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Atlanta Braves 2018 Minor League Review: Starting Pitchers

It’s time for our annual position by position look at how the prospects in the system at a given position fared in 2018. We began with catcher and continue through each infield position, the outfield as a whole, lefty and right handed starters, and relievers as a whole in the coming weeks. This week is a look at the outfielders in the organization.

To be eligible for a mention, a player had to be a prospect at the start of the season, in terms of rookie eligibility. So for example you will see Ronald Acuña Jr. listed with the outfielders because he is a rookie, but Ozzie Albies won’t be listed as he used up his rookie eligibility last year.

Prospects are listed in alphabetical order based on the highest level they achieved in 2018- so a guy who appeared at four levels this year like Bryse Wilson, would be found under the MLB section.

MLB

Kolby Allard – Kolby was great in his 19 starts with Gwinnett, going 6-4 with a 2.72 ERA and 1.21 WHIP with 89 strikeouts in 112.1 innings. He did this as a 20 year old in Triple A, making it more impressive than it would appear normally. However he struggled in his three big league appearances, posting an ERA of 12.38 with a 2.88 WHIP, and seemingly causing him to get passed over for other young pitchers in September. Allard is effectively done developing in the minors as he’s had full seasons at both upper levels, and the next year or two will be crucial for him to translate his success against big league hitting.

Max Fried – Max Fried made five starts and nine relief appearances in Atlanta, going a combined 1-4 with a 2.94 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and 44 strikeouts in 33.2 innings. He spent the bulk of his year in Gwinnett, making 13 starts with a 4.61 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and 71 strikeouts in 66.1 innings- though those numbers may have been impacted a bit by his continued problems with blisters, which again forced him to miss time. Fried is an interesting guy when healthy, more than capable of making an impact, but to reach his full potential in a Braves uniform he will need to shake the blister issues.

Luiz Gohara – This was a horrible year for Gohara, both on and off the field. Injuries, deaths of family members, and poor performance led to a year he’d like to forget. He ended up with a 5.95 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over 19.2 innings with the Braves, and 4.94 ERA and 1.26 WHIP over 54.2 innings with Gwinnett. The hope is that Gohara can enter 2019 healthy and have some time to get past the horrible things that have happened in his life, because he is still a very talented lefty with the ability to strike out more than a batter per inning.

Wes Parsons – The former undrafted free agent, Wes Parsons made his big league debut in 2018. It wasn’t anything special, going five innings with four runs out of the pen, but that’s a major accomplishment for a UDFA. He earned that promotion with his 88 innings in Gwinnett and 29 more in Mississippi, posting a combined 2.76 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with his 104 strikeouts. Parsons started 21 of his 24 minor league appearances this year, but his future is probably in the bullpen in this organization.

Mike Soroka – The top pitching prospect entering the year, Maple Maddux posted a 2.00 ERA and 0.96 WHIP with Gwinnett in five starts before earning his way to the big leagues. He was solid in his first five big league starts, going 2-1 with a 3.51 ERA and 1.44 WHIP as he struck out 21 in 25.2 innings, but then he got hurt and missed the rest of the season. Soroka’s shoulder cost him the rest of his debut season and what appeared to be a hold on a spot in the starting rotation. Providing he comes into 2019 healthy there shouldn’t be any reason his stock has changed in the past year.

Touki Toussaint – Touki broke out in 2017 and then took another step forward with his command this year, walking just 3.5 per nine in the minors- a new career best. Touki started in Mississippi and made 16 starts with a 2.93 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 107 strikeouts in 86 innings. That earned him a spot in the Futures Game at the last minute, where he went on to have a memorable inning of work, before sending him back to a promotion to Gwinnett. As good as he was in Mississippi he was even better in Gwinnett, going 5-0 with a 1.43 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 56 strikeouts over 50.1 innings. That kind of dominance got him to Atlanta, and let him make five starts and a pair of late season relief appearances, where he posted an ERA of 4.03 and WHIP of 1.35 to go with 32 strikeouts in 29 innings. Touki is just about ready for a full time big league spot, though he will need to work on those 21 walks over 29 innings- but after the progress we’ve already seen from him in that category I’m not too worried he will work on it.

