Braves: Touki Toussaint should find a new role for himself in the bullpen

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Toussaint has long been a fan-favorite among the Braves’ young arms, but unfortunately, adoration doesn’t translate to success. The former first-round pick was brought over from the Diamondbacks’ system before the 2015 season in a salary dump that resulted in the Braves also taking on Bronson Arroyo’s contract.

Three years later, Toussaint was making his MLB debut in Atlanta as a 22-year-old. He ended up pitching 29 innings during that 2018 season and recorded a more than respectable 4.03 ERA with an even better 3.78 FIP. Toussaint was so impressive that the Braves even included him on their NLDS roster, and he rewarded the team by tossing three scoreless innings in two appearances against a loaded Dodgers lineup.

For all of those reasons, Toussaint was expected to be a key cog in Atlanta’s 2019 rotation, and many believed he would be in the running for the Rookie of the Year award. However, despite a stellar outing to begin the season, that never came to fruition. Toussaint tossed six scoreless innings against the Mets but followed it up by surrendering seven earned runs in just 1.1 innings versus the Indians — a microcosm of his career thus far. He wouldn’t make another start after that and finished the year with a 5.62 ERA. 

2020 was more of the same for Touki. Because of Atlanta’s rotation struggles, he was used primarily as a starter, but the results were even worse. In seven appearances (five starts), Toussaint recorded an 8.88 ERA and quickly found himself back at the team’s alternate site in favor of pitchers like Tommy Milone and Robbie Erlin — not exactly a sign of the organization’s confidence in him.

However, as is the case with most of Atlanta’s young arms that haven’t quite figured it out yet, Toussaint’s failures are not because of a lack of talent. At times, he’s displayed top-of-the-rotation potential, like when he struck out nine in just 6.2 innings against a talented Blue Jays lineup last season. But, those showings have been few and far between thanks to lingering command issues. Toussaint has walked at least 5.6 batters per nine innings in each of his three seasons with the Braves. His stuff frequently looks crisp, but very few pitchers can overcome giving up that many free passes.

The promising news for the Braves entering the 2021 season is they don’t necessarily need Toussaint to help carry their pitching staff. At this point, he’s more of an afterthought. Atlanta certainly has enough starting pitching with Mike Soroka returning to the mound, along with the signings of Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly. And the Braves also have more than enough arms to fill out the bullpen.

That should take some pressure off Toussaint, who I’ve felt was always asked to do a bit too much early in his career. Hopefully, that leads to better results because, while the Braves do have enough potential relievers, a confident Toussaint — like the one we’ve seen so far in Spring Training — would provide quite a boost.

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