his early-30s, and at just an AAV of $16.5 million, Tampa Bay gets a future MVP at basically a 50% discount. Even though I’m sure the narrative among national writers will be that Franco was somehow taken advantage of, these types of deals are beneficial to both the player and the team. Franco has a guaranteed salary for much of the rest of his MLB career (which is definitely a valuable thing), while the Rays can relax knowing it has locked up its generational talent.

But just like when Fernando Tatis Jr. signed his massive 14-year, $340 million extension with the Padres this past February, following the announcement regarding Franco, I can’t help but appreciate even more the pair of deals put together by Alex Anthopoulos and the Braves back in April of 2019.

I’m sure I don’t have to break down the math, but at eight years and $100 million for Ronald Acuña Jr., and seven years and $35 million for Ozzie Albies — in terms of average annual salary, the Braves are paying both Acuna and Albies combined what the Rays will pay Franco. And though he’s the type of talent that will most likely go on to appear in several All-Star games and probably even win an MVP, you can’t pretend that 11 years of Franco is a better haul than a decade of Acuña and Albies. Not only is two better than one, but it’s also two of the best players at their respective positions!

Then there’s the timing of the Franco extension, which for the Rays, obviously needed to come as early in his career as possible, hence the team-friendliness of it all. At this juncture, Franco has played in just 70 MLB games, hitting .288 with 30 XBH (7 HR) and 39 RBI, good for a 127 wRC+ and 2.5 fWAR in 2021. Those are some strong numbers for a first-year player, and you could argue that, if he’d received an earlier promotion and hadn’t suffered a hamstring injury late in the year, Franco could’ve posted even better stats in 2021.

But Franco’s impressive rookie campaign still doesn’t come close to how established Acuna and Albies were prior to their extensions. Consider what each player had accomplished leading up to their April of 2019 deals…

Acuña – coming off an NL Rookie of the Year campaign in 2018, which featured a .293 AVG, 26 homers, 64 RBI and 16 stolen bases (142 wRC+) in 111 games – good for 3.7 WAR.

Albies – in the midst of his third year in the majors, having hit .268 with 30 homers and 22 stolen bases over the past seasons spanning 215 games (102 wRC+) – good for 5.5 WAR overall.

Sure, Tampa Bay is extending Franco at just the right time as the sport’s top prospect will enter his age-21 season in 2022. But both Acuña (entering age-24 season) and Albies (age-25) are still in their early-to-mid 20s AND they’re two of the most prolific players in baseball right now.

We probably won’t ever see another extension like the ones given to Acuña and Albies, and I’m beginning to realize that each and every year. But even nearly two years later, it’s still amazing to me. Honestly, if Anthopoulos never makes another savvy deal in his tenure with the Braves, we should all forever appreciate what he was able to do back in April of 2019.