Braves' Big Four Pitching Prospects Already Paying Dividends

James HulkaAnalyst IAugust 17, 2011

A lot of people applauded Frank Wren's ability to acquire Michael Bourn a few weeks ago from the Astros, but not only because he got the speedy, leadoff hitter who played center field that the Braves desperately needed.

Many in baseball, especially Braves fans, loved the trade because of what they didn't send away.

Braves fans and management were happy that they acquired the piece they needed for their major league club while holding on to their four best pitching prospects – RHP Julio Teheran, RHP Arodys Vizcaino, RHP Randall Delgado and LHP Mike Minor.

They all have talent, and they've all shown that they are better than their first appearance of the season might have indicated.

In Minor's first start - he got the loss, going 4.1 innings and giving up 5 ER to the Brewers.

In Delgado's first start - he took the loss going 4.0 innings and giving up 3 ER to the Rangers.

In Vizcaino's first appearance - he couldn't finish out a 6-2 lead in the ninth, walking 2 in 2/3 of an inning against the Marlins.

In Teheran's first start - he took the loss going 4.2 innings and giving up 3 ER to the Phillies

Since -

Minor's got a 2-1 record with a 4.26 ERA (would be 3-1 with a 3.81 ERA with some bullpen help)

Delgado pitched a stellar 6.0 innings giving up 1H, 1 R, 1 BB while taking a no-hitter into the 7th.

Vizcaino picked up his first win of his career with 2 scoreless relief innings tonight, and has struck out 4 in 4.2 scoreless innings.

Teheran - pitched a little better in his 2nd start, but will probably get some work in the bullpen in September.

Minor is the most polished of the four, despite his lackluster ERA and record. Two bad outings earlier in the season against the Mets and Brewers are the big reason why his ERA is almost 5.The other 6 starts – Minor is 2-1 with a 3.50 ERA averaging exactly 6IP per start.

His last two outings since the recall he was just shy of getting a quality start. However, in both games, Fredi Gonzalez went the cautious route and pulled his young lefty one out shy of completing six innings, despite a pitch count that was still in the low 90s.

The start against the Cubs was more baffling because the Braves had a 5-run lead and really weren't threatened the whole game. Alfonso Soriano's double wasn't a big deal because Minor was pitching effectively with a 7-run lead at the time, with his offense pounding the Cubs for 5 homers.

The start against the Mets saw Minor get tagged for 4 ER, but Eric O'Flaherty couldn't preserve the 5-2 lead Minor had as he allowed two inherited runners to score. Those little things cost him a half run on his ERA, and probably another win to his credit.

Vizcaino has quickly earned a valuable spot as the right-handed power setup man that Fredi Gonzalez can depend on. He's been extremely effective since his first outing and can go more than 1 inning with electric stuff to strike hitters out.

I was thoroughly impressed watching Randall Delgado make easy work of the Giants tonight. This series is big for the Braves, and once again he was put in a tough spot, and only made one bad pitch the whole night. That pitch notwithstanding, I wouldn't have been surprised to see him go even deeper against a banged up Giants lineup. The 21 year-old shows he can pitch in the majors.

Julio Teheran hasn't shown yet in the majors what he's capable of, but he's been dynamite in the minors.

These young armed reinforcements are all going to be a huge part of the future for the Braves in their rotation and in the bullpen – and have provided a much needed boost mid-season as the rest of the staff fights the hot summer weather, injuries and tired arms. 

Not trading these four may be exactly what the Braves need to get to the playoffs and make a deep run.Fredi Gonzalez's idea to turn to a 6-man rotation in September may prove helpful because it will basically mean you can let your starters go 1 inning deeper into a game, save the back end of the bullpen, and still not overexert the starters before the playoffs start.

Since Teheran, Delgado and Vizcaino have all started this year, and are as good as most teams' back end starters, getting them to pitch 2 or 3 innings out of the bullpen in September once or twice a week will have a huge domino effect on making sure the entire pitching staff is ready to dominate in October.

I'm sure Braves fans would like to save 4 or 5 innings on the arms of Kimbrel, Venters and O'Flaherty between now and September 26th. I'm also sure that, the Braves can know that if Derek Lowe, Brandon Beachy or Jair Jurrjens need not worry that if they can't go 7 innings, that the young guys can fill the gap without any dropoff in ability or effectiveness if they don't have their best stuff that day. With Derek Lowe - getting through that last inning has been a big struggle of late.

What this also does is give all of them experience without putting all the pressure on them mentally or physically. Who knows – if all of the Big Four pitch well the rest of the season, they might earn themselves a roster spot in the NLDS.

Now if you're a Braves fan - how excited would you be to see a (healthy) staff in October of:

Tommy Hanson

Tim Hudson

Jair Jurrjens

Brandon Beachy

Craig Kimbrel

Jonny Venters

Eric O'Flaherty

Arodys Vizcaino

Julio Teheran

Randall Delgado

Mike Minor

It probably won't happen that all four of them would be on the post-season roster, but why would it be a bad thing if they pitched great during the last 6 weeks and earned their spots? It is more of a possibility next year, but it does allow Braves fans to ponder the possibilities of this pitching staff with a deep, balanced lineup, that now has some speed.

The Braves need about 23 more regular season wins and 11 post-season ones to make the dream come true, and likely beat the suddenly hot Brewers and the consistently hot Phillies before facing off against whatever team would come out of the American League. They aren't the favorites, and wouldn't be with that many rookies on the roster. But if they could pull it off – it would be quite a story.


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