Scouting the Braves’ and Rays’ New Prospects

The Seattle Mariners made a pair of moves yesterday, the first of which featured the acquisition of OF Mallex Smith from Atlanta in exchange for pitching prospects Thomas Burrows and Luiz Gohara. They then turned Smith around and sent him to Tampa along with teenage INF Carlos Vargas and LHP Ryan Yarbrough for LHP Drew Smyly. Below are scouting reports on the prospects involved — as well as for Smith himself.

Smith slashed .238/.316/.365 across 215 big-league plate appearances in 2016 and split time defensively between left and center field (he doesn’t have the arm for right). He’s a punch-and-run hitter and lacks any modicum of in-game power due primarily to a swing path entirely geared for hard ground-ball and shallow line-drive contact. He tracks pitches well and has a somewhat stiff but compact stroke that allows him to put the ball in play.

What Smith does best is run, and that allows him to play terrific defense in the outfield. He has plus-plus speed and is especially adept at running down balls in the gap. He looks uncomfortable going back on balls hit over his head at times, which is why some think he fits best in left field. I think the speed plays in center field despite the occasional hiccup and that Smith will be an above-average defender there. He has a below-average arm.

It’s important that Smith stay in center field because his bat likely won’t play anywhere else, and some would argue that Smith’s complete inability to deal with left-handed pitching makes it hard to project him as anything more than a fourth outfielder. The presence of Kevin Kiermaier in Tampa means Smith is likely destined for a left-field platoon with Mikie Mahtook or one of Tampa Bay’s many other young outfielders. Unless his defense there is elite (considering the jump in measured defensive performance that ex-center-fielders like Adam Eaton have shown after moving to a corner I suppose it’s possible), it’s hard to envision a bat like Smith’s yielding average or better output from left field.

Carlos Vargas, just 18, also comes to Tampa and is an interesting low-level flier who spent the year in the DSL and showed a precocious ability to take a walk there. He’s got a big, lean, projectable body and projects to third base. He already has some pull power and his raw power projection is quite significant given that his 6-foot-3, 170-pound build doesn’t turn 18 until mid-March. He showed a consistent ability to drive the ball in the air during showcases in the Dominican before he signed.

Yarbrough is a pitchability lefty with a low-90s fastball and above-average changeup. His breaking ball is fringey and not all scouts like the delivery, but he throws strikes and neutralizes righties by consistently locating his changeup just off the plate. His fastball plays up against lefties due to his low arm slot. He projects as a back-end starter or up-and-down guy.

In the day’s first deal, the Atlanta Braves acquired yet another famous pitching prospect in monster Brazilian lefty Luiz Gohara. Gohara began 2016 back in extended spring training in part to improve upon his conditioning, and indeed he did. Scouts who saw Gohara by year’s end noted a dramatic improvement in his conditioning despite the fact that he remains quite large. (He’s listed at 6-foot-3, 210, but is probably closer to 250.) Gohara’s conditioning issues mask the fact that he has major-league athleticism, something that allows him to repeat his delivery fairly well for a big, 20-year-old lefty with an upper-90s heater. He’ll spike the occasional fastball, but generally fills the bottom of the strike zone and showed the ability to command his fastball to his glove side pretty consistently in the Fall League.

That fastball sat 94-97 and touched 99 in my AFL looks, velocity that was generated without a whole lot of violence or visible effort. The pitch has some late wiggle to it but doesn’t miss bats at the rate you might expect for a pitch that hard. Instead, its hefty downhill plane induces lots of weak ground-ball contact.

It’s reasonable to imagine that, under a heavier workload (he only threw 80 innings this year) and in longer outings, Gohara won’t throw quite that hard, but the fastball is still a good bet to be at least plus at maturity because of its sink and plane.

Gohara’s favorite secondary weapon (and, in AFL his only one — I saw no changeups and neither did the scouts to whome I’ve spoken who saw him here) is a mid-80s slider that tilted in anywhere between 83-86 during Fall League play. It doesn’t have extreme length or depth to it, but it does bite late and Gohara did a remarkable job of keeping it either down in the zone or below it. I think it’s an average pitch right now based on pure movement/stuff but could play as plus at peak, especially as Gohara refines his command of it. He showed some ability to locate it for strikes and toward the back foot of right-handed hitters in the Fall League.

Atlanta’s priorities for Gohara will likely be changeup development and, in perpetuity, physical maintenance. I’m projecting a future plus fastball and slider with above-average command. That’s at least a dominant reliever. He’s going to have to develop a third pitch and show that he’s able to maintain his stuff over 20-plus starts instead of a casual baker’s dozen, but the ceiling here is pretty significant. Only two qualified big-league lefties averaged greater than 94 mph on their fastballs this year (Danny Duffy and Robbie Ray), which is either an indication of just how exceptionally talented Gohara is, a sign that he’s destined to fail, or evidence that big-league clubs should be indicted for moving hard-throwing lefties to the bullpen too soon.

On upside, Gohara is one of baseball’s top-50 prospects (pretty conservatively), with the chance to be a No. 2 or 3 starter if everything comes together. He represents significant risk because of his occupation and history of conditioning issues. His floor (assuming he doesn’t completely flame out in the minors) is that of a late-inning reliever.

The secondary piece in Atlanta’s return is the left-handed Burrows, a fourth-rounder out of Alabama from the 2016 draft. He’s a low-slot, pure relief arm with an average fastball/slider combo that could play a half-grade above that due to deception. He profiles as a lefty specialist.

We hoped you liked reading Scouting the Braves’ and Rays’ New Prospects by Eric Longenhagen!

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Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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matt
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matt

Gohara seems a bit like Newcomb except he’s actually good

tz
Member

CC Sabathia upside > Mitch Williams upside