Braves trade for Rockies outfielder Sam Hilliard in first move of MLB offseason

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The Atlanta Braves and Colorado Rockies agreed to the first trade of Major League Baseball’s offseason on Sunday, less than 24 hours after the completion of the World Series. The Braves announced on Twitter that they had obtained outfielder Sam Hilliard in exchange for right-handed pitcher Dylan Spain.

Hilliard, 28 years old, is coming off a miserable season with the Rockies. In 70 games, he batted .184/.280/.264 (48 OPS+) with two home runs and five stolen bases (on six attempts). For his big-league career, he’s posted an 82 OPS+ in more than 600 trips to the plate. In addition, there is some reason to believe in him as an upside play.

Hilliard had an average exit velocity of 92 mph last season, as well as a maximum exit velocity of 115.1 mph, the latter putting him in the top three percent of the league. His issue wasn’t making sound contact, then, but making sound contact on a good plane. Just 25 percent of Hilliard’s balls were launched between 10 and 30 degrees, him in the 10th percentile leaving in the majors in that respect. If the Braves can help him hit the ball at a better angle, thereby optimizing his raw power, they could unlock a new level of performance in his game.

Even if they fail in that pursuit, Hilliard gives the Braves another outfield option on their depth chart. As it stands, they’re expected to have Michael Harris II in center field and Ronald Acuña Jr. in right. The Braves’ left-field situation is more murky. Marcell Ozuna and Eddie Rosario are both under contract through at least next season, though neither played well in 2022. (And Ozuna was arrested in August for driving under the influence.)

Spain, 24, was Atlanta’s 10th-round pick in the 2021 draft by way of the University of Hawaii. He made 36 appearances last season, compiling a 5.30 ERA and a 4.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio at High-A Rome. Spain was not considered one of the Braves’ top 30 prospects by Baseball America.

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