Bryse Wilson – Bryse Wilson started the year as a 20 year old in High A and ended with a huge season that saw him pitch at four different levels. Florida wasn’t a challenge for Wilson, who lasted just five ridiculous starts with a 0.34 ERA and 0.86 ERA to go with 26 strikeouts in 26.1 innings. He started slowly in Mississippi before making changes to his grip, and ended up with a 3.97 ERA and 1.34 WHIP as he struck out 89 in 77 innings- numbers that don’t show you how good he was after the change. He had a 5.32 ERA and 1.05 WHIP with 28 strikeouts in 22 innings for Gwinnett, to post combined minor league totals of a 3.44 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 143 K in 125.2 innings. Wilson pitched five scoreless innings in his big league debut, a start in Pittsburgh, but saw his big league numbers take a hit after allowing five runs in two innings out of the bullpen against Boston and St. Louis. Perhaps no pitcher increased his profile in 2018 as much as Wilson, who really moved up the rankings.

Kyle Wright – The fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft made it to the big leagues in just over a year, making four relief appearances in September with a 4.50 ERA and 1.67 WHIP in that small sample. Wright started the year in Double A, and after a relatively slow start due to spending time working on things as opposed to trying to dominate, posted a 3.70 ERA and 1.34 WHIP with 105 strikeouts in 109.1 innings. He got promoted to Gwinnett just before the trade deadline, and in his four starts and three relief appearances there he had a 2.51 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and 28 strikeouts in 28.2 innings. Wright is very close to being big league ready for a starting role, and still looks like a solid #2/3 starter at that level, but may need to spend another month or two in the minors to open 2019 as he tightens up the last few things before he’s ready.

AAA

Enderson Franco – Franco made 28 appearances, including 20 starts, for Mississippi, going 6-9 with a 3.95 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and 130 strikeouts in 127.2 innings. Franco got one last start in Gwinnett, where he pitched 5.2 solid innings to close out the season. He was consistently solid and regularly did his job to put his team in position to win. He did so without much notice, as people focused on all of the bigger names around him. However it’s not wise to overlook Franco, who has the stuff in him to become a backend starter in the big leagues despite not having a high profile as a prospect.

Jeremy Walker – After going 5-11 with a 4.07 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over 25 starts for Florida, the Braves promoted Walker to make his last start of the season with Gwinnett. That was quite the memorable start for Walker, pitching eight scoreless innings with six strikeouts and just four base runners allowed. He may not be a top prospect, but Walker has the stuff to help in a relief role and hopefully can use that great final game to give him some momentum going into 2019.

AA

Ian Anderson – Anderson finally seemed to put the results together and pitch a full season, as he was able to stay healthy in 2018. He opened the year in Florida and made 20 starts, posting a 2.52 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with 118 strikeouts in 100 innings. He received a promotion to Mississippi and made four starts with a 2.33 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 24 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. He combined to allow just 6.6 H/9 while he struck out 10.7 per nine, showing the kind of results expected when the Braves drafted him third overall in 2016.

Kyle Muller – Muller started the year in Rome, the furthest behind of the crop of prep pitchers from the 2016 draft- but he more than caught up by the end of the season. He lasted just six starts with Rome, putting up a 2.40 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 23 strikeouts in 30 innings. He moved to Florida and got 14 starts, putting up a 3.24 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, and 79 strikeouts in 80.2 innings. His final five starts came in Mississippi, where he had a 3.10 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 27 strikeouts in 29 innings. Overall that’s good for a 3.03 ERA and 1.23 WHIP with 129 strikeouts in 139.2 innings.

Ricardo Sanchez – New year, same story for Sanchez in 2018. He’s clearly a talented lefty, but injuries and inconsistency keep getting in his way. He made just 13 starts for Mississippi, posting a 4.06 ERA and 1.54 ERA, though his overall numbers are better thanks to two strong rehab starts with Danville and another with the GCL club.

Bruce Zimmermann – Last year’s senior sign fifth round pick out of Mount Olive College was dominant in 14 starts for Rome, posting a 2.76 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 99 strikeouts in 84.2 innings. The Braves skipped him right to Mississippi, where he had a 3.14 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, and 26 strikeouts in 28.2 innings. He then went to Baltimore in the Kevin Gausman deal, and pitched with the Orioles Double A team, putting up a 5.06 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and 16 strikeouts in 21.2 innings. Zimmermann is likely to make it as a LOOGY, but if there is a team positioned to giving him a chance to start at the big league level, it’s the Orioles.

High A

Tucker Davidson – Tucker Davidson posted a 4.18 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over his 118.1 innings, which sounds disappointing after last year’s breakout. However once you take his ugly first seven starts(8.04 ERA, 2.08 WHIP), he managed a 2.99 ERA and 1.33 WHIP over his final 17 starts. Davidson could use 2019 to help himself re-emerge as a true prospect.

Joey Wentz – The 2.28 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over 67 innings for the season sounds good, but prior to getting hurt on July 19th (he did come back to make two late appearances) he was on fire and if you take out a four start stretch where his mechanics were off, he was putting up numbers that would have at least had him considered for Minor League Player of the Year Awards had he posted them over a full season.

