With eye on future, Braves take Winkler in Rule 5 Draft

With eye on future, Braves take Winkler in Rule 5 Draft

SAN DIEGO -- The Braves lost a former top prospect with shoulder concerns in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft, but they gained a reliever who could prove to be a future asset if he makes a successful return from Tommy John surgery.

The Braves selected right-handed pitcher Daniel Winkler out of the Rockies' system and lost J.R. Graham to the Twins in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. During the Minor League phase, Atlanta strengthened its organizational depth at catcher by selecting Steven Rodriguez from the D-backs' organization.

Winkler was fashioning an impressive season before undergoing the Tommy John procedure in June. Players selected in the Rule 5 Draft are subject to be returned to their former organization if they do not spend the entirety of the following season on the selecting team's active Major League roster.

But with Winkler coming back from an injury, the Braves are planning to take advantage of the option to keep him on the disabled list throughout this season. If this occurs, the 24-year-old pitcher would be required to be on Atlanta's 25-man roster for at least 90 days during the 2016 season. Anything short of this duration would provide the Rockies the option to reclaim the pitcher.

Winkler went 5-2 with a 1.41 ERA in the 12 starts he made before undergoing the elbow surgery this year. With a somewhat funky delivery, he features a fastball that sits between 87-92 mph and a plus curveball.

"This guy put up great numbers last year," assistant general manager John Coppolella said. "Our scouts saw him. They thought he had great stuff and they thought he really fought on the mound."

Right-handed hitters batted .103 with a .169 on-base percentage against Winkler last season. Left-handed hitters were limited to a .179 batting average and a .264 on-base percentage. Winkler has produced a 3.44 strikeout-to-walk ratio during the 76 starts he has made at the professional level.

The Braves view Winkler as a reliever who could provide a different look within a bullpen that they plan to stock with power arms over the next few seasons.

"Having a right-on-right weapon wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for us," Coppolella said. "We're in a world where Pat Neshek signed a two-year, $12.5 million deal and Luke Gregorson got three [years] and $21 [million]. We thought this was a good value play for us."

While the Braves felt fortunate not to lose Cody Martin, they knew there was a good chance they would lose Graham, a talented, high-character pitcher who was ranked by MLB.com as Atlanta's second-best prospect at the beginning of the 2013 season.

Graham's status as a highly-regarded prospect began to deteriorate when a right shoulder ailment shut him down for the final three months of the 2013 season. Six weeks before his shoulder became an issue, the 24-year-old pitcher had opened some eyes with the triple-digit radar readings he registered during Spring Training games.

After being cleared to begin pitching again this year, Graham posted a 5.55 ERA over 27 appearances (19 starts) for Double-A Mississippi.

With some uncertainty surrounding Graham's future, the Braves opted not to protect him on their 40-man roster, which will lose a few of its current members within the next week, when the recent deals with Alberto Callaspo and Dian Toscano become official.

"It's hard, because we all love J.R. Graham," Coppolella said. "He's a great kid, he's got a great arm and a bright future."

If Graham does not stick on Minnesota's roster throughout next season, the Braves would have the option of reacquiring him at cost of $25,000 -- half the sum teams pay to select a player in the Rule 5 Draft.

Rodriguez hit .263 and retired 44 percent (23 of 52) would-be basestealers while totaling 48 games with Class A Visalia and Double-A Mobile last season. The 24-year-old catcher will likely begin next season at Triple-A Gwinnett.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.