The Atlanta Braves got back to business with their first trade of 2017, dealing outfielder Mallex Smith and righy reliever Shae Simmons to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for left-handed pitchers Luiz Gohara and Thomas Burrows on Wednesday.
Smith, 23, made his big league debut for the Braves last summer, but a broken thumb cost him significant time. He batted .238/.316/.365 with 16 stolen bases in 72 games and was then plagued by an oblique injury during winter ball. Atlanta’s front office seemed undecided on his status for 2017, which may have included a stint as the club’s fourth outfielder or a trip back to Triple-A Gwinnett to continue his development. Smith’s time in Seattle was brief, however. He was immediately traded to the Tampa Bay Rays as part of a four-player deal in which Seattle received lefty starter Drew Smyly.
Simmons, 26, was a hard-throwing righty reliever who reached Atlanta in 2014, but has dealt with arm injuries. Tommy John surgery and assorted ailments have limited Simmons to just 25 innings over the past two seasons. He made just seven appearances for the Braves in 2016. He is 1-2 with a 2.54 ERA and 8.3 K/9 in 33 career appearances. By trading Smith and Simmons, Atlanta cleared two spots off the 40-man roster, which adds flexibility and could signal more moves are in the offing. The Braves are in need of a fourth outfielder and could look to bolster the bench before spring training next month.
As for the prospects the Braves received, the deal is headlined by the Brazilian-born Gohara, who has tremendous upside and was recently rated the No. 3 prospect in the Mariners system by Baseball America. The 6’3″ lefty trimmed down some in 2016 and enjoyed a strong season, but dealt with a hamstring injury in August. On the year, Gohara finished 7-2 with a 1.81 ERA and 23BB/81K in 69.2 IP over 13 starts in A-ball. He followed that up with a good showing while pitching in relief for Peoria in the Arizona Fall League, striking out 19 men and walking just three to go along with a 3.86 ERA in 11.2 IP over nine appearances. Gohara has scintillating stuff, featuring a mid-high 90s fastball which he complements with a good breaking ball. Though he is far from a finished product, his command took a step forward in 2016, which bodes well for his future. Gohara is likely to join several of the Braves top pitching prospects (Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint and Ricardo Sanchez) in rotation for the Fire Frogs of the Florida State League at some point in 2017.
It’s worth noting that Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that Gohara could have been dealt to Cincinnati last season, but the Reds had concerns about the young lefty’s shoulder according to a source. Rosenthal also mentioned it is not uncommon for young arms to exhibit enough “wear-and-tear” to fail a physical and that multiple scouts sent him unsolicited text messages questioning Seattle’s willingness to part with Gohara following his impressive run in the AFL. Of course, Simmons is still trying to reestablish himself following reconstructive elbow surgery in 2015, a risk the Mariners were willing to take. As for the injury concern on Atlanta’s end, general manager John Coppolella told Rosenthal that the team has done its due diligence on this and all deals:
“Our medical group puts a lot of time, effort and thought into evaluating every potential acquisition. We have had to walk away from two trades this offseason because of failed medicals. We feel good about the health of both players we acquired in the trade.”
Burrows, 22, was a 4th round pick by the Mariners last June out of the University of Alabama, where he set the school’s saves record. He has an excellent fastball-slider combination that could allow for him to rise through the system quickly. Burrows posted a 2.55 ERA in 20 appearances in his pro debut for short-season Everett, recording six saves and averaging 13.5 K/9 over 24.2 IP. His collegiate experience puts him in the same boat as fellow lefties A.J. Minter and Corbin Clouse when it comes to climbing the ranks, but he will obviously have to prove himself on the way up. The Braves have taken steps over the past year to add quality southpaw depth to the system and Burrows is another step in the right direction.