After the debacle that was the Braves rotation last season, Alex Anthopoulos made starting pitching his top priority this winter, signing Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly before Thanksgiving even arrived. With Mike Soroka also returning to the rotation, starting pitching depth will be an obvious strength of this team. The Braves now have five proven starters, but when one of them inevitably suffers an injury — minor or major — they will have plenty of options to turn to.
By now, everyone is well aware of Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright. One of those arms will likely take Soroka’s spot in the rotation until he is fully healed from his torn Achilles. But the Braves starting pitching depth goes well beyond just those seven. They have a host of ultra-talented young arms waiting in the wings — some that have already received opportunities, and some that haven’t.
Let’s start with the one who probably saw way more action than the Braves would have liked last season (and one of my personal favorites), Huascar Ynoa. The 22-year-old appeared in nine games during the shortened campaign, making five starts, and though he finished with a below-average 5.82 ERA, his 4.90 FIP is much more palatable. He had several outings where his potential shined, including Game 3 of last year’s NLCS.
Ynoa entered the game in mop-up duty after the Braves fell behind 11-0 in the first inning, but his job was no less critical. Atlanta’s pitching staff desperately needed him to give the team some length to avoid wasting the entire bullpen. This was especially important given last year’s NLCS didn’t have any off days. Ynoa was spectacular, tossing four shutout innings of one-hit ball with four strikeouts. It was by far the best outing of his young career and part of the reason why the organization is so excited about his future. If push comes to shove, the Braves will have no problem sending him out there for a start, or multiple.
Touki Toussaint is another ultra-talented arm that will likely receive some opportunities this season. At times, it’s looked like he was well on his way to becoming the next star prospect to join the Braves rotation, but he has often lost control and just hasn’t been able to put together any consistency. There’s no questioning the talent, and I don’t think he’s run out of opportunities like perhaps Sean Newcomb has. But with so many other arms waiting for their chance, 2021 is a make-or-break season for the 24-year-old.
Then, beyond all of those guys, the Braves have another wave of young pitching prospects on the horizon. Tucker Davidson is who my money is on to receive the first start out of this group, but the hard-throwing Kyle Muller is also an option if he shows improved command. Even Patrick Weigel and Jasseel De La Cruz aren’t too far off from contributing at the major-league level. I don’t think Brian Snitker would fret if any of these prospects were forced to make a start, and they are 10th in line — at best — entering 2021. In fact, all of these talented youngsters would probably provide more than what Tommy Milone and Robbie Erlin gave the Braves last season.
Over the last couple of years, Alex Anthopoulos has avoided adding a ton of starting pitching in the offseason, banking that some of the younger arms would eventually pop. This winter proved he’s learned his lesson. Now, starting pitching depth is the last thing Brian Snitker will have to worry about, as it will be an overwhelming strength for the Braves in 2021.