Bill Shanks

Braves rotation may be a work in progress with young pitchers

Atlanta Braves pitcher Julio Teheran's efforts were instrumental in the Braves setting a new modern-era record for the franchise
Atlanta Braves pitcher Julio Teheran's efforts were instrumental in the Braves setting a new modern-era record for the franchise AP

Every March there is a lot of intrigue on who will make a baseball team’s opening day roster. For the Braves, that’s wasted energy. The Atlanta roster will evolve throughout the season, especially with the pitching staff.

The Braves sent a bunch of young pitchers back to minor league camp Friday, but they’ll be back. With pitching at the forefront of the rebuild, we are starting to see the talent bubble up to the surface, and it just might cause a traffic jam-like fight for rotation spots all season long.

Before we start giving jobs to kids who can’t even have a beer yet, let’s realize the favorites to win spots in Atlanta’s rotation are doing well so far. Neither Julio Teheran or Mike Foltynewicz have allowed a run in their combined 18 innings of work. Both will be counted on to lead the rotation.

Teheran must do better at SunTrust Park, where he was a batting practice pitcher a year ago. And it’s time for Foltynewicz to finally live up to his potential. If not, Foltynewicz could find himself in the bullpen with his great fastball.

Brandon McCarthy has given up only one run in 6.2 innings, and Sean Newcomb has allowed three runs in six frames so far. They should be the third and fourth starters.

The fifth starter’s job is up for grabs with the injuries to Luiz Gohara. He first had a groin injury and now an ankle issue is holding him back. Gohara is a big kid, compared to C.C. Sabathia, but his girth might make him injury-prone in his career.

Until Gohara is ready, veteran Scott Kazmir might get a few starts. Kazmir missed last season with hip and other injuries. Kazmir’s velocity is not what it once was, but he’s showing he might be able to be an effective fifth starter for a short while.

There will be others knocking on the door. Max Fried started four games in Atlanta last season, but he likely needs a little time in Triple-A. The Braves believe Fried can be a starting pitcher at some point this season. He’s got a great curveball and a fastball that can touch 94 mph.

Matt Wisler might get another chance. He’s not allowed an earned run so far in seven innings at spring training. Lucas Sims and Aaron Blair are also around wanting another shot.

There are three young pitchers to keep an eye on all season. Let’s start with Mike Soroka. I admit I’m prone to getting a little excited about young starting pitchers. But I’m not afraid to suggest you should get excited about this tall Canadian right-hander. I think he’s going to be a star.

Soroka was a first-round pick three years ago. He’s still just 20 years old, but so was Steve Avery 28 years ago when he made his MLB debut for the Braves. Soroka wowed coaches and scouts in big league camp with his professional demeanor and outstanding stuff. He also came to Florida with an improved fastball, showing he’s growing into his 6-5, 225-pound frame.

Some believe Soroka could be Atlanta’s best starter on opening day. Yes, there are others who are even more positive about Soroka than I am. Soroka’s three appearances in the Grapefruit League only made coaches and scouts predict when he’ll debut in Atlanta this summer. It’s not a matter of if, but when Soroka will knock someone out and be near the top of Atlanta’s rotation.

Kyle Wright and Kolby Allard may be a tad behind Soroka, but not by much. Wright was the first round pick last June, while Allard had that honor three years ago. They are both considered top 100 prospects in baseball by every publication.

There are others behind them, like Touki Toussaint, Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz and Bryse Wilson. They’ll have more time to develop and simply wait in line for now.

When these kids get to Atlanta, patience will still be required. But a team that had the fifth-worst ERA by starting pitchers in the National League last year has a chance to be much better. And we’ve seen before how an improved starting rotation can make a rebuild look like it’s working to perfection.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 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.

  Comments