Young and promising Ynoa poised for triumphant return to the Braves in 2024

Huascar Ynoa once looked like a promising, young piece of the Braves’ pitching staff. Now, he’ll try to reclaim a role following a lengthy absence.

Apr 12, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Huascar Ynoa (19) throws
Apr 12, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Huascar Ynoa (19) throws / Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Huascar Ynoa struck out 100 batters over 91 innings while helping to stabilize the pitching staff for the 2021 World Champions. It was a breakout effort for a promising young rookie who originally debuted a couple of years prior. Ynoa’s importance to the Braves that season now seems like a distant memory.

Across 18 appearances (17 starts) that year, Ynoa posted a 4.05 ERA and 1.11 WHIP while showcasing a devastating slider that helped him produce a 26.9 K% and 13.2 SwStr% - both strong metrics. The hard-throwing righty also recorded a 47.3% groundball rate while limiting opponents to just a .222 batting average. Ynoa’s 3.40 xFIP indicates his ERA was even quite a bit higher than perhaps it should’ve been.

Of course, Ynoa hindered a bit of his potential when he broke his hand mid-May after punching the dugout bench. This caused him to miss two months of the 2021 season despite pitching very well up until that point.

Through May 16, Huascar had pitched himself to a 3.03 ERA over 44.2 innings with 11 walks and 50 strikeouts. Upon returning on August 17, Ynoa was 4-5 with a 5.05 ERA over 46.1 innings pitched.

So, going into 2022, despite healing from a self-inflicted injury, there was plenty of evidence to back up the high hopes of Ynoa returning to form. However, he got off to a dreadful start, turning in back-to-back short starts that saw him wild and ineffective. After that, Ynoa was relegated back to Triple-A where he spent all but a few days of that summer mostly struggling to find consistency. Ultimately, Tommy John surgery in mid-September wrapped up his 2022 season and cost him all of 2023.

Flash forward to the present, and the latest news regarding Ynoa is positive. Justin Toscano of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported back in November that Ynoa is on track for Spring Training.

Where does Ynoa fit best in 2024?

GM Alex Anthopoulos has been plenty busy securing and adding reinforcements for the Braves bullpen, most recently trading for lefty Ray Kerr in a deal with the Padres. Ynoa may have an outside shot at one of the rotation spots behind Max Fried, Spencer Strider, and Charlie Morton, but there will be plenty of competition in Spring Training.

Coming off TJ surgery, the Braves will likely choose to limit Ynoa’s workload from the outset. In other words, a rotation spot, at least out of the gate, seems unlikely. On top of that, considering his repertoire essentially consists of two pitches – a slider and a fastball – Ynoa projects better as a reliever anyway. That is unless he has discovered an adequate third pitch or finds one in the future.

As far as bullpen roles go, there is one void from this past season that already seems like a potentially perfect fit for Ynoa. Michael Tonkin, who signed a one-year pact with the Mets earlier this month, led all Atlanta relievers by eating up a whopping 80.0 innings out of the pen in 2023. The towering righty relied on a fastball-slider combo to often cover multiple frames. In fact, he logged more than one inning in 30 of his 45 appearances.

With Tonkin gone, the long-relief role could be an ideal spot for Ynoa to initially regain traction at the big-league level. He won’t even turn 26 until late May, so there should be plenty of progression yet to come. As long as there are no setbacks, Ynoa will be one to watch after pitchers and catchers report in February.