Monday, August 8, 2016

Chris Ellis: The other half of the Simmons trade

Why do I say the other "half" of the Simmons trade when he was traded for 3 players? Because Erick Aybar doesn't count. Erick Aybar will never count. Only Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis will be the important parts of that trade, because those players are the reasons we made the trade to begin with. The Braves needed younger pitching, and they didn't need the best defensive SS in the game, who would always be a liability with a bat in his hand. If that seems harsh, Simmons is a .668 OPS hitter over 5 years. I await your rebuttal on his hitting.

By now you've likely heard of Sean Newcomb and where he ranks in the Braves system. I trust another blogger like Gondeee who does a great job of this kind of analysis on his own site, and he has Newcomb as the #2 overall mid-season prospect for the Braves this season. He also has Chris Ellis at #22, which is way the hell down the list when you consider there are 12 pitchers ahead of him. That's a lot of pitchers even for the Braves, and several of them have seen MLB time already. You can check Gondeee's list here: http://www.gondeee.com/

But what about Ellis? Why the drop in the order so to speak, and why do we never hear about him in relation to this trade? He's almost like the kick-in player that nobody talks about. Well, for one thing he was drafted in the 50th round in 2011 by the Dodgers, which means that many GMs thought Ellis wasn't very good. So instead of going into the MLB out of high school, Ellis went to college at Ole Miss. In 2014, he came back out into the draft again, and this time he was selected in the 3rd round by the Angels. But then again, what is 47 rounds of difference between friends right? Turns out it was worth about $575,000 since that was his signing bonus. That would be about 10 years of salary for a normal student coming out of college now, so I'd say getting a higher education paid off for young Mr. Ellis.

Coming out of Ole Miss, Ellis was a big 6'5" guy that threw hard in the mid-90s, and had a decent change-up. That was about it. And that's usually good enough to dominate college players because most of them aren't going to go pro. It's an entirely different ballgame when you show up in AA for the first time, as Chris learned. In the Angels organization, Chris did well in A+ ball with a 3.88 ERA in 11 starts, and he got promoted. Things didn't go as well in AA where he posted a 4.85 ERA in 15 games and really struggled with keeping players off the bases. His WHIP ballooned to 1.56 and his hits per 9 innings were 8.9, which if you're giving up a hit an inning you aren't long for baseball.

Those AA number probably soured the Angels on him as a prospect, and that's why he got traded for Simmons. However, when Ellis showed up in AA for the Braves, he suddenly posted great numbers. In that time frame of 2015-2016, he obviously got a better handle on his command and in 13 starts in Mississippi, Ellis had a 2.75 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP. As expected, he was promoted to AAA. And as expected like his last promotion, he's had major struggles with base-runners again. In Ellis' time in Gwinett so far, he's had 10 starts, a 6.64 ERA, a 1.97 WHIP, and 10 H/9. That's even worse than his AA struggles, which explains the hard slide down the rankings to #22 on Gondeee's rankings board.

However, let's remember what happened after 15 starts in AA. Suddenly Ellis started to figure things out, and after this season with some work in the offseason we might see similar results from Ellis in 2017 at AAA. In fact, you can see the improvement starting already. If you pull his last 4 starts, you have 3 games where Ellis gave up a combined 3 runs in 15 innings. Then you have one game where he was shelled for 6 runs in 3 innings on the road. And that's fine for a young guy who is developing, because he's going to have ups and downs. But I like the fact that he's starting to have more good games than bad.

Yes, Ellis is still a little wild. Yes, he's going to have to learn how to turn one bad inning into just one inning instead of a complete meltdown. That's all part of the process when it comes to young arms. But the scouting report doesn't lie on Ellis, and he has a lot of tools you would really want in a starting pitcher. He's tall, he's got a live arm, he's got stamina and can give you innings, and he projects as a good 3-4 starter in a rotation for a relatively cheap price. All those things work in the Braves favor if they are willing to let this guy take some lumps in the latter half of 2017. I think that's when I'd project Ellis to get some time. But also remember that with every promotion, Ellis has gotten rocked. If you see him at the end of 2017 and he's struggling with runners and looks lost, that's just his M.O. at this point. He needs the time to adjust and has come back stronger with every promotion.

GO BRAVES!

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