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The Guys Besides Yunel

While it’s fun to evaluate Alex Gonzalez vs. Yunel Escobar in a vacuum — and, inevitably, come out favoring Escobar — there were three minor league players involved in today’s Blue Jays-Braves trade. R.J. Anderson and Joe Pawlikowski have already tackled the deal from the perspective of each team, but I’m here to detail the analysis on the three players currently in the minor leagues: Jo-Jo Reyes, Tim Collins and Tyler Pastornicky.

Reyes, so far as I can tell, is the only player that has ranked as a top 10 prospect (BA #8 pre-2007). He is also the only one that no longer qualifies as a prospect, and the only one with a failed Major League track record. That came in 2008, when Reyes’ 3-11, 5.81 stats actually appeared far worse than his 4.61 xFIP. In his 194 inning career (where he’s nearing in on 2 years of service time completed), Reyes has consistently had a lower xFIP than ERA, thanks to a 15.5 HR/FB%.

Home runs weren’t always a problem for Reyes in the minor leagues, but between his Major League stints and his current run at Triple-A (5.70 ERA, 1.5 HR/9, 17.0 HR/FB%), it’s an important indicator going forward. His long-time bugaboo, command, is improving: 2010 is currently his fourth-straight minor league season improving his BB/9 ratio. He’s pretty much a power pitcher without the power: strikeouts, home runs, and walks all come at high rates, with his ultimate success hinging on command.

In terms of pedigree, it’s outrageous to think that 5-foot-7, 155-pound Tim Collins could rank ahead of Reyes, a big-bodied former second-round pick. This is the type of thinking that Collins has long been susceptible to, and the thinking he’s consistently outpaced. In 130 games at the minor league level over four years, Collins has a 2.40 ERA, 13.6 K/9 ratio and 5.9 H/9 ratio. He lives in the strike zone, and brings deception and sneaky velocity everytime he touches the mound.

I suppose it’s possible that Collins touches the Majors this season — he’s maxed out at what he’s going to become, so it would be defensible — but the Braves bullpen is so good, I sort of doubt it. Instead, he should get the opportunity to replace Reyes at Triple-A Gwinnett, because he’s passed the Double-A test (currently riding a streak of 17 consecutive scoreless innings). It’s hard to think that Collins has a long career ahead of him, but naysaying this guy has essentially become pointless.

The least visible part of this trade is Tyler Pastornicky — he has neither a Major League record nor a freakish pedigree. But I doubt the Braves make this trade without him; we know how good that scouting department operates, and they wouldn’t be the first to fancy Pastornicky as a sleeper. A fifth round pick out of a Florida high school in 2008 (drafted one pick before the Braves), Pastornicky has great bat control, sporting a career strikeout rate of just 13.8%. However, his average is just .264 and his ISO just .089 for his career, so he clearly has a ways to go in developing strength and power.

At just 20 years old in the Florida State League, a .258/.348/.376 batting line is more than defensible. He’s upped his walk rate this season (11.8 BB%) and he’s still been a nuisance on the basepaths, following last year’s 57-steal season with a 24-for-31 mark this year. Pastornicky is problem a second baseman down the road, but he’s improved enough at shortstop to maintain some believers about his future there.

Because of their starting pitching depth, Jo-Jo Reyes doesn’t mean a lot to the Braves — they would have traded him in for future reliever Tim Collins without the other pieces involved. But to add a potential long-term replacement for Escobar (on top of the short-term replacement that Alex Gonzalez offers), there’s a chance the Braves don’t think this is as short-sighted as many analysts do.