Providing that the injuries of Folty and Gausman are indeed nothing serious, only one of the Braves’ young arms is going to have the opportunity to hold down the fifth and final rotation spot. That race got a whole lot wider too when Mike Soroka once again reported discomfort in his throwing shoulder. Soroka has resumed throwing, but it’s going to be a little while before he pitches in a live game again, and he is no longer an option as a potential starter to begin the season.
That leaves Max Fried and Touki Toussaint as the two primary candidates to take over the final rotation spot with guys like Bryse Wilson, Kolby Allard and Kyle Wright as other potential options. While on the outside, any one of those young arms could make a case to begin the season as the fifth starter, manager Brian Snitker said a week ago when talking about the open rotation spot, “We have a pretty good idea of who that’ll be.”
Regarding the Braves' open rotation spot(s), Brian Snitker said "We have a pretty good idea of who that'll be."
— Gabe Burns (@GabeBurnsAJC) February 28, 2019
In my opinion, that could be only one person: Max Fried.
Fried was the centerpiece of the deal that sent Justin Upton to San Diego, igniting the Braves rebuild. He was the #7 overall pick in the 2012 draft but was somewhat overlooked throughout the minors due to the Braves incredible pitching depth. Before losing prospect-status last year, Fried was the 83rd ranked prospect on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list, finishing behind notable Braves pitchers Kyle Wright, Luiz Gohara, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, and Kolby Allard.
While all of those pitchers sniffed the big leagues here and there (besides Anderson), Fried was the one who injected himself into a role at the big league level. He made five spot starts for the Braves, going 1-2 with a minuscule 2.49 ERA and striking out batters at an 11.2K/9 innings rate. Fried also made nine appearances out of the pen, recording a slightly worst 3.75 ERA in 12 innings pitched but had an even higher strikeout rate of 12.8K/9 innings.
The Braves did not think his effectiveness was a fluke. Fried made the postseason roster and appeared in all four games of the series. For the most part, he was stellar facing a loaded Dodgers lineup, but he did hang one too many breaking balls and allowed a single home-run to Max Muncy in Game 3. Aside from that, he was perfect.
That kind of confidence points to Snitker being comfortable with him taking the rock as the member of the Opening Day rotation, and his teammates don’t appear to have any objections either. Freddie Freeman had this to say (subscription to the Athletic required to view) when asked about Fried earlier in spring training, “A lot of people ask me about all our pitching prospects, and the first name that comes out of my mouth is Max Fried.” He went on to say, “I think he’s one of the best pitching prospects I’ve seen in a long time. Left arms like that don’t come around very often.”
Like his fellow southpaw teammate, Sean Newcomb, Fried has a mid-90s fastball that can get on you quickly because of his deceptive arm angle and follows it with an unbelievable curveball that falls right off the table. What both he and Newcomb have to work on as they mature is their control, and most importantly, avoiding walks. There is a chance the Braves view Fried as a multi-inning weapon coming out of the bullpen, but to begin the season, he pops off the page as the clear favorite to open the season in the rotation.