In this day and age of instant information, hardly any trade talks are secret. Yet nothing foretold the bombshell the Pirates dropped Wednesday night.
The Pirates traded center fielder Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves for three minor-leaguers less than four months after signing him to a three-year, $15.75-million and just one season after he hit 26 home runs, stole 23 bases, played in his first All-Star Game and won a National League Gold Glove for fielding excellence.
McLouth was hitting .256 with nine homers, 34 RBIs and seven stolen bases in 45 games this season.
“We had been talking for a couple of weeks but we kept it very tightly under wraps,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “The Braves felt they wanted to make an early strike in the trade market this season. Though we didn’t want to trade Nate, we also realize that no player is ever untouchable. A lot of teams tried to trade for Nate the past year, year-and-a-half and we always said not until we got an offer we felt we couldn’t pass up.”
The three minor-leaguers are Class AAA Richmond right-hander Charlie Morton, Class AA Mississippi outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and high Class A Myrtle Beach left-hander Jeff Locke.
Morton was assigned to Class AAA Indianapolis, Hernandez to Class AA Altoona and Locke to high Class A Lynchburg.
The trade has paved the way for center fielder Andrew McCutchen to come up from Indianapolis. He will be in uniform Thursday afternoon when the Pirates host the New York Mets at PNC Park.
“We don’t expect Andrew to come up, hit .330 and win the National League Rookie of the Year award,” Huntington said. “However, we do feel he is ready to play in the major leagues.”
McCutchen was hitting .303 with four home runs, 20 RBIs and 10 steals in 49 games for Indianapolis while leading the International League with 41 runs scored and eight triples.
“This may be the toughest decision we have made in my time with the organization,” said Huntington. “Nate is a quality player and person, but as we have said several times, tough decisions will need to be made as we build and sustain a championship caliber organization. Nate has worked as hard as any player to become a starting Major League Player, proving wrong anyone who may have doubted him. When we signed Nate to a long-term contract we did so with the intent on having him remain part of our core of homegrown talent. But the quality and quantity of talent we are receiving in this trade moves us closer to our goal of building that sustainable championship caliber club and compelled us to move a very good player and an outstanding young man.”
Scouting Report on Gorkys Hernandez, Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke
1. Gorkys Hernandez
Bats: Right , Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 0″ , Weight: 175 lb.
Hernandez, 21, was the 4th rated prospect in the Braves system. Hernandez has very good speed on the basepads stealing 20 plus bases per season in his three years in the Braves minor league system including 54 stolen bases in 2007 for Class A West Michigan.
Hernandez makes good contact and drives balls into the gaps, currently batting .316 in 52 games for Class AA Mississippi. Defensively he was regarded as having the strongest arm of any outfield prospect in the Braves system.
The negative for Hernandez is that his power game has not come around to this point in his development. Hernandez currently has 0 home runs in 52 games and has not hit over 6 home runs in his minor league career.
He is considered a future major-league leadoff hitter with plus speed and good plate discipline, though more experienced Class AA pitchers have gotten him to expand his strike zone this season. He has decent gap power and some scouts feel he could be good for
10 home runs a season at the major-league level as his body fills out.
He has a good arm and enough range to play center fielder, though his routes and jumps need work.
Current Statistics for Class AA Mississippi:
GP: 52: 0 HR – 19 RBI – 15 BB – 10 SB -.316 avg – .361 OBP – .387 SLG – .748 OPS
Other tidbits: Hernandez, who was originally signed by Detroit as a non-drafted free agent in 2005 out of Venezuela, has been a two-time All-Star Futures Game representative (2007 and 2008) in his five years of professional baseball.
Entering today’s action, he ranked 10th in the Southern League in hitting, third in hits and tied for eighth in stolen bases. In 2007, he took home Midwest League mid-season and post-season All-Star accolades while also being named the league’s Most Valuable Player after hitting .293 with a league-leading 54 stolen bases.
2. Charlie Morton
Bats: Right , Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 4″ , Weight: 190 lb.
Charlie Morton went 7-2 with a 2.51 ERA (64.2ip/18er) and 55 strikeouts in 10 starts this year for the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves of the International League. At the time of the trade, he was tied for first in the International League in wins, and was ranked eighth in ERA and third in innings pitched.
In his last outing on May 29 at Syracuse, he struck out seven batters while tossing a seven-hit shutout while winning his fifth consecutive start. The 25-year-old Morton made his Major League debut with Atlanta in 2008 and went 4-8 with a 6.15 ERA (74.2ip/51er) and 48 strikeouts in 16 games (15 starts).
“Charlie Morton is a power right-handed starting pitcher who is excelling at Triple-A,” said Huntington. “He is close to being ready for the big leagues and has the upside to become a quality Major League starting pitcher.”
A scouting evaluator who has watched tape on Morton had this to say about the hard throwing righty: “has an exceptionally clean delivery that will keep him off the DL. Real nice arm action, which leads to him having a tremendous sinker that sits in the 89-92 range, but he also has a little heater than he can push up to 94/95. The combination of his pure stuff, age, and early Major League results are eerily similar to that of Ross Ohlendorf.” —DePaoli —
3. Jeff Locke allowed three earned runs or less in seven of his 10 starts this year for Single-A Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League. The 21-year-old southpaw, who entered the season ranked as the seventh-best prospect in the Braves organization by Baseball America, was originally selected by Atlanta in the second round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft from A. Crosby Kennett High School in New Hampshire.
During his second professional season in 2007, Locke finished tied for second in the Appalachian League with seven wins and 74 strikeouts and third in strikeouts per 9.0ip (11.17).
“Jeff Locke is an intriguing young left handed starter with the frame, athleticism and stuff to become a quality major league starting pitcher,” said Huntington.
Locke throws pretty hard for a lefty (90-94) with below average control that has led to him struggling at times in Class A. He curveball is erratic but can be a swing-and-miss pitch at times and his changeup is still in the rudimentary stages.
Locke is considered to be a good athlete who repeats his delivery consistently and keeps the ball down in the strike zone as his one home run allowed this season helps counterbalance a high 5.52 ERA.