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Insider

Bourn fills Braves' needs perfectly

7/31/2011

The Atlanta Braves have acquired center fielder and leadoff hitter Michael Bourn from the Houston Astros in exchange for outfielder Jordan Schafer, left-handed pitcher Brett Oberholtzer and right-handers Paul Clemens and Juan Abreu.

Bourn, 28, was hitting .303/.363/.403 with 64 runs scored, 26 doubles, seven triples and a league-leading 39 stolen bases in 46 attempts. A former All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner, Bourn is an elite center fielder whose ability to get to balls in the gaps and behind him is rare among outfielders. Even the defensive metrics show he is one of the league's top two defensive center fielders. Plus, his success rate on stealing bases throughout his career is an impressive 83 percent.

Bourn changes the entire dimension of the Braves' lineup. Finally, the Braves have a leadoff hitter who can disrupt a pitching staff on the bases, particularly in close games in the late innings. Bourn's acquisition will move Martin Prado to the two-hole where he belongs and give the Braves much-improved on-base percentages in the top two spots. Having Bourn and Prado together will create more fastballs for the middle of their lineup, consisting of Brian McCann (when he's back from the DL), Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward. The only downside is that the Braves' lineup becomes too left-handed. The deal, however, will be significant come playoff time because speed at the top of the order can make a huge difference in a game's outcome when the Braves are facing the league's best pitchers in 2-1 or 3-2 battles.

For the Braves, the most impressive part of the trade is that GM Frank Wren didn't give up any of his top pitching prospects, including Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino, Randall Delgado and Mike Minor. This was the best trade of the deadline in terms of the player acquired and what was given up.

The Astros acquire a very good defensive center fielder in Schafer, who can run the ball down and has a strong throwing arm. He is currently on the Braves' disabled list with a fractured finger. The only question is whether he’ll hit enough to be a regular player in the major leagues. Schafer, 24, was hitting .240/.307/.316 this year, and his lifetime slash line in the majors is an underwhelming .223/.310/.303.

The best pitching prospect acquired in the deal is Oberholtzer, 22, who was 9-9 with a 3.74 ERA at the Braves' Double-A affiliate in Mississippi. He was the Braves' eighth-round selection in the June 2008 draft. His fastball is 89-92 mph with good tailing life. His average curveball is his best breaking pitch and his changeup has good fade, giving him three major league pitches He’s a tall left-hander with a funky delivery that adds unique deception. He has the potential of developing into a fourth or fifth starter in the major leagues.

Clemens, 23, was the Braves' seventh-round selection of the 2008 draft and was pitching for Mississippi, where he was 6-5 with a 3.74 ERA and a WHIP of 1.35. He has a good frame and delivery and has the best raw stuff of all the pitchers included in this deal. His fastball has been clocked in the high 90s but he often throws it in the mid-90s. His curveball is an above-average pitch. He doesn’t have a great feel for pitching, but that should improve with at least 200 more innings. Scouts view his projection as middle-of-the-rotation starter while some grade him as a back-of-the-rotation or long-reliever type.

The final player in the deal was Abreu, 26, a small right-hander (6-foot, 180 pounds) who doesn’t always get downward plane from his delivery. He’s had an impressive year at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he was 4-2 with a 2.25 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP in 41 games, all in relief including one save.

The Braves' most glaring needs at the trade deadline were a lack of speed, the leadoff spot and offense from center field. They solved all three weaknesses in the one deal for Bourn.

GRADES

Braves: A

Astros: F