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On this morning's Fantasy Focus podcast , Matthew Berry and I discussed how embarrassing it must have been for Jordan Schafer when he learned that the Atlanta Braves were sending him down to Triple-A Gwinnett and replacing him with a guy -- Gregor Blanco -- who was hitting .242 in the minors. Well, perhaps the Braves were embarrassed, too, as they swiftly moved to acquire outfielder Nate McLouth from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for three minor league prospects, pitchers Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke and outfielder Gorkys Hernandez.
McLouth will take over in center field for the Braves, sparing us all from the Blanco project. Although he's hitting just .256 so far this season, McLouth still has generated the power (9 home runs) and speed (7 stolen bases) that made him a fantasy darling in 2008. There's no reason to expect his production to be affected significantly by the move to Atlanta, although it's at least worth noting that the Braves rank dead last in the majors in stolen base attempts this season and were near the bottom in 2008, as well.
The big news from the Pittsburgh perspective is the Pirates' announcement that they will purchase the contract of outfield prospect Andrew McCutchen to replace McLouth on the roster. McCutchen, 22, is hitting .303 through 49 games for Triple-A Indianapolis, with four homers and 10 stolen bases. With 17 walks against just 24 strikeouts in 201 at-bats, he has shown excellent plate discipline, a skill that should help him adapt quickly to the majors and avoid the fate of -- for instance -- someone like Schafer. McCutchen should be the every-day starter in center field and has a chance to hit a handful of homers and steal 15 bases the rest of the season. Owned in less than 1 percent of ESPN.com leagues, he's a must-add in NL-only leagues and deserving of consideration in mixed leagues with at least 12 teams.
As for the players the Pirates acquired in today's trade, none deserves immediate attention in most fantasy leagues. Morton, 25, was having a nice season for Gwinnett, posting a 2.51 ERA in 10 starts. He struggled in his first run through the majors last season for the Braves, with a pitiful 1.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio (48 Ks, 41 BB). He could get a shot in the Pittsburgh rotation this summer, at which point he'll merit consideration in NL-only leagues.
Locke, a 21-year-old southpaw, was pitching for High-A Myrtle Beach and not pitching especially well. Keith Law rated Locke the No. 6 prospect in the Atlanta system entering the 2009 season, and he certainly has talent, but only players in very deep keeper leagues need to pay attention to him right now.
Hernandez has played 52 games for Double-A Mississippi this season, hitting .316 but showing little else. With no home runs and just 10 stolen bases in 18 attempts, he's still a work in progress and unlikely to hit the big leagues in any kind of meaningful role before 2010. Still, at 21, he's an excellent prospect who came in fifth in Law's organization rankings.
Hanson called up
Although it was not directly related to the trade, the Braves announced a major call-up of their own. Tommy Hanson, the top pitching prospect in the system, will make his major league debut Saturday, starting against the Milwaukee Brewers. The decision came the same day the team cut ties with Tom Glavine. Hanson will take the rotation spot of Kris Medlen, who is being sent to the bullpen as Jorge Campillo is placed on the disabled list. In 11 starts for Gwinnett, Hanson posted a 1.49 ERA with an incredible 90 strikeouts against just 17 walks in 66 1/3 innings. Fantasy owners have been tracking his progress for some time now, as he's already owned in 9 percent of ESPN.com leagues. That number will rise in a hurry. Hanson has the skills and opportunity to be a top-50 pitcher the rest of this season, although obviously there could be some bumps along the way.