Today, on this 4th day of Spring Training, I want to talk about one of my favorite Spring Training battles this year – the battle for spots in the Atlanta Braves starting rotation.
Braves GM Alex Anthopoulus and manager Brian Snitker have said that Teheran, McCarthy and Foltynewicz have secure rotation spots for Opening Day. That means there are two spots up for grabs. There is a lot of competition for those spots which include exciting young arms like, Max Fried, Luiz Gohara, Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims and veterans Scott Kazmir and Chase Whitley. Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler are also in with a shot. That’s eight pitchers vying for two spots.
Let’s look a little closer at each contender:
The seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft is now two years removed from Tommy John surgery and could be standing on the cusp of greatness. MLB Pipeline ranks him as one of the top left handed prospects in baseball. He flashed some brilliance in 2017, particularly with his curveball. It is a thing of beauty with the potential to be one of the best curveballs in baseball. He earned a win in his MLB debut last season in September at Wrigley Field when he limited the Cubs to one run over five innings. The only problem with Fried is his control. He struggles to throw strikes. If he can fix this in Spring Training he will have a good chance of making the rotation come Opening Day.
My prediction: Starts in AAA
The 21 year old Brazilian southpaw is probably the favorite for one of the remaining two rotation spots. Spring Training will reveal more about him after he rocketed through the minors last season to make five MLB starts in September. He made a good impression in his September stint but obviously still has a lot to prove. He has overpowering stuff. Hopefully he can develop his change up during Spring Training as that would make him a lethal weapon in the rotation.
Prediction: Starts season in rotation but doesn’t last past May/June
Sean Newcomb was called up to the Majors last June and showed he was good enough to be in the rotation as he kept his spot for the rest of the season. He ended up making 19 starts with a 4.32 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 100 innings. It wasn’t all good. He did also walk 57 batters in 100 innings. Fixing his command issues will be a major focus during Spring and the upcoming season in order for the 24 year old lefty to become a finished product and a stalwart of the Braves rotation for years to come.
Prediction: Starts season in rotation and keeps his spot through the season
First round draft pick and Atlanta local Lucas Sims isn’t as highly touted as the other young arms in the Braves organization and therefore he probably isn’t one of the favorites for a rotation spot. He posted a 5.79 ERA over 10 starts last year, with another 4 appearances out of the bullpen in September.
Prediction: Starts in the season in the major league bullpen
34 Year old three time All-Star, Scott Kazmir is a long shot this season as he pretty much missed all of last season with injuries. He’s definitely not the same pitcher he was. Apparently his fastball now sits in the mid 80s. Not great. His fastball velocity will be something watch this Spring. He will need to prove he has overcome all his injury woes. I cant see the Braves giving him a rotation spot with so many young arms fighting for a spot. At best he pitches well during Spring and the Braves trades him before the season starts.
Prediction: Starts in Triple A
The Braves claimed Chase Whitley off the waiver from the Rays and he could be helpful in the bullpen. He posted a 4.08 ERA for the Rays in 2017 (all in relief). Back in 2014 he made 12 starts for the Yankees.
Prediction: Starts the season in the bullpen
It will be hard for Aaron Blair to make the rotation out of camp as he has struggled mightily over the past two seasons. Apparently Blair has shed something like 40 pounds in an attempt to improve. He’s still just 25, so hopefully he can learn from his struggles over the past two seasons and contribute somewhere during the season.
Prediction: Starts the season in Triple A
Matt Wisler is in the same boat as Aaron Blair, a former top prospect that fizzled out over the past two seasons. He’s best chance to make the MLB now seems to be via the bullpen.
Prediction: Starts the season in Triple A
It looks like Gohara and Newcomb have the inside lane as Spring Training starts, but Max Fried will be the dark horse to watch during Spring Training. Whitley looks like a solid experienced arm out of the bullpen, while Kazmir is an unknown due to previous injuries. He will need to prove he is ready.