In case you’re already knee deep in holiday celebrations and have not been keeping up with sports, the Braves announced the signing of veteran right-handed pitcher Charlie Morton yesterday morning. The deal is for one-year, $15 million and should put a bowtie on Atlanta’s rotation heading into next season.
As we all know, starting pitching was the Braves Achilles heal last season. Injuries decimated their group, and before long, they were relying on guys like Josh Tomlin and Robbie Erlin to make starts. The depth was just not their, and Alex Anthopoulos learned the hard way that you can never have too much starting pitching, which is probably why it has been the primary focus early this offseason.
The Braves first significant signing was Drew Smyly — a talented lefty coming over from San Francisco. I imagine he will slot into the rotation — at least to begin the season — based on how he pitched in 2020. However, there will certainly be some worthwhile competition.
With Smyly and Morton now on board, the two top young arms in the Braves system are left out of a job (assuming Soroka returns healthy at the beginning of the season).
Kyle Wright began to turn the corner at the end of 2020. His Game 3 NLCS performance is one to forget, but his seven shutout innings in the NLDS should give the Braves plenty of confidence in him heading into 2021.
Bryse Wilson is also a legitimate rotation option. He may have only pitched in 15.2 innings for the Braves last season, but he never gave up more than two earned runs in an outing. That’s promising, but it pales in comparison to what he was able to do to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the NLCS. The 22-year-old allowed just one hit and one run over six innings, proving the doubters (me) wrong. This kid still has a lot of time to develop, and he’s already pretty damn good.
With that being said, until Wright or Wilson show more consistency, they aren’t going to be apart of this starting rotation. Here’s what the top four will look like, assuming there are no injuries between now and Opening Day.
Those four are all locks to be in the starting rotation when healthy. You can switch around the order, depending on who has the hot hand, but those are the Braves big guns.
As I said, the fifth spot — for now — belongs to Smyly. That could be subject to change during Spring Training, but the lefty was electric last year for the Giants with his fastball, curve, cutter combination, striking out 14.4 batters per nine innings. The sample size was small, but this was a fantastic pickup for the Braves. Smyly could be the fifth guy, but if he struggles, he also has plenty of experience coming out of the bullpen.
So here’s what the starting pitching depth chart looks like coming into 2021:
- Max Fried
- Mike Soroka
- Charlie Morton
- Ian Anderson
- Drew Smyly
- Kyle Wright
- Bryse Wilson
In reality, you can call 5,6, and 7 — 5A, 5B, and 5C. All of them have loads of upside, so whoever shows the most consistency in Spring Training will likely earn the job. The other two very well could find themselves in the bullpen. Regardless, this is a problem the Braves have not had in quite some time. Keep in mind, they also have plenty of talented prospects on the horizon. If a couple of young arms decide to pop in 2021, they very well could put together the best rotation in baseball.