Braves’ Anthopoulos making moves despite past prospect evaluations

Alex Anthopoulos was given complete control of the Braves’ baseball operations when he was hired as general manager, free of concerns about paying off players to just go away, free of ties to the player evaluations of past regimes.

If there was any lingering doubt about that, it was eliminated in the final weekend of spring training.

The transactions that affirmed Anthopoulos's power just before this week's opener:

-- Scott Kazmir, who had one year remaining on a contract that pays him $16 million, was released. The Braves knew what they were getting into with Kazmir. They picked up his contract despite the fact he missed all of last season with a hip injury, primarily because the Los Angeles Dodgers had agreed to take Matt Kemp in return.

Kemp had two years totaling more than $40 million left on his deal. The Braves took the short-term hit, even knowing Kazmir might not make the team, because the trade would clear payroll space for 2019. But even with Kazmir having a mediocre spring (4.22 ERA), it’s significant that Anthopoulos didn’t keep him on the roster at least for three to four weeks of the season to see if he would come around -- and that he was allowed by ownership to release him.

-- Three young pitchers, Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair and Lucas Sims, were optioned to the minors. There’s a lot to unpack here.

First, about Sims. In six appearances this spring, he was 0-2 with a 10.13 ERA. He allowed 18 hits, 17 runs (15 earned), 10 walks and four home runs in 13.1 innings. Sims was the Braves’ first pick (21st overall) out of Brookwood High School in 2012 under then-general manager Frank Wren.

He was the team’s No. 1 ranked prospect. That might have been in part a statement about how weak the player development system was at the time. But there’s little question the front office and scouting staff was high on Sims. From one prospect rankings website: Sims “has all the attributes of a future No. 2 starter. The complete package.”

His team prospect ranking in the next three years dropped to third (2014), 10th (2015) and 16th (2016). He’s still only 23 years old so it’s not like his career is over. But it illustrates the unreliability of prospect rankings, particularly young pitchers.

Wisler was the only potential piece for the future in the Craig Kimbrel/B.J. Upton trade with San Diego. The deal was all about the Padres willingness to take Upton's contract, which is why the Braves packaged him with one of the game's best closers. He was San Diego's No. 2 rated prospect.

One website blared a few years ago, “Wisler is arguably the best prospect in the Braves' farm system now, and there's a good chance he's ready for Atlanta sometime in 2015.” Oops. He had a spring ERA of 8.10 in six games, and he allowed 12 runs in his last three outings. He failed to retire any of seven Detroit batters he faced last Friday. His numbers in his first three seasons with the Braves: 109 innings, 4.71 ERA (2015), 156.2 innings, 5.10 ERA (2016), 32.1 innings, 8.35 ERA (2016). He’s going in the wrong direction.

Blair was the Braves' No. 2 pitching prospect and No. 4 overall in 2015, behind Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb and Ozzie Albies. He was acquired from Arizona with Swanson and Ender Inciarte on the lopsided Shelby Miller trade, probably the best deal during John Coppolella's tenure. But he's 2-8 with a 7.89 ERA in 16 major league appearances and this spring was nothing special (1-1, 4.15). When Anthopoulos signed veteran free agent Anibal Sanchez to a minor-league contract last month, it was a sign he was concerned about his younger pitchers and the bullpen in general.

One prospect ratings site on Blair in 2015: “Blair shouldn't need too much more seasoning in the minor leagues and could be called upon to help out the big league rotation in the near future. He could develop into a very solid and durable middle-of-the-rotation type starter.”

Coppolella and John Hart frequently referenced Wisler and Blair as the first wave of Braves' young pitchers who would lead the organization out of the dark. That hasn't happened. Credit to Anthopoulos for evaluating the players on his own and not bringing either north with the team from Florida.

The demotions of Wisler, Blair and Sims shouldn’t be taken as a statement on some of the Braves’ other young arms (Sean Newcomb, Max Fried, Kolby Allard, Kyle Wright, Mike Soroka, Luiz Gohara).

But note: Gohara, who some still believe can crack the rotation this season, had a terrible spring. He has weight issues and he suffered groin and ankle injuries. So he’s out of the picture for a while.

Gohara is currently the Braves' No. 4 prospect, behind Ronald Acuna, Wright and Soroka. But no guarantees.

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