A week ago, Brian Snitker shared what was one of the many somber aspects of a delayed season, talking about the stable of the Braves youthful arms on the cusp of making an impact. Last year, we saw the likes of Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, and others fail to make their presence felt throughout the season. However, Snitker believed that was not going to be the case in 2020. In his words, “Things were starting to click for some of the young guys.” Here is who he might have been talking about:
Wright was one of the prospects that made his mark last spring, earning a spot in the Opening Day rotation and debuting as a starter on Sunday Night baseball against the Phillies. That’s how high the Braves were on him. Although, part of the reason he made the roster was because of the injuries to Mike Soroka, Kevin Gausman, and Mike Foltynewicz. Still, Atlanta thought he was on the cusp of forcing their hand and earning a permanent place in the rotation. However, a rough patch to begin the season followed by even more discouraging signs in AAA, left many wondering if Wright was ever going to live up to the billing of a top-five pick.
The Vanderbilt standout bounced back in the second half of the season, though, and still possesses the pitch mix to make it as a top of the rotation option, which he was beginning to show in Spring Training once again. Yes, the sample size is small, but Wright was electric, striking out 15 batters in 13.1 innings and allowing just three earned runs. There aren’t too many pitchers out there throwing high-90s heat and biting off 90 mph sliders. Alex Anthopoulos said in an interview during the Braves’ home opener feature that the final two spots in the rotation were coming down to Wright, Newcomb, and Hernandez. Regardless of whether Wright starts the year in Atlanta, he could have a significant impact on the major league squad at some point in 2020.
Sure, the Braves had already decided to option Toussaint to AAA Gwinnett, but that’s likely because of his abysmal performance throughout 2019 in Atlanta and Gwinnett. The 23-year-old looked sharp over 8.2 innings of work this spring, allowing just two earned runs and striking out eight. Toussaint feels like a young arm that is forgotten since he’s no longer a prospect and has yet to break out as a major leaguer. However, he’s still extremely young and talented. Taking the next step at the highest level can often take multiple years. 2020 could be the season we see Toussaint do just that — whether it is as a starter or reliever.
I somewhat hesitantly added Sean Newcomb to this list, but he’s just 26-years-old and could very well be turning the corner in his career. At one point in 2018, he was the #2 starter in the rotation behind Mike Foltynewicz, but a porous second-half combined with an equally as miserable beginning to 2019 led to him being regulated to the bullpen. Newcomb thrived in his new role, but the Braves didn’t trade Andrelton Simmons for him so he could become a quality reliever. The southpaw has starter’s stuff; he just needs to learn how to harness it and limit his walks — as he was able to do as a reliever. Once again, it’s a small sample size, but Newcomb was in control this spring, striking out 11 over nine innings compared to just two walks, looking well on his way to locking up one of the final rotation spots.
Like Toussaint, Weigel had already been sent to AAA Gwinnett, but he looked on track to be one of the first bullpen call ups once someone inevitably struggled or was injured. The 25-year-old would likely already be in Atlanta if not for Tommy John Surgery that cost him over a year of action. He’s just now nearing full strength and made light work of the minors in 2019, posting a 6-2 record and 2.73 ERA in 79.0 innings between AA Mississippi and AAA Gwinnett. The righty continued his strong performance this spring as well, surrendering just two earned runs in 7.1 innings while striking out eight. Outside of the box score, his stuff looks major league ready, and I’d expect him to make his debut fairly soon once the season begins.