Scouting the Highest-Upside Atlanta Braves Pitching Prospects at Spring Training
This is the time for younger players and non-roster invitees to prove their talents.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez and general manager Frank Wren will have a close eye on how game-ready the starters are, but will also be looking at young guys who have potential to help in the future.
The Braves traded away a good portion of their young pitching depth this offseason and will be scouting the next crop.
Here's a look at some of these prospects at spring training.
1. Julio Teheran
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Despite all of the chatter surrounding Julio Teheran the past few years, he is still just 22 years old and pitched in just seven games at the MLB level.
Even though Teheran struggled in the minors in 2012, he has made adjustments and has great stuff that still has the Braves excited about his potential.
The Braves altered Teheran's delivery in 2012 in hopes to put less stress on his elbow. They wanted to keep his back leg straighter to keep a sense of balance.
However, Teheran's velocity and confidence dropped, and has since returned to his natural windup in which he uncoils to give him deception and velocity. Wren said this winter that Teheran looks more natural again.
A confident Teheran could prove deadly with the arsenal of pitches he's working with.
He combines a lively fastball that sits in the mid-90s with a curveball and changeup that results in a significant drop in velocity. He'll throw his curveball in the mid-70s and changeup in the low 80s.
Teheran enters spring training as the heavy favorite to be the No. 5 starter, and has the highest upside of any pitching prospect in the Braves organization.
2. J.R. Graham
Courtesy Ed Gardner: Mississippi Braves
The Braves invited J.R. Graham to spring training as a non-roster invitee and he appears to be close to being able to help the Braves.
Graham has pitched in just four games at double-A level, but has found success in the minors and shows great promise.
He features a lively fastball, plus slider and changeup, that helped him lead the Braves organization in both ERA (2.80) and WHIP (1.06).
The organization-leading WHIP shows Graham's great control, but his great potential comes from a fastball that can reach 97 with sinking movement.
The 23-year-old is rated the No. 2 prospect in the Braves' organization according to Baseball America.
The former fourth-round draft choice of the Braves will likely need this year to develop at the minors, but has a great chance at impacting the team in 2014.
3. Alex Wood
Courtesy Rome Braves
Similar to the previous players, Alex Wood features an above-average fastball in the mid-90s.
The 2012 second-round draft choice out of the University of Georgia enjoyed a very good year in the minors in 2012.
At single-A Rome, Wood posted a 4-3 record with a 2.22 ERA and struck out 52 men in just over 52 innings (8.89 SO/9).
The big left-hander (6'4", 215 lbs) also has an above-average changeup to go along with his fastball and is developing his curveball.
Some teams were scared off from Wood due to a Tommy John surgery, but there's no doubting his stuff.
Wood will get a chance to showcase that stuff at spring training as a non-roster invitee, and has the chance to be a top-line starter in the future.
4. Sean Gilmartin
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Another non-roster invitee, Sean Gilmartin is likely the most polished pitcher of the Braves' prospects at spring training.
The Braves drafted Gilmartin as their first choice in 2011 after a successful three-year career at Florida State.
He has steadily climbed through the minors—reaching Triple-A Gwinnett last year. In seven starts at Gwinnett, Gilmartin was 1-2 with a 4.78 ERA. However, at Double-A Mississippi, he had much better success (5-8 3.54 ERA).
Gilmartin will not overwhelm batters with pure stuff, but will work both sides of the plate and has good command of four pitches (fastball, curveball, slider and changeup). His slider and changeup are his most effective off-speed pitches, currently.
If Teheran falters, or the Braves are struck by the injury bug to the pitching staff, Gilmartin will likely be the first choice for fill-in starts.
5. Aaron Northcraft
Courtesy Danville Braves
The Braves have right-handed pitcher Aaron Northcraft as part of their 40-man rotation entering spring training.
They drafted Northcraft out of high school in 2009, and he has slowly climbed to high Single-A Lynchburg.
At Lynchburg in 2012, he posted a 10-11 record and 3.98 ERA and led the organization in strikeouts with 160 in 151.2 innings.
Northcraft won't be high on most prospect lists, as he doesn't burn a radar gun, but he manages to get strikeouts with all the movement on his pitches.
Standing 6'4" and 225 pounds, this big right-hander is worth watching moving forward and even has a no-hitter under his belt.
He will likely be at Double-A Mississippi this season and could be a middle-of-the-order pitcher in the big leagues.