Acquired RHP Akeel Morris from New York Mets in exchange for UT-L Kelly Johnson and cash considerations. [6/8]
A raw 2010 10th-round draft pick out of high school in the Virgin Islands, Akeel Morris initially struggled as a starter, but established himself as a prospect by posting nice ERAs of 1.69 or lower as a reliever at short-season Brooklyn, Low-A Savannah, and High-A Port St. Lucie. His profile is one that tends to dominate the low-minors when you only have to face hitters once through the order: a fastball sitting in the low-90s and topping out around 95, a changeup that really dives, fringe command, and deceptive but difficult to repeat mechanics.
Morris has been far less successful in his Double-A cracks in 2015 and 2016, but even still, he’s struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings at every minor-league stop. Somewhat surprisingly, he was added to the 40-man roster after the 2014 season despite only reaching Low-A, which briefly cost the Mets Logan Verrett in the Rule 5 draft. His spot on the 40-man has been tenuous, and he easily could’ve been the odd man out had the Mets dealt for a bench bat, so his inclusion in this trade makes a lot of sense.
Because Morris was on the 40-man during the 2015 season, he was briefly called up during a bullpen emergency in June, straight from A-ball. Used while down three runs against the Blue Jays, he tried to sneak his changeup past Danny Valencia, who smashed it for a three-run homer. For his two-thirds of an inning of service to the 2015 Mets, Morris got a National League championship ring and playoff share, which was many, many times more money than he got as a 2015 salary.
For the Braves, this is a low-cost pickup of a likely future middle reliever with some upside beyond that if he can straighten out his command or learn an effective breaking ball. The Braves have been collecting as many prospect arms as they can find for over a year now, and while Morris doesn’t project as a difference maker, he could help the major-league pen in 2017 or 2018. Morris, meanwhile, has a clearer path to a stint in the majors far longer than one game with the unsettled nature of the Braves' bullpen. It’s a win for all involved. —Jarrett Seidler
Acquired UT-L Kelly Johnson and cash considerations from Atlanta Braves in exchange for RHP Akeel Morris. [6/8]
If you think you’ve read this before, that’s because you have. Sort of. This is the second year in a row in which the Mets have traded with the Braves, giving up a middling Double-A arm in exchange for Kelly Johnson. Last year, this was only part of a (slightly) bigger deal–Johnson and Juan Uribe came to the Mets for John Gant and Rob Whalen–and R.J. Anderson broke it down thusly: “[He] has his flaws … but he’s acceptable as a versatile, experienced player on a competitive team."
This might even still be true.
When Johnson was shipped away from Atlanta last season, he was hitting fairly well. He had posted a .286 True Average, and managed a slightly above-average Fielding Runs Above Average. In essence, he was doing the two things he was hired to do: hit right-handed pitching and play several infield and outfield positions as needed. He did those same things well when coming over to the Mets, but found himself out of a role as the team made it to the postseason with a full, loaded roster.
Today things are closer to when they were when the Mets acquired Johnson last season from a Mets perspective, but Johnson hasn’t covered himself with glory to start the year. Instead of last season’s .286 True Average, Johnson’s only mustered a .231 mark–decidedly below average. He’s suffered a near-complete power outage, and in 104 plate appearances against right-handers, he’s been completely awful (.279 on-base, .266 slugging). PECOTA’s rest-of-season projections don’t look too appetizing either: a .244 projected True Average makes him a replacement-level player. The Mets already have a handful of those guys! If they wanted an Eric Campbell, they could call him up from Triple-A again! Ty Kelly certainly exists!
The Mets have to be hoping that Johnson will bounce back, and they also can’t be too opposed to his veteran presence on the roster. More than likely, he’s a temporary fix or a last-minute, righty-beating pinch-hitting bench bat, not a full-time third baseman. This isn’t the end of the Mets trying to fiddle with their corner infield situation/back of the bench–not by half. Last year, the team exhausted all the little options before trying something big. If Johnson fails to impress, expect T.J. Rivera to get a shot, or maybe the long-awaited Dilson Herrera move, or Eric Campbell gets his umpteenth try at third base. Just keep in mind that if Johnson really is toast, it’s not the end. In the wise words of Yoda, speaking of the Light Side of the Force’s last hope: “There is … another.” —Bryan Grosnick