By this time, most Braves players have reported to camp as they prepare for Spring Training. In about six weeks, regular season games will begin, but we have a lot to figure out by then. Last week, I talked about the situation in left field… more specifically, Marcell Ozuna. What will his role be in 2023, or will he even be on the roster come Opening Day? That’s the biggest storyline going into Spring Training, but a close second is the Braves battle in their rotation.
Currently, Atlanta has four spots set in stone. Max Fried is the club’s ace, but that could change this season if Spencer Strider follows his incredible rookie campaign with an even better year two. Whatever happens, that might be the best one-two punch in baseball, and Kyle Wright is no slouch as well, coming off a 21-win season. Following a contract extension late last season, Charlie Morton will occupy the fourth spot in the rotation, which brings us to the all important #5. The Braves have an incredibly deep starting pitching staff, which should make this the most competitive battle of Spring Training.
Three talented arms have a legitimate opportunity to make the Opening Day roster — Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, and Bryce Elder. I can confidently say none of them have an edge going into training camp. Any one of them could win the job. It will and should be completely performance based.
Let’s begin with the man everyone is rooting for to win the job. Mike Soroka was the ace of the Braves staff at the age of 23. It looked as if he was poised to become a perennial NL Cy Young candidate before disaster struck… not once, but twice. Coming back from an Achilles injury might be the toughest thing to accomplish in sports; returning from two is almost unheard of, but if there is anyone that can do it, it’s the Maple Maddux.
The promising aspect is Soroka is still only 25-years-old and showed flashes of the pitcher he once was while he was in the minors last year. However, when he arrived in Gwinnett, that progress — as far as stats are concerned — came to a halt, as he posted a 6.43 ERA over five starts.
I’m not really too concerned with the numbers, though. It’s impossible to consider last season anything other than a win for Soroka, and the stuff was still apparent. He has as legit of a shot as anyone to earn the final spot in the rotation, but he’ll have to beat out a man that owns a career 1.26 postseason ERA over 35.2 innings if he wants the job.
That guy is Ian Anderson, who should probably permanently erase 2022 from his memory, if he hasn’t already. This is another starter that looked as if he was going to spend at least five years in the Braves rotation, but 2022 highlighted all of his flaws, which can be seen by his 5.00 ERA, and even his struggles in Gwinnett.
Anderson’s fastball/changeup combination helped him become a postseason hero for the Braves, and he was an above average starter in the regular season as well. Unfortunately, having long-term success as a major-league starting pitcher with just two pitches is nearly impossible. Anderson lost faith in his curveball, and it cost him, but I’m intrigued if he comes to Spring Training with a different repertoire.
The fastball and changeup will always be his calling card. The curveball, on the other hand, could use some tweaking… at the very least. Anderson has to develop a pitch with some horizontal movement. As of last year, everything was moving vertically, and the league began to catch on. It doesn’t have to be anything drastic. Like Soroka, Anderson is an amazing talent, but if adjustments aren’t made in 2023, the results will be the same.
Soroka and Anderson were both first-round picks that blossomed into top prospects and eventually experienced wild success early in their major-league careers. Most expect one of them to figure it out and run away with the job at some point in the season, but Bryce Elder should not be written off.
In 2022, the former Texas Longhorn appeared in 10 games, making nine starts, and posted a 3.17 ERA. Elder isn’t going to blow anyone away with his stuff, but he avoids mistakes, keeping his walks down and preventing home runs. The young man just knows how to pitch, which can take you a long way in the majors. If Elder won the job out of camp and never relinquished it throughout the entire season, nobody should be caught off guard. He’s already proven that he’s major-league ready.
I’ve made a case for each of these arms, but this series is called “Braves Spring Training Predictions,” so I have to choose one of them. Of course, the Braves could actually role with a six-man rotation to start the season, but that just complicates things. Assuming only one of them makes the Opening Day roster, I have Ian Anderson winning the job out of camp. He’s the healthiest and most talented of the bunch. With a full offseason to work on his mechanics, I’m hoping he can put 2022 behind him and once again become a critical piece to the Braves rotation.
Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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