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Braves' pitching core young, but scary good 

@RichardJustice
March 13, 2019

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Do the Braves have enough starting pitching? Let’s cut to the chase. Can they match up in a division with names like Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola dotted on other rosters? The Braves are glad you asked. “One hundred percent,” catcher Brian McCann

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Do the Braves have enough starting pitching? Let’s cut to the chase. Can they match up in a division with names like Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola dotted on other rosters?

The Braves are glad you asked.

“One hundred percent,” catcher Brian McCann said. “I love our arms.”

That’s the story around the Braves this spring. Their pitching depth appears to be scary good; their top three prospects are all pitchers, according to MLB Pipeline, and five Atlanta pitchers made the Top 100 Prospects list.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos ticks off the names: Kyle Wright, Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Sean Newcomb, Bryse Wilson and Ian Anderson. Newcomb is the oldest of the group at 25. All except Wilson were first-round Draft picks. Only Newcomb is a lock to begin the season in the Major League rotation, although another spot could open up with scheduled Opening Day starter Mike Foltynewicz slowed by a sore elbow.

This could be enough depth to sustain a team through a close division race and allow workload management for the youngest arms. Here’s the rub: it’s young, unproven pitching. The Braves eventually may regret not signing a veteran starter. For now, though, they couldn’t feel much more optimistic about things.

“The talent is there,” Anthopoulos said. “Any one of these young guys, whether it’s a Soroka or Max Fried or a Kyle Wright or Toussaint, if you told me those guys ended up in the All-Star Game this year, I wouldn’t be surprised. They have the ability and the talent to do it. They were high Draft picks. They’ve got great stuff, great makeup, great work ethic.

“We’re very deep. As much as we want to add to the club, we also want to find out what these guys can do. They’re ready for the opportunity.”

Julio Teheran, Kevin Gausman and Newcomb likely will start the first three games of the season. As for the other spots, the most impressive of the young arms this spring has been Wright, a 23-year-old right-hander who ranks No. 30 on the Top 100 Prospects list. He has emerged as the star of this Spring Training, showing both poise and blow-you-away stuff.

“Kyle Wright has been unbelievable, the highlight of camp,” Anthopoulos said. “Tremendous stuff. Three outings in a row, he’s just been electric. He’s as good a young arm as you’re going to find in Florida.”

What the Mets, Nationals and Phillies have are more proven commodities, and in a tight National League East race, there may not be much margin for error.

“We don’t have the names,” Anthopoulos said. “Aaron Nola. Max Scherzer. Patrick Corbin. Noah Syndergaard. Jacob deGrom. Those are premium, premium starters. Remember that Aaron Nola was a young starter two years ago when he emerged. Mike Foltynewicz two years ago was a young starter and ended up having an unbelievable year for us.”

Baseball Prospectus projects that the top four NL East teams will be separated by four games. They have the Braves fourth at 85-77. Atlanta is unmoved.

Anthopoulos checked the free-agent pitching market and acknowledges there’s more certainty to having veterans. But he wasn’t going to do anything until he gave his young pitchers a chance to compete.

“It’s impressive,” said Gausman, who was acquired from the Orioles last summer. “I was down here four or five days before report day and watched guys throw bullpens before camp started. That’s the first thing I noticed.

“Well, the first thing I noticed is how big they all are. I was looking up at them when I met them. I’m like, 'Dang, I’m small.’ There are some big dudes, and the ball just comes out of their hand really well. They’re young, but don’t act it on the baseball field. They looked really polished, all of them.”

The Braves used 35 pitchers, including 13 starters, last season. Three 20-year-olds -- Soroka, Wilson and and Kolby Allard -- were in that number. In all, the Braves used 11 pitchers 24 or under.

“Usually when you’re in camp, there’s a couple of guys you look at it and think, 'OK, this guy has a chance to be a really good big leaguer,’” McCann said. “Here, there are a lot of arms with a really high upside. There’s a guy who’ll be in High A, Double-A and Triple-A. There’s a couple of waves coming. They’ve done a great job.”

Soroka is sidelined indefinitely by a sore shoulder, but the Braves are confident that Foltynewicz will return to the rotation in April. Anthopoulos will sleep a bit better after that happens. All in all, though, the Braves have seen everything they hoped to see this spring.

“We think these guys have that upside and that ceiling,” he said. “We don’t necessarily want to block them and stand in their way. We’ve seen young starters impact the big leagues. Stuff plays.”

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.