The ability to develop a quality major league starting pitcher is not easy. Just ask the Atlanta Braves. You could argue it has been 12 years since the Braves developed a starting pitcher from its own farm system who made a significant difference in the Atlanta rotation.
Kevin Millwood spent five-and-a-half seasons with the Braves before being traded to Philadelphia. Now with Texas, Millwood has 150 career major league wins, half of those coming with the Braves.
Jason Marquis is probably the second most successful pitcher from the Atlanta system in the past decade. He has 88 career wins but only 14 with the Braves. Many of the top pitching prospects from this decade, like Adam Wainwright and Dan Meyer, were used in trades to keep the franchise’s championship run alive.
Some of the prospects did not pan out. Bruce Chen, Jose Capellan and Kyle Davies were disappointments. And Jo Jo Reyes and Charlie Morton never seemed to turn the corner.
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But the Braves might have hit pay dirt with Tommy Hanson.
If you were to draw up the characteristics you’d want in a great pitching prospect, Hanson would fit the bill. He has great size, great stuff, a dominating fastball and exceptional makeup.
We saw that Sunday. Hanson was sick with the flu but still running a fever as late as Sunday morning. He even told his roommate, Kris Medlen, to be ready to go in case he had to come in early or even take over as the starter. And all Hanson did was go out and shut out the mighty Boston Red Sox for six innings.
What other rookie pitcher can do that? He had the flu, for crying out loud, and despite the mid-90s temperatures, he shut out the Red Sox.
The fact that Hanson didn’t give up a run against Boston or last week against the New York Yankees is impressive. The fact that Hanson hasn’t given up a run in his past 20 innings is remarkable. But what’s amazing is this 22-year-old kid is now 4-0 with a 2.48 ERA, and he really hasn’t had a dominating start yet.
Hanson does what he has to do to win. Even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, Hanson is able to get people out. He did it in Baltimore, when he struggled, but got out of trouble and allowed only two runs in 5-2/3 innings. He did it Sunday, when he was trying to survive the heat and humidity. He has that intangible that makes great pitchers great.
That’s what’s so scary about this kid. Hanson doesn’t just have the stuff to be a good pitcher. He has everything you’d want in an ace. I’m always leery of labeling a young pitcher a potential ace, since it’s so hard to live up to those expectations. But didn’t Sunday show you why it’s almost silly to not wonder how special Hanson might be?
Aces don’t grow on trees. They do not pop up often. Our definition of an ace may be distorted since the Braves had three future Hall of Famers as aces in their rotation for so many years. But for the first time in years, the farm system may be ready to produce a potential ace pitcher.
Hanson has been dominant since his school. When the Braves drafted him in 2004 and then signed him out of a California junior college the year later, they believed they had something special. As he developed more in the minor leagues and put up a 2.46 ERA in 399 innings, it became obvious Hanson was more than just another prospect.
The Braves have an outstanding starting rotation this season. Jair Jurrjens and Javier Vazquez do not have a winning record, but they’ve been exceptional. Kenshin Kawakami is coming around after a shaky start, and despite his past three starts, Derek Lowe is a very dependable veteran arm.
But their newest pitcher, their so-called fifth starter, might actually be their best.
That’s why Chipper Jones compared Hanson to Roy Halladay on Sunday. And that’s why scouts believe the Braves have finally found their new ace.
By the way, now you know why the Braves didn’t shed any tears when they released Tom Glavine a few weeks ago. They had a pretty good replacement ready to go in Hanson.
The Bill Shanks Show airs weekdays from 3-6 pm on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 and online at www.foxsports1670.com