Alex Anthopoulos has made his intentions clear: He wants to add a starting pitcher to this rotation. You can understand why too. The Braves have a surplus of quality, major-league ready arms in their system, but lack an experienced pitcher that can call himself an “ace”.
The closest thing to “ace” status is Mike Foltynewicz. He made the All-Star team a year ago, finished the season with a sub-three ERA, and has the power stuff that can make him nearly unhittable when he’s in a groove. The problem is consistency has never been Folty’s forté. There is no telling whether he will be able to build off of his All-Star season and take the next step or revert to his ways of the past.
With that in mind, the Braves probably shouldn’t be relying on Foltynewicz to be the leader of staff with World Series expectations. Or should they?
Major League Talent
Like I mentioned, the Braves have a surplus of major-league ready starting pitchers, and several of them have that “ace” stuff, but they are just scratching the surface of their potential.
Sean Newcomb and Kevin Gausman are set to be the team’s number two and three pitchers if the roster stays the way it is today. Both are oozing with ability and could take a similar step that Folty took last season.
Newcomb was a quality start or two away from being an All-Star alongside Foltynewicz. The 25-year old fell off a bit in the season’s second half, but there is plenty of reason to believe he can be a perennial All-Star from next year on forward.
Gausman was acquired mid-season by the Braves from the Baltimore Orioles, where he was a pillar of inconsistency. However, that was in the AL East while apart of an organization that isn’t known for developing pitching very well. Meanwhile, the Braves are the opposite and members of the much friendlier National League. As expected, Gausman took advantage of it last year, going 5-3 with a 2.87 ERA in ten starts for the Braves. Once the #4 overall pick out of LSU in 2012, there’s plenty of promise for Gausman in his new home.
Beyond those guys, The Braves had a bevy of young guns come up and pitch at times for the major league squad.
Mike Soroka will be a name to watch for from the beginning of 2019. The Braves opted to shut him down with shoulder soreness for the remainder of 2018. Prior to that, he had gone 2-1 with a 3.51 ERA in five starts for the major league team. He remains the Braves top pitching prospect, and while he doesn’t have prototypical “ace” stuff, his ability to throw strikes, attack batters and control the game gives him as high of a ceiling as anyone on the staff.
Touki Touissant was a name that stuck into the playoffs last year. He appeared in seven regular-season contests for the Braves, including five starts. In those starts, he went 2-1 with a 3.33 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .174 average while striking out over a batter per inning. His two relief appearances were not as glamorous, but he could easily be an integral part to the top of the Braves’ rotation by the end of 2019.
That’s already five pitchers with crazy talent, but that’s just the beginning of the potential rotation. Julio Teheran is still under contract for two more seasons. If he’s not traded, he will be added to the back of Atlanta’s rotation. Luiz Gohara is a prime candidate for a bounce-back season after battling injuries and family issues as a 22-year old in 2018. Bryse Wilson and Kolby Allard also each have their major league debuts under their belts.
Minor League Talent
The scariest part about it is the Braves have a second wave of talented prospects waiting behind them as well. Featured in their top five prospects are two pitchers that may not be ready to pitch in the majors next season, but have incredibly bright futures going forward.
Ian Anderson is the fourth-rated prospect in the Braves system, according to FanGraphs. At 20 years old, he might have the best stuff in the entire system. Over his minor league career, he is striking out hitters at an incredible rate and holding them to a batting average a hair over the Mendoza line. It’s unlikely he reaches the majors next year, but he’s a prospect the Braves aren’t going to want to let go.
The same can be said for Kyle Wright, who was the Braves first-round pick in 2017. Coming out of Vanderbilt, however, Wright is more major league ready than most draftees. That’s why we saw the Braves give him a shot at the pros as a reliever in September of last year, and he certainly did not look overmatched. The Braves may or may not give him a chance at starting next year, but regardless, he’s a player they are high on going forward.
The Braves also have players like Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller – who may not be talked about quite as much – but still bring added depth to the Braves farm system. All of these players are not too far off from being primed for the major leagues.
Let’s Stay Patient
Just look at the amount of young and talented pitching they have at their disposal. And the crazy part about it is none of those players I mentioned are over 27 years old.
Braves’ fans are antsy for a move, and there are still some to come, but trading for a top-of-the-line starting pitcher shouldn’t be their main priority. Many of these young arms have the potential to be aces themselves – and at the very least – quality arms at the back-end of the bullpen, both current areas of concern for the Braves. They are also under control for the foreseeable future. It is understandable for the organization to wait and see what they have before going all-in on a trade for a pitcher who will only be under control for a few years at most.