In a highly anticipated move, on December 19th, the Braves traded Justin Upton and Aaron Northcraft to the San Diego Padres for prospects Max Fried, Jace Peterson, Mallex Smith and Dustin Peterson. After trading away Jason Heyward, whispers regarding the Braves moving Upton really flared up. Like Heyward, Upton is entering the final year of his contract and will be hitting Free Agency next offseason. The Braves realized that realistically other teams would drive up Upton’s price come next winter. He is estimated by many to earn around $20 million annually in his next deal. Upton has been arguably the Braves best offensive weapon the last couple of seasons, but Atlanta decided to maximize the return they could get for him rather than settle for a compensation pick down the road. Justin was traded to Atlanta alongside Chris Johnson in the deal that sent Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and others to the Diamondbacks prior to the 2013 season. The Braves thought that with the acquisition of Justin and signing of his brother BJ they had themselves a dynamic duo, but things just didn’t work out the way Frank Wren and Co. thought they would. While a streaky hitter like his brother, Justin was far from the problem. Last year he hit for a .270 average, 29 home runs and 102 RBIs, while his brother struggled in his shadow. However, Atlanta now finds themselves financially capped due to BJ’s lack of production and albatross contract. The Braves obviously aren’t going to be able to replicate Upton’s production in 2015, but this move is all about the future. Let’s look at what the Braves got in return for the slugger:
For a one year rental of Upton, the Braves did get a good haul of young talent. The prize in this trade is LHP Max Fried, who was the number 7 pick overall in the 2012 MLB Draft. Prior to last season, MLB.com had Fried ranked #43 overall on their top 100 prospect list. Fried rises near the top of every Braves prospect list. Personally, I have him ranked in my top 5. Fried underwent Tommy John surgery this past season and will sit out 2015, but is still only 21 years old. He projects to be a top of the line big league starter and was one of the highest regarded left-handed pitching prospects prior to his surgery. Fried played in A-level ball last season and will likely be in the Rome or Mississippi rotation come 2016.
The only player the Braves acquired that likely has a chance to contribute to the big league club this year is Jace Peterson. Like Fried, Peterson was a first round pick, selected in the 2011 MLB Draft. He had his first cup of tea in the Majors this past season, but struggled to a .113 batting average in 53 ABs. Personally, I like what I see in Peterson and as of now I think he has the highest upside of any candidate for the 2B spot this year in Atlanta. In his first Spring Training game yesterday against the Mets, Peterson had a ground rule double and two walks, showing great plate discipline. Last season, he hit .307 in 322 ABs over the AA and AAA levels. Peterson is a strong candidate for a backup infielder spot due to his versatility and ability to play second base, third base and shortstop. Peterson also offers the Braves’ lineup some speed as he has accumulated 148 stolen bases over four minor league seasons. It’s really not out of the question for him to be hitting atop the Braves lineup at some point this season. Peterson is a contact and speed player and I think he’s a great fit for new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer’s approach.
Another high round prospect, the Braves also acquired 3B prospect Dustin Peterson. Peterson, 20, was the Padres’ 2nd round selection in the 2013 MLB Draft. In his first full minor league season, Peterson hit .233 with 10 home runs and 79 RBIs. While the average could use some work, it is always intriguing to see some power in the farm system. Peterson’s upside is crazy high and he will likely begin the season in Mississippi as a 20 year old. His goal for the year will be to cut down on strikeouts. He is the brother of Mariners top prospect D.J. Peterson.
Perhaps the piece we acquired that I am most excited for is Mallex Smith. I’m a big fan of the contact and speed game that Smith plays. Last season, Mallex lead all Minor League hitters with 88 steals. Combine this with his .310 batting average and .403 on-base percentage and now were talking an intriguing prospect. I am higher on Smith than others, but I think this kid is our center fielder of the future. Smith is only 21, and will likely play in Mississippi this season. Consider a Braves lineup in a few years with Mallex Smith and Braves’ top prospect Jose Peraza atop it. Last season, the two combined for 148 steals. Braves fans should be salivating looking at these numbers. Smith can be the leadoff man the Braves have desperately needed since the departure of Michael Bourn.
What do you think of the move Braves fans?