Like most seasons, the Braves starting rotation hasn’t performed quite like expected coming into April. Injuries, ineffectiveness, and just plain old bad luck have painted a very different picture than many expected. And as a result, a few other pitchers have been forced to step up (though a bit remarkably, as projected, Charlie Morton is, in fact leading the Atlanta staff in fWAR).
The absolute shit show that was Mike Soroka’s injury/recovery/injury again is pretty self-explanatory. And even though he had a bit of a slow start, Max Fried has still managed to become one of the better starters. However, as you can see, two very young (and very promising) arms burst onto the scene in Atlanta, in Huascar Ynoa and Kyle Muller, so far slotting themselves in as two of the rotation’s most productive starters. Of course, both Ynoa and Muller have dealt with their own bits of adversity, as the former injured himself punching a dugout bench, and the latter sort of fizzled out after producing eight excellent big-league starts. And the table above doesn’t even include a few others who’ve seemed to find their way this season (especially of late). In terms of WAR, neither Drew Smyly nor Touki Toussaint has hit their projected marks, but each one is over-achieving in the run-prevention department and has really pitched well recently.
|PLAYER||’21 ZiPS ERA||’21 ZiPS WAR||ACTUAL ERA||ACTUAL WAR|
But regardless of your opinion regarding Morton’s late-career dominance or Smyly’s second-half turn-around, it’s not guaranteed that those two will return for another season in 2022 (both are pitching on one-year contracts in 2021). In fact, it’s actually doubtful for either one considering the team’s other more pressing obligations, which, most significantly right now, is an extension for Freddie Freeman. Losing one of your most productive starters on the staff all season (in Morton) AND one of your hottest hands for much of the second-half (in Smyly) would usually be quite the downer. But given what we’ve realized regarding several current major league contributors, combined with what appears to be coming up the pipeline in the near future… perhaps we haven’t even seen just how great this starting staff can be.
Braves 2022 starting rotation outlook
Below is an outline of in-house pitchers who could make an impact for the Braves starting rotation next season. I’ve divided the list between rotation locks, contenders, and potential debuts, which feature major and minor league players. Of course, not all of these guys will make contributions in 2022. But this shows just how talented and deep the Atlanta starting staff could be between now and then, given everyone remains healthy and the team avoids any major blockbuster trades.
Max Fried (LHP)
Ian Anderson (RHP)
Huascar Ynoa (RHP)
These three above are essentially guaranteed to make up 3/5 of the Braves starting rotation in 2022. All are 100% healthy AND have already proven they can contribute at the big league level consistently. Of those three arms, the left-handed Fried is perhaps the forerunner, though really any of these guys are capable of putting the Atlanta starting staff on their back at any given time. Regardless, already rostering three quality arms such as these really boosts next season’s starting rotation, and this isn’t even counting Mike Soroka, who should be available at some point in 2022.
Kyle Muller (LHP)
Touki Toussaint (RHP)
Tucker Davidson (LHP)
Kyle Wright (RHP)
Unless GM Alex Anthopoulos again brings in one or two veteran arms to help stabilize a young Braves starting rotation, the quartet of arms above will compete for the final two slots to start the 2022 season. We already know what Muller and Toussaint can do, so those two will surely have the upper hand next spring. However, Davidson is a guy that, when healthy, could really make things interesting, especially given how well he’s performed at the Triple-A level. Speaking of Triple-A, Wright has been sharp with Gwinnett for several weeks now, and if he can finish 2021 strong, he too could become a legit contender for one of the Braves staff openings to start next year.
Potential 2022 debuts
Jasseel De La Cruz (RHP)
Bryce Elder (RHP)
Spencer Strider (RHP)
Freddy Tarnok (RHP)
Victor Vodnik (RHP)
William Woods (RHP)
Corbin Clouse (LHP)
Of the seven names above, De La Cruz may be the only one the Braves would even consider throwing to the MLB fire right now (although he’s had a pretty rough year with Gwinnett). However, some of these guys could become potential options later in the 2022 season or the event of numerous injuries. Elder is an interesting prospect who’s already pitching at Triple-A Gwinnett right now… and he’s performing well. It seems reasonable to believe that if he were to finish 2021 strong AND pitch well to start the ’22 campaign, he could be in the running for a possible Braves debut sometime during the second half.
Strider, Tarnok, and Vodnik are all still in Double-A but have shown advanced abilities in the upper-minors (though the latter of those three has struggled to remain healthy this season). And lastly, Woods and Clouse are two exciting pitchers who started late in 2021, with the former just making his High-A debut on Friday and the latter recently appearing for the M-Braves. It will take a ton of momentum next season for either Woods or Clouse, but it’s not completely unrealistic.
So while it would be nice to retain one of Morton or Smyly (preferably the former), with how many options are currently available in-house, the Braves won’t necessarily be required to bring in one. This organization has seemingly always had plenty of pitching depth, but given the strides of several of its prospects, and a few others who’ve seemed to turn things around, next season looks like it could be one of the deepest starting pitching groups yet.