Bill Shanks

Braves accumulating pitching depth in farm system

Lucas Sims of the Atlanta Braves.
Lucas Sims of the Atlanta Braves. AP

When a rebuilding process is going on, there are certain things a front office must do for it to be successful. Obviously, finding frontline talent is essential. To make an ordinary team great, you simply must have exceptional talent.

It’s also very important for a team to accumulate value in terms of talent. Quality is essential, but quantity is also crucial as a front office must have option at its disposal at all times. Therefore, you can also say that stockpiling prospects for roster flexibility is very important for getting a franchise back on track.

Developing talent that can go up directly to your team is only one of the functions of a farm system. Producing depth that can also be used in potential trades is also part of the process. Teams have to create trade bait for other teams to be interested in during trade talks.

Pitching is a great currency to have for a team looking to improve a roster and a farm system. When the Braves had Shelby Miller after last season, teams wondered if the Braves would move him. The Braves didn’t want to, but when they saw the demand for Miller it was a no-brainer.

The Braves were able to get a player who has been outstanding in Atlanta this season (Ender Inciarte), a potential face of the franchise for the next decade (Dansby Swanson) and a starting pitching prospect (Aaron Blair).

That’s why the Braves are going with pitching. Sure, some pitchers don’t make it. Some get hurt. Some fizzle out and don’t live up to their billing. But if you have a plentiful amount, it simply provides options.

So it’s not just about those top five pitching prospects. It’s about having as many solid starting pitching prospects as possible. The more, the better.

We’ve reviewed the season for the top five Atlanta starting pitching prospects, and now it’s time for the rest. It wasn’t just those five who excelled and finished strong. Others did, as well.

Patrick Weigel was perhaps the biggest surprise of the season in Atlanta’s farm system. He was Atlanta’s 7th round pick in the 2015 draft out of the University of Houston. Weigel spent most of the season in Rome (10-4, 2.51 ERA in 22 games) and then did even better in Mississippi (1-2, 2.18 ERA in three starts).

Overall, Weigel was 11-6 in 25 games (24 starts) with a 2.47 ERA, 101 hits in 149.2 innings, 41 earned runs, 55 walks and 152 strikeouts. The tall right-hander finished strong, with a 1.91 ERA in his last 11 games of the season, with 66 strikeouts in 66 innings pitched.

Expect Weigel to start next season back in Double-A Mississippi, but if he does well the 22-year-old might find himself in Atlanta.

Ricardo Sanchez was acquired from the Angels for Kyle Kubitza, who ironically is back in the Braves’ organization. Sanchez is still just 19 years old, and after pitching in 22 games in his first two pro seasons Sanchez pitched in 24 games (23 starts) this season.

His overall numbers: 7-10, 5.43 ERA, 119 hits allowed in 119.1 innings, 54 walks and 103 strikeouts. But like many of the pitching prospects, Sanchez finished strong. In his last eight games of the season, Sanchez was 2-3 with a 3.19 ERA, 44 hits allowed in 42.1 innings, 19 walks and 37 strikeouts.

Sanchez will turn 20 next April, as he’ll likely be starting in High-A for the Braves.

Lucas Sims had a tale of two seasons. He was great in Double-A with Mississippi (5-5. 2.67 ERA in 17 starts, but awful in Triple-A Gwinnett (2-6, 7.56 ERA in 11 games – 10 starts). After Sims went back to AA, he was even better – 6-3, 2.52 ERA, 51 hits allowed in 71.1 innings, 39 walks and 68 strikeouts.

The Braves are waiting on Sims to take that next step. It was good he returned to AA and had success, but it’s time for Sims to avoid any other hiccups and to get to the big leagues. He will turn 23 next May, so as Sims likely returns to Triple-A to start next season, the pressure will be on him to get to Atlanta sometime next season.

Sims has got to do better with his control. He had 92 walks in 141 regular season innings. Once he improves that, Sims has a chance to make it to Atlanta.

Max Povse is now 23 years old, and after an injury-plagued 2015 season the tall right-hander did well this season. He started in Carolina (3.71 ERA in 15 starts), but Povse actually did better in Double-A Mississippi (4-1, 2.93 ERA in 11 starts).

It’s good to see a pitcher do well at the next level. The Braves believe Povse can return to Double-A next season, but don’t be shocked if he’s a candidate if there is an opening in Atlanta.

Chris Ellis struggled when he went to the next level. After going 8-2 in 13 starts (2.75 ERA) in Double-A Mississippi, Ellis went 4-7 in 15 starts (6.52 ERA) in Triple-A. Overall, Ellis had a 12-9 record with a 4.49 ERA in 28 starts.

Ellis had two good games to end the season, as he pitched 13 scoreless innings and allowed just three hits, with four walks and 13 strikeouts.

Matt Withrow stood out among starting pitchers at High-A Carolina. Withrow finished the season with a 9-6 record and a 3.80 ERA in 25 games (24 starts). Withrow allowed 100 hits in 120.2 innings, with 68 walks and 131 strikeouts.

But like so many of the pitching prospects, Withrow finished the season strong. In his last 7 games, Withrow had an ERA of 1.59. He allowed six runs on 19 hits in 34 innings, with 19 walks and 45 strikeouts.

Withrow, who turns 23 this Friday, will likely be in the Double-A Mississippi rotation next season.

The Braves drafted four high school pitchers early in the June draft, and all four did very well in their first taste of pro ball.

Ian Anderson, the third overall pick, had a 2.04 ERA in 10 games. Anderson allowed 33 hits in 39.2 innings, with 12 walks and 36 strikeouts. Anderson doesn’t turn 19 until next May 2.

Joey Wentz, the 40th overall selection, posted a 3.68 ERA in 12 games. Wentz allowed 34 hits in 44 innings, with 25 walks and 53 strikeouts. Wentz turns 19 in three weeks on October 6.

Kyle Muller, the 44th overall selection, had an ERA of 0.65 in 10 games (nine starts). Muller allowed just 14 hits in 27.2 innings, with 12 walks and 38 strikeouts. Muller turns 19 the day after Wentz, on October 7.

Bryse Wilson, Atlanta’s 4th round pick, had an ERA of 0.68 in his nine games (six starts) for the GCL Braves. Wilson allowed just 16 hits in 26.2 innings, eight walks and 29 strikeouts. Wilson turns 19 in December.

So there are the next 10 starting pitching prospects for the Braves. More will undoubtedly be added next June with the draft, and more could emerge next season. The depth is impressive, and it will be interesting to see moving forward how the Braves use that depth to further strengthen the farm system and big league club.

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