TDG’s Triple Play: Atlanta Braves!
The Triple Play is back for a third season! This regular feature is broken down by staff writers Bob Osgood and Paul Monte and a rotating panel of third writers. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Max Fried, Age: 26, Position: SP
Analysis by: Bob Osgood
Entering the 2019 season, the Atlanta Braves farm system was ripe with pitching prospects. Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, Touki Toussaint, Kyle Wright, Kolby Allard, Luiz Gohara, Bryce Wilson, among others. However, outside of Soroka’s emergence to near stardom, it was a post-hype pitcher who emerged as the back of the rotation pitcher that the Braves sorely needed in 2019. Having thrown 59 previous innings in the Major Leagues, left-hander Max Fried fell just beyond the “prospect” qualifications but had the prospect pedigree.
Drafted out of high school by the Padres as an 18-year-old as the seventh overall pick, Fried required Tommy John surgery early in the 2014 season which also took his 2015 season out of commission. He was traded in between these two seasons to Atlanta as part of the return for Justin Upton. In the two years that followed the surgery, Fried had a BB/9 of 4.11 and 4.47, respectively, and his Double-A season of 2017 was 2-11 in 19 starts with a 5.92 ERA. Despite these results, he did get called up to throw in nine games late in the 2017 season, and had some success as a starter, allowing only 7 earned runs in 18 1/3 innings in his four starts, striking out a batter per inning.
Keep on Rockin’ in the Fried world
After throwing a fastball, curve, and change in his appearances in ’17 and ’18, Max Fried relegated the change-up to nothing more than a “show me pitch” in 2019 (dropping from 12.1% to 2.4% usage), and added an excellent slider that he used 15.9% of the time. The pitchers that I seem to love going into 2020 all happened to increase the usage or flat-out add a slider in 2019, and Fried is one of those pitchers. The sweeping slider allowed a .200 BA-against, a .240 wOBA, and got a swing-and-miss 28.8% of the time. Looking at Baseball Savant, it’s easy to see why Fried’s slider was so successful, thanks to significant horizontal movement compared to the average slider (15th of 334 pitchers in the MLB) as well as vertical movement (25th of 334 in MLB).
Mixing the aforementioned slider with a curveball that had a .173 xBA in 2019 and a .081 xBA in 2018, albeit in a limited sample, as well as a fastball that averages 94 and you have a pitch mix that has a lot of potential for years to come.
Come on and take a Fried ride
Fried came seemingly out of nowhere in 2019 to finish second in the National League in wins with 17. While his ERA landed at 4.02, his FIP of 3.72 and xFIP of 3.32 shows room for improvement and was influenced by a .336 BABIP. The WHIP of 1.334 was a bit high, but if Fried can keep his walk rate closer to 2.55 per 9 as he did last year, then he can be a solid SP4 for your staff.
One final note on Max Fried. With Tommy John surgery well in the rearview, and at 26-years-old, I think that the Braves will be liberal with allowing Fried to go fairly deep into games. He threw 165 2/3 innings in his first full season in the big leagues over 33 games (30 starts), followed by four postseason relief appearances. Opponents’ OPS was .767 the third time through the order in 2019, compared to .759 the second time through. I see Fried as a safe fourth pitcher, who does not quite have the helium that some of the other emerging arms have. I think he can be bought in dynasty for a fair haul, and I’m willing to do so.
Johan Camargo, Age: 26, Position: SS/3B
Analysis by: Paul Monte
HOW FAR CAN CAMARGO?
By the time you’re reading this, you may already know the answer. He’ll still be in Georgia, but will it be 36 miles Northeast of where he wants to be? (Edit: it will likely be another month or two before we get this question answered with the MLB shutdown). Camargo has been in a battle all spring for the third base position left open when Josh Donaldson signed with Minnesota. His competition is Austin Riley and at this point, neither player has struggled in spring training games or separated themselves from each other. There is a ton of risk here; we are talking about a guy who may not be on a big-league roster to start 2020. A guy who followed up a solid 2018 by hitting .233 with seven home runs in 248 2019 at-bats. The good news is, his cost is very low.
They all can’t be Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, or even Dansby Swanson. Someone will have to fill your bench spots and you need those guys that you can cut if needed when someone rage drops that starting pitcher who just killed their ratios or cost them their matchup. Camargo is your guy! Depending on how strict your league requirements are for qualifying at positions, he could have more than just shortstop eligibility for the year. He played more than 10 games at 3B, SS, and OF. At worst, he starts the year with SS/MI eligibility and adds 3B/CI as the season progresses.
Playing the super-utility role is much more difficult than people give credit for. Most of us thrive in our daily lives because we have set routines. If you know what you are going to be doing every day, it is much easier to prepare. Utility players do not have that luxury; some can handle finding out that they are in the lineup when they get to the park and others can’t. After a one-year tryout, it seems that Camargo is not cut out for the role. If he does not win the third base job, he is expected to be sent to Triple-A Gwinnett to make sure he is getting his at-bats, making it easier for you to move on from him.
