Bill Shanks

If the Braves go young, what will that look like?

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Sean Newcomb has made four starts in the major leagues.
Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Sean Newcomb has made four starts in the major leagues. AP

There are a lot of rumors going around about the Atlanta Braves being interested in a starting pitcher. Oakland’s Sonny Gray, Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer and Jose Quintana of the Chicago White Sox are the three most mentioned.

It makes sense. The Braves have two veterans in the rotation who are not for the long-term. R.A. Dickey could return next year as the Braves have an option on his contract. Jaime Garcia likely will be traded before the July 31 deadline, as he’s a pending free agent.

When Dickey and Garcia leave, the Braves are left with Julio Teheran, who is just 26 years old, as the only real experienced pitcher in the rotation. Mike Foltynewicz is 25, and he has just 52 career starts. Sean Newcomb just turned 24, and he has made only four career starts.

Get a pitcher near Teheran’s age range, with experience, and that would only make Atlanta’s rotation better, one might believe.

But here’s a question. What if the Braves didn’t go after that type of pitcher? What if the Braves didn’t make a major trade, giving up tons of talent? What if they just went with what they have in the farm system and took a shot at it with their homegrown talent?

We know that the Braves farm system will take a major hit with any major trade. Opposing teams know the Braves have great talent and great depth, so they’ll want to feast on the Braves top-rated farm system. A major trade for a pitcher will likely make us cringe, as it will cost a lot.

For example, we can only assume that the cost for Gray, Archer or Quintana would include one of the major pitching prospects (Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard or Ian Anderson?), a major position player prospect (Ozzie Albies or Ronald Acuna?) and additional prospects. Are you ready for the Braves to give that much up for a player?

So, what if they didn’t make that sort of trade? Now, let’s not shortchange general manager John Coppolella. Could he swing a trade for one of those three and it not hurt so much, one that wouldn’t include those five major prospects? Well, perhaps. More than likely, however, it would cost a lot.

Let’s assume the Braves don’t make a major trade for a veteran. They may be able to bring in a free agent pitcher, one that has some experience who wouldn’t cost a fortune. But let’s see what the Braves may look like if they didn’t bring in a veteran starting pitcher.

Teheran, Foltynewicz and Newcomb could make up 60 percent of the rotation for next season, so the Braves would need two more starters. Let’s mention Kris Medlen as a possibility. He’s coming back from shoulder issues, and it’s unclear as to how he’s going to do when he returns. But it’s dangerous to count Medlen out.

Don’t forget about Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair. It’s true that they’re not tearing up Triple-A this season, but they are still young and could still turn it around. Wisler has been better in the past month, so there is still hope.

Lucas Sims could get a chance this summer, particularly if Garcia is traded away. Sims is just so inconsistent, but there were questions about that with Newcomb before he was promoted. Maybe Sims just needs a chance to show us what he could do in the big leagues before we form a conclusion.

Then there are the two young stars in Double-A — Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard. They were both challenged and sent to Mississippi as 19-year-olds. Some scoffed when the Braves did it, but Soroka (2.23 ERA) and Allard (3.05 ERA) have exceeded all expectations. Now, it’s just a matter of when these two will be ready.

If the Braves feel both Soroka and Allard could be ready in 2018, when they are just 21 years old, then if these two are special they must ask themselves if they really need to go get anyone else. Are these two pitchers worth waiting for if they are that special?

Let’s not leave out Max Fried and Luiz Gohara, also both at Double-A Mississippi. While Fried has struggled this season (6.69 ERA), the Braves still believe in his potential. He’s a bit older at 23 years old. Gohara (2.45) has been outstanding in his first season with the Braves, and he turns 21 in a few weeks.

That’s a lot of candidates who could be options for the 2018 rotation. Yes, it’s a lot of youth, but it’s talented pitchers. Again, we’re only looking for two starters, if we assume Teheran, Foltynewicz and Newcomb are locked into three rotations spots.

So that gives the Braves Medlen, Wisler, Blair, Sims, Soroka, Allard, Fried and Gohara as options. That’s eight pitchers. Could two of them fill out the rotation for 2018?

Plus, let’s not forget about Kyle Wright, the first-round pick last month. If he does well the rest of this season, Wright will likely be in the conversation for 2018 — at least at some point. If Wright follows the same path as Mike Minor and Alex Wood, two other former college pitchers the Braves drafted with a high pick, he could be in the rotation late next season.

Would the Braves go with that much young pitching? Admittedly, there is a greater likelihood they’d want a veteran — maybe not as old as Bartolo Colon or Dickey — but someone who could provide a little experience. They did it in 1990 when they brought in Charlie Liebrandt to compliment Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and others.

But how good could a rotation of Teheran, Foltynewicz, Newcomb, Wisler and Soroka be to start next year, with Allard, Gohara and Fried waiting in the wings and possibly Wright, as well? We might feel better about that answer if we see Foltynewicz and Newcomb do well the rest of the year in Atlanta.

What about the lineup? Well, the Braves have Matt Kemp, Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis all under contract for next season. Also, Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson will return, and catcher Tyler Flowers will likely have his option picked up. That’s six of the eight spots likely tied up.

If Albies is not included in a trade, it’s likely he will take over at second base for Brandon Phillips. Albies has returned to Triple-A Gwinnett and is doing very well. The Braves also have Johan Camargo as another option for second base, and Travis Demeritte should go up to Triple-A next season. Second base should be in good hands.

Third base is another issue. The assumption is Matt Adams will be traded and Freeman will return to first base. Rio Ruiz is an option, as well as Camargo. At some point, the Braves are going to need to decide on Ruiz. Is he a potential starter, or not? Camargo has opened eyes, but his lack of power may keep him from being an answer as a starter at third base. Austin Riley should be in Double-A next year, so he’s getting closer.

Is the lineup good enough with Inciarte, Swanson, Freeman, Kemp, Markakis, Flowers, Ruiz and Albies? And remember, Acuna could be ready sometime next season to add another big bat to the lineup.

What if Albies and Acuna make the lineup — one that is producing well right now — even better? Would there not be a need for another bat if they are the real deal?

Let’s not bury the lead here. If Atlanta’s farm system is so deep and talented, and if these prospects are really that good, what if the Braves just trusted them instead of trading them away for veterans? If they are that special, why not go with them?

Coppolella’s aggressive approach in his first two-plus years on the job as GM makes us realize standing pat is unlikely. But it is interesting to wonder if the options the Braves need to become a better team are already in the organization. Can Coppy and the Braves be patient enough to give it a try, or will the temptation to acquire veterans be too much to pass up?

The Braves have the best farm system in baseball for a reason. The tide is turning now, however, for this team to be a winner. Can they do it with more young players, or will they gamble some of those young prospects can get veterans who can make the Braves a winner?

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