With a little more than 12 hours remaining until the end of the Major League Baseball trade deadline, the Atlanta Braves acquired OF Reed Johnson and LHP Paul Maholm from the Chicago Cubs, adding depth to both their starting rotation and bench.
In return, the Cubs received a pair of pitching prospects headlined by RHP Arodys Vizcaino, who underwent Tommy John surgery in March and has subsequently missed the entire 2012 season.
Prior to the injury, though, Vizcaino, 21, was widely regarded as the Braves’ third-best prospect—and appeared on most writers’ Top 100 preseason rankings—behind fellow right-handers Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado, and entered spring training as a strong favorite for a spot in the team’s talented bullpen before injuring his elbow.
Developed as a starter, his track record of arm problems forced a move to the bullpen in mid-2011. It’s doubtful that the Cubs will try to mold him back into a starting pitcher once healthy, as the risk of a follow-up injury is a legitimate concern. Therefore, Vizcaino will serve as a late-inning weapon coming out of the Cubs’ bullpen.
As a reliever, the 6’0", 190-pound right-hander was popping mid- to upper-90s with his fastball and a nasty, low-80s breaking ball.
But don’t expect Vizcaino to have as electric stuff right when he comes off the disabled list.
The velocity may be there, but it may take the entire season for him to regain his pre-surgery command—as is typically the case with most pitchers in their first season since Tommy John surgery.
Vizcaino will still be only 22 next season and possesses considerable upside as a late-inning reliever. Furthermore, in his 17-game stint with the Braves at the end of 2011, the right-hander registered a 3.55 FIP and 8.83 K/9 in 17 games.
Considering that the Braves traded Vizcaino for two role-players in Johnson and Maholm, players who likely will be asked to contribute only in 2012, it may seem like they gave up on the right-hander too soon.
However, there is no ‘too soon’ when it comes to pitching prospects with shoulder and/or elbow problems.
There’s no guarantee that their stuff will ever be the same, so any opportunity to cash in—especially while the player is in the midst of recovery—should be welcomed.
The Braves addressed specific needs on their team with their acquisitions while parting with a player whose organizational ceiling was a late-inning reliever. At the same time, the Cubs parted with two veteran players who have no place in their future plans, and, for the most part, were completely expendable.
However, in a system such as the Cubs, Vizcaino immediately becomes one of the top pitching prospects with the potential to be a staple in the bullpen as they rebuild towards the future.
If there’s some semblance of the pitcher he was last season once he’s fully recovered, the Cubs should be able to mine the right-hander’s value for years to come.