|Justin Upton invoked his no-trade clause to block a proposed trade to the Mariners two weeks ago, but he offered no resistance when the Diamondbacks dealt him to the Braves on Jan. 24. That’s largely because his brother B.J. Upton landed in Atlanta as a free agent this offseason, though it certainly doesn’t hurt that the brothers hail from the Virginia Beach area.Arizona dealt Upton, viewed by many as a rising star, and big league third baseman Chris Johnson to the Braves for a package of four young players plus 29-year-old major league third baseman Martin Prado, coming off one of his finest seasons. The Diamondbacks also receive righthanders Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill, shortstop Nick Ahmed and third baseman Brandon Drury.
Arizona general manager Kevin Towers this offseason has taken the bold step of dealing two of the organization’s brightest young talents, Upton and Trevor Bauer, both of whom were top-three-overall draft picks (they signed for a combined $9.5 million in bonus money). The organization believes either that Bauer and Upton won’t consistently reach their high ceilings, or that the big league club will be better off spreading the value around with players like Prado and Delgado from the Upton deal and shortstop Didi Gregorious and first baseman Lars Anderson from the Bauer deal.
In his various trades, Towers has made a point of acquiring shortstops (Gregorious, Ahmed), groundball pitchers (Delgado, Spruill, Trevor Cahill last year) and lefty relievers (Tony Sipp, Matt Reynolds), while not flinching at the notion of dealing first-round picks such as Bauer, Upton or Jarrod Parker.
|Randall Delgado, rhpAge: 23. Born: Feb. 9, 1990 in Las Tablas, Panama.
Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Bats: R. Throws: R.
Career Transactions: Signed as international free agent by Braves, July 18, 2006.
Though less heralded than fellow Braves pitching prospects Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino entering the 2012 season, Delgado outperformed them handily and has a skillset favored by some scouts. He misses bats (7.4 SO/9 last year in Atlanta), induces groundball contact (50.2 percent) and throws a firm fastball (92 mph on average) and curveball (77.8 mph). Scouts also like his delivery and ability to hold baserunners close. Delgado will need to fine-tune his control (4.1 BB/9), but his stuff profiles in a big league rotation, probably as a sturdy No. 3 type if he continues to walk batters at the same rate. If his control improves, he could be a No. 2.
|Zeke Spruill, rhpAge: 23. Born: Sept. 11, 1989 in Marietta, Ga.
Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 190.
Bats: B. Throws: R.
School: Kell HS, Marietta, Ga.
Career Transactions: Selected by Braves in second round of 2008 draft; signed June 12, 2008.
Spruill ranked ninth on the Braves prospect list earlier this winter after leading the Southern League in starts (27) and innings (162) in 2012. He pounds the strike zone with his fastball, changeup and slider repertoire, limiting walks but not missing a lot of bats. His durability and control offset his low strikeout rate, and he profiles as a back-end starter. —Bill Ballew
|Nick Ahmed, ssAge: 23. Born: March 15, 1990 in East Longmeadow, Mass.
Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205.
Bats: R. Throws: R.
Career Transactions: Selected by Braves in second round of 2011 draft; signed June 16, 2011.
Ahmed had an outstanding first full pro season in 2012 at high Class A Lynchburg. He led the Carolina League in runs (84), doubles (36), steals (40) and fielding percentage at shortstop (.963). Managers rated him the fastest baserunner and best defensive shortstop in the CL, and he capped the year by leading Lynchburg to the league title by going 4-for-5 with three doubles in the deciding contest against Winston-Salem. He continued to excel in the Arizona Fall League and should make the jump to Double-A in 2013. He profiles as a solid defensive shortstop with some gap power, some patience and some speed, though it remains to be seen where he falls in Arizona’s shortstop depth chart when compared with fellow prospects Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings. —Bill Ballew
|Brandon Drury, 3b/1bAge: 20. Born: Aug 21, 1992 in Grants Pass, Ore.
Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190.
Bats: R. Throws: R.
School: Grants Pass (Ore.) HS.
Career Transactions: Selected by Braves in 13th round of 2010 draft; signed June 9, 2010.
Drury broke out in the Appalachian League in 2011 with 92 hits and narrowly missed winning the batting title with a .347 average. He showed a quick, short stroke, but more advanced pitchers exploited his aggressiveness at low Class A in 2012, particularly during the first half of the season. He hit better in the second half of 2012 (.279/.323/.407), but will still need to tone down his approach. There’s a lot of pressure on Drury’s bat, now that he’s seeing more time at first base. He should repeat low Class A in 2013. —Bill Ballew
|Martin Prado, 3b/lfAge: 29. Bats: R. Remaining Commitment: Arbitration-eligible for 2013 ($4.75 million salary in 2012).
All contract details courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
Impact on Diamondbacks depth chart: Few players have been more valuable for their versatility than Prado, who played second base regularly for Atlanta before Dan Uggla arrived and then third base the past two seasons when Chipper Jones needed a breather. He has spent the bulk of his time in left field, taking over for Melky Cabrera following his departure after 2010, and providing above-average offensive production. Prado’s contact skills, walk rate and line-drive rate suggest he’ll continue to hit for a high average, though his extreme groundball profile (48 percent in 2012) probably caps his home run total at 10-12. In other words, he’ll be a fine replacement for the traded Chris Johnson.
|Justin Upton, rfAge: 25. Bats: R. Remaining Commitment: 3 years, $38.5 million.
Impact on Braves depth chart: With Upton and Jason Heyward on the outfield corners and B.J. Upton in center, the Braves will feature one of baseball’s rangiest, most-powerful outfield configurations. Justin hit 31 homers in 2011 and appeared destined for MVP consideration in 2012. That didn’t happen, obviously, as he lost nearly half his home runs, while his isolated slugging percentage dipped from .240 to .150. Behind the scenes, Upton’s walk rate ticked up a full percentage point—indicating a more mature approach—so if he can get a few more balls in the air this season, then he still has the power to hit 25-plus homers, even in a less-forgiving yard such as Turner Field.
|Chris Johnson, 3bAge: 28. Bats: R. Remaining Commitment: Under club control for four seasons, 2013-16, and will earn $2.2875 million in 2013.
Impact on Braves depth chart: Johnson replaces the Chipper Jones-Martin Prado combo from last season, and while he might approach their home-run output, he would be more of a bottom-of-the-order hitter with his sub-league-average on-base skills. Fortunately for the Braves, they have lefty-hitting options at third (Juan Francisco) and first (Freddie Freeman), presenting all sorts of platoon possibilities with the righty-hitting Johnson.