Many Braves backers were angry at the team for sending Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks in December 2015. Those fans, barely accustomed to the reality of the rebuild, were chagrined to see the Braves trade away their lone All-Star. Miller was the guy the Braves got for Jason Heyward, and now they were passing him through and getting no bona fide major league players in return.
Those Braves supporters who had come to grips with the tear down were soothed by the acquisition of shortstop Dansby Swanson in the deal. He was a top prospect, a former No. 1 draft pick from Marietta High. He would be a Braves cornerstone.
And, by the way, Ender Inciarte also was included in the deal. He was a part-time outfielder for the Diamondbacks. Perhaps he would be a decent piece.
Well, look at that trade now.
Inciarte represented the Braves in the All-Star game Tuesday night. Swanson still is trying to prove that he belongs in the majors. Miller hasn’t been the same since he left Atlanta and is on the shelf because of Tommy John elbow surgery.
Though Inciarte knew he would get a chance to play every day with the Braves, he was “heartbroken” to leave the organization that signed him as a 17-year-old. Eventually he got settled with the Braves and, well, now he’s an All-Star.
“I think that trade made a huge difference in the player I am now,” Inciarte said this week.
It’s made a difference for the Braves, too. They couldn’t collect only minor leaguers with potential during their rebuild because there’s too much uncertainty involved. They also needed some good, young players they already knew can play in the majors.
Inciarte is that player. Yet it feels as if he’s still the most underrated acquisition since the Braves started rebuilding. The hype surrounds the bushels of prospects the Braves collected for what’s now considered the No. 1 farm system in baseball.
Meanwhile Inciarte is starring in center field right now. He’s only 26. The Braves signed Inciarte to a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension in December, and that’s looking like a bargain with Inciarte poised to become a mainstay in center field for years to come.
Braves fans didn’t have to wait to see what they had in Inciarte. He slumped at the plate early last season, but his superlative defense was obvious. By the time of the All-Star break he was producing at the plate, too, and he’s never really stopped.
You won’t find any Braves fans lamenting the departure of Miller. You can find plenty criticizing Swanson. Surely they are unanimous in knowing the Braves have something special with Inciarte.
“I love the Braves,” Inciarte said. “I love the city of Atlanta. I can’t say better things about that city. They treated me like I belonged, like they wanted me from Day 1. I had a rough beginning to last year, and they kept treating me great. And then I started succeeding.”
Inciarte is a fantastic center fielder. He rarely takes false steps. He runs down balls in the gap that seem destined for extra bases, and his arm is strong.
Inciarte is still developing at the plate. He’s hitting .302 this season, but is having unusually good luck on balls he puts in play. More walks would make him more productive.
Even still, Inciarte’s 212 hits since last year’s All-Star break are second to Houston’s Jose Altuve (213), a fellow Venezuelan. Inciarte is flashing more power, too, with a career season-high seven homers already.
In a February radio interview, ex-Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart said he regretted trading Swanson. That’s when Swanson was about to begin this season with the Braves after hitting .302 in 38 big-league games last season.
What Stewart really should lament is giving away Inciarte. The Braves did steal a player from the D-Backs, but it wasn’t Swanson.
Miller may never be as good again as he was in that one season with the Braves. Swanson might yet be a good major league players. Inciarte already is an All-Star, and he can get better.
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