Atlanta Braves minors: 5 biggest offseason storylines
4. Next batch of pitchers need to ascend
It’s time for another Mike Soroka. In 2015, the Atlanta Braves chose Kolby Allard (14th overall) and Soroka (28th), as well as reliever A.J. Minter, in the second round (75th).
Allard is of course gone, and Minter doesn’t look to be in the future plans after basically a lost season in 2019.
But Soroka is coming off a major league season in which he was the Braves’ frontline starter — the No. 1.
Since that draft, the Atlanta Braves have loaded up on pitching talent, more specifically starting pitching, selecting Ian Anderson (Braves’ No. 3 prospect), Joey Wentz, and Kyle Muller (No. 7) in 2016; and Kyle Wright (No. 4) in 2017.
It’s time for one of those four pitchers to step up and prove capable of providing the Braves important innings in 2020. Anderson, Wentz, and Muller all had impressive 2019’s, while Wright took a small step back.
I wouldn’t be surprised if all but Wentz (traded to Detroit) started off the 2020 season in Triple-A Gwinnett, with Wright on speed dial ready to shuttle to Atlanta at any moment (of course depending on what the Braves do about its major league starting rotation this offseason).
And that’s not even counting Bryse Wilson (No. 5) or Tucker Davidson (No. 14) or Jeremy Walker (No. 22)… or even Patrick Weigel (No. 22).
Wilson and Walker got some major league innings in 2019 (as well as 2018 for Wilson), though not much.
You could say — even though we’re talking small samples — Wilson also took a step back in 2019, as he posted a 7.20 ERA in four starts and two relief appearances for the Braves. That after a 6.43 mark in three total games in 2018.
Walker only made six major league appearances in 2019 (9.1 innings), but he was very sharp and held a 1.93 ERA while a Braves’ reliever.
The other two are right there as well, though they aren’t talked about as much.
Davidson was the ERA leader in Mississippi last season (2.03) before posting a 2.84 mark in four starts with Gwinnett.
And Weigel — who was coming back from Tommy John surgery — basically matched him (though in far fewer innings), holding a 1.72 ERA in Mississippi (7 starts) and a 2.98 in Gwinnett (11 starts / 10 relief appearances).
If you’ve lost count, that’s eight pitchers — seven starters and one reliever (well, Walker was a reliever last year but made 26 starts in 2018). That’s a nice group of pitchers that are literally so close to having it figured out.
I’m not saying ALL of them should be major league ready in 2020, but at least one or two needs to separate themselves from the pack.
In all likelihood, the Braves will at least attempt to acquire one starting pitcher from free agency or through a trade.
But regardless, there needs to be a couple of guys the team can turn to in case of injuries or just plain ineffectiveness from the original starting five.
The Atlanta Braves were pretty lucky in 2019 when it came to starting pitching health… they might not be so lucky in 2020.
And not just that… some of these pitchers have been right there for two seasons now. Wilson and Wright — they don’t need Triple-A innings anymore, they need major league innings.
And the only way that’s going to happen is if they prove they’re capable … and in a hurry.