Alex Anthopoulos’ first pitch was a curveball.
The Atlanta Braves left-handed pitchers Ricardo Sanchez, Adam McCreery and Grant Dayton and right-handed pitcher Josh Ravin to their 40-man roster before Monday’s 8 p.m. deadline, leaving notable prospects Travis Demeritte, Dustin Peterson and Tyler Pike, among others, left unprotected in next month’s Rule 5 Draft at MLB’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla.
The Braves 40-man roster is now full.
Anthopoulos shopped well-known territory to acquire Dayton and Ravin, both of whom logged major-league relief innings for the defending National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers for the past two seasons. Anthopoulos served as the Dodgers’ vice president of baseball operations prior to accepting the general manager role in Atlanta.
Dayton, a 29-year-old southpaw selected off waivers, underwent Tommy John surgery in August, meaning he will likely miss the entire 2018 campaign. The former 11th-round pick is an effective arm when healthy, rattling off a 2.05 ERA while striking out more than 38 percent of the batters he faced in 2016. Ravin, 29, also fell out of favor in the Dodgers’ deep system. Atlanta acquired him for cash considerations, bringing another high-velocity arm into the fold despite his 5.50 career ERA in 35 2/3 big-league innings.
Sanchez was one of the first long-term bets the previous front office made on its farm system, trading for the 5-foot-11 southpaw when he was just 17 years old. In three seasons as a Braves minor-leaguer, the Venezuelan has annually improved his fielding-independent pitching from 4.95 to 4.68 to 4.06 as he has steadily moved up the lower levels.
Last season for the Florida Fire Frogs, Sanchez hit the 100-strikeout plateau for the second straight season.
Protecting a player entering his age-21 campaign before he throws a single pitch above High-A ball could be considered unnecessary — teams must keep any Rule 5 selection on their 25-man roster — but Sanchez, who attended the team’s exclusive pitching camp in Atlanta earlier a couple weeks ago, is clearly a well-regarded prospect within the organization.
Demeritte, Peterson and Sanchez each rank among the franchise’s top 30 prospects per MLB Pipeline.
McCreery is another surprise addition despite posting excellent numbers in A-ball last season. The 6-foot-9 return from Atlanta’s Jhoulys Chacin trade in 2016, McCreery posted a 2.74 ERA with 90 strikeouts across two levels in 2017.
Leaving the likes of Demeritte and Peterson off the 40-man roster could mean the organization’s new-look front office is not as high on the two position prospects as the previous regime and/or that it does not believe opposing franchises will commit 25-man roster spots to either next season.
If asking why the Braves added two pitching prospects and opted not to protect Peterson or Demeritte, remember it’s much easier for a team to stash a pitcher selected in the Rule 5 Draft.
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) November 21, 2017
Peterson, the franchise’s 2016 Minor League Player of the Year, entered spring training last year as a potential big-league option before breaking the hamate bone in his left hand, sidelining him for two months. His numbers fell off dramatically at the plate after returning to the field, slashing .248/.318/.318 in 346 plate appearances at Triple-A Gwinnett. Still, the last remaining minor-league piece of the Justin Upton trade has shown enough potential — and he’s close enough to the majors — that he’s a Rule 5 risk.
.@Braves Prospect Spotlight: @dPetey8 on race with brother to reach the majors and being repped by @S_C_ at @RocNation. #Braves pic.twitter.com/9ZTwStl571
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) February 21, 2017
Demeritte is an interesting case after hitting 5 percent above league average as a 23-year-old in the Southern League.
After hitting 28 home runs in 2016, he continued to flash his power potential with 15 homers for Double-A Mississippi while cutting down his strikeout rate to a career-best 26.2 percent. The former Rangers first-round pick shows plenty of swing-and-miss risk and his .306 on-base percentage was dragged down by a much lower walk rate and misfortune in the BABIP department.
Still, with the team’s logjam of replacement-level (or sub-replacement) infielders like Adonis Garcia, Jace Peterson and Danny Santana still holding 40-man slots, souring on Demeritte now is strange.
Prospect Spotlight: @Braves’ @tdemeritte11 unveils his all-time NBA starting five. pic.twitter.com/XgBTUBpl3e
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) February 24, 2017
Other notable prospect left unprotected for the Rule 5 draft include pitchers Pike and Michael Mader and utility option Ray Patrick-Didder.