With today’s three in the bank, I am still not even half-way through this series, but progress is progress, right? There are a lot of players still in the mix for hypothetical spots on the 2017 roster, though as we shift toward the offseason and a plethora of moves the Braves make to try to get better next year, open slots on next year’s roster will be harder to come by. Today’s trio has one definite member of next year’s roster in the mix – provided he’s not traded. Two others could battle for a bullpen spot.
*Ages reflect the player’s age on opening day, 2017
|By Tate Nations (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0],|
via Wikimedia Commons
Jason Hursh, RHP, 25 years-old
2016 Review: For the first time in his career, Hursh did not get a starting assignment during the season. His move to the pen actually began in 2015 when he was shifted from the starting rotation after struggling badly during a second run in Mississippi. Overall, there is not much of a difference between Hursh the Starter and Hursh the Reliever except for one thing. He induced a ridiculous amount of groundballs when coming out of the pen. He’s always been a groundball pitcher, but he went from a 1.6 groundball/flyball rate to 2.5 this season. According to this article from Fangraphs, that’s comparable to a 55%-60% rate. Somewhere, Bobby Cox just had dreams of Kevin Gryboski. Hursh got a look in the bigs in August, though the results were pretty ugly (in a extra-petite sample size). He finished up the season with Gwinnett with mixed results.
2017 Projection: I kid about the Gryboski comparison, but Hursh is that kind of pitcher that a manager might be tempted to utilize in “rally-killing” situations. The problem with that idea is that Hursh has very little margin for error. He won’t get many strikeouts (5.5-6.5 K/9) and isn’t pinpoint enough with his control to make that work for him. Hursh could provide better value to the Braves if a team sees more in him than the Braves and is willing to take Hursh in a trade. If he returns in 2017, he’ll be part of a large group of pitchers trying to get a look in the spring. A trip to Gwinnett seems most likely if he’s not dealt beforehand.
Ender Inciarte, OF, 26 years-old
2016 Review: It was the tale of two different seasons for Inciarte. Through his first 56 games (which includes a trip to the DL), Inciarte was hitting an abysmal .226/.293/.304. He had been relegated to the bottom of the order and it looked like it would be a lost year for the former D’Back. Instead, Inciarte righted the ship beginning on July 8. Over his final 75 games, he slashed .338/.392/.436. Until the last weekend, he didn’t go back-to-back games without a hit. Back in the leadoff spot, Inciarte was integral to the offense’s resurgence in the second half. While his bat failed to impress early, his defense was a full-season marvel. Briefly, he was utilized in left field, but quickly, Brian Snitker realized that was a waste of Inciarte’s impressive talents. He finished the season with 13 DRS, the third best total in the majors. For the first time since Michael Bourn left via free agency after 2012, the Braves had a plus-plus defender in center field.
2017 Projection: Let’s be clear…the Inciarte of the final 75 games is not a true reflection of his skill level, but a regression to the mean. We have two extreme samples of Inciarte in 2016 and the overall performance level is closer to the final numbers (.291/.351/.381) than either of the extremes. That stat line isn’t too far removed from his 2015 campaign with the D’Backs. He did show some improvement with a slight climb in walk rate to nearly 8% after hovering around 5% with Arizona. What is more impressive is the improvement against lefthanders. While it deserves to be mentioned that his .355 BABIP against lefties indicates an artificially high triple slash, Inciarte still reached .319/.365/.384 – a far cry from the .288 OBP he had against southpaws before coming to Atlanta. It would be easy to suggest – especially with Mallex Smith also in the fold – that the Braves could shop Inciarte this winter. Certainly, they could, but they shouldn’t sell him short. He now has 381 major league games under his belt and a 9.5 fWAR to show for it. While his numbers may never wow you, his overall value to a team is easy to see and difficult to replicate.
|By EricEnfermero (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0],|
via Wikimedia Commons
Tyrell Jenkins, RHP, 24 years-old
2016 Review: Another mixed bag, Jenkins made it to the majors this year nearly six years after being selected the 50th overall pick of the 2010 draft. In addition, his callup came just a few weeks after Jenkins was shifted to the bullpen. At that time, I felt it was the right move as I am not a big believer that Jenkins’ best value comes in the starting rotation. However, with the starting staff’s depth issues in 2016, the Braves moved Jenkins into the starting rotation to make his first big league start on July 6. He would make seven more starts through August 20. Jenkins had a nice run in there (3 starts, 18 innings, two earned runs allowed), but his last two starts sent his ERA skyrocketing to 6.20 when he was demoted. He appeared twice in September in the majors and ended the year with 52 innings pitched, more walks than strikeouts, and nearly a dozen homers surrendered. His minor league numbers were better, but nothing to write home about outside of 2.47 ERA matched with a 3.61 FIP.
2017 Projection: When he was acquired by the Braves, Jenkins was a top pitching prospect in a system that didn’t have many to speak of. Now, he’s lost in the crowd. There has always been a bit of disconnect between the potential pitcher Jenkins could become and the pitcher Jenkins has a better chance of being. He won’t be 25 until next July, but progression has been lacking to this point. He did reach 120 innings for back-to-back years – something he never did with the Cards. Nevertheless, Jenkins will need considerable refinement to be a serious starting pitcher possibility for the Braves moving forward. A best-case scenario could see Jenkins developing into a Derek Lowe-type where he induces a lot of grounders and logs innings. I feel a more likely option is that Jenkins grows into a Cristhian Martinez type of reliever who can give you a few innings in mostly low-leverage opportunities. While that role has some value, it’s a far cry from the hope the Braves and their fans had when he was acquired from the Cardinals nearly two years ago.