So how good will the Braves be if Julio Teheran, penciled in as the team’s fifth starter, realizes his potential and becomes a great starting pitcher?
Teheran has been Atlanta’s top prospect, according to Baseball America, for three years in a row now. He doesn’t have to go back to Triple-A. That’s over. This is his time to let all of us see what the fuss has been about the last few years.
In 2008, Teheran was in his first spring training. He had just been signed to an $850,000 contract out of Columbia. Everybody was buzzing about this 17-year-old kid. I had a scout tell me that spring that if Teheran had been in the MLB draft that June, he might have been the top overall pick.
He had that much potential.
I watched Teheran as he threw his first official bullpen session that spring. It was in front of every top Atlanta official you could find in the media guide. Every pitching coach in the farm system walked over to watch to see how good the kid was going to do.
There was no doubt, for a 17-year-old, Teheran had something special. He had a swagger that was not offensive. Instead, it added to the package. He had that, along with a fastball that sailed out of his right arm and Bugs Bunny breaking stuff that most 17-year-olds just don’t have.
Before Teheran’s last pitch of the session, one of the coaches told him in Spanish to “let it fly.” So Teheran reached back and simply flung the ball with authority. It just zoomed out of his arm like a rocket. Then he pranced off the mound like he was saying, “OK, you asked for it, you got it. Pretty impressive, huh?”
But again, it wasn’t cocky. It wasn’t like you wanted to strangle some stuck up hot shot from high school who thought he was the big man on campus. It just added to the mystique of why there was no doubt the Braves had hit gold with Teheran as a prospect.
Then his rapid ascent up the minor league ladder hit a speed bump last year. Teheran had to go back to Triple-A for a second season. No prospect likes to go back to Triple-A for a second season, and particularly one that had won 15 games in his first try at the International League.
Could that have been part of the reason Teheran had a 5.08 ERA and struggled in 2012?
Sure. Maybe. Possibly.
The Braves did want Teheran to work more on refining his breaking ball. They wanted him to work on keeping the ball down, since that had been an issue when he had gotten a chance in the majors. And they wanted to smooth out a delivery that could be violent at times.
That extra work needs to pay off now. Teheran was impressive in winter ball, even making his major league manager, Fredi Gonzalez, realize why he’s been a top prospect for several years. And so far, so good in spring training. Teheran has allowed only one run in five innings, with one walk and seven strikeouts.
There’s such a fine line with prospects. They can make you think they’re going to be a star, and then in a span of less than a year, they can make you throw out that “Quad-A” term.
Teheran has always had stardom written all over him. He was untouchable on the trade front. A team couldn’t even mention his name in trade talks with general manager Frank Wren, who compared Teheran to Pedro Martinez.
Wren was right to make such a lofty comparison. You just don’t see a young kid in his teens have the complete package Teheran had when he first signed. The stuff, the makeup, the athleticism – it was all there to make anyone believe the Braves had a special prospect.
So what if Teheran has gotten back on track and will perform like we all expected him to a few years ago?
Well, the Braves first four is pretty good. We know Tim Hudson is the dependable veteran of the group. Kris Medlen is the rotation’s new star. Mike Minor is not far behind, and most believe those two are the core of the starting staff. Paul Maholm is the solid veteran that every team hopes to have as a fourth starter.
But Teheran could make so much of a difference on this team. If he succeeds, and especially if he pitches like he was once projected to, the Braves could have a very special season. The rotation could match the lineup as being one of the best in the game, and Atlanta could be even more of a threat to the Nationals, who already own a very deep starting five.
If he fails, it won’t be a catastrophe. The Braves will have Sean Gilmartin at Triple-A. They’ll have J.R. Graham, who some believe may have even passed Teheran as a top prospect, knocking on the door as well. And Brandon Beachy will be expected back from elbow surgery in midseason.
Teheran has a chance to star now. He’s finished with his minor league apprenticeship. It’s time for the prospect to become a dependable major league player. And if Teheran can do that, the Braves could be a very dangerous team in 2013.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.