With the MLB season two weeks away, I’ve decided to start a new series that I will attempt to finish before Opening Day to help pass the time. In these articles, I will examine each position’s future, taking a glance at what to expect over the next five years, beginning with the starting rotation, where the Braves have stockpiled talent at all levels of the minors.
Major League Level
The Braves have two youngs studs that they should be looking to lock up to long-term deals pretty soon. Mike Soroka finished as a Cy Young candidate as a rookie, posting a 13-4 record with a 2.68 ERA — good for a 5.5 WAR. If Alex Anthopoulos isn’t already talking to his agent attempting to extend him, he will be soon. Either way, Soroka isn’t scheduled to become a free agent until 2026.
Max Fried finished his first year as a full-time starter in the bigs with the most wins on the team, ending with 17 while recording a respectable 4.02 ERA and 3.0 WAR. He won’t be a free agent until 2025, and if he can build off his 2019 campaign, the Braves could be in talks to extend him early as well.
The most difficult free-agent decision looming for the Braves rotation is Mike Foltynewicz. The flamethrower has shown he can be an Ace during the 2018 season and at the end of last year. However, he hasn’t been consistent enough for the Braves to offer a massive contract, especially with extensions for Soroka and Fried looming in the not too distant future. Foltynewicz enters his last year of arbitration in 2021. The Braves will likely hold onto him, but if they don’t extend him, and he hits the open market, some team will overpay because of the potential.
After that, the Braves have a handful of guys who have pitched at the major-league level but haven’t had enough experience to make a proper judgment. The Braves are probably giving Sean Newcomb his last opportunity as a starter this year. If he can’t succeed, they may move him to the bullpen permanently. 2020 could be Kyle Wright’s breakout year, as the former #5 overall pick appears to be a fixture in the Braves rotation for the foreseeable future. Atlanta also has Touki Toussaint and Bryse Wilson, who have major-league experience without much success. However, their age and ceilings make them potential rotation candidates for years to come.
The big-name here is Ian Anderson, who is the Braves #3 overall prospect and possesses one of the highest ceilings in the organization. Had this season not been shortened, there’s almost a 100% chance he would have made his MLB debut at some point, and he still might. Either way, the Braves, and most scouts believe this kid could be something special.
Tucker Davidson shot up prospect boards thanks to his performance last season. The lefty posted a 2.03 ERA in 21 starts for Mississippi and continued that success in AAA, recording a 2.84 ERA in four starts. He’ll likely make his MLB debut sometime in 2021.
Patrick Weigel is a guy to look out for this year coming out of the Braves bullpen, as they ease him back from Tommy John Surgery. However, he could be a starter in the long run, depending on his success and where the team needs him.
Huascar Ynoa is another intriguing arm to watch for in the future. He actually shot up the minors from A+ ball to the majors last year, appearing two times for the Braves as a 22-year-old, allowing six earned runs in three innings. However, his live fastball and sharp biting slider make Ynoa an interesting rotation candidate if he can develop a third offering.
Kyle Muller and Jasseel De La Cruz are the names to watch at this level. Unfortunately, since there won’t be a minor league season, their major league debuts will likely be postponed a year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them make their MLB debut in 2021, if not both.
Once you get to these levels, it isn’t easy to project when prospects will make their debuts, if at all. Victor Vodnik and Freddy Tarnok are currently both inside the Braves top 20 prospects. The Braves also have recent draft picks like 2019 8th round pick, Ricky DeVito, that could end up panning out nicely in the future. But most of these guys are years away from making the majors, so it’s hard to see them making much of an impact in the next five seasons.
2020 Draft Picks
The Braves stuck strictly with college players in this year’s draft, selecting three pitchers and one outfielder. So while it’s disappointing we won’t get to see these three arms in the minors this season, there’s a chance they play a role in the starting rotation a few years from now.
Jared Schuster was the Braves’ first-round pick, who they signed under slot value. This was viewed as a significant reach, but scouts still believe he can be a middle of the rotation starting pitcher if he can develop a third offering to go with his changeup and fastball. The lefty was included on the Braves 60-man taxi squad, but we won’t see him pitch in a real game until next season.
Atlanta selected Spencer Strider in the fourth round, but it’s difficult to say what kind of success he will have in the bigs based on his college performance. Strider posted a 4.76 ERA as a freshman, underwent Tommy John Surgery as a sophomore, and then his junior year was cut short because of the coronavirus.
Perhaps the best selection of Atlanta’s draft came in the fifth round when they snagged Bryce Elder out of Texas. The righty was ranked as the 70th best prospect, according to Baseball America, and was the Ace for the Longhorns last year, posting a 2.93 ERA in 83 innings. There’s a lot of hope that he can contribute to the rotation in a few years.