Atlanta Braves' Future Pitching Rotation: Which Prospects Will Join Big Club?
With the season in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to move forward and start looking at what the team can do to win next year and in the future.
Although Atlanta’s team strength on the major league level was its pitching staff, they have an incredible number of young and talented hurlers both already in the majors and waiting in the minors to make an impact in the future.
In order to make it onto this “future” pitching staff, a player must be currently in the Braves system and 25 or younger at the present date.
It's not just an arbitrary number; the logic behind 25 is that ages 26 to 30 are typically considered a player's prime years.
Anyone who is currently 25 would be right in the middle of that (28) when the contracts of Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson come off the books (thus allowing more of our youngsters to get the call).
Starting Pitcher: Tommy Hanson
Big Red gets the nod as the ace of the staff because he will be one of the veteran pitchers on this (potential) staff and has shown tremendous stuff in his first two Major League seasons.
In 55 MLB starts, Hanson has posted an impressive 3.16 ERA and 7.9 K/9 innings. He improved his K/BB ratio in his second season and should continue to become more consistent as he progresses through his career.
Drafted by the Braves in the 22nd round back in 2005, Hanson became the team’s top pitching prospect in the 2008-09 offseason after dominating the Arizona Fall League (he was the first pitcher there to win the MVP award).
Hanson won’t become a free agent until after the 2015 season, and the Braves might be wise to lock him up long-term, as he has a bright future.
Starting Pitcher: Julio Teheran
Currently the Braves' top prospect, Teheran has the potential to be the most dominant pitcher on this staff.
His 2010 season was spent at three different minor league levels. He started in Rome (A), where he absolutely dominated hitters and quickly earned a promotion to Myrtle Beach.
Teheran continued to excel in High-A ball and finished the year at AA Mississippi. Although he wasn’t as dominant, he was pretty good (3.38 ERA, 8.6 K/9) in Mississippi despite being only 19 years old.
Across three levels, he produced a 2.59 ERA, 10.0 K/9 and 3.98 K/BB in 2010.
Teheran might start 2011 in AAA, where he would be one of the youngest players in the league. It’s possible that he could be pitching in Atlanta at some point during the 2011 season if he continues to dominate minor league hitters.
Starting Pitcher: Mike Minor
Many thought that Minor was a safe pick when the Braves took him seventh overall in the 2009 draft, but Minor proved everyone wrong with a dominant 2010 season in the minors.
Everyone knew Minor could make it to the show quickly, and he started his first full professional campaign in AA. Although his ERA was rather unimpressive (4.03), Minor quickly rose up prospect charts due to a jump in velocity and astounding 11.9 K/9 ratio.
Considered a finesse pitcher with the ceiling of a No. 3 starter coming out of college, Minor had become a strikeout pitcher with a ceiling of a good second starter. He dominated AAA for six starts (1.89 ERA, 10 K/9) before getting to make his MLB debut on August 9th.
At the Major League level, Minor got hit a little harder and posted a 5.89 ERA. He did, however, continue to strike batters out (9.5 K/9) and had a solid FIP of 3.77, showing he got a little unlucky.
Although his arm tired out at the end of the year, Minor had a 2010 season to remember and solidified his spot in the Braves' future plans.
Starting Pitcher: Jair Jurrjens
Stolen from the Tigers in the trade that sent Edgar Renteria to Detroit, 2010 was somewhat of a lost season for Jurrjens.
After posting ERAs of 3.68 and 2.60 in his rookie and sophomore campaigns respectively, Jurrjens struggled in 2010 and missed a large portion of the season to injury.
In his 20 starts, Jurrjens put up an unimpressive 4.64 ERA, although his 4.19 FIP shows that he was getting a little unlucky.
While Jurrjens probably won’t post any more years of ERAs in the mid twos, he should improve on his poor 2010 and be a good middle of the rotation guy for the Braves. With a lot of high-ceiling players in the Braves organization, it might be possible for Jurrjens to rack up wins while pitching in the bottom of the “future” Braves rotation.
Starting Pitcher: Randall Delgado
While his 2010 wasn’t as impressive as Julio Teheran’s, Delgado improved his organizational standing with a strong campaign between High-A and AA.
Starting the year in Myrtle Beach, Delgado struck out more than a batter an inning and showed good control, leading to a 2.76 ERA.
The 20-year-old earned a promotion to AA and initially struggled at the higher level. While allowing more walks, Delgado was having trouble getting past the fifth inning and allowed four or more earned runs in his first five starts in Mississippi.
Toward the end of the year, Delgado appeared to adjust to the league, allowing just five earned runs in his final three starts (a span of 18.2 innings). Over that span, he struck out 20 batters while walking just four, which was more in line with his performance in Myrtle Beach.
There is a chance Delgado could be a September call-up in 2011, but it is more likely he will get his first action with Atlanta during the 2010 season.
Relief Pitcher/Spot Starter: Arodys Vizcaino
I had a hard time deciding who would be the fifth starter in this rotation but went with Delgado over Vizcaino because he is closer to the majors at the current time.
The primary return the Braves received from the Yankees in the Javier Vazquez trade, Vizcaino started the year in A-ball and impressed early.
In 14 starts, he posted an impressive 2.39 ERA and had an outstanding K/BB ratio (7.56). Although he struggled a bit (4.61 ERA) after being promoted to Myrtle Beach, Vizcaino continued to post impressive peripheral numbers.
Although an injury ended his season early, Vizcaino showed plenty of promise in 2010. He will be 20 for the entire 2011 season, and he likely will finish the year in AA if he can stay healthy.