Huascar Ynoa – Ynoa was solid in 18 starts for Rome, going 7-8 with a 3.63 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 100 strikeouts in 91.1 innings. He was then promoted to Florida, and struggled a bit there with an 8.03 ERA and 1.82 WHIP. He will need to work on some things this winter before going back up against High A hitters again in 2019.

Low A

Jasseel De La Cruz – Ignore the 4.83 ERA and 1.44 WHIP and look at his first four starts. He had a 2.04 ERA and 0.97 WHIP with 20 strikeouts in 17.2 innings, but then he got hurt, missed a month, and didn’t return as the same pitcher. The offseason will be key for JDLC, as we see if he can get back to the guy we saw early on.

Freddy Tarnok – Another guy to ignore the numbers on without looking closer. Yes he had decent numbers with a 3.96 ERA and 1.44 WHIP plus 83 strikeouts in 77.1 innings, and that’s impressive considering he was a 19 year old in his first full professional season- and did it while still fairly raw as a pitcher. But the splits tell a different story. The Braves worked Tarnok exclusively out of the pen in the first half and he dominated with a 1.26 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 49 strikeouts in 35.2 innings. It’s when he began starting that the rawness showed up, as he posted a 6.26 ERA and 1.58 WHIP- not fully unexpected considering the situation. The 2018 season was a learning experience for Tarnok and while there were predictably some ups and some downs, it was really all that you can ask for as those down moments will hopefully give him something to work on and learn from. The future is every bit as bright as it was a year ago, if not more after he held his own in full season ball.

Short Season

Nolan Kingham – The Braves 12th rounder out of Texas got off to a late start because of a long run in the College World Series and needing some time to rest after some minor lingering health issues, but he got three starts and eight relief appearances for Danville. The brother of Pirates starter Nick Kingham put up a 4.56 ERA and 1.44 WHIP with 18 strikeouts in 23.2 innings. It’s hard to read anything in after a long year with Texas, but he has a promising future and will likely be ready for Rome in 2019.

Trey Riley – The Braves fifth rounder was a talented but raw overslot JUCO pitcher in Trey Riley. He didn’t throw much after signing, spending more of his time working with coaches than in games, but in his nine innings of work he had a 8.00 ERA and 2.22 WHIP- though he did strikeout 13 hitters. There is a lot of talent in Riley’s arm, but we may need to be patient.

Matt Rowland – The Braves overslot 11th round pick in 2016 made his pro debut this year after an injury cost him all of 2016 and all of 2017. It’s fair to say he was worth the wait if we judge by his 2018, as he managed a 3.83 ERA and 1.35 WHIP with 41 strikeouts in 54 innings. Those are very solid numbers for any young pitcher in his pro debut, but when you factor in two years of rust to shake off plus it being his first year back from injury, and it looks much better than just solid for him. Rome will likely be the goal for him in 2019, but he may be limited in terms of innings for another year before they really turn him loose.

Rookie

Tristan Beck – The Braves stole Beck in the 4th round and after he was drafted the news came out that they preferred him to Soroka in the first round in 2015, but Beck wouldn’t sign out of high school. The Braves were again connected to the Stanford hurler in 2017, but he decided to return to school again after missing all of 2017 due to injury. Beck started strong at Stanford this year but tailed off a bit from there, likely due to missing 2017 and hitting a bit of a wall. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Braves took things very slow with him and gave him one start and two relief appearances late in the GCL season. Beck saw just 4.2 innings in those three outings, but he struck out seven while not allowing any runs to score against him. He’s advanced enough to move to at least Rome to start 2019, if not Florida, and should move quickly.

Patrick Weigel – Weigel was on the doorstep of Atlanta last year, making it to Triple A and seemingly the next guy to get called up to get a shot in the Braves rotation. But then he blew out his arm and needed Tommy John surgery, costing him that shot and most of 2019. Weigel returned this year to make four appearances for a total of four innings, all in the GCL. While it’s a tiny sample size and you can’t buy too much stock in the no runs, two hits, no walks, and six strikeouts in his stat line, it was a promising first step for a guy we all want to see succeed. Weigel could use instructs and the AFL to hopefully push the return along going into 2019, so that he can compete for a spot in the big leagues.

DSL

Due to there being no pitchers of note and DSL stats being tough to normalize to other stats, there weren’t any DSL pitchers considered. There were five pitchers in the DSL who had solid stat lines, but three of them were older(19/20 years old) in a league where being older gives a huge edge. The other two were 17/18, but neither managed better than 5.6 K/9, an indicator that they got by on their feel to pitch against young, raw hitters.



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