Breaking Down Atlanta's Projected 2013 Opening Day Rotation
The Atlanta Braves' lineup with newly acquired outfielder Justin Upton has been analyzed to the 10th degree.
Consequently, It is time to break down the team's pitching rotation as we head closer to spring training.
The Braves made many moves this offseason, as the team shipped Tommy Hanson to the Los Angeles Angels for flame-throwing right-hander Jordan Walden in November. Randall Delgado was among five players sent to Arizona in the Upton blockbuster nearly a week ago.
Both were part of the team's rotation in 2012.
With the spark Kris Medlen brought to the pitching staff in the second half of the season, general manager Frank Wren had some flexibility to play with the rotation in the open market. He knew that by trading Hanson, he would save the team around $4 million to put to another resource.
It didn't seem like the right move initially, as trading a starting pitcher could be, in a sense, like playing with fire. Ask the 2008 Atlanta Braves, who struggled to put together a consistent pitching staff and therefore only won 72 games.
Yet, with the depth Atlanta currently has in their minor league system, Wren felt more comfortable making the move.
Four obvious names should break camp as members of Atlanta's starting rotation: Medlen, Tim Hudson, Mike Minor and Paul Maholm.
The fifth spot, however, is a little up in the air. Most believe the favorite is top prospect Julio Teheran, but that is no guarantee.
Teheran had a stellar 2011 campaign, as he posted a 15-3 record with a 2.55 ERA in 24 starts in Triple-A Gwinnett. Fortunes changed in 2012 when he produced a 7-9 mark with a 5.08 ERA in 26 starts at the same level. In four career major-league starts, moreover, Teheran has a 5.19 ERA.
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His velocity dipped from the mid-90s to the low-90s, and the Braves saw that as a red flag. These changes led to many of his struggles in the 2012 season.
In the offseason, the Braves allowed him to go back to his original throwing motion, which led to winter-ball success. If Teheran can regain the form that he enjoyed in the minor leagues in 2011 and bring it to the big leagues, the sky is the limit for his potential in the Braves' rotation.
There are other candidates, though, who could take over in the back end of the rotation if Teheran were to falter in spring training. Prospect southpaw Sean Gilmartin and right-handed pitcher J.R. Graham could grab the opportunity and run with it.
Gilmartin, who was selected 28th overall by the Atlanta Braves in the 2011 draft, spent time between Double-A Mississippi and Gwinnett and posted a 6-10 mark with a 3.84 ERA in 27 starts last season.
The 22-year-old played his college ball at Florida State and is similar to the lefty Minor. Gilmartin possesses a fastball, curveball, changeup and slider. He isn't overpowering but can be a crafty pitcher.
Many scouts have compared Gilmartin to Tom Glavine, but we will see how he handles the majors first.
Graham was deemed untouchable by Wren in the trade talks involving Upton. The 23-year-old is a flame thrower who can get his fastball up to 98 MPH. He is undersized, as he is just above 6'0" and under 200 pounds.
Graham also has a slider as his complimentary pitch. He mixes it well with his fastball and can induce ground balls with the pitch. If he can control it in the big leagues consistently, the slider will grade out well.
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He needs to develop a third pitch, however. He does currently throw a changeup, but will need to improve it enough to translate it to the big leagues. He hasn't needed the pitch as much in the minors but will need it in the majors to compliment the fastball and slider.
Teheran is the current favorite to win the fifth spot as we near spring training, but it is possible that Gilmartin or Graham could out-pitch the top prospect for an opportunity.
Whomever wins the spot will need to pitch well to stay in the rotation with the impending return of right-handed pitcher Brandon Beachy from Tommy John surgery.
Atlanta has a luxury with the talent they possess in their top four rotation spots, plus the organizational depth to make a wise decision for the back end.
While their lineup has gotten all the accolades recently, the Braves project to have one of the better rotations in baseball in 2013.
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