He could make the majors midway through the 2012 season if things go according to plan.
Relief Pitcher: Kris Medlen
Although Medlen will miss the majority (if not all) of the 2011 season, he has already cemented himself in the Braves' future plans.
While pitching out of both the rotation and bullpen over parts of the past two seasons, Medlen has posted a 3.90 ERA over 175.1 MLB innings.
As a reliever, his ERA (3.33) is almost a full run lower than as a starter (4.31), and with the depth of the Braves system it makes sense to let him be our right-handed setup man in the bullpen.
Relief Pitcher: Brandon Beachy
Another player who is good enough to start at the MLB level, I have Beachy in the bullpen because I think he would be better suited as primarily a two-pitch pitcher who rarely uses his curveball.
Like a number of players on this list, Beachy had a coming-out party in 2010. The Braves originally signed Beachy as an undrafted free agent, but he dominated the minor leagues like a top prospect at both AA and AAA.
Pitching mostly as a reliever, Beachy struck out 12.2 batters per inning and posted a 1.47 ERA in AA before earning a promotion to AAA Gwinnett.
He made seven starts (and one relief appearance) for the G-Braves, posting an ERA of 2.17, a K/9 ratio of 9.5 and an unthinkable K/BB ratio of 8.00.
Beachy made his MLB debut September 20th and ended up making three starts with Atlanta (two against the Phillies), posting a 3.00 ERA while striking out a batter per inning.
Relief Pitcher: Eric O'Flaherty
EOF is currently battling blurry vision but has proven to be a quality left-handed relief pitcher since coming to Atlanta.
After spending parts of three seasons in Seattle, O’Flaherty found a home in Atlanta in 2009. Since then, he has pitched in 134 games and totaled 100.1 innings.
With the Braves, EOF has a 2.78 ERA. Although his strikeout ratios aren’t as good as many other lefty relievers, O’Flaherty has proven he can get the job done and would have plenty of help on this pitching staff.
Relief Pitcher: Mike Dunn
Acquired from the Yankees in the Javier Vazquez trade, Dunn dominated in both AAA and the majors during the 2010 season. Originally a starter in the Yankees' farm system, Dunn has been terrific since making the switch to the bullpen.
This year, in 47.1 innings in AAA, Dunn posted a 1.52 ERA and struck out 64 batters (if you don’t want to do the math, that’s 12.2 K’s per nine innings).
Dunn doesn’t give up many hits but struggles with control at times. In AAA he walked 4.8 batters per nine innings, and he will have to harness his stuff to continually succeed in the majors.
After a brief cup of coffee with New York in 2009, Dunn dominated in his short MLB stint with the Braves. In 19 innings he struck out 27 batters and posted a 1.89 ERA. The walks were still a problem (he had 17, almost one an inning), but Dunn’s control should improve in the future.
Setup: Jonny Venters
The third lefty in the pen, Venters could be either a lefty specialist or closer, as he has shown the ability to get righties out so far in his career.
A rookie in 2010, Venters dominated Major League hitters in his 83 innings once getting called up to Atlanta.
The lefty posted a 1.95 ERA (lowest of any rookie with more than 80 innings pitched) and struck out 10.1 batters per nine innings. Like Dunn, Venters is prone to walk batters (4.2 BB/9) but should be able to overcome that with more experience.
Venters started for most of his minor league career but might have found a home in Atlanta’s bullpen after dominating in 2010.
Closer: Craig Kimbrel
Another guy who made his MLB debut in 2010, Kimbrel has been billed as the Braves' future closer for the past couple years and did nothing to disappoint once hitting Atlanta.
Like the two guys before him in the slideshow, Kimbrel can be a bit wild at times but has the stuff of a dominant closer. Because of his short stature and high velocity, Kimbrel has been called the “right-handed Billy Wagner.”
Kimbrel has consistently struck out more than 13 batters per nine innings in the minors and came to Atlanta with a career 1.85 minor league ERA (and 51 minor league saves).
Major League hitters were baffled by Kimbrel in 2010, when he allowed just a single earned run in 20.2 innings pitched and struck out 20 batters (17.4 K/9). The walks were an issue (he had 16), but Kimbrel can work around some free passes given that he strikes a ton of guys out and rarely gives up hits.
With an MLB save already under his belt, Kimbrel might take over the closer's role full-time as early as 2011.
Two More to Watch
The Braves' farm system is loaded with tons of good pitching prospects that might crack other teams' Top 10 rankings but are buried under guys like Teheran and Delgado.
Without going into the allotment of pitchers that might eventually reach the majors, here are two more guys to watch that could be future All-Stars.
J.J. Hoover – Starting Pitcher – 3.32 MiLB ERA, 9.4 K/9
Hoover has been described as the “most average pitching prospect I’ve ever seen” but would be the second or third best arm in most systems.
He pitched in Myrtle Beach for the majority of the 2010 season before making four starts in AA. Hoover has shown good control coming through the minors and would make an excellent bottom of the rotation pitcher (with a ceiling of an average No. 3 starter).
Carlos Perez – Starting Pitcher – 3.23 MiLB ERA, 7.0 K/9
At this point, Perez hasn’t pitched above A-ball and has plenty of maturing to do before he reaches the majors. However, he has already shown some nasty stuff and may be in for a breakout season in 2011 similar to the one Julio Teheran had had in 2010.
The Braves have done a terrific job scouting Latin American pitchers (see Teheran, Delgado and the recently traded Robinson Lopez), and Perez is another high-ceiling youngster who could turn into a perennial All-Star if his development goes well.