Is there something wrong with the Braves’ pitching development?

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A topic that has been brought up quite a bit since 2019: there seems to be a growing narrative that the Braves have struggled to develop their young pitchers. Obviously, the team’s starting rotation woes in 2020 have contributed to a lot of the criticism, but even before a few of the latest young arms hit a wall in the majors, there had been rumblings referring to a lack of growth.

Just this season, we’ve seen Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson struggle (again); we’ve watched Touki Toussaint (a former prospect) pitch well at times, but ultimately continue to regress; and though he’s never really been labeled as a top-tier prospect, we’ve also witnessed a seemingly over-matched 22-year-old Huascar Ynoa. And that’s not even counting the continued problems out of Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz — two starters that should have things pretty much figured out, now in their late-20s.

We’ll discuss the organization’s current and former class of pitchers in a minute, but for now, let’s just look at how Braves prospect pitchers have performed so far this season:

Active Braves Pitching Prospects (2020)

  • (#3) Ian Anderson — 15 IP, 2.40 ERA
  • (#4) Kyle Wright — 19 IP, 8.05 ERA
  • (#7) Bryse Wilson — 2.2 IP, 13.50 ERA
  • (#12) Huascar Ynoa — 11.2 IP, 7.71 ERA
  • (#20) Patrick Weigel — 0.2 IP, 27.00 ERA
  • TOTAL — 49 IP, 11.73 ERA

*Ranking in parentheses is derived from SportsTalkATL’s 2020 Top-30 Prospect List, released this past January 

 

That’s really bad. As you can see, of the five prospect pitchers to log innings for the Braves in 2020, only one has been even remotely effective on the mound. And Anderson had his first taste of adversity last time out against the Marlins. However, given how strong Anderson was during his first two big-league outings, a dud every now and then by the 22-year-old should be acceptable.

And if we’re being honest, you can’t take too much away from Weigel’s one relief appearance. Manager Brian Snitker probably shouldn’t have chosen that exact moment to debut the 26-year-old righty (a one-run game in the 7th inning versus the Nationals on Sept. 4); and regardless, 36 pitches isn’t enough of a sample to determine whether or not Weigel can make it in the majors. Sure, two runs and two walks in just 0.2 innings of work certainly isn’t ideal, but let’s see what he does when given a few more opportunities.

So that leaves us with Wright, Wilson, and Ynoa — three current prospect pitchers that have accrued enough big league innings in their careers so far to allow for somewhat of an analysis (I mean, not really… but we can at least determine which way they’re trending). The bad news is that this isn’t just a 2020 problem for these three players. They’ve struggled in the majors essentially from Day 1, giving them some pretty rough career numbers so far:

Career MLB Stats

  • Kyle Wright — 44.2 IP, 7.86 ERA
  • Bryse Wilson — 29.2 IP, 13.50 ERA
  • Huascar Ynoa — 14.2 IP, 9.82 ERA
  • TOTAL — 89 IP, 10.39 ERA

 

Once again, that’s really bad. It’s a problem that has become noticeable, especially when you watch guys who have already graduated from being prospects (ala Folty, Newcomb, and Touki) continue to struggle in games.

There’s no doubt the Braves are currently experiencing a bit of a lull when it comes to getting their star prospect pitchers “over the hump.” And you could even argue that this lack of development from their young arms has been taking place for a few years now, which our own Harrison Coburn examined in our most-recent look at the subject almost exactly a year ago. 

However — as Coburn included in his piece at the time — prospects (especially pitchers) bust at a very high frequency — a rate of nearly 60% for those ranked within the top-ten of a given season’s top-100 and almost 75% for those ranked near the top-50. 

At the moment, per MLB.com, there are only four Braves ranked inside baseball’s top-100 (Cristian Pache, Ian Anderson, Drew Waters, Shea Langeliers), and if all but one wound up being a bust, it really wouldn’t be that bizarre. 

Despite incredible strides in the scouting department league-wide (I mean, just look at some of the Braves’ first-round picks from the 1980s), developing teenage pitchers into consistent big-league contributors is still a challenging task and takes quite a bit of luck to pull off. 

So maybe we should adjust our expectations some, or perhaps give the Braves a bit more credit for the pitchers that have turned into success stories — guys like Mike Soroka, Julio Teheran and even Mike Minor (who were all drafted and developed by the Braves and have had real success in the majors). Of course, we can’t forget about Max Fried — who maybe wasn’t drafted by the Braves but was developed by them from A-ball up. 

Consider a paragraph from the post mentioned above by Harrison (remember, from last September)…

“Out of all these top 100 arms only Soroka, Fried and Newcomb are making any contributions. We all can see the high bust rate of prospects, and I think it comes down to how much of an impact Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson make down the road as top draft picks. If one of them can contribute, this was a successful experiment. But looking back, it is pretty crazy that only two of these arms are being featured in the rotation.”

Fans may not agree or like it, but Harrison’s exactly right. Given how well Soroka turned out to be (and how promising Fried’s looks), if it’s only Anderson out of this next batch of arms that winds up turning the corner, the Braves brass will probably still be patting itself on the back. Pitchers that are capable of leading a major league starting rotation — like Soroka, Fried, and potentially Anderson — don’t come around often, and the Braves may have produced three just in the last few seasons. You can’t ask for much more than that, even with the frustration of Wright, Wilson and Touki’s development lately. 

Does it seem like the Braves have missed more than they’ve hit with their pitching prospects these last couple of seasons? Sure. But that’s literally how it works, shown by the data mentioned above. Does that make it any less disappointing when a talented pitcher like Wright — who was taken fifth overall in the 2017 MLB Draft — puts up another stinker versus the Marlins? It sure doesn’t. 

But given the quality of the organization’s pitchers next in line to potentially crack the majors, and the current ones who seem to be flourishing, I wouldn’t criticize the Braves’ pitching development too much… at least not yet. 

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