One year after after securing the NL East title the Atlanta Braves enter Spring Training with the unenviable task of whittling down their pitching staff to five starters. A few players are all but assured of a spot, but there are decisions to be made at the back of the rotation. With a farm system full of highly rated pitching prospects, the “problem” may become an annual event.
2019 Atlanta Braves Rotation
Mike Foltynewicz took a step forward last season and figures to be the Opening Day starter this year. The right hander earned thirteen wins and struck out over 200 batters in 2018. The breakout season earned Foltynewicz his first All-Star selection.
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Foltynewicz proved to be a particularly valuable commodity in division games, going 9-4 against the NL East. His success and experience will be important in what figures to be a competitive division.
Kevin Gausman, Sean Newcomb Locked In
Righty Kevin Gausman and lefty Sean Newcomb are the most likely candidates to fill the next two rotation spots. After spending his first five seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Gausman joined the Braves after a July trade. After the trade, he went 5-3 down the stretch. He has yet to live up to the high expectations of being a top-five pick in 2012, but he is a solid middle of the rotation starter.
Newcomb showed promise last season, going 12-9 with a 3.90 ERA. He dominated at times, and in late July was one out from completing a no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 134-pitch effort took its toll as Newcomb faded down the stretch. In the final two months, he labored to a 4-6 record. Atlanta will be looking to Newcomb to make strides forward in his third big league season.
Despite only being 28-years-old, it feels like Julio Teheran has been around for decades. Teheran is a two-time All-Star, but his star has faded in favor of some of the Braves younger prospects. Last season, when the Braves took on the Dodgers in the playoffs, Teheran only saw action out of the bullpen.
Much was made of his struggles in 2017 at Sun Trust Park where he struggled to a 3-10 record. He rebounded last year, going 4-3 when pitching at home. Teheran was a candidate to be traded this off-season, but to this point there have been no takers on his $11 million salary. Next season he is due $12 million on a club option, making him a possibility to be traded in season as part of a salary dumping move. His 2020 option can be bought out at just $1 million. His future with the Braves will be an interesting story line to follow.
While the first four spots appear to be settled, the fifth spot could legitimately be filled by one of four other pitchers. Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, Mike Soroka, and even Luiz Gohara all will be competing for the final spot. There is a good chance that the Braves adjust their rotation with the schedule and utilize each of these candidates throughout the season. Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright, and Kolby Allard are due to get a look too if there are injuries.
Toussaint was electric at times for the Braves and probably has the early edge to make the rotation. He went 4-3 with a 3.88 ERA in limited action in 2018. The 22-year-old right hander was impressive enough to make the postseason roster. He made two scoreless relief appearances, and earned a win to cap off his rookie campaign.
During his time in the majors, Fried has worked both as a starter and reliever. He has the makeup of a starter, but the crowded rotation may relegate him to the bullpen for the foreseeable future.
Soroka is yet another highly touted, former first-round pick to make his MLB debut in 2018. He made five starts, going 2-1 before being sidelined with a shoulder injury in mid-June. The Braves eventually elected to play it safe and shut Soroka down for the year. Soroka has top of the rotation skills and the team was right in being cautious with his long-term health. He is still only 21-years-old. If he does not crack the rotation this season, he will certainly be a mainstay for years to come.
Gohara is an intriguing wild card. He showed high upside in 2017, but regressed last season. Personal issues slowed his progression, resulting in him spending virtually all of 2018 in the minors. Reports out of spring training say he has lost weight and rededicated himself to baseball. A return to his 2017 form would give the Braves another starting option or bolster their bullpen.
The Braves are looking to build on the success they enjoyed last season. Their young pitching nucleus has them positioned to compete for championships this season and beyond.
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