Bill Shanks

Braves pitching prospects shined in 2016

Atlanta Braves assistant general manager and director of pro scouting John Coppolella talks on the phone in the dugout.
Atlanta Braves assistant general manager and director of pro scouting John Coppolella talks on the phone in the dugout. AP

The Atlanta Braves are rebuilding with pitching at the forefront of the process. The front office, led by general manager John Coppolella, simply believes the way the Braves rebuilt the organization in the late-1980s will work again in the late-2010s and into the 2020s.

There’s no guarantee the Braves will develop a Hall of Famer or two, as they did with Tom Glavine and John Smoltz the last time they went through this process. But there is no doubt the Braves are stockpiling tremendous young pitching prospects.

It’s not just that several had good seasons. The biggest storyline of the season is that the young arms finished strong. Instead of wearing down, as some young pitchers will do over the course of a long season, these kids have gotten better.

Let’s take a look at how the Braves’ top five pitching prospects did in 2016, especially down the stretch.

Max Fried is now Atlanta’s No. 1 pitching prospect. He was acquired from the Padres in the Justin Upton trade, and the only reason San Diego gave Fried up was that he had Tommy John surgery several months earlier. Now recovered, Fried is reminding everyone why he was the top high school pitcher selected in the 2012 draft.

The Braves wanted to take it easy with Fried this season in his first full year back from the elbow operation. Fried had a blister problem on two occasions over the summer which helped contain his innings naturally, compared to having the Braves shut him down for the end of the season.

Fried had a 3.93 earned run average in 21 regular-season games (20 starts). He allowed 87 hits in 103 innings, with 112 strikeouts. Then in two postseason games, Fried allowed just two runs on seven hits in 14.2 innings, with four walks and 24 strikeouts.

The most impressive numbers for Fried are what he did later in the season (including postseason):

Last 13 games: 8-3, 2.47 ERA, 51 hits allowed in 69.1 innings – 19 earned runs, 23 walks & 96 strikeouts

Last 5 games: 3-1, 2.88 ERA, 22 hits allowed in 31.1 innings – 10 earned runs, 9 walks & 50 strikeouts

Fried turns 23 in January. The Braves might push Fried to Double-A Mississippi to start the 2017 season, and he might be only a year away from making it to Atlanta.

Kolby Allard was the first high school pitcher selected in the 2015 draft, and the Braves are thrilled with what he accomplished this season. He was handled carefully, as Allard had a back procedure last year after he was drafted. But his numbers indicate how special a prospect he is for the Braves.

Allard pitched in Danville and Rome. In his 16 regular season starts, Allard had a 2.98 ERA, with 72 hits allowed in 87.2 innings, 29 earned runs, 25 walks and 95. Then in two playoff games, Allard did not allow an earned run in 12 innings, with 3 walks and 10 strikeouts.

Here’s what Allard did in his final eight games of the season (including postseason):

6-0, 1.64 ERA, 38 hits in 49.1 innings, nine earned runs, 14 walks and 51 strikeouts.

Allard just turned 19 on August 13.

Sean Newcomb was the biggest piece of the Andrelton Simmons trade with the Angels. He had his ups and downs in his first season with the Braves, but Newcomb’s overall numbers for the season were solid.

Newcomb made 27 regular season starts and had an ERA of 3.86. He allowed 113 hits in 140 innings, 60 earned runs, 71 walks and 152 strikeouts. Obviously, the walk totals must improve, but there’s no doubt Newcomb has great potential.

In Newcomb’s last 11 starts of the season (including two in the postseason), he showed why most analysts view him as one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in the game:

4-1, 2.30 ERA, 42 hits allowed in 62.2 innings, 16 earned runs, 30 walks and 71 strikeouts.

Newcomb will likely start next season in Triple-A Gwinnett, but he could make it to Atlanta before his 24th birthday next June 12.

Touki Toussaint made great progress in his first full season in the Atlanta organization. Acquired from the Diamondbacks in that strange Bronson Arroyo purchase, Toussaint made 27 appearances (24 starts) for Rome and had an ERA of 3.88 with 105 hits allowed in 132.1 innings, 57 earned runs, 71 walks and 128 strikeouts.

Again, the walk numbers were too high. But progress was made by Toussaint down the stretch. In his last seven games (including one postseason game), Toussaint was 2-0 with a 1.49 ERA, 24 hits allowed in 36.1 innings, six earned runs, only 14 walks and 40 strikeouts.

The 20-year-old Toussaint will start next season with Atlanta’s new Florida State League team in Kissimmee, but don’t be shocked if he finishes next year in Double-A Mississippi.

Mike Soroka just turned 19 years old last month, but in his first full professional season he looked more like a seasoned veteran. Soroka had 25 games (24 starts) in Rome this season. He was 9-9 with a 3.02 ERA, 130 hits allowed in 143 innings, 48 earned runs, 32 walks and 125 strikeouts.

But look what the kid down the stretch in his last 11 games (including two postseason games):

8-1, 2.30 ERA, 63 hits allowed in 69.2 innings, 16 earned runs, 14 walks and 56 strikeouts.

Soroka will likely join Toussaint in the FSL next season.

That’s just Atlanta’s top five pitching prospects. There are more, many more (including the top three draft picks from June), who not only did well this season but were strong down the stretch. We’ll feature those prospects in our next article.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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