Kelly Johnson is a very good baseball player. He’s also a fan-favorite and a favorite of the Braves’ front office and of the current manager. But Johnson may also be remembered for two trades that have helped the Braves improve the pitching depth in the minor league system.
A year ago, the Braves traded Johnson for John Gant and Rob Whalen. They were two pitchers considered mid-level prospects by the Mets. It’s not like the Braves were getting Steven Matz for Johnson, but they may have gotten more than they originally thought.
Then the Braves signed Johnson back as a free agent this past winter. They then traded him again to the Mets for minor league reliever Akeel Morris.
Those three pitchers have done very well in Braves’ uniforms. And those two trades are what you want when trading a veteran for young talent.
Gant is currently on the Atlanta disabled list with an oblique issue. He was in the rotation at the time of his injury and was doing well. Gant’s overall ERA in Atlanta is 4.45, but in his four games as a starter Gant’s ERA is 3.38. He had 17 strikeouts in 18.2 innings, and many are starting to think Gant can be a legit rotation option for Atlanta moving forward. He's got great stuff, and the Braves likely want to see more of him in the big league rotation when he comes off the disabled list.
Then there’s Whalen, who is dominating in Double-A at Mississippi. He’s 7-5 with a 2.20 ERA in 17 starts. Whalen has allowed just 79 hits in 98.1 innings, 36 walks and 92 strikeouts. Whalen is first in the Southern League in innings pitched, second in strikeouts and third in ERA.
I’m not sure the Braves know what they have in Whalen. This is somewhat of a surprise. They knew there might be a pitcher who was not as highly rated as the others to emerge as more of a prospect, and there’s no doubt Whalen is that pitcher this year. But Whalen has gone from someone looked at as somewhat ordinary (not bad, just ordinary) to somewhat interesting.
Whalen has definitely gotten on the radar for the discussion about the future of the Atlanta pitching staff. Is he a legit candidate for the rotation? Well, Whalen has shown he can last in games and be successful, so why not? You wonder if after the Braves make a few more trades if Whalen gets a shot later this year in Atlanta. They may be curious to see him at the big league level after what he's done in Double-A this season.
Morris has pitched in eight games out of the Mississippi bullpen since his arrival. Morris has a 1.59 ERA, with five hits allowed in 11.1 innings, nine walks and 13 strikeouts. He’s got to get the walks down, but it’s been a good start for Morris so far in the Braves’ organization.
Morris is yet another relief prospect who may be a candidate for the Braves in the next year. The Braves have acquired several relievers (like Caleb Dirks and Phil Pfeifer) in deals this season.
So the two Kelly Johnson deals have acquired three very interesting arms. That’s just the kind of trade you want to make when trading veteran players. We’ll see the next few years just what kind of impact Gant, Whalen and Morris can make in Atlanta.
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