Bill Shanks

Braves have tremendous talent in Rome

Telegraph columnist Bill Shanks.
Telegraph columnist Bill Shanks. bcabell@macon.com

The 1997 Macon Braves had one heck of a starting rotation. The group of Bruce Chen, Jason Marquis, Rob Bell, Jason Shiell and Jimmy Osting had a combined record of 52-32, which was very good for young pitchers in Low-A.

Four of the five pitchers were 20 years old, while Marquis was only 18. They also had a sixth pitcher who was a long reliever. Odalis Perez did not make a start that season, but in 36 games he pitched 87 1/3 innings and had 100 strikeouts.

Those six pitchers went on to pretty good success in the majors. They won 315 games and lost 322, and while that’s a losing record it’s still unusual to have a group of pitchers that were together in A-ball go on to achieve more than 300 combined wins.

It’s always good when an organization can group together legit prospects, and the Braves have done just that with the five members of the Rome rotation in Low-A. All five don’t have great stats, but all five have great stuff and great potential. The numbers, the success will come. At least that’s the hope.

Patrick Weigel is 22 years old. He was a seventh-round pick last year out of the University of Houston. Weigel is a 6-foot-6 power pitcher with a fastball that can range from 92-99 miles per hour. He also has a power slider that has been very impressive.

Max Fried is also 22. He came over from the San Diego Padres in the Justin Upton trade, and he’s just getting back on the mound after missing almost two years from Tommy John surgery. Fried is a lefty who has been clocked at 97 mph with his fastball and also has a great curveball.

Touki Toussaint turns 20 next month. He was Arizona’s first-round pick two years ago and traded to the Braves last summer. Toussaint can touch 95 mph on his fastball and has one of the best curveballs you’ll ever see. Toussaint has a 2.57 ERA in his past four starts and might be turning a corner.

Ricardo Sanchez just turned 19 last month. The lefty was the Los Angeles Angels’ second-best prospect when he was traded to the Braves last year. Sanchez can touch 94 mph with his fastball and has a plus changeup. The Braves love the life on Sanchez’ pitches and think he has great potential.

Mike Soroka is still just 18 years old, but he has dominated the South Atlantic League so far. Last year’s second first-round pick for the Braves out of Canada has an ERA of 2.32 in his first eight starts. He’s a mature, humble kid who got great experience playing all over the world for Team Canada.

These five kids are learning. They are trying to find consistency right now. They are trying to repeat their deliveries and make the adjustments young pitchers must make as hitters learn more how to hit them. It’s almost like a daily teaching experience to learn more about what they’ll have to do to succeed at the next level.

Dan Meyer is Rome’s pitching coach. A little more than a decade ago, Meyer was in these kids’ shoes, as one of Atlanta’s top prospects. He was the big piece in the trade for Atlanta to get Tim Hudson from Oakland, and Meyer went on to have a good career as mainly a lefty reliever for the Florida (now Miami) Marlins. Meyer knows minor league pitchers have ups and downs; he went through it himself. He’s the perfect person to be in charge of the young talent in Rome.

These are the kids to watch. The Braves are making progress with Matt Wisler and Mike Foltynewicz at the big league level and many others in the upper levels of the minors. These young arms are what will eventually get Atlanta out of the abyss it’s in now.

The Braves can only hope this group can turn out to be as successful as the one in Macon many years ago. Oh, by the way, as a side note: The 1997 Braves were managed by none other than Brian Snitker. Whatever happened to him?

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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