January 24, 2013 at 1:09 pm by Ethan Purser under Atlanta Braves
If you have not heard the news, where the heck have you been? The Atlanta Braves pulled off a blockbuster earlier this morning, trading Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill, Nick Ahmed, and Brandon Drury to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson. While there is sure to be excellent analysis forthcoming concerning the deal in its entirety, here are a few thoughts on the three prospects traded by the Braves.
Brandon Drury was the last player to be confirmed in the deal. The former 10th-round pick spent 2012 in Low-A Rome as a 19-year-old after posting a breakout season at Danville in 2011 in which he hit .347/.367/.525 with eight home runs and a 6:35 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 278 plate appearances. The lack of plate discipline was slightly concerning, but Drury was an 18-year-old in the Appalachian League, so we were willing to give him a mulligan.
The first half of 2012 was incredibly rough for Drury, posting a .495 OPS with two home runs and a 10:44 walk-to-strikeout ratio. In seeing him play, Drury looked absolutely lost at the plate, as he was not able to find a consistent landing point for his front foot. This inconsistency in his swing mechanics, which decreases leverage and bat speed, led to lots of weakly hit balls and whiffs on fastballs up and out of the zone. It also contributed to a good deal of head movement throughout the swing, which, among other things, limits one’s ability to properly size up breaking balls. As a result, Drury was extremely vulnerable on breaking balls low and away. In short, Drury could be beaten at the plate in a multitude of ways.
Drury was a different player at the plate in the second half of last year. The issues with his front foot became much less pronounced, allowing him to catch up to more fastballs and gain better leverage in his swing, which resulted in more hard hit balls all over the field. Overall, he hit .279/.323/.407 in the second half, with four home runs and a 10:29 walk-to-strikeout ratio.
Drury possesses an incredibly sweet swing, a stroke that is compact and adept at spraying line drives all over the field. While there is a wealth of potential in the bat, his lack of plate discipline is troubling. In order to fully realize the potential of his bat in the upper levels, Drury must learn to be more selective at the plate. Beyond this, Drury is not incredibly toolsy. He is not fast down the line—he’s in the 4.3-4.4 range—and his midsection projects to thicken as his body matures with age. While he does possess a solid arm and decent hands at third, the lack of athleticism, along with the body profile, point toward a future home at first base, a position he occupied for a majority of the season in deference to Kyle Kubitza. If he ends up at first base, Drury will have to hit as he climbs the ladder. While he does have his deficiencies, Drury has some upside and is a good get for Arizona at the back-end of a deal of this magnitude.
Nick Ahmed and Zeke Spruill are perhaps the better-known entities among fans of the Braves, both being second-round picks by the team in 2011 and 2008, respectively. Both participated in the Arizona Fall League this offseason and experienced success in front of talent evaluators from all over. Ahmed spent 2012 in High-A Lynchburg and received good reviews for his play at shortstop and for his bat, hitting .269/.337/.391 with six home runs and a 49:102 walk-to-strikeout ratio, while adding 40 stolen bases in 50 attempts. Ahmed can put the bat on the ball and profiles to have good gap power down the road due to his large frame. He raised his hands and moved them further away from his body in his setup this season, which changed the angle of his barrel at launch. Due to the added length involved, Ahmed struck out more than expected, although the rate was certainly tolerable. He’s a plus runner and has a plus arm in the field. While his ultimate defensive position remains to be seen, Ahmed should be, at the very least, a utility player at the major league level. He has a very good overall collection of tools with no glaring weaknesses, and while he is presumably blocked at shortstop by Didi Gregorius, Ahmed should find a way to contribute to Arizona’s big club sometime within the next two to three seasons.
Zeke Spruill has been a slow-and-steady riser in the system over the past five seasons. He spent 2012 in Double-A Mississippi, posting a 3.67 ERA with 106:46 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 161.2 innings pitched. Spruill did a great job keeping the ball on the ground, posting a 1.44 GO/AO ratio. His repertoire includes a hard-biting sinker that sits in the low-90s, a good changeup with plenty of fade and depth, and a slider that flashes above-average and has made great strides over the past few seasons. He displays above-average control, a trait that helps his repertoire play up. Spruill lacks a big swing-and-miss offering, but he mixes his pitches well and keeps hitters on their toes in the box. While his ceiling may not be incredibly high, Spruill should fit well in the back-end of a rotation or in the bullpen as a swingman or middle reliever. Arizona currently has a nice stockpile of young pitching, so it remains to be seen if Spruill can fight his way into what will certainly be a crowded picture in the coming years.
While the loss of these three prospects certainly hurts the state of an already-weak farm system, the Braves were adamant in not trading away their highest-ceiling prospects, a move that should be lauded. Most of the talent in the Braves’ system is currently in the lower levels, and big years from Mauricio Cabrera, Jose Peraza, Lucas Sims, and other high-ceiling 2012 draftees should lessen the impact of this trade on the farm system. Bravo, Frank Wren and Co.