The lockout is over, spring training is in full swing, and Opening Day is in sight. Alex Anthopoulos had an active offseason, grabbing multiple players for the lineup and powerful bullpen. However, there was one area AA didn’t touch: starting pitching.
By the time the World Series ended, the Braves only had two true starting pitchers on the roster. It would have made sense for AA to pick up a Cy Young contender like Robbie Ray, a veteran like Zack Greinke, or even try to pry Clayton Kershaw away from the Dodgers. But evidently, AA believes the wealth of young arms in the Braves system is ready to compete for the last couple of rotation spots.
Here’s where the rotation stands now:
Not a ton of explaining to do here. Fried has a 2.84 ERA over the past two seasons. He capped off a terrific 2021 by winning the deciding game of the World Series. Morton suffered a fibula fracture after taking a comebacker to the leg in his lone World Series start. He’s progressing nicely and should be ready to begin the season. While he hasn’t made his first Spring Training start yet, he’s been seen pitching live batting practice.
Matt Olson lines a ball into center field off Charlie Morton pic.twitter.com/Y8SIf1itgN
— Justin Toscano (@JustinCToscano) March 16, 2022
Anderson followed up his impressive 2020 by finishing fifth in Rookie of the Year voting and pitching well in the postseason. Barring any injuries, these three will form the top of the rotation throughout the year.
The rest of the rotation will be a battle between these young arms:
A couple of years ago, Toussaint looked like the next big thing for the Braves. He’s been terrible in his four years at the major league level, and the Braves sent him to AAA after just one Spring Training appearance. He won’t be on the Opening Day roster, but he could be back in Atlanta later in the year if he pitches well in Gwinnett.
After looking completely washed early in 2021, Wright had an excellent season in AAA before having one of the most unexpectedly great performances in Game 4 of the World Series. Wright continued to build his case for a spot in the rotation by throwing three scoreless innings on Wednesday. He’s currently the top candidate for the fourth starter this season.
At the beginning of 2021, Ynoa looked like an all-star. His control issues, which had plagued him throughout the minors, disappeared, and he had a 3.02 ERA. But after a frustrating performance in May, he broke his hand by punching a wall. When he finally returned, he had an ERA of 5.05 in the second half. That first-half performance still lingers in the minds of many Braves fans, but he’ll need a strong spring to win a starting spot. So far, he’s thrown three scoreless innings in one appearance with no strikeouts. He has the most experience starting outside of Wright, but his nasty fastball-slider combo might be better suited for the bullpen.
Davidson looked really strong through four starts in 2021 before moving to the IL with forearm trouble for the remainder of the season. He did start Game 5 of the World Series but only lasted two innings. In Spring Training, Davidson has thrown two innings, allowing two runs while striking out four. His dominance at AAA last season (1.17 ERA in 23 innings) and his short success last season make him a strong candidate as the fifth starter.
Similar to Davidson, Muller looked great in his debut last season. However, his velocity took a sharp decline in what would become his final start of the season. He still finished with a strong year in AAA. The biggest concern for the 6-foot-7-inch lefty is his control. He didn’t walk anyone in his first appearance this spring, but his usual walk percentage is almost 13%, which will need to come down for him to make the rotation.
If you haven’t heard of Strider, it’s time to get on the hype train. In his first year of professional baseball in 2021, he started in low-A and climbed all the way to the major leagues. He mainly throws two pitches, a fastball and slider, using them to a devastating effect. He struck out 14.6 batters per nine innings in the minors last season. In his two innings this spring, he’s allowed zero runs while striking out three. It’s a small sample size, but take a peek at his velocity in his first appearance, according to Baseball Savant.
He’s just getting started, and he’s sitting above 100 mph. Unfortunately, the Braves will likely continue to keep him in the minors to start the season so he can get some more experience. Expect to see him throwing gas later in the year, possibly in a relief role.
As it stands currently, Wright has the best chance to crack the Opening Day roster, followed by Ynoa. However, a very likely scenario is a six-man rotation that looks something like this.
Outside of Fried and Morton, this rotation lacks experience. However, their talent level (along with the elite hitting and bullpen) should push the Atlanta Braves back to a division title and the postseason.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the SportsTalkATL gear over at the shop.
— SportsTalkATL.com (@SportsTalkATL) March 23, 2022