What the Braves and Rockies Got in the Pierce Johnson Trade

With a number of relievers currently on the IL, the Braves picked up two on July 24. The more notable move was the addition of right-hander Pierce Johnson, as Atlanta picked up the ex-Rockie for two Minor League pitchers. Here’s a look at what each team gets in this deal.

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The Braves’ Return

Denver native Pierce Johnson signed with the Rockies this past offseason, after what was a relatively successful run with the Padres. Over three seasons (2020-22) in San Diego, Johnson posted a respectable 3.39 ERA and struck out 125 (12.1 K/9) across 93 innings. The righty also proved to be an asset in the postseason for the Padres, when he threw 4.1 innings of scoreless relief in San Diego’s 2022 run to the NLCS.

Johnson inked a one-year, $5M deal with the Rockies, but his performance with Colorado could be considered mixed. The 32-year-old was put in the closer’s role after Daniel Bard was placed on the IL on the spring, and stuck in that role for a good chunk of the year. Johnson picked up 13 saves in Colorado, but was removed in June and Justin Lawrence eventually assumed the role.

The ex-Rockie’s command gave him trouble throughout the year, but Johnson does have good stuff. Johnson possesses a high-spin, high-movement curve that can run away from a right-hander, but also gives lefties trouble, too. Additionally, Johnson has a lively fastball and a high-80s slider that can also get whiffs.

Johnson’s numbers, however, were not impressive with Colorado. The 32-year-old owned an ERA of 6.00 with the Rockies over 39 innings. It is, however, important to note that there was somewhat of a difference in Johnson’s home/road splits.

LocationERAWHIPK/9BB/9AVGOPS
Home7.231.8211.05.8.292.915
Away4.111.8917.06.0.292.818

In addition to Johnson, the Braves added left-hander Taylor Hearn via trade from the Rangers. Left-hander Lucas Luetge was DFA’d to open up a 40-man spot for Johnson.

The Rockies’ Return

  • RHP Tanner Gordon (5.86 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 76 K over 86.0 IP (AA & AAA))
  • RHP Victor Vodnik (3.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 56 K over 40.2 IP (AA))

We’ll start with Gordon, a tall 6’5’’ starter that reportedly possesses a low-to-mid-90s fastball, as well as two potential average offerings in a slider and changeup. The 25-year-old, per scouting reports, got too much plate when he first made it to the upper Minors. Unfortunately for Gordon, he hasn’t been able to replicate his success in the lower Minors in AA and AAA.

Across 17 outings (86.0 IP) in 2023, Gordon owns a 5.86 ERA and opposing hitters sported a .272 batting average against him.

The other piece from this deal is Victor Vodnik. Vodnik is a six-foot tall righty with premium velocity. The 23-year-old can regularly hit the upper-90’s with his fastball, a pitch with premium heat and ride that can make it tough to pick up.

He also possesses a changeup that’s received high grades, as well as a slider (h/t MLB.com)

Vodnik got a look as a starter in Mississippi (AA) in 2021, but he’s exclusively been a reliever since then. He’s quite effective as a reliever, as he owned a 3.10 ERA and a .183 opponent’s batting average across 40.2 IP this season. But with 91 walks over 181 career MiLB innings, command is the biggest issue in Vodnik’s game.

MLB.com rated Vodnik as the Rockies’ 20th-best prospect after the trade.

The Verdict

The Braves bullpen has been decimated by injuries. Left-handers Dylan Lee and A.J. Minter are on the IL, as are righties Jesse Chavez and Nick Anderson. While the likes of Michael Tonkin and Ben Heller have provided much-needed help, it shouldn’t shock anyone that Atlanta looked to upgrade the pen for a stretch run.

Johnson may not be an elite arm, but he does have power stuff and the ability to get swing-and-misses. The Braves will bank that the righty will rebound now that he’s out of Coors Field.

In return, the Rockies picked up two interesting pitching prospects. Vodnik is the prize of this trade, as he has the chance to be a valuable, hard-throwing reliever with the ceiling of a late-inning arm. However, his command will define what kind of role he’ll ultimately have.