Braves Acquire Catcher Sean Murphy In Three-Team Deal With Athletics, Brewers
The Braves entered the offseason with one of the more enviable catching situations in baseball. In Travis d’Arnaud and William Contreras they had a catching combo which combined to hit 38 home runs in 2022.
After a three-team deal on Dec. 12, the Braves have even further improved their catching by acquiring Sean Murphy, a Gold Glove catcher who will not be a free agent until 2026.
From the Braves, the A’s acquired lefthander Kyle Muller, Atlanta’s No. 1 prospect, as well as righthanders Freddy Tarnok and Royber Salinas. Oakland also received outfielder Esteury Ruiz and veteran catcher Manny Piña from the Brewers. The Brewers landed Contreras, an all-star catcher himself last season, as well as righthanders Justin Yeager from the Braves and Joel Payamps from the A’s.
Sean Murphy, C
Murphy was viewed as one of the best defensive catchers in the class coming out of Wright State in 2016, but concerns about his bat led him to fall to the third round. His glove lived up to expectations as a pro, and he quickly showed that he had more consistent power production than expected. Getting away from Oakland should provide a further boost to his hitting. For his career, he’s hit .212/.318/.366 at Oakland and .257/.335/.485 on the road. He gives Atlanta a consistent slugger to pair with D’Arnaud.
Esteury Ruiz, OF
From a surface level, Ruiz looks like an exciting prospect. Between Double-A and Triple-A in 2022, Ruiz hit .332/.447/.526 in 541 plate appearances with 16 home runs, 66 walks and 94 strikeouts. Traded from the Padres to the Brewers in the deadline deal that sent Josh Hader to San Diego, Ruiz got brief big league time with both organizations as well. Those 66 walks in 114 minor league games were a big jump for Ruiz, given that he drew 54 walks in 182 games combined the previous two seasons. He's also a plus-plus runner and a prolific basestealer who stole 85 times in 99 attempts (86%) last year. Ruiz will have to prove skeptics wrong about whether his power will translate in the majors. Underneath the hood of an impressive slash line, Ruiz had an average exit velocity of 85 mph in the minors, a mark that would place him among the lowest in the big leagues. There's length to his swing, though it hasn't led to a big strikeout rate. With his speed, basestealing acumen and ability to play center field, Ruiz has the components to be a quality righthanded-hitting option off the bench, but if he is able to show enough damage on contact, there's a route to an everyday player as well.
Kyle Muller, LHP
Muller topped Atlanta’s system as the No. 1 prospect, but only barely maintained his prospect status after reaching 49 big league innings (exceeding 50 innings means a pitcher graduates) thanks to three starts with the Braves in 2022. A large, lefthander with a 6-foot-7, 250-pound frame, Muller has some of the best pure arm talent in the system, headlined by a mid-90s fastball that peaked at 97-98 mph, as well as a slider and curveball that are above-average or better breaking pitches. He also throws an upper-80s changeup, but it is a distinct fourth pitch used primarily against righthanded hitters in a starting role. Like former Braves prospect Kyle Wright, Muller found success in the minors by attacking the zone consistently and trusting his stuff, but has yet to fully translate that to the majors. With less competition in Oakland’s rotation, Muller should get opportunities to continue starting, though he has the stuff to excel in a high-leverage reliever role if his control doesn’t improve.
Royber Salinas, RHP
The No. 6 prospect in the Braves system, Salinas had a breakout season in 2022 and struck out 175 batters in just 109 innings between Low-A Augusta and High-A Rome. That was good for a 37.6% strikeout rate, the most strikeouts in Atlanta’s system and the fourth-most among all minor league pitchers. A large righthander who is likely heavier than his listed 205 pounds, Salinas has a powerful three-pitch mix and one of the best fastballs in Atlanta’s system. He sits in the 93-95 mph range and touches 98, with plus carry at the top of the zone and high spin rates. He sharpened both of his breaking balls in 2022, to the point that both an upper 80s gyro slider and hammer curveball in the low 80s look like plus pitches. He’ll need to maintain his body and improve his control to pitch in a starting capacity, where he has midrotation upside, but could move quicker in a reliever role.
