The Braves made the decision to break up a crowded outfield and part with exciting young outfielder Mallex Smith as well as injury plagued pitcher Shae Simmons on Wednesday. The return was a pair of left handed arms being added to a system loaded with arms. But what are the Braves really getting?
I’ll save the big piece for last and start out with the guy that some might overlook. Thomas Burrows is the former University of Alabama closer selected in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB Draft. A lefty, Burrows had experienced success immediately in Tuscaloosa. As a freshman he had a 2.14 ERA and 1.04 WHIP with 11 saves in 37.2 innings. Then as a sophomore in 2015 Burrows recorded a 3.22 ERA and 1.32 WHIP with 7 saves in 36.1 innings, as he saw his hits per nine innings rate jump from 5.7 to 8.2. He finished 2015 later in the summer as he pitched for Hyannis in the famed Cape Cod Summer League, but was similarly hittable despite a 2.05 ERA, as he had a 1.32 WHIP and 8.6 hits per nine innings over 22 innings of work.
Burrows came into his junior year with plenty of success, but still hadn't taken it to that next level with the only other complaint that he walks nearly four guys per nine innings in his first two years. Of course with his junior year(his draft year) in 2016, it all came together for Burrows. His stuff took a jump and he dominated SEC hitters out of the bullpen as he kept his ERA at 0.95 and his WHIP at 0.99 in 28.1 innings, cutting the hits to 6.0 per nine, while seeing his strikeouts per nine jump from 8.1 as a freshman to 9.4 in 2015, to a career high 13.0 as a junior. He also walked the lowest rate of hitters in his career at 2.9 per nine. That season plus his stuff(more on that later) got him drafted highly. I had him as the #26 LHP in the draft as a pure reliever- 10 spots ahead of where I had ranked Braves draftee Drew Harrington for reference.
As a pro Burrows went to Everett of the Northwest League as he assumed the closer job there and pitched to a 2.55 ERA and 1.38 WHIP to go with 6 saves in 24.2 innings. He allowed a few more hits than he did in college at 8.4 per nine, but topped his already high strikeout rate at 13.5 per nine. He still walks a bit too many, as his 4.0 walks per nine is similar to the college numbers he posted in two of his three seasons but he misses bats at an impressive rate.
Burrows had a low to mid 90s fastball that could hit 94 at Alabama- though reports are that he saw the velocity decrease after signing with the Mariners attributing it to fatigue, making it something to watch this spring evem though he was able to rack up strikeouts with the decreased velocity. Burrows has a breaking ball, a hard breaking slurve, that he is able to get swings and misses with. He also comes with a change that's more than just usable, making him a three pitch reliever. His delivery is deceptive, which helps his stuff further play up. Burrows is definitely better against lefties, but he's also a solid option against right handers- important because that's what makes him more than just a lefty specialist.
Burrows is a late inning reliever who could post big strikeout numbers. He may not be AJ Minter in terms of upside, but he's immediately one of the best relief arms in the system. He's likely to start the year in Rome, and if the velocity is back he could move fast. I wouldn't rule out him making it to Atlanta this year, though 2018 is the more likely time frame.
As promising as Burrows is, he's not even the centerpiece of the deal for the Braves. Signed out of Brazil for just under $1M in 2012, Luiz Gohara feels like he's been around for a while if you follow other team’s farm systems despite the fact he didn't see his 20th birthday until the end of July. He's long been highly thought of in the Mariners system, and was widely viewed as the #2 or #3 prospect in their system prior to this trade, along with Kyle Lewis and Tyler O’Neill.
Gohara is the type of boom or bust prospect who has top of the rotation upside, but also comes with considerable risk of never making it. He's a big bodied lefty listed at 6’3 and 240 pounds, and he's got big stuff to match.
One thing about him that does need to be mentioned is that his work ethic and interest were questioned by Seattle in the past, though he has responded from the talk with the organization by really committing himself to the game and working hard since. This is of real importance because with the size of his body, he is going to have to continue to work to avoid putting on bad weight as he starts to mature into his body.
Heading into 2016 he was nothing but upside on the scouting reports as he never saw sustained success as a pro. After signing on his 16th birthday in 2012, he started aggressively with an assignment to Pulaski of the Appalachian League while still just 16 years old in 2013 and while he pitched well at 1-2, 4.15 ERA, and 1.43 WHIP, he only saw 21.2 innings of work.
Considering the success for his age at that level, it was no surprise that he looked good starting 2014 by making a pair of very strong starts in the Arizona Rookie League. That earned him a quick promotion to Everett of the Northwest League where he was shelled in 37.1 innings as he posted an 8.20 ERA and 1.88 WHIP. This wasn't concerning considering just how young he was for the level and how raw he was.
Gohara repeated Everett in 2015, though he made a pair of starts in two different stints with Clinton of the Low A Midwest League. Those starts with Clinton were pretty solid considering his age, but his command was off and it was a very small sample size of 9.2 innings. His year with Everett was a bit better than 2014, but not pretty as he managed a 6.20 ERA and 1.85 WHIP in 53.2 innings thanks to allowing 11.2 hits per nine and 5.4 walks per nine. The lone bright spot was the fact he struck out better than a batter per inning at 10.4 strikeouts per nine.
Gohara entered 2016 with his stock starting to drop as he had been pretty bad for much of his career in part to his rawness and in part due to the aggressive assignments. But things really started to click in 2016. He began the year back in Everett, but after three strong starts with a 1.76 ERA and 1.04 WHIP he was moved back up to Clinton and full season ball- this time for good. With Clinton he pitched 54.1 innings and posted a 1.82 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
On the year he made 13 combined starts for 69.2 innings with a 1.81 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. His ratios were also much improved, giving up just 7.4 hits per nine, a career best 3.0 walks per nine, and striking out 10.5 per nine. Not only was his year strong, but he closed it out on a high note with three of his final four starts being scoreless outings.
Gohara has a fastball that sits in the 94-96 range and can hit 100. He also shows flashes of a plus curve that took a step forward in consistency 2016, which played a part in his step forward this past season. The curve isn't a finished product, but it's headed in the right direction. As for his third pitch, he's got a changeup which is still a work in progress at this time. His command can come and go at times, partly a function of his delivery at times getting out of line- not unexpected for a young kid with a big body.
Gohara is still very raw and far away. Despite his success in Low A in 2016, that rawness along with the Braves other talented arms may keep him in Rome to start 2017- though starting the year in High A isn't out of the question either. He's the kind of prospect who will move one level a year to help him develop properly and at a comfortable pace, so his most realistic big league ETA is likely 2019. However he’s worth the wait as he's got the pure stuff to be a #2 starter if he can develop anywhere close to his full potential. Even if that doesn't happen, him becoming a late inning reliever is a possibility. While he's definitely not anywhere near as advanced as the arms the Braves had in Rome last year, he's got the same level of upside as any one of them other than maybe Touki Toussaint.