Top 10 Candidates to Be Atlanta Braves' 4th and 5th Starting Pitchers Come July

Matt PowersCorrespondent IIMay 23, 2012

Top 10 Candidates to Be Atlanta Braves' 4th and 5th Starting Pitchers Come July

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    Surprisingly, the starting rotation for the Atlanta Braves has had some issues this year. The unit, projected to be one of the biggest strengths of the team, hasn't been at that level yet in part due to the expected depth not being there.

    Arodys Vizcaino was lost for the season after elbow surgery, Julio Teheran struggled all spring and has been a bit inconsistent in Triple-A so far and both Mike Minor and Jair Jurrjens have been awful at times. That leaves some questions as to who will fill in the remainder of the rotation following Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Brandon Beachy.

    This article takes a look at the top 10 candidates, both from within the organization and outside of it, who could be filling in the final two spots of the Braves rotation come July.

10.Todd Redmond

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    The least likely candidate to be in the Braves rotation come July is an internal candidate that may not be very well known. Todd Redmond is a 27-year-old right-handed pitcher who has been in Triple-A with the Braves since the start of the 2009 season.

    While Redmond may not have great stuff, he has put up good numbers which have improved each year in Triple-A. In 2009, Redmond went 9-6 with a 4.41 ERA in 27 games. He came back in 2010 and though his record slipped to 9-10, he managed to drop his ERA to 4.26 in 28 games. Last year he took a big step forward by going 10-8 with a 2.92 ERA in 28 games.

    This season Redmond is 4-3 with a 2.63 ERA in his first nine starts to go with 51 strikeouts in 51.1 innings, which is the highest strikeout ratio of his minor league career. He was also named the International League Pitcher of the Week for last week after a pair of very strong outings.

    Redmond is really more of a long-shot candidate, but deserves mention because of his minor league success and because he is already in the organization. The other thing that he has going for him is the fact that he is already on the 40-man roster.

9.Zack Greinke

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    Zack Greinke is one of the top pitchers in the game again. After winning the 2009 American League Cy Young Award, Greinke has been a bit hittable over the past two seasons. However he has been pitching very well this year, going 5-1 with a 2.70 ERA in nine starts.

    Greinke is likely going to be on the trade market this year because the Brewers aren't in the hunt for the playoffs right now and he is set to become a free agent after this season. He's likely going to cost a lot to acquire though, which is the reason that he ranks the lowest of all of the outside candidates.

    If Frank Wren thought the Braves were one elite arm away from a World Series then I could see him starting up a package featuring Julio Teheran for Greinke, but it's not very likely.

8.Sean Gilmartin

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    Sean Gilmartin was the top draft choice for the Braves in 2011 out of Florida State. Gilmartin was chosen because he was considered to be a polished left-handed pitcher with plenty of big-game experience due to playing at one of the elite programs in the country.

    Gilmartin is currently 2-5 with a 3.38 ERA in nine starts for Double-A Mississippi. He has 36 strikeouts to 11 walks in 56 innings, and he has allowed just four home runs while the league is hitting .252 off of him. He has also pitched two complete games in his nine starts.

    It is not out of the question for Gilmartin to make the big leagues this year. Mike Minor was a similar prospect in terms of stuff and polish for the 2009 draft, though he was selected significantly higher than Gilmartin but in a draft with a bit less talent. Minor was able to make the big leagues the summer after his draft year, so the potential is there for Gilmartin as well.

    Gilmartin may not be a top candidate to take one of the rotation spots in July, but the fact that he is a lefty is a big help considering the Braves only have one of those in their rotation. That one lefty is actually Mike Minor, who has been struggling pretty badly of late, which could lead to the Braves bringing up another lefty like Gilmartin to replace him.

7.Kris Medlen

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    Kris Medlen was really coming on in 2010. He was 6-2 with a 3.68 ERA as he split time between the rotation and the bullpen. As a starter, he was 5-0 with a 3.86 ERA in 14 starts at age 24. Then came the elbow injury that forced him to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery.

    Medlen returned last year and pitched in two short relief outings, but didn't really get to show his stuff until this season. So far Medlen has been one of the keys to the bullpen, going 1-0 with a 2.28 ERA in 17 appearances over 23.2 innings. In fact, he has been the best reliever in the bullpen outside of Craig Kimbrel, and his ability to go multiple innings as well as pitch in high-leverage situations really helps the team.

    Medlen would be higher on this list but there are two reasons why it isn't likely that he starts this year. First he would need to build up the stamina, and the team will want to be very careful with him coming off of surgery. The team would also be taking him out of the bullpen, where he has been such an important piece thus far.

    His best chance to start is everyone ahead of him falling on their face, but it is an option.

6.Brandon McCarthy

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    Brandon McCarthy is a former top prospect who seemed like a bust before the light came on for him last season. McCarthy went 9-9 with a 3.32 ERA in 25 starts, but didn't get much attention since it happened with Oakland.