Freddy Tarnok, RHP
The Braves signed Tarnok in the third round of the 2017 draft and signed the former two-way player for a $1.4 million bonus. He progressed slowly at first, before a breakout season in 2021 when he reached the upper minors. He made his big league debut in 2022 in a relief capacity. The Braves have developed Tarnok as a starter despite his first taste of the majors coming out of the bullpen. Outside of Atlanta, he could potentially earn more opportunities to continue proving he is a starting pitcher. He has a four-pitch mix headlined by a plus fastball in the 93-95 mph range that touches 98, with plus spin and carry. A previously plus curveball backed up in 2022, but is still a potentially above-average offering, and the Braves had worked with Tarnok to develop a low-80s slider. He also throws a mid-80s changeup and showed progress with that pitch, giving him an arsenal of four fringe-average or better pitches. Many scouts think Tarnok could excel in a bullpen role, where he could shorten his repertoire and focus on dominating with his fastball and one or two of his secondaries. He’s a fringe-average strike thrower. Tarnok ranked No. 9 in the Braves system.
Manny Piña, C
For someone who didn't take his 100th plate appearance in the big leagues until his age-30 season, Piña has carved out a solid career, earning more than $10 million as a journeyman backup catcher. Piña has hit .193/.296/.416 over 270 plate appearances combined the last three seasons between the Brewers and Braves. He played just five games last year, then didn't play again after having left wrist surgery for ligament and cartilage damage. He should provide replacement-level production for the A’s in a backup role.
2023 Oakland Athletics Top 10 Prospects Chat
Mark Chiarelli hosted a mailbag to answer questions about the A's system. You can read the transcript here.
William Contreras, C
Contreras was coming up through the Braves system at the same time as Shea Langeliers, and there was a continual and interesting discussion over which player was the team’s better catching prospect. The general consensus at the time was that Contreras had more offensive potential while Langeliers was the better glove. Now both have been traded, and Langeliers (acquired in last year’s Matt Olson trade) is now the A’s main catcher, and Contreras will become the likely starter in Milwaukee. Contreras’ bat has lived up to every expectation. His 20 home runs last year were sixth-most among MLB catchers, and his .506 slugging percentage was second-best among all MLB catchers with 200 or more plate appearances. Contreras hits the ball exceptionally hard for a catcher (90.4 mph average exit velocity and 115 mph max exit velocity) with true all-fields power. Contreras’ framing numbers have generally been a little below-average. He has an average arm.
Justin Yeager, RHP
Yeager has been a relief pitcher since his college days at Southern Illinois. The Braves signed him for $140,000 in the 33rd round of the 2019 draft and saw him push to Double-A in 2022 as a late-inning reliever and post one of the best strikeout rates (37.2%) in Atlanta’s system. As his track record indicates, he’s strictly a reliever moving forward, with a high-effort and violent delivery as well as well below-average control (a 13% career minor league walk rate). He does have plenty of arm strength and a pair of plus pitches, with a fastball that sits in the mid 90s with excellent carry and an 87-91 mph slider with short, tight three-quarters biting shape. Both pitches are potential bat-missers, though he’ll need to to improve his control to be trusted in any sort of high-leverage situation. Yeager was unprotected and went unpicked in last week’s Rule 5 draft. Yeager would have ranked No. 25 in the Braves top 30.
Joel Payamps, RHP
Now in his sixth organization in a little over two years, Payamps has seen major league time with the Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Royals and Athletics dating back to 2019. Payamps has made 78 appearances in the major leagues over the last two seasons, and owns a 6-9, 3.35 mark over 113 innings. He altered his pitch sequencing in 2022 and found success with a slider-first plan of attack. He lowered the usage of his four-seam fastball in favor of his sinking two-seamer. The sinker-slider combination led to an increase in groundballs as Payamps 52.8% groundball rate in 2022 was a nearly 20% increase year over year. Payamps mixes four- and two-seam fastballs, as well as a slider and changeup. He is a capable reliever who could factor into the Brewers relief corps in 2023.