It’s all about the pitching

sports@macon.comMarch 20, 2011 

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For the past 25 years the Atlanta Braves have had a lot of success. And much of that was due to one thing they did very well, usually better than any other team in baseball -- pitch.

The Braves will send three pitchers to the Hall of Fame one day. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, both 300-game winners, are locks. John Smoltz might have to wait a bit longer, but with the success he had in the bullpen and in the rotation, he has a great chance, too.

Those three are gone now. Chances are the Braves might never find three more Hall of Famers. But it won’t stop them from trying. It also won’t stop them from building each and every team around the players they throw out there on the mound.

This year’s rotation is going to include two solid veterans in Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe, along with two young kids in their mid-20s in Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. They may not get the publicity the Fab Four in Philadelphia get, but Atlanta’s group is also pretty strong.

Right now the Braves have two young pitchers with high upside fighting it out for the fifth starter’s job. Mike Minor has the edge because he’s a lefty, but right-hander Brandon Beachy is making the decision tough with an outstanding spring training. Both are ready to make an impact in a major league rotation, and once they get there they could contribute for a long time.

But those six aren’t all the Braves have to offer. If you venture to the back fields at Disney, you’ll find one of the most talented groups of prospects in baseball.

Atlanta has had a few different waves of talented pitchers. Thirteen years ago it was Bruce Chen, Jason Marquis, Robbie Bell, Jimmy Osting and Odalis Perez -- five pitchers who had pitched in Macon the year before. All five made it to the big leagues, and Marquis and Chen are in major league rotations.

Then 10 years ago there was another wave, led by Adam Wainwright, Blaine Boyer and Kyle Davies. All three were traded away, and all three are still major league pitchers.

The current group of young arms may be the best. It includes the best pitching prospect in the major leagues in Julio Teheran, who just turned 20 years old six weeks ago. Teheran is often compared to Pedro Martinez. He’s not a very big kid, but the ball flies out of his hand.

Scouts believe Teheran can be ready some time this season to contribute in Atlanta. And when he shows he’s ready, he might be hard to stop or slow down. But how will the Braves get him in the rotation, as long as everyone is healthy and doing well?

Heck, even if Beachy loses to Minor in the fifth starter’s competition, he could prove he belongs in the majors even before Teheran comes knocking. And then if Teheran shows he’s ready, the Braves are going to have to move someone to make room. That will only make the big league team stronger, if a starting pitcher is traded to help another position that might need strengthening.

Behind Teheran is Randall Delgado, a Panamanian pitcher many believe is just a step behind Teheran in estimated time of arrival and in talent. While Teheran might be an ace one day, Delgado might be a strong No. 3 starter. He’s bigger than Teheran, and Delgado has three big league pitches.

Next is Arodys Vizcaino, who was acquired from the New York Yankees in the Javier Vazquez trade in December 2009. Vizcaino has hit 101 mph on the radar gun in spring training, and while he’ll remain in the rotation to work on his pitches as he starts the year in High Single-A, the bullpen could be in his future with that blazing fastball.

And then there’s Carlos Perez, a 19-year-old who is the only left-hander of the bunch. Perez has wowed scouts all spring with his stuff. He’ll start out in Rome, but he may only be two years away.

There are a few others, like J.J. Hoover and Brett Oberholtzer, who need to be in the conversation, too. But the Braves big four is perhaps the best group of minor league pitching prospects in the game.

There may not be a Glavine, Maddux or Smoltz in this bunch, but there really doesn’t have to be for the Braves to stay successful. The old adage that you can never have too much pitching is something the Braves believe in, and it’s a big reason this team could be very good this year and for seasons to come.

Listen to The Bill Shanks Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM and online at www.foxsports1670.com.

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