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Stephen Keck: Who The Braves Gave Up for McLouth

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Here's a guest post from our minor league analyst Stephen Keck breaking down the other side of the Nate McLouth trade. Just how much did the Braves give up? Read on...

How much does it cost to improve a team? While Braves fans are already excited about the trade for Nate McLouth, they are keen to know what it took to bring him to Atlanta.

In trading Charles Morton, Jeff Locke and Gorkys Hernandez, the Braves parted with three players who have the potential to have a significant impact upon the Pirates' organization. But with minor league prospects there is also the possibility that none of these players will even become a major league regular. To figure out which organization got the better of the trade will probably take a few years. As things stand now, the Braves picked up a five-tool CF for players with the following trajectories:

Charles Morton RHP

Those who follow the Braves will recognize Charles Morton. A 3rd round pick (95th overall) in 2002 (the same draft that brought Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann and Chuck James) Morton was a highly regarded pitcher from Connecticut. When he was drafted Morton was regarded as the 2nd best right hand pitching prospect in New England. As with other 'cold state' prospects, the consensus was that Morton would need time to develop. Morton's development would have tried the patience of many organizations. Minor league scouts recognized that he had an outstanding curve ball and eventually increased velocity. However, he could not put together the kind of year which his stuff might have implied. 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 were forgettable years for Morton. The Braves tried him as a reliever and eventually promoted him to AA, hoping that the challenge would help him develop.

During the second half of 2007 things finally began to turn around for Morton--who pitched impressively in the Southern League Playoffs. 2008 saw Morton build upon these performances to get the call to Atlanta. He proved to be difficult to assess: great performances were followed by the opposite and then finally an injury to end the season. His overall numbers in Atlanta 6:15 ERA 4 wins and 8 losses reflect the unevenness of Morton's nearly half season in Atlanta. More important, Morton's displayed a solid pitching repertoire but also a fragile sense of self-confidence.

Since a confidence issue is a huge problem for a pitcher, the Braves were probably smart to start Morton at AAA in 2009. Morton spent the first two months of 2009 dominating hitters in the International League (64.2 innings, 52 hits, with 16 BB and 55 Ks) before being traded to Pittsburgh. Given these realities, the Pirates are likely to be a good home for Morton, now 25. He is likely to face much less pressure to perform than he would have in Atlanta, and he now has two more months of success at AAA to build upon. Looking ahead, with a little luck the Bucs may have acquired a middle of the rotation starter.

Jeff Locke LHP

It would be tempting to regard Locke as the left hand version of Morton. Drafted in the 2nd Round (51st overall) out of New Hampshire in 2006, Locke was part of a draft class that reflected the Braves' deep faith in high school pitching. Selecting Cory Rasmus, Steven Evarts, Chad Rodgers, and Locke meant that the Braves were pretty much following the 2003 script in collecting quality arms. Coming form a cold weather state, Locke was seen as the least developed, but possibly with the most potential.

In 2006 and 2007, he pitched well, which virtually guaranteed that he would have high expectations in 2008. Pitching for Rome in 2008 Locke put up mixed numbers, but secured the promotion to Myrtle Beach. At 'the Beach' Locke proved to be no less enigmatic: in 2009 he carried two no-hitters into the 6 and 7th innings, but he has also been shelled by opposing teams. At the moment the Braves pulled the trigger on the trade, his numbers for the season were pretty terrible: he surrendered 47 hits in 45.2 innings, and his command has been poor as the ratio of strikeouts to walks is 43 to  26. Not surprisingly, his ERA is high: 5.52. The Braves had to ask themselves: which Jeff Locke is going to show up--the one with stuff good enough to threaten to pitch a no-hitter or the one who fattens the opposing team's batting averages?

Predicting Locke's development, then, is difficult. If he puts it all together and pitches with consistency, he has the chance to be a top of the rotation starter. Equally, there is a very decent chance that he will never appear in a major league uniform. Chances are high that he will at the very least frustrate the Pirates as he tries to develop. 

Gorkys Hernandez CF

Gorkys Hernandez, 21, was the 'other' part of the Renteria trade with Detroit that brought Jair Jurrjens to Atlanta. Going into 2009 he was ranked by some as one of the top 5 prospects in the Braves' organization. Hernandez proved in 2008 that he was a very good player at Myrtle Beach. He was particularly good in the first half of the season--despite tailing off in the second half still finished with .264 and a .348 OBP with 20 SBs and 5 HRs.

A highly athletic CF, Hernandez has been raking the ball at Mississippi in 2009--batting .316 with a .361 OBP. It should be pointed out that two other Myrtle Beach Pelican outfielders followed Hernandez to AA. Conception Rodriguez and Willie Cabrera had great years at the 'the Beach' but both have found the new league to be very challenging. Hernandez is younger than both and is playing better than both, and so in 2009 he has already demonstrated that he has very good bat. The major question for Gorkys is whether he will hit for power. Hernandez has yet to hit a HR at AA. If Gorky Hernandez develops some power, then he has the chance to be nothing less that a major league All-Star. More likely, Hernandez will see action in a Pirate uniform as a leadoff hitter. 

All told, then, the Braves have traded three players with high ceilings, for a very good outfielder that they can control for four years. In fact, the Braves may have succeeded in trading Morton and Hernandez at 'peak' value. Selling high and buying low is important to any organization (the Pirates may have bought Locke 'low') but even if Morton and Locke should reach their ceilings with the Pirates, it would have to be said that both were probably blocked in Atlanta. Between Lowe, Vazquez, Kawakami, Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Kriss Medlen and Todd Redmond (to say nothing of Tim Hudson) the chances that these pitchers would ever realize their potential in a Braves' uniform was actually quite low. Since McLouth plays CF (and so does Jordan Schafer), Gorkys Hernandez was blocked as well.

To project this into the future a bit, in 2009 the deal will favor the Braves; in 2010 Morton will probably be a starter (he will certainly get his chance in 2009 as well) and Hernandez might get called up in the second half of the season. By 2011 Hernandez and Morton might be important parts of the Pirates, while Locke might be knocking on the door. In the meantime, the Braves will have been able to make use of McLouth in rebuilding their major league club. In short, there is a real chance that this will be remembered as one of those deals which was good for both clubs.

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