Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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Touki Toussaint is 1-0 in the bigs. Thanks, Dave Stewart

For the record, Touki Toussaint didn’t throw a 96-mph fastball on his first big-league pitch. (That was a mere 94 mph.) He didn’t hit 96 until his seventh fastball, and then again on his eighth. You wonder if Dave Stewart – who as Arizona general manager traded Toussaint to the Braves on June 20, 2015 – was monitoring via the MLB At-Bat app. If so, you wonder what he was thinking, although it wouldn’t be hard to guess.

Of the many trades made by John Coppolella, the GM now banned from baseball, the swoop for Toussaint was the most inspired. With the rebuilding Braves lusting after young arms, Coppolella plucked a pitcher who’d been the 16th player drafted the year before – who’d turned 19 the day of the deal – for the $10.1 million guaranteed Bronson Arroyo, who was hurt and whose contract was off-loaded to the Dodgers in the Hector Olivera trade. 

In an era where draft picks are the sport’s highest currency, Coppolella bought a teenage Round 1 pick for cash. Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline tweeted that it was “the most inexplicable trade I’ve ever seen.” The Braves acquired a major asset. As for the Diamondbacks? They got utility infielder Phil Gosselin and salary relief. Whoa, Nellie.

The outcry in Phoenix was so severe that Stewart sought to defend himself. He told Fox Sports: "Guys are mentioning that (Toussaint) throws 96 mph. He hasn't thrown 96 mph since he's been here. We haven't seen 96 once. There is some inflation of what people think Touki is.” 

Then: “We think he'll be a major-league pitcher. We don't see it happening in the next three or four years. Maybe five or six years down the road, he'll show up and be a major-league pitcher.” 

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Er … no. Three years, one month and 21 days after the Braves stole him, Touki Toussaint, now a ripe old 22, made his MLB debut. And he was … 

Just great. 

We’ve grown accustomed to young arms making banner debuts – Sean Newcomb last summer (6 1/3 innings, no runs, four hits, seven strikeouts), Mike Soroka this May (six innings, one run, six hits, five strikeouts) – and Toussaint’s was no less impressive. His team won 9-1. He worked six innings, yielding one run on two hits; he struck out four, walking two. The first of the hits was a blooper off a curve. He threw four different pitches – a four-seamer touching 96; two-seamer at slightly less; in the 70s, and, starting in the second inning, a changeup in the 80s. 

OK, so he was facing the Marlins, who may or may not be a major-league team, but still: He was under duress only in the second inning, when a walk, the bloop and a solid double left the game tied at 1 with runners on second and third and nobody out. Those runners never budged. Toussaint retired Magneuris Sierra on a short fly to left. (Changeup.) He struck out Yadiel Rivera on three pitches. (Curve, curve, curve.) He struck out Pablo Lopez looking. (Fastball at 96.) 

Said Braves manager Brian Snitker: “I really liked his assortment … It was pretty impressive … He’s got a feel for what he’s doing … I never thought the game speeded up for him.” 

Said Toussaint: “It was surreal … When you go out there, it’s like, ‘You’re a big-leaguer.’ ” 

And his thoughts when the Marlins had two on and a run in: “Just play catch.” 

In June 2015, Stewart made the laugh-out-loud claim that Toussaint’s value was $2.7 million – his signing bonus after being drafted. (The future value of a prospect who becomes no more than a replacement-level player is many times that.) Wrote Dave Cameron in FanGraphs: “If he actually believes it and is going to continue to value the team’s prospects at the same level of their signing bonus, he should be fired before he gets around to swapping Dansby Swanson for a middle reliever this winter.” 

So yeah. That happened, too. (Although not for a middle reliever – for Shelby Miller, a starting pitcher who has become a forlorn figure.) In December 2015, Stewart sent Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair to the Braves. Blair flopped, which is why teams buy pitching in bulk. Inciarte was an All-Star last year and was in center field for Toussaint’s big-league bow. Had Swanson started at short, that would have been too much for Arizona fans to bear, but he sat out Game 1 of the day-night doubleheader. 

We can’t say the D-backs have fallen apart: They’re leading the National League West. But they’ve done it without Toussaint, Inciarte and Swanson – and without Stewart, who was fired 15 months after the Toussaint trade. Twice in six months, Coppolella fleeced a new GM who wasn’t crazy about the talent he’d inherited. 

Seeing Toussaint in the majors at 22 – he won’t be here long this time, but he’ll be back to stay soon enough – could serve as a cautionary tale for baseball people, except that most everybody in the game knew what a silly trade Arizona had made. You don’t give up an 19-year-old arm for salary relief. Dave Stewart did. He saved a little money and wound up losing his job. But he sure as heck boosted the Braves.

About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.

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