Two major topics of conversation this offseason have been how will the Braves patch up their bullpen and what will they do with their logjam of major-league ready pitching prospects. What if I told you, they could kill two birds with one stone by simply staying pat. That’s a realistic situation the Braves have to be seriously considering.
While the Braves and their fans would love to see all of the Braves top pitching prospects pan out into aces, that’s simply not how it works. If they are lucky, one or two of these guys will become front of the rotation starting pitchers with a few more becoming capable back-end starting pitchers. The rest will either translate to the bullpen or fade into the abyss of prospects that never were quite good enough (there are a lot of them in there). That means it could be wise for the Braves to hold onto their prospects until they have a better idea of what they are exactly, and then use some of them to help fix their most obvious need, the bullpen.
Here are three young guns that might have long careers out of the pen.
Fried is a guy who has been on the cusp of becoming a permanent member to the rotation for two years now, and that was before the Braves had this overload of starting pitching prospects. In his time in the majors, we have seen him as both a starter and a reliever, and while he hasn’t looked terrible as a starter, it looks like the reliever role suits him a little better.
In the shorter relief appearances, his fastball shows more velocity and curveball keeps hitters way off balance. That’s why the Braves opted to move him to the pen towards the end of the year and in the postseason, and they apparently felt pretty comfortable with him there. He was the only Braves pitcher to appear in all four of the games in the Divisional series against the Dodgers, pitching 2.1 innings in total and allowing one earned run.
In today’s MLB, relief arms that can come out of the pen for multiple innings are becoming even more valuable than modern-day closers. Fried easily fits that bill, and I expect him to be a key part to the Braves bullpen as early as this year and going forward as long as he keeps his walk numbers down.
This is a name some fans might be a little shocked about. The Braves brought up Touki several times last year to make spot starts and he ended up sticking into the playoffs as a reliever. Touissant made 5 starts in the majors and rarely flinched, going 2-1 with a 3.33 ERA.
Like most young pitchers, walks were the main culprit when he did get into tight situations. But for the most part, Touissant looked rather comfortable and sometimes dominant against major league hitting. If his control continues to improve, the sky is the limit for this 22-year old prospect.
However, it would be wise for Braves’ fans to temper their expectations with Toussaint. While he is bubbling with potential and coming off of an astounding 2018 at all levels, progression often is not linear, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he experiences some growing pains in 2019. With that said, even if Touissant does not turn out to be the ace everybody is hoping for, his plus fastball and nasty curveball make him a prime candidate to come out of the pen.
This is a young man who some people might have forgotten about because of his poor 2018 campaign, but I still have really high hopes for him going forward. Still only 22 years old, Gohara made his debut all the way back in 2017. At the time, he was regarded as possibly the best left-handed pitching prospect in all of baseball.
In 2016, Gohara finished his minor-league season with a 7-2 record and 1.81 ERA. Not too long after, he was traded to the Braves in a deal for Mallex Smith. He finished out 2017 on the major league squad, going 1-3 with a 4.91 ERA in five starts.
The Braves opted to keep him on the roster heading into 2018, but it was short-lived due to injury issues and an unfortunate death in the family. That led to him only making 14 starts the entire season at all levels.
Due to his filthy stuff coming from the left side, he still remains among the top 10 Braves’ prospects. He will have an opportunity to earn a starting rotation spot in spring training, but if that doesn’t happen, the Braves still might opt to keep him on the roster as a reliever. His filthy stuff from the left side that includes a powerful fastball and slider will make him tough to hit for anybody seeing him for the first time.