    McCarthy is on the disabled list with a minor injury at the moment, but is 3-3 with a 2.95 ERA in his first nine starts. He may not be an ace, but he is a very solid guy that has pitched well in the American League. His ability to be consistently solid is part of why he would be an asset.

    His team is rebuilding and he is a free agent at the end of the year, so it's a near lock that he gets moved somewhere. He also isn't expected to be too expensive with the A's having a bunch of talented young pitching prospects. That is why he could be a good target for the Braves as a solid back-end-of-the-rotation starter.

5.Ryan Dempster

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    The Cubs are rebuilding and Theo Epstein has a few pieces to deal. One of his best pieces is Ryan Dempster, a 35-year-old who is set to be a free agent at the end of the year. Dempster offers veteran leadership and as well as a very strong pitcher to a contender, so it's very likely that he gets dealt this summer.

    So far this year Dempster looks great, coming up with a nice rebound year after struggling a bit by his standards last year. In his first seven starts, Dempster may be just 0-2, but that is due to the lack of support he gets from his team. His ERA is sitting at an impressive 2.28 with a 1.06 WHIP.

    Dempster isn't likely to cost an elite prospect, but rather a good one. That is something along with his being familiar with the National League that makes him an appealing target for the Braves.

4.Jair Jurrjens

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    Most people already know the story of Jair Jurrjens. The 2011 All-Star was arguably the best pitcher in the game for the first half of the season before injuries ruined the rest of his season. He was fairly publicly shopped as a trade piece over the winter, then came into spring training and struggled.

    Jurrjens' struggles continued into the regular season, as he was hit hard in each one of the four starts he made. Following the fourth bad start the team demoted Jurrjens to Triple-A so that he could figure out what was causing the struggles.

    Jurrjens was lights out in his first three starts, posting a 2.05 ERA through 22 innings and allowing just a total of 22 hits and walks combined. Then came the disaster against Buffalo in his fourth start, where he allowed 11 runs and 14 combined hits and walks in 4.2 innings. That was followed up by his most recent start against Rochester where he allowed seven runs and 12 combined hits and walks over 4.1 innings.

    Jurrjens looked so close to finding his form after his first three starts but has imploded since then. Still, what he showed during those three starts gives proof that Jurrjens has it in him to figure things out.

    As long as Jurrjens regains his form, he will be in the big league rotation because of his salary, experience, talent and leadership. The only real question is whether he can figure everything out in time to help the Braves before the trade deadline.

3.Julio Teheran

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    The top prospect in the organization is always a candidate for a promotion, especially with the way Mike Minor has been struggling in his last five starts. Teheran lit up the International League last year as a 20-year-old and has little left to prove at that level, so it is not as if he isn't ready for the opportunity.

    Teheran struggled in his cup of coffee last year and came into camp with a chance to win a spot in the rotation. However he had a very forgettable spring and lost out to Randall Delgado for the final rotation spot. Since being sent to Triple-A, it has been an up-and-down year for Teheran.

    The good news is that Teheran has been more up than down lately, as four of his last five starts and six of his last eight have been very strong. As long as he keeps pitching like this, it will be hard to keep him out of the big leagues.

    Teheran is simply too talented to ignore, and the fact that he has pitched in 34 games in Triple-A over the last two years shows that he is close to being ready. Teheran is likely to get the call if Minor can't get back on track soon.

2.Mike Minor

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    Mike Minor had a 3.42 ERA after his first four starts of the year, but then he just lost the ability to pitch well. The Pirates, Rockies, Cardinals and Marlins all blasted Minor for at least six runs during a four-start stretch from April 30 through May 16.

    Minor was on his way to his fifth straight rough outing after allowing four runs in the first four innings against the Reds on May 21 following three consecutive solo-homers allowed, but then he settled down. After that third home run, Minor walked Joey Votto before retiring the next seven batters he faced.

    That's a good sign for Minor, that he was able to regain his composure and confidence. Hopefully he's able to build off of this performance heading into his next start and we can once again see the pitcher who shut down the Brewers and Diamondbacks.

    The Braves need Mike Minor. All of the other starters are right-handed, so Minor will get plenty of chances to show he belongs. If Minor is able to right the ship, he will remain in the rotation.

1.Randall Delgado

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    The top pick to have one of the spots in the rotation come July is 22-year-old Panamanian rookie Randall Delgado. Delgado has actually had the most big league success of all internal candidates in a starting role this year. On top of that. he has a considerable ceiling, with the potential to be a strong middle-of-the-rotation guy in the near future. 

    Though Delgado is just 2-4 with a 4.26 ERA in his first eight starts, he has been pitching much better lately after some struggles in April. In fact he has a 2.59 ERA during the month of May as he seems to finally be feeling more comfortable. 

    Delgado's strong recent performance as well as his potential make him tough to take out of the rotation. As long as Delgado stays consistent his role in the rotation is pretty much locked up.