|The Braves, Giants and Phillies, the Nationals League’s three leading pennant contenders, entered the trade deadline seeking upgrades in the outfield. San Francisco struck first by acquiring Carlos Beltran from the Mets. Philadelphia responded by sending four players to the Astros for Hunter Pence, who’s under club control for two more seasons beyond this one. Atlanta got its deal done on July 31, sending four players to the Astros for speedy 28-year-old center fielder Michael Bourn, who remains under club control for 2012. Bourn is batting a career-best .303/.363/.403 and is pursuing his third straight NL stolen-base crown.
The Astros added to their prospect stockpile by acquiring upper-level pitching prospects Brett Oberholtzer and Paul Clemens, a lefty and righty at the Double-A level, big league center fielder Jordan Schafer and Triple-A righty reliever Juan Abreu.
The Braves got the deal done without touching their elite pitching prospects, a group that includes Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado and Arodys Vizcaino. Meanwhile, Houston adds serious prospect cache in its trades of Bourn and Pence. Oberholtzer ranked No. 9 among Braves prospects heading into the year, but he probably would have fared better in a less pitching-rich organization. Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart, both from the Pence deal, have high ceilings but have yet to prove themselves at the Double-A level. Righthanders Clemens, Josh Zeid (from the Pence deal) and Abreu all could aid the big league bullpen as soon as this season.
|Brett Oberholtzer, lhp
Born: July 1, 1989 in Christiana, Del.
Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 230. Bats: L. Throws: L.
School: Seminole (Fla.) CC.
Career Transactions: Selected by Braves in eighth round of 2008 draft; signed June 7, 2008.
An athletic lefthander with a big frame, loose arm and somewhat unconventional delivery, Oberholtzer profiles as a mid-to back-of-the-rotation starter with a three-pitch mix and solid control. The 22-year-old routinely works in the low 90s and complements his fastball with a sharp 79-82 mph slider that misses bats and occasionally bites enough to finish near the back foot of righthanded hitters. Oberholtzer sells his mid-80s changeup with good deception and arm speed. He occasionally mixes in a 75-77 mph show-me curveball. Oberholtzer doesn’t blow away many hitters, but he knows how to pitch and does not cave under pressure. The key is command. He does a good job locating all his pitches, particularly his fastball. Oberholtzer’s walk totals have climbed in July, but still he’s gone 5-1, 2.54 in six starts. One caveat as he heads to Corpus Christi of the Texas League: His home ERA (2.67) in the Southern League was nearly three runs better than his road effort (5.40).
|Paul Clemens, rhp
Born: Feb. 14, 1988 in Columbia, S.C.
Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 180. Bats: R. Throws: R.
School: Louisburg (N.C.) JC.
Career Transactions: Selected by Braves in seventh round of 2008 draft; signed June 8, 2008.
Clemens has an electric arm that can produce mid-90s heat, and because of his sturdy frame and wide repertoire may have the highest ceiling of the prospects acquired by Houston. In his first taste of Double-A, Clemens has dominated at times and struggled during others, recording 2.36 and 1.85 ERAs in April and May, respectively, before slumping to 6.85 and 4.81 in June and July. He has been hot and cold for much of his career and posted similar splits in 2010 with low Class A Rome. In his final start before the trade, Clemens worked 6 2/3 innings, allowing just two hits. His fastball is his bread-and-butter pitch, and some scouts don’t hesitate to throw a future 70 grade on the heater. Clemens typically works between 93-96 mph with good sink, and he has the utmost confidence in his fastball. He also has the makings of three interesting offspeed pitches, and he mixes them well. His curveball, a hard downer with good bite, grades as a potentially above-average offering, and his slider is another quality pitch with good deception and bite. His changeup is still in its infancy but shows good sinking action and has induced hitters to chase. The continued development of the changeup will determine Clemens’ future role, but his downside as a late-game reliever is still attractive.
|Juan Abreu, rhp
Born: April 8, 1985 in San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic.
Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 180. Bats: R. Throws: R.
Career Transactions: Signed as nondrafted free agent by Royals, July 9, 2003 … On disabled list, June 19-Sept. 18, 2007 … Granted free agency, Nov. 9, 2009 … Signed by Braves, Nov. 24, 2009.
Houston will be Abreu’s third organization in three years. He left the Royals as a minor league free agent after the 2009 season to sign a big league contract with Atlanta. Abreu ranked as the Braves’ No. 27 prospect entering 2011 after a successful run as Mississippi’s closer last year. He’s taken another step forward this season with a strong effort in the International League, where he led league relievers in strikeout rate (12.75 per nine innings) and ranked fourth in opponent average (.193). Undersized and with a max-effort delivery, Abreu can run his fastball up to 96 mph, but feel for his offspeed offerings continue to hold him back. He features a sweeping 79-81 mph curveball and a changeup in the mid-80s with good fading action. Abreu is susceptible to the long ball and needs to continue to work down in the zone. He may have a chance to become the Astros’ set-up man in the near future.
|Jordan Schafer, cf
Age: 24. Position: CF (88 G), RF (2 G).
Born: Sept. 4, 1986 in Hammond, Ind.
Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 200. Bats: L. Throws: L.
School: Winter Haven (Fla.) HS.
Career Transactions: Selected by Braves in third round of 2005 draft; signed June 8, 2005.
Schafer ranked as Atlanta’s top prospect in 2008 after leading the minor leagues in hits the previous season with 176. He then burst on the big league scene with a home run in his first major league at-bat on Opening Day 2009. Since then, however, Schafer has fallen out of favor with the Braves, as he’s been sidelined for extended periods due to wrist surgery and a 50-game suspension for violating MLB’s HGH policy. He currently resides on the 15-day disabled list with a finger injury, but he should take over for Bourn in center upon his return in mid-August. Schafer offers solid speed and quality defense, and he led the Braves in stolen bases with 15, despite playing in just 52 games. Scafer’s bat remains the biggest question. His power has dried up in the upper minors—he batted just .222/.282/.290 in the minors dating back to 2009—and strikes out too much to hit for a decent average. The Astros will have to carry Schafer on the active roster in 2012, or risk losing him on waivers, because he’ll be out of options.
|Michael Bourn, cf
Age: 28. Bats: L. Remaining Commitment: Approximately $1.5 million ($4.4 million salary for 2011; under club control for 2012).
Contract details courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.