The Braves bullpen was a trainwreck in 2018, becoming serviceable towards the end of the season thanks to the additions of Jonny Venters, Brad Brach, and Chad Sobotka. Anthopoulos neglected to add to the pen this offseason, hoping the returns of Darren O’Day and Grant Dayton, along with the improvements of their younger arms like Sobotka and A.J Minter, would be enough to experience a substantial leap in production.
That outlook looks a whole lot bleaker without Darren O’Day and A.J. Minter in the fold – both of whom are expected to start the year on the Injured List, leaving room for two arms to begin the season on the major league roster. One of those could be little-known Wes Parsons out of Jackson State Community College.
Parsons is a rare undrafted free agent that has enjoyed quite a bit of success since being picked up by the Braves. He has slowly worked his way up the Braves’ farm system, performing admirably at nearly every stop. Last year, the 25-year old made 24 appearances and 21 starts between AA Mississippi and AAA Gwinett, going 8-6 with a 2.76 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 117.1 innings pitched, resulting in a call to the big leagues in early August.
It was not how the Braves planned it, but once Anibal Sanchez was forced to exit a game against the Nationals in the third inning after being hit in the leg by a line drive off the bat of Michael Taylor, Parsons made his major league debut.
He would go five innings, allowing six hits and four earned runs with three strikeouts. That would be the only time Parsons pitched in a major league game all season.
Now 26, Parsons has become a dark horse to make the Opening Day roster following an outstanding spring. In eight appearances, Parsons has thrown eleven innings, allowing four total baserunners (three hits and one walk), and no runs with ten strikeouts. While a starter throughout the minors, the Braves have a surplus of more talented arms nipping at the bit for their opportunity at the rotation, making the bullpen a more realistic option for him at the next level.
I speak for most of Braves Country when saying that I would be totally fine never seeing the likes of Luke Jackson or Sam Freeman jogging out to the mound at Suntrust Park to take the ball from Brian Snitker’s hands. They have had plenty of chances and failed to make the most of them. There is the option of turning one of the Braves farmhands into a reliever, like Bryse Wilson, but the Braves have experimented with that briefly to no avail. He’s better off remaining in AAA and continuing to develop as a starter.
If that happens, the door is wide open for a guy like Parsons. At every level, Parsons has done one thing with consistency: throw strikes. His BB/9 innings rate has never been more than 3.2 over a single season and sits at 2.5 for his minor league career. It’s well-documented that walks were the Achilles’ Heel of the Braves’ pen in 2018. Choosing a pitcher like Parsons will provide a breathe of fresh air, and perhaps allow the Braves to right the ship until A.J. Minter and Darren O’Day return.
Whether he makes the Opening Day roster or not, if Parsons continues to pitch like he has in spring training, it is only a matter of time before he receives the call.