Atlanta Braves Pitching Prospects Update

When John Coppolella began the Braves’ rebuilding process two offseasons ago, it was clear that pitching was going to be at the center of the rebuilt minor league system. Two and a half years later, even Coppy couldn’t have dreamed of the success his acquired prospects, especially pitching prospects, have achieved so far this season. With the minor league season approximately 1/3 of the way complete, now is a great time to take stock of the top prospects throughout the Braves system . We’ll start with the pitchers today and get to the hitters in a week or so.

Cream of the Crop- In my preseason Top 50, 6 pitchers cracked the top 10. We’ll start with them.

  • Sean Newcomb has spent 2017 doing Sean Newcomb things. He’s struck out 58 batters in 46 innings, but also walked 27 and tallied a 1.39 WHIP. Before the season, I projected Newcomb to get the first call when the Braves needed/traded a starter. He may have been passed over for that role, however. A full season at AAA would probably do Newcomb some good. Consistency is his biggest issue thus far, as he has completed more than 5.1 innings only twice so far this season. The big lefty will have to throw more strikes before the Braves feel comfortable promoting him to the big leagues.
  • Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka were given extremely aggressive assignments this year, skipping High-A and heading to AA Mississippi as 19-year olds. The Braves have looked smart thus far, as both have been relatively dominant thus far. Soroka has seen an uptick in his strikeouts in 2017, and both have shown good control and consistency. These look like two future mid rotation or better starters, possibly as early as 2018.
  • 2016 draftees Ian Anderson and Joey Wentz were assigned to Low-A Rome to start 2017, and both have have proved themselves worthy in their first seasons of full season ball. Anderson has had some dominant strikeout performances, including last week’s 11 K outing, but has struggled with command a bit more than was anticipated. The opposition is hitting just .233 against him, and he’s struck out 59 in 41 innings, so the Braves and fantasy owners are certainly giddy about his potential. Wentz has been more hittable than we’d like to see given his electric stuff, but has also done a good job of limiting walks and runs. He’ll need to improve his secondary pitches in order to climb the minor league ladder.
  • Max Fried has struggled the most among the Top 10 pitchers. He’s shown the strikeout stuff that we saw at the end of 2016, but has also walked more than usual and been far too hittable, leading to a 1.48 WHIP. The latter 2/3 of the 2017 season will be important for Fried as he jockeys for a spot in the pitching pecking order.
  • BONUS: Luiz Gohara was acquired from the Mariners shortly after my Top 50 came out. Gohara started the season with the High-A Florida Fire Frogs and was absolutely dominant across seven starts. Upon being promoted to AA, Gohara suffered a biceps injury, from which he has yet to return. I mentioned before the season started that increasing his innings total and staying healthy was going to be a key for the young lefty. The potential is clearly there if he can return to health.

The Risers

  • I’ll admit, I had largely written off Lucas Sims before the season started. Injuries and horrible command plagued his 2015 and 2016 seasons, while other pitching prospects dominated. Sims has turned a serious corner in 2017, walking only 14 in 50 innings and showing the promise that made him a 2012 1st round pick. I mentioned that Newcomb has probably been overtaken on the MLB promotion list, and Sims has likely earned that right. With Bartolo Colon laying an egg, thus far, the call-up might happen within the next couple of weeks.
  • Patrick Weigel probably deserved the #10 spot that I gave Joey Wentz, but I, like others, have underrated him based on his lack of pedigree. Weigel is attempting to prove us wrong, starting the year with a 2.89 ERA and 1.15 WHIP to go along with striking out a batter per inning at AA. He was promoted to AAA three starts ago, and has two strong performances to go along with one absolute dud that has skewed his number significantly. When I re-rank the Top 50 midseason, Weigel will almost certainly have a top 10 spot, and he may even sneak onto some mid-season Top 100 lists if he can keep things up at Gwinnett. He probably ranks third in line behind Sims and Newcomb in the MLB promotion pecking order (among prospects).
  • Like Gohara, Tyler Pike was a trade acquisition after the Top 50 was published. Similarly, he’s escaped the horrid Mariners player development track and dominated High-A. Pike is a former comp round pick who was twice promoted to AA seemingly without any mastery of High-A. Predictably, he struggled in both of those promotions. As a 23-year old, Pike has improved his control and has a K/9 hovering around 9. There isn’t a clear opening in the AA rotation right now, but Pike should be first in line when a spot becomes available.
  • Bryse Wilson has done nothing but dominate since being drafted in the 4th round last year. Between rookie ball in 2016 and low-A in 2017, Wilson has accumulated a 1.46 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, .201 opponent’s AVG, and 9.18 K/9. Anderson, Wentz, and Kyle Muller got the big publicity in the 2016 draft class, but Wilson has been the most dominant thus far. If you’re in a deeper league, go make the add.

The Rest

  • Touki Toussaint’s numbers are deceiving. He’s improved his control and is striking out almost 11 batters/ 9 innings. These are the things we wanted to see from athletic 20-year old, and yet his ERA is 6.80. FIP and xFIP actually like his work much more, at 3.91 and 3.29 respectively. If someone in your league is ready to give up based on the surface numbers, I’m still willing to sign off on an acquisition based on big upside.
  • We were pretty sure this was the case before the season, but Luke Jackson is a reliever now. He is the one pitcher from the Top 50 who has made his major league debut in 2017 and he looks like a middle reliever going forward, with some long-term potential in holds leagues.
  • Kyle Muller has mysteriously yet to make his debut, after starting in extended spring. His first game action may come in the GCL.
  • A.J. Minter had a chance to make the Braves bullpen out of spring training, but hasn’t pitched since April 11th, due to several injuries. Health has been the only thing to slow Minter thus far in his career, but it is a significant question mark for the Tommy John survivor.
  • Outside of the preseason top 30 pitchers, there have not been any significant risers thus far. Matt Withrow, Ricardo Sanchez, Michael Mader (turned reliever), and Jeremy Walker have all struggled to various extents thus far.
  • Drew Harrington has had the most impressive performance thus far among guys who missed the Top 50 (Gohara and Pike excluded). The 2016 3rd rounder doesn’t have the dominant stuff of his draft mates, but has shown that he knows how to pitch. He’s unlikely to be a fantasy contributor, but is worth keeping an eye on.

Article featured image of Patrick Weigel – courtesy Brian McLeod/MiLB.com

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