The Braves made their ninth trade of the offseason Friday afternoon when they shipped pitchers David Hale and Gus Schlosser, who were both on the 2014 opening day roster, to the Colorado Rockies for minor league catchers Jose Briceno and Chris O'Dowd.
Atlanta was in desperate need of improving the depth at the catching position in the minor league system. Christian Bethancourt is about to 'graduate' from the farm system and become the everyday major league catcher for the Braves. The next best prospect is Tanner Murphy, who will turn 20 next month and will likely be in Rome this season.
Briceno, who was ranked as Colorado's 11th best prospect by Fan Graphs, is a 22-year-old right-handed hitter. Last year in Low-A Asheville, Briceno hit .283 in 350 plate appearances with 12 home runs and 50 RBI. Briceno will likely be the starting catcher for the Braves High-A affiliate in Carolina this season.
Reports have Briceno possessing a strong arm. He threw out 35 of the 80 baserunners that attempted to run on him. That's a very decent 43.8% success rate.
He's also played a handful of games at first base in his minor league career. The Braves believe Briceno has a chance to be an everyday starting catcher in the big leagues.
Briceno was named as the Rockies' organization All-Star catcher after 2014 the season. This is what his manager in Asheville, Fred Ocasio, had to say about Briceno to MLB.com after the season:
"Briceno had a great year. Especially down the stretch, he came up with some of the big hits. It seemed like every time we had bases loaded, two outs, and we just needed the ball to be put in play or get a base hit here and there, he'd come up with a double off the wall, three RBIs. Behind the plate, he's got an above-average arm -- people know that. They don't run on him. He ended up picking off  guys at first base or third base. The one thing with him is that he's not afraid to throw. He's aggressive. He wants to throw."
O'Dowd, who is the son of former Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd (who by the way once worked for current Braves leader John Hart), split last season between High-A Modesto and Double-A Tulsa. He hit a combined .271 with five home runs and 48 RBI in 471 plate appearances. It is believe O'Dowd will be the starting catcher in Double-A Mississippi.
The Braves did not believe Hale was a starting pitcher. If so, he probably would have been kept and been apart of the competition for the fifth starter's job in spring training. Atlanta has Eric Stults, Wandy Rodriguez, Mike Foltynewicz, Chien-Ming Wang, James Russell and Manny Banuelos are expected to battle for that spot.
Hale was Atlanta's third round pick in the 2009 draft out of Princeton. He's an Atlanta kid, from The Walker School in Marietta, the city where he was born in 1987. Hale pitched in 45 games for Atlanta last year and had a 3.30 ERA. The biggest knock on Hale is his low strikeouts, as he had only 44 last year.
The Braves just believed Hale was more suited for a long-relief role. It will be interesting to see if the Rockies place him in their rotation.
Atlanta will have Craig Kimbrel, Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson and Josh Outman in the bullpen. A few of the pitchers battling for the fifth starter's job (like Russell or Wang or Wandy/Stults) could be in the bullpen if they pitch well in March. Arodys Vizcaino is an option, along with Shae Simmons. Luis Avilan is still on the roster (for now), along with minor leaguers Juan Jaime, Brandon Cunniff, Ian Thomas, Donnie Veal and Michael Kohn.
With that depth, Hale was expendable. Also, Schlosser was probably slated for the Triple-A rotation, but the numbers there look like it would have been difficult for him to win a job this March.
In the nine trades made this offseason, 31 players have been traded, with 16 coming into the Braves organization and 15 leaving for the other teams.
Expect the Braves to continue to look for similar moves to help increase the talent level and depth in the farm system.
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Braves trade Hale & Schlosser for 2 catchers
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