Prospects add intrigue to rotation competition

Braves have starting spots available with young arms coming soon

February 15th, 2016

ATLANTA -- It is certainly hard to argue against claims that the starting rotation will serve as the Braves' weakest link this year. The No. 1 starter, Julio Teheran, looked like a middle-of-the-rotation piece in 2015, and the projected No. 3 starter, Matt Wisler, has made just 19 career starts, five of which were completed after prolonged struggles led him to a brief stint in the bullpen last year.

Still, it could also be argued that the rotation will also be the most intriguing element to evaluate, as the Braves progress through the second season of their rebuilding process. At some point this season, the Braves could introduce three of their top five pitching prospects -- Sean Newcomb, Aaron Blair and Tyrell Jenkins -- to life in a Major League rotation.

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Newcomb, Blair and Jenkins will all likely get some additional Minor League seasoning at the start of this season. But when the Braves welcome pitchers and catchers to camp on Friday and hold their first workouts on Saturday, all three will be present and aiming to prove they'll be ready when called upon to Atlanta's rotation.

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As the next wave of prospects prepares to rise toward Atlanta, the Braves will spend the early portion of the season getting a better feel for the talented young crop of starters that gained a little experience last year. This includes Wisler, Manny Banuelos, Williams Perez, Mike Foltynewicz and Ryan Weber, who achieved some surprising success in September.

Foltynewicz might have the most upside of this group of pitchers who all made starts for Atlanta last year. But before the strong-armed right-hander gets the chance to prove he'd be better served as a starter than as a reliever, he must first regain the strength he lost after having a portion of his right rib removed after a blood clot was discovered in September.

Because he is a couple weeks behind with his throwing program, Foltynewicz might not be a logical rotation option until the end of April. His unavailability only slightly enhances the uncertainty surrounding the starting staff.

As things currently stand, it appears the Braves will open the season with Teheran, Bud Norris and Wisler filling the top three spots in their rotation. This might not have been deemed all that alarming last year before Teheran posted a 4.04 ERA over 33 starts and Norris posted a 6.79 ERA over 11 starts before being released by the Orioles.

There is no doubt that Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell has the ability to get Teheran back on track. He can also prove to be as beneficial to Norris as he was to Aaron Harang two years ago. But there is still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the inexperience that rests behind these two veterans in Atlanta's rotation.

With Foltynewicz likely unavailable at the start of the season, the top candidates to fill the rotation's final two spots are Perez and Banuelos, a pair of hurlers who had some big league success before suffering injuries last year.

The Braves gained some insurance when they signed veterans Kyle Kendrick and Jhoulys Chacin to Minor League deals this winter. As long as the younger candidates prove healthy and effective, though, the Braves would rather give them a chance to further their development while filling one of those last available rotation spots.

As the Braves attempt to get a better feel for where they might stand entering the 2017 season, they will want to create rotation spots for some of their top prospects at different points during the season.

Though Newcomb is considered one of's Top 20 prospects and the game's third-best left-handed prospect, he could reach the Majors after both Blair and Jenkins, a pair of right-handers who are a little more polished and developed at this point of their respective careers.

Chris Ellis and Lucas Sims are a couple other highly-regarded prospects who will be coming to Spring Training, as they look to prove they too are close to being Major League ready, as well.

Fortunately, the Braves have scheduled a few extra split-squad games to properly evaluate all of the talented young starters coming to spring camp. It's highly unlikely that all of these prospects will gain a rotation spot at some point this season. In fact, some might be traded to fill other specific needs before the season is complete.

With all of this in mind, there is no doubt that the Braves will go through camp placing great focus on a rotation that creates both immediate concerns and great intrigue for the future.