Like a lot of rotations around baseball, our rotation’s been chaotic all year. 10 different pitchers making a start for the Braves, and about a half dozen starting pitching options in the high minors all being potentially a call away from the big leagues. But in the last week or so, Kolby Allard was traded. Kevin Gausman and Luiz Gohara were released. Mike Foltynewicz returned from AAA and has at least given us a blip of optimism about his future. Julio Teheran has all but confirmed that the Braves should pick up his 2020 option, and Mike Soroka and Max Fried have cemented themselves in the rotation. So there’s a momentary time of clarity with the direction of the Braves’ starting pitchers throughout the organization for the first time since early in the decade. So with some consolidation going on in the organization, I thought I’d give a quick rundown on the key high minors starting pitchers: Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson, Tucker Davidson, and Ian Anderson.
Kyle Wright has allowed 1 ER or fewer in 5 of his last 8 AAA starts. He’s walked 2 or fewer in 7 of those 8. He’s probably got 4-5 more starts before the end of the AAA season. By that time, he’ll have had about 49 high minors and major league starts, he’ll spend the month of September in Atlanta, and I would think he’ll once again challenge for a rotation spot in Spring Training next year.
Touki has been much more erratic. He’ll have made about the same amount of high minors starts as Wright by the end of the AAA season, but he just hasn’t had a run of success at AAA the way Wright has this year. With that said, Touki also spent almost 2 1/2 months on the major league roster, so you can’t really fault him. Barring a strong run through the end of the year here and/or a strong run in Spring Training next year, I don’t know what within Touki’s last year and a half really justifies a rotation spot for next year. He’s walking 6 per 9 in 41 IP as a major leaguer with a mid-5’s ERA. It’s been in relief with an erratic workload, but I would think that even for Touki’s sake, someone would like to see him wear out AAA for a little while.
Bryse Wilson is on a similar run to Wright in July and August in AAA. He’s allowed 3 ER or fewer in 8 of his last 10 starts, 2 walks or fewer also in 8 of his last 10, and he’s another one that will have had about 45 high minors and major league starts by the end of this month. I’d think he’d have a shot at an Opening Day spot based on what he’s flashed in Atlanta, and he’s got a floor as pitcher that makes him an attractive, stable option.
Tucker Davidson wouldn’t have been on this list at the beginning of the season. He’s been towards the bottom of prospect sheets since he was drafted. And it wasn’t undeserved. He hasn’t been as young for the levels as some of the other guys, he doesn’t really have blow away stuff and he hadn’t pitched like he did, and let’s be honest, there are and were a lot of talented pitching prospects for him to contend with for attention. But he started racking up the strikeouts and keeping runs off the board in AA this year, and he finished his 21 starts in AA with a 2.03 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 110.2 IP. And he’s now earned a promotion to AAA at age 23. I’m going to reserve judgment and prognostication about him until he’s had a run at AAA. Sometimes guys will have a strong run at a certain minor league stop, and it doesn’t translate up the ladder. Plus, who isn’t striking out a lot of guys in the minor leagues nowadays?
I would think that Atlanta can afford to be a little more patient with Ian Anderson. He’s only 21 years old, and while he more than earned his promotion to AAA, he still only has about 25 high minors starts under his belt. But he was a strikeout machine in AA, and he might have the highest ceiling of any of the pitching prospects we’ve had since the beginning of The Great Rebuild. I would leave him alone for a good while so that he can refine his walk problem and be ready to stick in Atlanta when he’s called up. The Braves have not been able to do that with many of our previous pitching prospects, so hopefully the new era of contending will mean they won’t play the Gwinnett Shuttle with Anderson.
Just one final thought. The concern is that the low minors is starting to thin out. Gone are 11 prospects freed by the international sanctions. We’ve had and will continue to have a period of time where the farm will not be replenished in the international market, which will undoubtedly hurt the system overall. And now we will be drafting towards the back of the draft, so we’ll see regression there as well. The high minors is well-stocked with elite pitching and hitting prospects, the major league rotation is starting to take shape with money available to add elite talent to it, and the low minors is thinning. This is the time where a team has to figure out how it will be able to sustain a long, continuous run of contention, or it will simply have a few good seasons and be back to where they were.
If I’m the Braves, I’m looking at trading two of Bryse Wilson, Touki Toussaint and Tucker Davidson to get back some low minors lottery tickets to fill the system with. Could one of those guys traded away become aces? Sure, as is the risk with any prospect that’s up the system as much as they are, but there aren’t a whole lot of ways to fill the low minors with elite talent, and if faced with the proposition of turning those guys into relievers because there isn’t a spot in the rotation, wouldn’t you rather just grab 3-5 live arms or bats back to hedge your bet for the future?
Either way, we loaded.