The Braves rightfully demoted Sean Newcomb to their Gwinnett camp after possibly the worst start of his career last night (8 ER in 1.1 innings), leaving them with two open spots in their rotation. Huascar Ynoa filled in last week for Mike Soroka, but it’s unknown if the Braves will attempt to stretch him into a starter or keep him in the bullpen. Brian Snitker has yet to announce a starting pitcher for Wednesday, and it will be even longer before we know who will be replacing Newcomb on Saturday. Perhaps he turns to the bullpen for one of those games, but it’s practically inevitable that the Braves will give one of their highly-touted young arms a chance in the rotation this week. Here are the four most likely candidates.
If the Braves want to go with one of their prospects with experience, albeit not much, Wilson will get the first crack in the rotation. The 6’2″, 225-pound right-hander made his MLB debut as a 20-year-old two seasons ago and began 2019 in the starting rotation, thanks to injuries to Mike Soroka, Kevin Gausman, and Mike Foltynewicz. The results, however, have been less than stellar. He had a 6.43 ERA in three appearances (one start) in 2018 and followed it up with a 7.20 ERA in six appearances (four starts) in 2019.
The key for Wilson finding success at the top level is developing his secondary pitches. So far in Atlanta, he hasn’t shown he can do that. His fastball is fantastic, and he knows where it is going, which is more than you can say about a lot of the Braves arms. However, you can’t rely on that pitch close to 70% of the time and expect major league hitters not to pick up on it the second and third time through the order. In his six appearances last year for the Braves, he only had one offspeed offering he threw more than 10% of the time, and that was his changeup (13.5%). Once Wilson develops more confidence in those secondary pitches, the sky is the limit. Hopefully, that’s what he’s been focusing on since we last saw him.
Tucker Davidson deserves to be the next Braves pitching prospect to make his major league debut. The 24-year-old lefty was outstanding in the minors last year, and it’s easy to tell his offseason work at Driveline is paying substantial dividends.
Davidson began 2019 in Mississippi, where he posted a minuscule 2.03 ERA in 21 starts, earning him a promotion to Gwinnett. That jump for AA to AAA is one many prospects struggle with, but not Davidson, who started in four games for the Stripers and went 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA. He also looked more than ready during his brief outings in Spring Training. It’s getting to the point where the Braves don’t have much of an option. Even if they didn’t want players like Tucker Davidson, Patrick Weigel, and Ian Anderson to make their MLB debuts under these circumstances, they don’t have much choice but to give them a chance.
I’d be pretty shocked if we didn’t see Patrick Weigel make his debut at some point this season. Then again, I thought he would start this shortened campaign in the bullpen after his excellent work during Spring Training 1.0. The Braves opted not to do that, which makes me wonder how they view him going forward — as a starter or a reliever?
The 26-year-old righty has suffered some challenging setbacks in the form of Tommy John Surgery. If not for that, he certainly would have already made his MLB debut. Weigel made his way back last season and was fantastic in both AA and AAA. For Mississippi, he appeared seven times (all starts but only pitched 15.2 innings) and boasted a incredible 1.72 ERA. With the Stripers, Weigel was just as efficient, posting a 2.98 ERA in 28 appearances (18 starts). It’s about time he receives an opportunity for the Braves.
I’ve written this multiple times since the season restarted, and it’s probably not what many fans want to hear, but Anderson is probably the last guy on this list to make a start. The Braves have already tossed Wilson into the fire, so doing so again makes more sense. Tucker Davidson is two years older and had much more success than Anderson in AAA last season. And Patrick Weigel is four years older than Anderson with a stellar track record in the minors as well. Still, I wouldn’t count out an Ian Anderson MLB debut in 2020.
At this point, the Braves are desperate for pitchers, and they are running out of options. They not only have one open spot but two, and there could be more opportunities if Touki Toussaint and Kyle Wright begin to falter in their next couple of starts. Eventually, if none of the other arms step up and show some consistency, the Braves won’t have much choice but to give Anderson, who has the most upside of any pitcher in Atlanta’s farm system, an opportunity this season.