Braves have struggled at developing starting pitchers... until now

Macon TelegraphApril 18, 2014 

Julio Teheran and Alex Wood were born 15 days apart. They were infants when the Braves started their remarkable season in 1991. Now Teheran and Wood are both 23 years old, and they could be on their way to being the best young starting pitchers the Braves have developed in a long time.

Teheran as emerged as Atlanta’s new ace, especially after the loss of Kris Medlen to another elbow surgery. He’s 2-1 this season with a 1.93 earned run average after his remarkable start Wednesday night against the Phillies. Teheran now has a 17-10 record and a 3.27 ERA in his 41 games (38 starts) for the Braves.

Wood had another great start Thursday afternoon but took the loss in Philadelphia. He now has a 1.67 ERA this season and his career mark is now 2.75 (and a 2.92 ERA as a starter). Wood has started 15 of his 35 games in the majors, but there’s little doubt he’s found his role now with the Braves.

Teheran and Wood are pretty much carrying their great spring trainings into the first month of the regular season. Teheran had a 1.80 ERA in his six March starts, while Wood was even better with a 0.45 ERA in his five appearances.

When Mike Minor gets back from his shoulder issue later this month, the Braves will actually have three very good young pitchers that will be the cornerstone of the rotation for years to come. Minor is a little over three years older than Teheran and Wood, and he has more experience in the major leagues.

But his numbers are pretty impressive overall. Minor has a 32-24 record in 86 games (85 starts) and a 3.90 ERA.

It’s a shame Medlen is not currently on the roster, since he would only compliment the other young pitchers. Of course, at 28 years old Medlen is a little older than the others. One issue with Medlen is that he’s pretty much split his time between the rotation and the bullpen, but he’s been successful in both roles.

As a starter, Medlen has a 30-13 record and a 2.96 ERA, while as a reliever in 91 games he’s posted a 2.92 ERA. Overall, Medlen’s ERA is 2.95 in his major league career.

But for all the accolades the Braves have received over the years for their great pitching, the truth is the team has struggled up until now developing young starting pitching talent. In fact, a study into the pitchers that were developed in the farm system finds a very low number that have achieved success.

Kevin Millwood, who came up in 1997, is the benchmark pitcher. He joined the heralded rotation that included three future Hall of Famers: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Millwood went 75-46 until he left the Braves after the 2002 season. He had a 3.73 earned run average with the Braves.

Before the current group, you’d probably pick Tommy Hanson as the most successful homegrown starting pitcher since Millwood. In fact, Hanson is the only pitcher in Atlanta’s history that has had double-digit win totals in his first four seasons in the major leagues. Hanson had a 45-32 record in his four seasons with the Braves and a 3.61 ERA.

But in between Millwood and Hanson, it’s really slim pickings. We’ll start at the beginning of the century, when lefty Odalis Perez came up with the Braves as a 20-year-old. He went 11-15 in parts of three seasons with Atlanta and had a 5.38 ERA.

Lefty Bruce Chen was a minor league teammate of Perez, and he was considered Atlanta’s top prospect for several years by Baseball America. But Chen started only 11 of 42 games for the Braves and was 8-2 with a 4.14 ERA before he was traded to the Phillies for Andy Ashby right after the All-Star Break in 2000.

Horacio Ramirez came up in 2003 and was the de facto replacement for Glavine, who had left for the Mets over the offseason. Ramirez was 30-22 in his four seasons with the Braves but had a 4.13 ERA.

In 2005 two young pitchers came up for their debut. Kyle Davies spent parts of three seasons in Atlanta. He was 14-21 with a 6.15 ERA. Chuck James fared a bit better, going 24-19 but with a 4.48 ERA in parts of four seasons with the Braves.

Jo Jo Reyes was a highly rated prospect, but he went 5-15 with a 6.40 ERA in parts of four seasons in Atlanta. We won’t spend much time mentioning short-timers in the Atlanta rotation like Jose Capellan and Anthony Lerew.

You may think Jair Jurrjens belongs on this list somewhere, but remember he was with Detroit in the minor leagues, and we’re focusing on pitchers developed by the Braves.

There are two pitchers that should be mentioned, even though it’ll hurt a bit considering how good they are now.

Charlie Morton struggled when he came up with the Braves in 2008. The tall right-hander had a 4-8 record and a 6.15 ERA in his 16 games (15 starts) with Atlanta. Morton has found success with the Pirates.

And let’s just don’t think about Adam Wainwright. He was developed in the Atlanta system before he was traded to St. Louis in the J.D. Drew trade. Wainwright only got to Double-A with the Braves, but he’s won 102 games with the Cardinals in parts of nine seasons.

Morton and Wainwright, who have very similar styles and have even been compared to one another, are into their 30s now. They would have looked good in the Atlanta rotation at some point if they had not been traded.

Have the Braves finally found their new group of “Young Guns?” It might not be Glavine, Smoltz, Peter Smith and Derek Lilliquist, the group made famous by the poster in the late-1980s. But perhaps they should dress Teheran, Wood and Minor up in western clothes as they did with the first group. They may be on their way to being the best group of young starting pitchers the Braves have developed in a long time.

 

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 thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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