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January 25, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Justin Upton Trade-Rumor Era Ends With Justin Upton Trade

by R.J. Anderson and Jason Parks

IN THIS ISSUE

National League

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
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Acquired 3B/OF-R Martin Prado, RHPs Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill, SS-R Nick Ahmed, and 3B-R Brandon Drury from the Braves for  OF-R Justin Upton and 3B-R Chris Johnson. [1/24]

Here's something unexpected: Justin Upton was traded for a package of players of which Martin Prado is the closest thing to an impact player.

Between the crowded outfield and the inclusion of Johnson in this trade, Prado seems primed to take over hot corner duties for Arizona. He fits in with Kevin Towers' stray-from-strikeouts philosophy, as he's one of the league's most contact-orientated hitters. Prado is also a superb defensive player. Increases in stolen bases and walks last season are developments worth monitoring. Never one to swipe bases, Prado more than doubled his career total by stealing 17 bases. He also walked 8.4 percent of the time, a speck of dust more than his previous career-best. You'll never see Prado among the league leaders in either category but improvements in those areas, along with his contact and glove, make him a worthwhile starter in a corner.

There are two obvious downsides with Prado. For one, he's a free agent at year's end. The Diamondbacks should have the funds to re-sign him should they choose. The other drawback is upside. Although you wouldn't suspect it based on the mainstream evaluation of both players, Prado has posted a higher OPS+ than Upton in two of the past three seasons. That trend is unlikely to continue for obvious reasons, but it does speak to why Arizona was willing to swap Upton out for a Prado-headed package. Arizona had not mollycoddled their ex-franchise cornerstone in recent years and one suspects the relationship had reached, or was nearing, an untenable point.

Delgado is the other big-league-ready player headed to Arizona. The Panama native has 24 big-league starts under his belt already despite not turning 23 until February. He used to elicit Jair Jurrjens comparisons (before that was a bad thing) because of his polish and his arsenal: a fastball capable of touching the mid-90s, a plus changeup, and a developing curve. Delgado profiles as a middle-of-the-rotation starter, an upside which saw him lag behind Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino on recent Braves' prospect lists. There were murmurs that Delgado was tipping his pitches early in the 2012 season, so keep that in mind when shrugging at his overall numbers. He'll earn his first full year of big-league service time in the first week of the new season, and will not become a free agent until after the 2018 season. —R.J. Anderson

 

Nick Ahmed is a gamer/grinder type on a physically impressive frame, with a really good feel for the game. The arm is quite strong, and the actions fluid enough to play on the left side of the infield. His defensive skill-set isn’t high-end, but he’s the type of player who makes all the plays that he can make. The bat is the biggest question mark, as the hit tool is fringy. He shows some bat control, but the swing itself can get long and the bat speed isn’t overly impressive. He has good speed for his size and comes to the plate with a plan, so he brings a secondary element to his offensive game. The finished product is probably a utility infielder, with a defensive profile capable of playing all infield spots, and a bat that could function down the lineup. While not an impact talent, Ahmed looks like a future major leaguer in some capacity, and given the defensive skill-set, the speed, and the approach, should provide value in a bench role.

Brandon Drury has a wide gap between the present and future, but has the potential to develop into a role-5 player at third base. The defensive profile is strong, and even though he’s a not a hot corner wizard, he can handle the responsibilities at the position; the glove is more than fine, the arm is strong, and the instincts are present. At the plate, he brings 5/5 projections on both the hit and power tools, but he has a long way to go before he finds that utility in game action. He can get too aggressive at the plate, and struggles against quality stuff, both with fastballs and two-plane breakers. He isn’t going to impact the game with his legs, but isn’t a clogger, and he shows good reactions and lateral movements on defense. He really struggled in the Sally League, and could probably use a return trip to Low-A in 2013. There is some promise here, but it’s a high-risk profile based on the developmental space that exists between the player he is now and the player he has the potential to be. He isn’t a top 10 prospect in either system, but is an interesting candidate to move up the ranks if he can find his stroke and refine his approach at the plate.

Zeke Spruill is an interesting arm who isn’t likely to produce sexy stats, but should develop into a major leaguer in some form. He’s very long in his delivery, coming from a low slot and showing a lot of moving parts. His fastball is heavy, and when he works it low in the zone it is very hard for hitters to lift. It’s not a velo monster, but with the deception in the delivery (hides ball, fast arm), plus movement, and low-90s velocity that can spike to the mid-90s, the pitch is a plus offering. He backs up the fastball with a changeup that he can cut and fade, and looks like a pitch that will play as a 5. He can overthrow it and cut it into the bat path, but it plays nicely off the fastball and is tough to recognize out of the hand. His breaking ball shows average quality at times, but is inconsistent. Because of the slot, he struggles to stay over it and the pitch gets slurvy and loose.  The overall command profile is good, and he shows the ability to work east/west as well as locating at the base of the zone. He’s most likely a no. 5 starter who chews innings and pitches to weak contact, but if the breaking ball can get a little sharper and the changeup more consistent, he has a chance to be a little more.  Not a bad arm to bring into a system. —Jason Parks

The description of Randall Delgado's repertoire has been changed.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Acquired OF-R Justin Upton and 3B-R Chris Johnson from the Diamondbacks for 3B/OF-R Martin Prado, RHPs Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill, SS-R Nick Ahmed, and 3B-R Brandon Drury. [1/24]

Let's put this in real-world terms. Would your performance at work improve if one of your coworkers happened to be a sibling? Probably not, but sports are weird and brothers reuniting makes for easy copy; so here we are, neck-deep in pieces about the Harbaugh brothers and now the Upton brothers. If the Uptons do play better than expected then we'll have even more pieces highlighting their togetherness as the key while ignoring that these are two grown individuals capable of handling their own business.

Upton the Young faces many of the same criticisms as Upton the Old. Both must shake being known as drastic underachievers when their production is juxtaposed with their skills. The belief in Atlanta from the outside appears to be that they can provide a fostering environment where the Uptons can feel valued, desired, and enabled to reach their potential. It's an interesting theory—one located in Russell Carleton's wheelhouse—and a departure from the days when we'd all poke fun at the Braves for trading Yunel Escobar and benching Jason Heyward for older, worse counterparts.

The bottom line on Upton is that he's a solid player most years. The path he takes moving forward is unclear, and as irritating as it is exciting. His age and flashes of brilliance are enough to leave us envisioning a future honeycombed with awards and a bust. But what if Upton just remains what he is: a solid-to-good everyday player who failed to live up to great expectations? Even then you can walk away feeling like the Braves took an appropriate gamble as they attempt to get over the top. Still, you can't shake the idea of asymmetrical information. Why was Kevin Towers hellbent on trading Upton? Why did no other team—save Seattle and Texas—make a real run at Upton? Perhaps those are false concerns, rooted in an assumption that Towers and everyone else acted in a rational matter. We'll learn soon: Upton has three years and roughly $38 million separating him from free agency. If things go poorly, he might reprise his role as the Walking Trade Rumor.

Under normal circumstances adding a right-handed hitter, like Johnson, to a roster with a left-handed hitter at the same position, like Juan Francisco, leads to platoon talk. Yet Johnson boasts reverse splits for his career to date. It's too early to say whether Johnson's reverse splits are a legitimate feature or a statistical mirage. For now, bet on Johnson being a normal right-handed hitter. The Braves are certainly betting on the hitter part because Johnson brings little value elsewhere. He's under team control through the 2016 season. —R.J. Anderson

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Justin Upton,  Randall Delgado,  Martin Prado

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