The Braves established their great reputation throughout Major League Baseball through the great arms that have passed through the organization. As the team has tried to go back to the “Braves Way” of developing young talent, they have gone back to the organization’s original bread and butter. A huge part of the rebuild in Atlanta has been bringing in arms with ace potential. It is known that prospects flop, but the Braves have an excess of lottery tickets currently at their disposal. What should really scare rival execs around the league is that the Atlanta Braves have over ten guys who have the potential and “stuff” to develop into an ace in the future. They only need one of these guys to reach this potential to be a threat for years to come.
Most of these guys obviously will not pan out as expected, but it is rare to see such depth in a minor league farm system. While the Yankees may have the “sexy” prospects, the Braves undoubtedly have the most depth and the best pitching.
Some may roll their eyes when reading this, but the first man who meets the criteria is already on the 25-Man Roster in Mike Foltynewicz. The fireballer possesses a trait that cannot be taught: upper 90’s heat that is sustainable all game long. Folty made a big jump last season and established himself as the best of the bunch among the likes of youngsters like Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler. He looks more in-control, and his command is starting to settle in. Foltynewicz could easily have a breakout year, andthis is the time for him to do it. He has the highest ceiling of any starter currently in the Braves’ rotation.
What really sets the Braves’ farm system apart from the rest as far as pitching prospects are concerned is their plethora of left-handed pitching prospects. They started the process of stockpiling lefty talent when they acquired Max Fried in the deal that sent Justin Upton to the San Diego Padres. Fried missed the 2015 season while rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery. However, after shaking off the rust, he settled in and pitched magnificent for Low-A Rome down the final stretch of their regular season. He followed that up with an elite performance in the playoffs, striking out 24 batters in 14.2 innings. He possesses a plus fastball and curveball. Fried will likely start 2017 with AA Mississippi. Hopefully he can build on his late 2016 success.
The Braves’ new regime has also gone all-in on high school southpaws in the draft the past two seasons. The team appears to have gotten a steal in Kolby Allard, who was selected 14th overall in the 2015 Draft. Allard was one of the top arms available, but a major back injury concerned some teams. Allard is healthy now, and he is performing. Between Rookie and A-level ball, Allard has posted an 8-3 record with a 2.79 ERA and a 10.3 K/9 rate in 19 starts. He probably has the most potential out of any of the lefty prospects, and he is probably the safest, barring any health concerns. Like Fried, he is a California native with a plus heater and curve. What sets Allard apart is his control for a lefty. At 19-years old he is likely to fly up prospect boards this season.
While we are on the topic of control, nobody in the Braves’ system comes close to the pinpoint accuracy of Mike Soroka, who was selected in the 1st round as well in 2015. Soroka was also featured in Rome’s stacked rotation last season, and he was solid once again. The Canadian is different than the other guys on this list. His “stuff” is nowhere near is good as some of the guys mentioned in this article. However, any Braves fan who ever watched Greg Maddux pitch knows how dangerous a guy who has pinpoint accuracy can be.
A guy who could prove to be the steal of that 2015 Draft is Patrick Weigel. After attending three different colleges as he struggled to find his control, Weigel has put it together during his time with the Braves’ organization and is the dark-horse candidate on this list of potential aces. He had a nice breakout season in Rome, and responded well to a brief promotion to AA Mississippi as well. Weigel will have to develop a better second pitch, which makes him the most likely member of this group to become a late-innings guy.
The biggest wild-card in the Braves system is easily Touki Toussaint. His fastball and curveball are eye-popping, but he has had past problems with his control. This is likely why the Diamondbacks decided to ship him to Atlanta for salary relief two seasons ago, just a year after being the team’s first round pick. Touki is slowly but surely making progress, reducing his walk rate every year in the minors. After a horrendous start to 2016, from June on he was one of the most impressive pitchers in the system. This will be his make or break year as he is likely promoted. Consider him to be the Braves’ biggest boom or bust prospect.
Perhaps the most touted of all the Braves’ lefty prospects is Sean Newcomb. After being the main piece the team acquired for Andrelton Simmons, there’s a lot of pressure on Newk to perform. He did not have a dominant season like he did in 2015, but still performed well in Mississippi. Newcomb will have to improve his control, but easily qualifies as a guy with ace “stuff” and has drawn comparisons to Jon Lester. Lefties can tend to be late bloomers, so the team will hope Sean can put it together. His 70-grade fastball coming from the left side is enough to have scouts salivating, and many consider him to be the top pitching prospect the Braves possess.
The Braves already had a crazy stable of pitchers going into the MLB Draft, but the trio of arms they came away with easily cemented the Braves as having the best stable in baseball. The team decided to draft Ian Anderson 3rd overall after coming to an agreement to sign him to a lower bonus. This allowed the team to take Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller at above slot price tags. The good news? All of the these guys appear to have frontline starter potential.
The most recent big potential arm the Braves have added is Luiz Gohara, who was formerly the best pitching prospect in the Mariners’ system before being acquired for Mallex Smith. Always touted for his “stuff”, Gohara appeared as if he were never going to put it together. He’s another lefty with a fastball that touches the high 90’s. Like Newcomb, Gohara struggled with his control. 2016 was a different story. Gohara went on to post a 1.81 ERA over 13 starts. The most important takeaway from his stat line is that he only walked 3 batters per nine innings, a drastic improvement from seasons past. 13 games is a small sample size, but the Braves will hope that Gohara can put it together and build on his dominant performance.
As mentioned previously, prospects are lottery tickets, and the Braves have an abundance of them. However, with the way the team is built for the future, the team really only needs one of these guys to become an ace for the plan of stockpiling arms to pay off. As long as the Braves can find that guy and a few of these chips become serviceable starters, the Braves will have a lot to work with in future years.