Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Rotation battle a key storyline at Braves camp

Gohara, Newcomb, Fried, Sims, Kazmir top candidates for final 2 spots
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- It's easy to assume Luiz Gohara and Sean Newcomb will win what appear to be the only two vacant spots in Atlanta's rotation. It's also easy to understand why the Braves do not want either of those rookie southpaws to come to camp believing anything is guaranteed.

Though Spring Training has arrived, there is still reason to wonder if Atlanta will add a veteran hitter who could impact the possibility of opening the season with Johan Camargo at third base. There's also a chance the addition of a veteran reliever could alter the look of the Opening Day bullpen.

ATLANTA -- It's easy to assume Luiz Gohara and Sean Newcomb will win what appear to be the only two vacant spots in Atlanta's rotation. It's also easy to understand why the Braves do not want either of those rookie southpaws to come to camp believing anything is guaranteed.

Though Spring Training has arrived, there is still reason to wonder if Atlanta will add a veteran hitter who could impact the possibility of opening the season with Johan Camargo at third base. There's also a chance the addition of a veteran reliever could alter the look of the Opening Day bullpen.

• Braves Spring Training: Info | Schedule | Tickets

But regardless of what transpires, the most interesting Braves roster battle will likely center around a rotation that could alter its makeup numerous times over the course of the upcoming season.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos and manager Brian Snitker have said Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Brandon McCarthy are the only essential locks to begin the season in the rotation.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Gohara, Newcomb, Max Fried, Lucas Sims and Scott Kazmir stand as the top candidates for the two other available spots. Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard could be called up to join the rotation at some point this season, but the two highly touted prospects are not entering camp with a legitimate hope to begin the season at the Major League level.

Teheran will be looking to bounce back from last year's struggles, and Foltynewicz will be looking to show the consistency necessary for him to remain in the rotation and live up to his potential to be a frontline starter. McCarthy got off to a good start last year with the Dodgers, but a non-throwing shoulder injury began a frustrating idle stretch that didn't conclude until he was deemed healthy enough to be an available reliever in the World Series. His only appearance occurred in Game 2, when he surrendered a decisive 11th-inning homer to Astros outfielder George Springer.

Video: Snitker discusses competition for rotation spots

The Braves acquired McCarthy and Kazmir in the swap of unwanted contracts that sent Matt Kemp to the Dodgers. The former will satisfy Atlanta's hope if he completes at least 150 innings and provides some time for some of the rising prospects to gain necessary development before coming up to the Majors.

Kazmir could make things interesting if he shows he has overcome the hip ailment and mechanical issues that sidelined him throughout last season. But when the financially motivated deal was made, the Braves realized there was a strong possibility that the three-time All-Star will not be a part of their rotation.

Kazmir could draw some trade interest if he pitches effectively and another team develops a sudden pitching need during Spring Training. But barring an injury to another starter, it's hard to envision him blocking the development of one of the young starters by filling a rotation spot.

Braves coaches love Sims' fearless and aggressive approach, but in terms of stuff, the suburban Atlanta native doesn't have the same ceiling as Gohara, Newcomb or even Fried.

Fried displayed the potential of his curveball as he won his first career start on Sept. 3 at Wrigley Field. But he completed at least five innings in just two of his four starts and also posted a 5.87 ERA over the 19 starts made for Double-A Mississippi last year. It seems Fried could benefit from the development time he lost when he was unexpectedly promoted to pitch out of Atlanta's 'pen last August.

Video: Fried on getting a taste of the MLB in 2017

Gohara has just five career starts under his belt, but he made a strong impression on his coaches and veteran teammates after being promoted to Atlanta in September. Somewhat of a CC Sabathia clone, the young Brazilian southpaw completed at least six innings in each of his final four starts. Per Statcast™, Gohara's 96.5-mph average fastball velocity ranked sixth among all pitchers who threw at least 200 fastballs last season.

Having made 19 starts after receiving his first call to the Majors in June, Newcomb stands as the most experienced member of the young candidates. But the lefty, who will turn 25 in June, is far from a finished product. He didn't ease concerns about his control in 2017, as he issued 5.1 walks per nine innings, but that figure dropped to 4.75 over his final nine starts. Newcomb's curveball has the potential to be a great weapon, but he'll either need to find the strike zone with it more frequently or induce some more chase swings.

Per Statcast™, Newcomb recorded a strike with 66.38 percent of the fastballs he threw, which ranked 37th among 147 pitchers who threw at least 1,000 heaters. He recorded a strike with 56.60 percent of his curveballs, which ranked 51st among the 63 pitchers who threw at least 300 hooks.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Max Fried, Luiz Gohara, Scott Kazmir, Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims