Breaking Down the Prospects in the Justin Upton Trade

The Braves are sending right fielder Justin Upton and a yet-to-be-named-publicly low level prospect to the Padres for for pitcher Max Fried, center fielder Mallex Smith, second baseman Jace Peterson and third baseman Dustin Peterson.  It’s an interesting way for Atlanta to get a very high upside player not usually available in a package for a one-year rental.  As I did with my breakdown of the Wil Myers trade, I’ve ranked the pieces in order of my preference, with a note where there’s a virtual tie.

Video Credit to DiamondScapeBaseball

Max Fried, LHP, Atlanta Braves
Fastball: 50/60, Curveball: 50/60, Changeup: 45/55, Command: 40/50, FV: 50

The 6’4/185 lefty was half of what may have been the best 1-2 punch in high school baseball history, with Nationals top prospect RHP Lucas Giolito at Harvard Westlake High School in 2012.  Unfortunately, Giolito’s senior season ended prematurely by Tommy John surgery and Fried himself also had the surgery performed on him this past August.  Scouts were concerned going into the 2012 draft spring about the unusually high volume of pitches with limited down time on the high school’s pitching program, but these sorts of injuries are always due to a number of factors and some bad luck.  Fried was taken #7 overall in the 2012 draft.

Fried was shut down early in 2014 as a precaution, his subsequent MRI was clean, he went on a long rehab program and when he went back to the mound, his elbow popped a few starts into his return.  He’s due back on the mound sometime around fall instructional league in 2015.  Even in those few starts before his elbow popped in 2014, Fried’s stuff was still pretty close to his peak stuff: 90-93, hitting 96 mph with a plus curveball and improving above average changeup.  His stuff will vary start to start and his changeup flashes 60 for some scouts, but not often and never when at the same time as his curveball.  Fried’s clean mechanics aren’t a concern and he has lots of projection to his frame, so these future grades could be conservative, but Fried’s upside is #2/3 starter.

Fried has lost two years of development with 2014 and 2015 both essentially a wash and he’ll have some considerable mental and feel for pitching type obstacles to overcome.  Fried is a candidate to go to the Arizona Fall League next year if everything checks out by October and the Braves are hoping the roughly 85% success rate on Tommy John surgeries applies to Fried; he’s not on the table for this trade if he’s healthy.

Mallex Smith, CF, Atlanta Braves
Hit: 20/45, Raw Power: 40/40, Game Power: 20/35, Run: 80/80, Field: 50/60, Throw: 45/45, FV: 40

Smith was a 5th rounder in 2012 out of a Florida junior college and he has an easy tool to buy into: 80 speed.  He has instincts to use that speed on the bases, and his 88 regular season stolen bases bear that out.  Smith is a little rougher defensively in center field, but that kind of closing speed means only small improvements are necessary to be above average with the glove.  He has simple swing mechanics but  can have a higher-effort swing with an abrupt finish at times and still needs to adjust his approach to strike out less and put the ball in play on the ground more often.  Smith doesn’t have the handsy looseness at the plate scouts are looking for, but he has some feel for hitting and is a patient, late-count hitter that shows all the attributes of a potential leadoff hitter.  His speed and approach will play up his pure hit grade in game situations; Smith is likely to be at least a reserve outfielder in the big leagues.

Note: Luckily for me with all these recent Padres trades, I was making calls on the Padres system, so I already had notes on handy on all these players.  Smith and Jace Peterson were ranked back-to-back and at the top of the 40 FV group, so flipping the two in rank, or moving one or both up a grade are both reasonable conclusions.

Jace Peterson, 2B, Atlanta Braves
Hit: 30/50, Raw Power: 45/45, Game Power: 30/35, Run: 50/50+, Field: 45/50, Throw: 50/50, FV: 40

Peterson was an under-slot bonus sandwich round pick in the 2011 draft out of McNeese State, but he had limited baseball experience as he also played cornerback on the football team.  He may not even have a 55 tool, but Peterson makes the most out of what he has.  His average or so speed plays up on the bases and in the field; he came up as a shortstop, but fits better at second base and third base, where his defensive tools profile.

Peterson doesn’t have huge bat speed, power or even the prettiest mechanics, but he has a good approach at the plate, works counts in his favor and gears his in-game swing for contact over power, with a good approach versus lefties.  He would have to really outplay his tools to become an everyday player, but Peterson got a cup of coffee in September and is ready to contribute in 2015.  He’s a guy that has consistently played better than his tools, can contribute at multiple premium positions with below average offensive impact but a broad base of skills.

Video Credit to MinorLeagueBaseball

Dustin Peterson, 3B/LF, Atlanta Braves
: 20/45, Raw Power: 55/55, Game Power: 20/50, Run: 50/50, Field: 40/45+, Throw: 45/45+, FV: 40

Peterson is the younger brother of Mariners top prospect D.J. Peterson; D.J. went 12th overall in the 2013 draft out of New Mexico while Dustin went 50th overall to the Padres out of an Arizona high school in the same draft.  D.J.’s rise likely contributed to scouts moving Dustin up boards as they regretted underrating his older brother three years prior. Dustin played shortstop in high school but scouts debated where he would end up in pro ball, with second base, third base and left field the potential fits.

Peterson played third base this year in Low-A but his defensive home isn’t completely set, as the Padres tried Peterson in left field in instructs. He’s a fringy to average runner with a below average arm, so the defensive value will never be huge but Peterson has above average raw power and bat speed as his carrying tools.  He has an advanced feel for the bat head, so the tools are here for an everyday player, but Peterson will have to hit a lot more, particularly if he ends up moving to left field long-term.  He ranked at the end of my draft of the Padres prospect list.

Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.

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8 years ago

How did Harang manage to be a 4-war player while being backed by that OF? Impressive. Perhaps Cashner can pull off something similar in 2015? Btw, can you please fix the link? It goes to my dad right now.

8 years ago
Reply to  Junior

Wrong article?

8 years ago
Reply to  Vslyke

Perhaps why he asked for the link to be fixed.