Pitcher Aaron Blair was released by the Braves on Thursday, less than five years after the big right-hander was selected in the first round of the June 2013 draft and 6½ weeks after having career-threatening shoulder surgery.
It was a reminder of the often-fleeting nature of prospect status in professional sports.
The Braves released him in order to open a 40-man roster spot Thursday for journeyman outfielder Peter Bourjos, who had his contract purchased from Triple-A Gwinnett.
Bourjos was back for a second stint with the major-league Braves because they needed a backup center field option in case of injury to Ender Inciarte. Rookie left fielder Ronald Acuna was the backup center fielder before he went on the 10-day disabled list this week with a sprained knee.
The Braves could’ve opened a spot on the 40-man roster by placing Blair on the 60-day DL, but doing so would’ve required them to recall Blair from the Triple-A DL in order to put him on the major league 60-day DL, in which case he would have been paid a major league salary and also accrued a full season of service time.
The Braves would’ve ended up removing him from the major league roster or non-tendering him in the offseason anyway. Blair was going to miss the entire season and probably not be ready for the start of next season, given the serious nature of his April 17 shoulder surgery to repair a capsule tear and damaged rotator cuff.
The Braves will continue to pay the costs of his rehabilitation and might consider trying to re-sign Blair to a minor league deal at some point, depending on his health.
Blair, who turned 26 on Saturday, was coming off a career-worst 2017 season in which he made only one major-league start. He spent the rest of the year in Triple-A, going 7-9 with a 5.09 ERA, 107 strikeouts and 56 walks in 127-1/3 innings before leaving his final start with a torn lat muscle near his pitching shoulder.
After reporting to 2018 spring training about 40 pounds lighter than the previous spring following rigorous offseason rehab work and an improved strength-and-conditioning program, Blair was upbeat and optimistic entering the season. But in his first start at Gwinnett he gave up a hit, three runs and five walks and left in the third inning after throwing a wild pitch and going to cover home.
The injury was believed to have been caused by wear and tear, rather than any specific pitch or movement.
Blair was a first-round draft pick by the Diamondbacks in 2013 and was still a top prospect when traded to the Braves along with Inciarte and shortstop Dansby Swanson at the December 2015 Winter Meetings, in exchange for pitchers Shelby Miller and minor leaguer Gabe Speier.
Rated No. 40 in Baseball America’s preseason Top 100 in 2015, Blair slipped to No. 60 in 2016 and had his major league debut that season, going 2-7 with a 7.59 ERA in 15 starts for the Braves.