John Coppollela hasn’t been as swap-happy as Jerry Dipoto this offseason. As Dave Cameron and Jeff Sullivan have recently written, Seattle’s general manager has dominated the transaction log. That doesn’t mean Coppolella hasn’t been busy. The Atlanta GM has made several moves of his own, acquiring both oldsters — hello R.A., hola Bartolo — and a passel of youngsters.
Four of the prospects the Braves have brought on board came over from the Mariners. In late November, Coppolella and Dipoto swung a deal that brought 2014 first-round pick Alex Jackson to Atlanta in exchange for Max Povse and Rob Whalen. A few weeks later, left-hander Tyler Pike, a 2012 third-round pick, came to the Braves as the PTBNL in that transaction. Last week, Coppolella’s club moved Mallex Smith and Shae Simmons to Seattle, and got a pair of southpaws in return — 2016 fourth-round pick Thomas Burrows, and 20-year-old Brazilian Luiz Gohara.
Coppolella discussed the acquisitions of the four prospects, including a planned position switch for one of them, over the weekend.
Coppolella on Atlanta’s previous interest in the players: “In 2016, we had Tom Burrows’ folder in a group of folders at our draft table, so we literally had our pockets picked by Seattle. In 2014, we didn’t draft until pick No. 32, and Alex Jackson was in the mix to go No. 1 overall, so we didn’t waste time discussing him, though we had admired him for years. In 2012, I remember Dom Chiti — now our Director of Pitching – had mentioned Tyler Pike because he was from Winter Haven, where Dom lives. But as a scouting department we never followed up on the player. We are happy to have him now and, ironically, the first person he met with from the Braves was Dom. Finally, when Luiz Gohara signed in August 2012, we had a couple of reports, which were very impressive, but he had already made a deal with Seattle.”
On the players’ scouting reports: “Scouting reports are snapshots in time, and all of the players have evolved. There hasn’t been a whole lot of change with Burrows since he was drafted seven months ago. Jackson, Pike, and Gohara have all changed, but are still young players with significant upsides. Jackson had a solid showing in a tough hitter’s league where he missed time; Pike had one of the best strikeout rates of any left-handed starting pitcher in the minor leagues. Gohara was absolutely dominant, both in terms of stuff and performance, throughout the 2016 season.”
On trade targets and organizational need: “There’s a great synergy between all of our scouting departments and player development, so based on need, the four players we acquired were all [trade] targets. We feel like you can’t have enough left-handed pitching, so Burrows, Pike, and Gohara will fit well with many of the other left-handed pitchers we have acquired the past two years. Jackson is a special bat and, together, we are going to see if he’s able to catch, because it’s such a huge long-term need for our organization.”
On moving Jackson, who was a catcher as an amateur, back behind the plate: “We felt he had the requisite tools to seek out this opportunity. Alex has a terrific arm, good actions, and, perhaps most importantly, he seems motivated to make the most of this opportunity. Alex has been working with Jeff Datz, who has overseen many catching conversions and worked with many All-Star catchers.
“We discussed it internally, but part of that discussion was also the understanding that Alex may not want to catch and that we would have to be satisfied with him if that were the case. However, the fact that Alex was willing to trust us, and himself, in this process makes us really excited.”
On approaching Jackson about a position switch: “We met with Alex and spoke about it with him and with his agent, Scott Boras. All of us felt like it was an opportunity worth pursuing. Catching is the biggest long-term need in our organization, so if we feel Alex’s bat can play as a corner outfielder, imagine how well it would play as a catcher.
“Dave Trembley and Jonathan Schuerholz flew out to Alex less than 48 hours after we made the trade. It’s a credit to those two men that they were able to drop everything and make Alex the top priority.”
On the talks with Seattle and consummating a deal: “It’s not right to comment on specifics of trade talks, but it’s safe to say the front offices in both Atlanta and Seattle are aggressive. It’s worth noting that Jerry is extremely professional about returning calls and texts, open to ideas, and not afraid to make moves, particularly in terms of trading prospects. It’s amazing how many conversations get shot down almost immediately, but Jerry will listen and engage.
“Trades take a lot of time and teams never really stop working. Medicals are always a big process on both sides. When we finally got word that both sides were good on medicals, I was scheduled to be in an interview for a potential scouting hire. We had started the interview when Jerry called me, so I had to step out of the interview to notify our players who had been traded, call the new players we acquired to welcome them to the organization, and work out timing with our media-relations department on an announcement. Long story short, I missed the entire interview, but we still hired the candidate.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.