The Braves’ bullpen was a weakness for this club in 2018 despite all of their achievements. So far this offseason, they have yet to address the issue through free agency or trade; however, there is a reason to believe that the development of internal options will already make this group significantly better in 2019. Atlanta might still add an arm or two before the start of the season and will be re-evaluating things as the season goes on, but as of today, these are the best bullpen options the Braves have at their disposal.
Jackson has spent the last two years with the Braves bouncing between AAA Gwinnett and the major league squad. He’s been a decent long relief option but has not shown any signs of being reliable enough to trust in tight situations. It’s going to be much harder for him to find a role in Atlanta’s bullpen as the Braves’ onslaught of pitching prospects begin to arrive.
Carle got off to a red-hot start in 2018, carrying a 0.69 ERA late into May. Needless to say, that type of production was not sustainable. He still finished the year with a sub-three ERA and was one of the most reliable options on the staff, but it will be interesting to see if he can sustain that success into 2019.
Sam Freeman is one of the wild cards in the bullpen. In 2017, he was a top option for a rebuilding Atlanta team, recording a 2.55 ERA in 58 appearances. Coming from the left side and throwing in the high-90s, Freeman has the stuff to be a shutdown pitcher at the major league level. The problem last year was his control, resulting in a 4.29 ERA and made him an afterthought in the later innings. In 2019, he could find himself as a late-inning option or off the roster entirely.
Gohara is the first prospect to appear on this list. Things have not panned out the way Gohara, or the Braves, would have liked in his first two years with the organization, but there is still plenty of belief he can become a fantastic major league pitcher. There is a chance he is a candidate for a starting rotation spot; however, the bullpen may suit him best in 2019.
Dayton is another one of those wild cards that may finally pay off in 2019. The Braves claimed Dayton off waivers following the 2017 season in which he underwent Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire 2018 campaign and is finally set to make his return. In 2016 for the Dodgers, Dayton came out of nowhere to become a reliable late-inning relief arm, recording a 0.759 WHIP and 13.3 K/9 in 25 appearances. However, it’s always tough to tell how a pitcher will rebound from TJS.
Biddle received his first taste of major league action last year and performed splendidly, going 6-1 with a 3.11 ERA in 60 appearances for the Braves. He has terrific stuff from the left side and is not afraid to attack batters in critical situations, even if he walked three guys to get in that particular jam. I was a bit surprised he was left off the playoff roster last year, but it will be interesting to see if he can build off a solid rookie season.
In a year full of spectacular moments, there were few better than the resurrection of Jonny Venters in Atlanta. The one-time All-Star for the Braves hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 because of a bevy of severe injuries but made his return with the Rays. The Braves poached him later in the season, and he appeared in 28 games going 4-1 with a 3.54 ERA.
O’Day opted for surgery last year on his hamstring that ended his 2018 season. He was acquired by the Braves in the Kevin Gausman deal to take some money off the books for the Orioles. For years, O’Day was one of the best relieving options in the AL East. His 2016 and 2017 campaigns were not nearly as noteworthy, and he is coming off a season-ending injury, but there is still hope he can be a key addition to the back-end of the Braves’ pen in 2019.
Winkler falls under a similar category as Shane Carle, but with better stuff. Heading into June, his ERA read 0.77. Like Carle; however, Winkler hit a rough patch in June/July and was dreadful in September. It is difficult to gauge which pitcher we will see in 2019.
I love what Max Fried was able to do out of the bullpen at the end of the year for Atlanta, and apparently, the Braves did too, as they pitched him in all four games of the NLDS. Maybe Fried ends up being a starter at some point, but right now, he seems best suited for a relief role. He could be an extremely versatile piece out of the pen next season.
Sobotka – somewhat surprisingly – made his major league debut last year. At 6 feet, 7 inches tall, he’s as intimidating as they come on the mound and it took him little time to experience success. In 14 appearances, he recorded a 1.81 ERA, 0.977 WHIP, and a 13.2 K/9 ration. He looks to be an integral piece to the Braves’ bullpen for the foreseeable future.
When Arodys Vizcaino was on the field for the Braves in 2018, he was dominant. Whether his health will hold up in 2019 is the biggest question surrounding him. He may not be the ideal option as a closer, but he’s still a high-quality late-inning arm that can be used in that position if need be.
1. A.J Minter
In my mind, Minter is the closer of the future in Atlanta. There’s been all this talk about bringing in a true shutdown guy to close the door in the ninth inning for the Braves, but why do that when you already have one in your own backyard. Minter experienced some lumps – as all rookies do – but there is a real opportunity for him to take the next step and become the full-time closer as soon as this year. He is the player to watch out for among this group in 2019.