By Jim Callis
December 11, 2004
The first major trade of the Winter Meetings involved one of the game’s most successful closers in 2004 and one of its hardest-throwing prospects. In a move that will allow them to move John Smoltz back into their rotation, the Braves acquired Dan Kolb from the Brewers in exchange for righthander Jose Capellan and a player to be named later. That player is widely believed to be righthander Alec Zumwalt.
Kolb, a 29-year-old righty, was an all-star in 2004, his first year as a full-time closer. He saved 39 games in 44 tries, going 0-4, 2.98 in 64 appearances. While his strikeout-walk ratio was an uninspiring 21-15 in 57 innings, opponents batted just .234 with three homers against him. Kolb has a lively mid-90s sinker that would seem to be a natural strikeout pitch, but he gets a lot more groundballs than swings-and-misses. His groundball/flyball ratio of 3.49, well above the major league average of 1.21, was the key to his success in 2004. He uses a slider as his second pitch. Kolb had rotator-cuff surgery in 2002 but obviously has made a complete recovery. Eligible for arbitration, he’ll get a significant raise over his $1.5 million salary of last season. He has a career record of 6-13, 3.65 with 61 saves in 169 appearances.
Capellan, 23, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1998. He had Tommy John surgery in 2001 and missed all of 2002, but since has recovered to the point where he can put triple digits on a radar gun. He maintains his velocity deep into games, sitting at 94-97 mph with little effort. Capellan has good command and keeps the ball down, but he needs to improve his spike curveball and seldom-used changeup. Some scouts think his future lies as a closer rather than as a starter, but the Braves used him primarily in the latter role. Pitching at three levels from high Class A to Triple-A in 2004, he went 14-4, 2.32 in 24 games (23 starts). He fanned 152 and walked 45 in 140 innings, while opponents batted .221 with one homer against him. He also went 0-1, 11.25 in three games (two starts) in his first taste of the majors. Capellan has a career 21-18, 3.00 record in 74 minor league games.
The Brewers and Braves settled on righthander Alec Zumwalt as the player to be named. Zumwalt, a converted outfielder, was a major league Rule 5 pick in 2003 by the Devil Rays, but they opted not to keep him and returned him to the Braves. In his third season as a pitcher, Zumwalt flashed power stuff but also his inexperience at Double-A Greenville, going 3-7, 5.09 in 76 innings. He gave up 84 hits and had a 67-38 strikeout-walk ratio. At his best, the 23-year-old Zumwalt works aggressively with a low-90s fastball, and his changeup and slider show flashes, though both lack consistency.