Something happened Friday that showed the Atlanta Braves’ strategy of using pitchers to rebuild the organization is working. It was a move you might scoff at, but it was significant nonetheless.
Lucas Sims, Atlanta’s first-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Brookwood in Snellville, was demoted to Double-A Mississippi. He was replaced by Chris Ellis, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in the Andrelton Simmons trade in November.
It was more than just swapping pitching prospects at the two highest levels of the minor leagues. It was a sign the depth in the organization is getting closer to breaking through.
Sims has been a favorite son in the Atlanta organization. He’s an All-American local kid with good looks and good ability. You could just see him as a member of the Atlanta rotation one day, gloating about pitching for his hometown team in television ads promoting the next bobble-head giveaway.
But he has been inconsistent in his minor league career. Just when you think he’s ready to turn a corner, Sims will take a huge step back. This season, Sims started in Double-A and had a 1.84 ERA in his first three games. Sims had 26 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings, and the Braves believed he was ready for the next level.
Unfortunately, Sims failed miserably in Triple-A Gwinnett. He was 2-6 with a 7.56 ERA, with 37 walks in 50 innings.
This was a pitcher the Braves believed might be in the Atlanta rotation in the second half of the season. Instead, Sims is headed back to the Southern League.
Ellis was the “other” pitcher in the Simmons’ deal. Sean Newcomb, a former first-round pick for the Angels, immediately became Atlanta’s top pitching prospect after he was acquired in the trade from the Angels. Newcomb has done well, but Ellis has been tremendous.
The former Mississippi Rebels pitcher was 8-2 in his 13 starts for the Mississippi Braves. Ellis had a 2.75 ERA and allowed just 54 hits in 78 2/3 innings. He dominated Double-A, so it made perfect sense to send up the minor league ladder.
Ellis is still projected as a potential middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. But he has now passed Sims in the pecking order. Now it’s Ellis who might find himself in Atlanta’s rotation before the season ends in early October.
The Braves are not giving up on Sims. Instead, they’ll work even harder with him to get him back on track. But this move shows what can happen when teams have pitching depth. Let’s say the Braves weren’t loaded with good pitching prospects. For a highly rated prospect like Sims to fail, it is a major problem in the organization — unless there is someone there ready to, in effect, take his place.
Maybe Ellis will take Sims’ place, and maybe he won’t. But this proves what competition can do. The Braves may have believed all along Sims was going to be used as trade bait. Perhaps he was someone they thought would have better value in a potential deal than as a member of the rotation. But now, his value is diminished. So if they need someone like that for a trade, maybe Ellis becomes that piece.
Not all pitching prospects are going to make it. They say teams need 10 to get one to the big leagues. And that’s why the Braves have loaded up with as many as possible — in trades and in the draft.
This move also shows other prospects that if they don’t get the job done, they’ll be passed over by someone else who is doing better. That’s great incentive to do well and not let anyone get in the way of their ultimate goal.
Let’s hope Sims figures things out, but for now the spotlight turns to Ellis. He might fall in line with Aaron Blair and John Gant as rookie pitchers for the Braves this season. And if not, someone else may pass him along the way. That’s what pitching depth can do to help an organization get better.
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