The Braves bullpen has continued the trend of being inconsistent and has cost them early wins in a crucial season. The Phillies, Nationals, and Mets all made additions to their clubs that seem to have each team positioned for a run at the division. Braves’ Country was geared up all offseason for the signings of Craig Kimbrel, and possibly Dallas Keuchel as a member of the rotation. To this point, neither move has transpired, and the Braves’ bullpen is relying on Luke Jackson and unproven Wes Parsons in pivotal moments of the game that would be better suited for Vizcaino or Minter with Kimbrel as the closer.
Two weeks into the season, albeit a small sample size, the Braves’ bullpen ERA sits at an unpleasant 5.53, and that includes the Braves most recent stretch of bullpen success. A few days ago, the bullpen ERA was 6.99. The issues that plagued this unit last year have not been resolved. These numbers are unacceptable for a team that intends on repeating as NL East Division Champions, as well as attempting to make it out of the first round for the first time since 2001.
The return of A.J. Minter and Kevin Gausman from the Injured List will help as more proven talent is returning to the pitching staff. When Folty returns, someone, possibly Kyle Wright, will be moved to the ‘pen or a 6th man role in the rotation, but that will not resolve the bulk of the issues. The question remains, “Where do the Braves go to improve their bullpen?”
The AAA Rotation
It is undeniable that the Braves have stockpiled arm talent. The problem is that they are all starting pitchers, and rotation spots are limited in Atlanta. Starters earning their innings in the bullpen is more of an old-school method to pitcher development. John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Steve Avery are just a few of the names Braves’ fans will remember that began learning how to pitch in the big leagues from the bullpen. So, who makes a move to the bullpen to help the club?
Bryse Wilson would be an easy choice as he isn’t as heralded a name as some of the other prospects. He attacks hitters with his fastball that sits in the mid-90s and has a plus Slider to compliment the fastball. Wilson has the chance to become a solid starter, but he may need to bide his time in the bullpen for now.
Mike Soroka will not be used in the bullpen as he is the Braves #1 pitching prospect. He could be used in a sixth man role, but will likely stay in AAA until he is ready to pitch as a starter.
Touki Touissant, who, admittedly, is my favorite current Brave due to his personality and soul-crushing curveball, is a name that would be intriguing as a back of the bullpen option. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and touches 98 at times. However, the pitch he is known for is a curveball, which is rumored to make grown men weep. Touki will make his name as a starter, but he could be a late-inning relief option until then.
The pitchers in the AAA bullpen don’t have the name recognition of the previously mentioned rotation prospects, but some talented arms are waiting in Gwinnett. Here are a few to keep your eyes on:
Dan Winkler is the most likely name to be called up. He has had success in the past, but injuries have plagued him over the years. Winkler has a mid-90s fastball that creeps to upper 90s when needed and attacks hitters. He would be the first option out of the Stripers ‘pen.
Jacob Webb served as the closer for both Mississippi and Gwinnett in 2018. Webb struck out 69 hitters in 54 innings. He’s a power pitcher, and power arms always have a spot in an MLB bullpen.
Corbin Clouse is a hard-throwing lefty that skyrocketed through the system. Clouse began 2017 in High A for the Fire Frogs, and ended 2018 in AAA at Gwinnett, recording 83 punch-outs in 65 innings pitched in 2018.
Release the Kimbrel
Everyone that follows this team wants to hear “Welcome to the Jungle” and watch the flamethrowing ginger from Alabama take the mound and hurt hitter’s feelings. Kimbrel is a beloved member of Braves’ Country, and always will be. Even coming off his worst statistical year in 2018, the former Brave was still dominant compared to mere mortals. Craig struck out 92 hitters in 62 innings but also walked the second-most batters of his career.
Kimbrel would bolster the bullpen without a doubt, but adding him would not solve all the concerns the bullpen faces. It would only anoint a clear and proven finisher at the end of the line. This would allow for some of the unproven arms to hone their craft in the minor leagues. Walks are still an issue, even with Kimbrel. Consistency in mechanics and production will be what allows this bullpen to be a strength for the Braves, rather than a liability. Adding Kimbrel would help to resolve those issues, but would not solve them holistically.