Posted December 3, 2013 10:39 am

Braves use former Latin prospect trio to advantage

It was just two prospect lists ago that the Braves boasted the Latin trio of Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino and Randall Delgado at the top.


Baseball America’s 2012 top 10 Braves list had the three in that order. It was the most recent year that the publication put Atlanta’s system in the top 15 – at exactly 15th. The following year, the Braves moved all the way down to 26th.


While the departure of Vizcaino and Delgado caused the Braves system to take a hit as a whole, trading both has proven to be valuable where it counts the most – the major league club.


The Braves traded Vizcaino along with minor league reliever Jaye Chapman to the Cubs in July 2012 for Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson.


Vizcaino has yet to throw for the Cubs or their minor league teams from a combination of Tommy John surgery and calcium buildup in the elbow. The Cubs plan to have the right-hander back for 2014 spring training.


Vizcaino has always had a quick arm and solid power stuff, but the heavy pressure on his arm from unbalanced mechanics caught up to him, and he hasn’t pitched since 2011. He has touched 100 in the past paired with a power curveball, and he has a clear reliever profile in the majors.


Maholm was very good for the Braves down the stretch in 2012, producing a 3.54 ERA with 59 strikeouts to 19 walks in 68.2 innings. He followed with a 4.41 ERA in 153 innings this past season, with part of the season hampered by left wrist and elbow injuries. He was worth about a win in his time with the Braves.


It’s tougher to judge Johnson’s contributions to the Braves off the bench by wins, but his hitting numbers weren’t very positive. He was OK for the Braves in 2012, but he did most of his hitting with Chicago before coming to Atlanta. His 2013 was derailed by an Achilles injury, and he lost his split advantage against left-handed pitchers when he was on the field. The Braves declined his 2014 option.


The Braves included Delgado in the big winter trade with Arizona for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson.


Delgado wasn’t the main piece in the trade, but as one of the better prospects in the Braves system, he was a bigger name. In his first season with the Diamondbacks, Delgado had a 4.26 ERA with a 16.7 strikeout percentage and 4.9 walk percentage in 116.1 innings. He was much worse in Triple-A, where he recorded a 5.91 ERA in 64 innings.


Delgado will only be 24 in 2014, so he should have a long major league career ahead of him. But his ceiling isn’t very high; perhaps he’s a realistic 3. He is limited by his stuff, with a decent fastball and good curve, but he won’t head a rotation at any point.


Was it worth parting with this kind of talent along with mid-level prospects and Martin Prado for Upton and Johnson? It looks like it.


Upton had another streaky season in his Braves debut, but he totaled 3.2 fWAR with a .263/.354/.464 line and .357 wOBA/129 wRC+. His 27 home runs was his second-highest total so far in his seven years, and he’s now in the thick of his prime with two years remaining on his original deal, which covers his annual value pretty well.


Upton should be good for a couple more 3-win seasons, during competitive years for the Braves, to finish his contract.


Johnson surprised everyone by putting up a 2.8 fWAR in 2013. His .321/.358/.457 line and .354 wOBA/127 wRC+ was worth way more than his $2.2 million earnings. While he should receive a significant raise and perhaps find trouble repeating what could end up being a career year, Johnson should still cover his earnings while producing another 2-win season. Johnson had one of the best third base bats in the National League in 2013, and he should be near the top again this coming season.


While the Braves gave up a solid piece in Prado for the Upton/Johnson deal, the breakup of the Latin trio seems to be a net profit for Atlanta. It helped field the additions of Upton, Maholm, Chris and Reed Johnson, while Vizcaino and Delgado have limited ceilings in their roles and have yet to make a real impact.


This is without mentioning the fact that the Braves kept the most talented of the three in Teheran, who broke out with a 3.20 ERA and 22 strikeout percentage in 185.2 innings as a 22-year-old rookie, recording a 2.4 fWAR. Teheran projects as a realistic 2, which is better than Delgado’s or Vizcaino’s realistic roles.


It’s safe to say the Braves have gotten a great amount out of their Latin trio. They kept the best one that should be near the front of the Atlanta rotation for years, used one for a top 5 NL corner outfielder who is under a good contract, and used the other for a back-end left-hander who gave some quality innings and a decent bench bat.