If we assume that he wins the job, he settles in knowing that he’s going to be in the lineup most days (he still may end up platooning at third, it just won’t be with Riley), maybe he can come close to his 2018. In 464 at-bats Camargo hit .272/.349/.457 with 19 home runs and 76 RBI. Not bad for your Mr. Irrelevant pick.
I get it, I could have chosen some real sexy names to write about on the Atlanta roster. Instead, I chose a hitter likely to bat 8th, if he even makes the team. Dynasty leagues are about depth, they are about making sure that you can plug holes because a much greater percentage of the player pool will be owned. We aren’t talking 12 team redraft leagues, we are talking about the leagues where 750 to 1,000 players are rostered. The bottom of your roster won’t necessarily win your league, but they’ll allow you to stay in contention. He’s got a current NFBC ADP of 527, if he bombs, you can always cut him and pick up the guys picked right behind him, Mitch Moreland, Eric Sogard or Jimmy Nelson.
Bryce Ball, Age: 21, Position: 1B, Level: Low-A
Analysis by: Greg Gibbons
BALL DON’T LIE
Remember the first time you set eyes on Ivan Drago? You know, the 6’6’’ 250 lb. Soviet boxer, notorious for the death of Apollo Creed and prompting the soon-to-be-retired Rocky Balboa to fight one last time in Russia, against all odds, in order to avenge his best friend’s death? An all-time great movie, by the way (prove me wrong). Anyway, that’s basically the same feeling opposing pitchers get when Bryce Ball steps into the box. “Drago,” as he is now nicknamed, mostly in part to the nearly matching physical frame, was a relatively unknown Iowa product who went undrafted out of high school. He elected to spend two years in junior college prior to making his way to Dallas Baptist University. As a junior at DBU, the first baseman hit .325 over 63 games with 18 home runs, 54 RBI, and a 1.057 OPS. In addition to slugging his way through the Missouri Valley Conference, Ball registered a 53/51 strikeout-to-walk ratio and an on-base percentage over .440, which collectively landed him well on MLB’s draft radar. However, concerns around his signability and defense led to his free fall in the 2019 draft, when the Braves eventually scooped him up in the 24th round and signed him with an above-slot bonus. Scouts agree his defense at first base is a work in progress, but there is no questioning his plus power and excellent eye at the plate, making him an intriguing fantasy prospect.
BALL SEE BALL, BALL HIT BALL
Shortly after being drafted, Ball was assigned to Danville, the Braves rookie league affiliate. He wasted no time showcasing his prestigious power and smooth swing. Over 41 games, the lefty hit .324 and collected 13 home runs, 38 RBI with a 1.086 OPS and earned himself Appalachian League player-of-the-year honors. In addition, the Braves challenged Ball with a promotion to Low-A Rome for the last month of the season where he continued to rake, hitting .337 with four more home runs over 21 games, and finishing one of the most impressive debuts by any minor leaguer. By all accounts, Drago’s first bout in the professional ring was an overwhelming success.
When the final bell rang, through his three stops during 2019 including DBU, he managed 35 home runs and 106 RBI while hitting over .320 with an OPS of nearly 1.040. While this type of production is coveted in fantasy leagues, in order for Ball to be a valuable commodity while occupying your first base slot, he needs to consistently fill his stat line with this type of output. For comparison, his batted ball data from 2019 is not all that different than Max Muncy, including a nearly 30% home run to fly-ball rate while in Danville. Though, despite hitting for a high average and posting impressive walk rates, Ball is accompanied by an extreme risk profile. He showed a tendency to be pull-heavy and has yet to face any advanced pitching which will likely expose flaws in his swing and approach. Even with a jump from rookie ball to Low-A, we saw a sharp rise in his strikeout and ground ball rates, albeit a small sample size. Still, if you followed any early news out of spring training this season, Ball did nothing but impress coaches and scouts alike.
CHICKS DIG THE LONG BALL
Ball is mostly being ranked outside of the Braves top 10 prospects, noting his need to work on his defense and show success against the more advanced arms of the upper minors. While I do agree, it’s also worth noting that the Braves system is extremely deep. They are likely to graduate a handful of their top names (Drew Waters, Christian Pache, Kyle Wright, and possibly Ian Anderson) this year, and along with a productive 2020 season from Ball you’ll see him shooting up the rankings. He’s not yet a Top 200 prospect, but that all can change quickly. In first-year player drafts he is a late-round flier, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone will his caliber upside for the same price. He’s someone to target now while his cost is next to nothing, before he explodes onto the scene. His ETA is currently projected to be 2022, and adding the designated hitter in the National League, or a move to an American League team would be a major boost to his fantasy appeal. It’s clear he overmatched his competition during 2019, so the 2020 season will be telling for Ball, but an investment now and some patience could pay huge dividends.
“Every once in a while, a person comes along who defies the odds, who defies logic, and fulfills an incredible dream.” ~ Rocky Balboa
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