Braves Offseason Questions: Who'll Emerge as Atlanta's 5th Starter

Gavin Andrews@@gavin_andrewsCorrespondent IIJanuary 4, 2013

ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 16: Julio Teheran #57 of the Atlanta Braves pitches against the New York Mets at Turner Field on September 16, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

With so much conversation surrounding possible solutions in left field for the Atlanta Braves (or third base, should the Braves brass go with Juan Francisco), it's easy to forget about another spot in flux—the fifth starter.

Heading into 2013, the unflappable Tim Hudson and the hotshot Kris Medlen will lead a very solid Braves rotation rounded out by southpaws Mike Minor and Paul Maholm. And if Minor and Medlen pitch in the upcoming campaign as well as they did in the second half of 2012, the Braves rotation becomes very intimidating.

Even so, that's still just four starters, and it takes five to fill out a rotation. Brandon Beachy will eventually fill that role in the second half of the season once he is fully rehabbed from Tommy John surgery, but until then the job will be fought for by Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran.

Delgado has considerably more major league experience than Teheran, having thrown 127.2 innings in Atlanta, as opposed to 26.0 for Teheran.

In his time in the big leagues, Delgado has enjoyed flashes of brilliance sprinkled in between bouts of inconsistency.

His stats can be found here, but the culprit of his inconsistency seems pretty obvious—his spotty command.

Should he iron out his command and learn to be more consistent, Fangraphs envisions him to be a No. 2 or 3 workhorse starter with his low-to-mid 90s fastball, changeup and curveball.

Teheran presents a fascinating case for the fifth starter's spot. After dazzling the Triple-A circuit at the age of 20, climbing to the precipice of Braves prospect rankings and even earning comparisons to Pedro Martinez, Teheran seemingly fell apart last season, posting an ERA of 5.08.  

As it turns out, the Braves had tinkered with Teheran's violent delivery in order to relieve his right knee and elbow of additional strain. Unfortunately, this caused Teheran's fastball velocity to drop, and his confidence along with it.

When the Braves visited Teheran in the Dominican Winter League however, they asked Teheran to go back to whatever felt natural to him. Teheran's velocity returned along with his confidence, and he finished out the Winter League looking like the pitcher that had drawn the Pedro Martinez comparisons just a year prior. 

Teheran's arsenal is much more lethal than Delgado's, as he possesses a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and a devastating changeup to pair with a curveball he spent all of 2012 refining. If he has truly returned to being the prospect he was before Atlanta tinkered with his rotation, Teheran could be an ace in the making.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that Delgado be given the fifth starter's spot due to his experience in the majors. However, I am going to give the upper hand to Teheran due to his repertoire and finishing touches on his Winter League season.

Once again, if Teheran has returned to the overpowering ace in the making he was in 2011, then he has absolutely nothing to gain from another trip to Triple-A, and would be better off getting major league innings. Upon Beachy's return to the rotation, Teheran could either move to the bullpen or back to Triple-A to increase his stamina.

What to do with Delgado becomes a bit trickier though. He is a valuable arm for the Braves, and once he finds his command, there isn't much stopping him from being a reliable No. 3 starter. If he doesn't beat Teheran out for a rotation spot in 2013 though, he's likely to be stuck in Triple-A for another year. 

This presents Atlanta with a problem. A good problem, but a problem nonetheless. Keeping Delgado in the minor leagues would add him to the list of arms such as J.R. Graham, Sean Gilmartin, and Zeke Spruill that are almost ready for the big leagues. 

And with Medlen, Minor, Beachy, and Teheran likely to be rotation mainstays for years to come, it might be time to deal Delgado for a bat. 

But before Atlanta goes dealing Delgado, Teheran is going to have to beat him for the fifth starter's spot.