Some Waves are Bigger than Others

Some Waves are Bigger than Others

There are some in Braves country that are getting annoyed with the rebuild, and I get it (but don’t agree with the mindset). The Braves traded some of their biggest names in Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, and Andrelton Simmons, and thus far have not seen the fruits of that labor at the Major League level. Since the rebuild commenced, the MLB team has looked pretty lackluster, and even the pitching talent that has surfaced has likely not been what is expected…or at least advertised. 
However, if you look outside the Braves front office fluffing of a few of the early pitching prospects, you get an unbiased look at what was expected of some of these guys, and while the “ceiling” has not been met, the expectation was MUCH, MUCH less than what our fans or front office claimed.
But fret not Braves fans. On a daily basis, I get to set my eyes upon the wonders of the Gulf of Mexico and I can assure you that some waves are bigger than others. If you’re familiar with the color-coded flags that frequent the panhandle of Florida that determine wave conditions, you’ll be familiar with the green, yellow, red, and double red flags. Here are their descriptions:
  • GREEN FLAG- Calm Condition
  • YELLOW FLAG- Moderate Surf/Currents
  • RED FLAG- High Hazard
  • DOUBLE RED FLAG- Beach Closed to the Public
These flags represent the Braves rebuild, especially that of the pitching variety. We are in the midst of this thing, but it’s about to get really rocky for other MLB teams.

LET’S GO GREEN!!!!

Two years ago the first wave of the rebuild showed up and, no doubt, it was of the green flag variety. It wasn’t a threat to the other MLB clubs. But the problem was in how it was presented to the masses. Let’s break down a few guys: 

Staff Sgt. Jason Duhr via Wikipedia Commons

1. Matt Wisler– Every outlet that projected this guy saw him as a guy with a mid-rotation ceiling, but prior to his promotion he was being pushed as a guy to build on by the Braves brass. This was wish-casting and fast-forward to 2017, Wisler’s being converted to relief at AAA after failing to keep his ERA below 4 since 2013.

2. Mike Foltynewicz– Immediately, when Mike was traded for, Braves started discussing front-line rotation stuff.  Unlike Wisler, this wasn’t much of a stretch, but many prospect gurus agreed that the floor of “back-end relief” was more likely. Fast forward 3 years, and there are flashes but it mostly looks like he’ll be a mid-rotation guy for his career…and that’s a win for the Braves.


3. Aaron Blair– “Mid-rotation workhorse” ceiling that turned into a big dumpster fire at the MLB level. And this tidbit: He miraculously lost 3 MPH on his fastball when he donned a Braves uni. He’s now sporting a high walk rate, a low strikeout rate, and a mid-4s ERA at AAA.

4. Tyrell Jenkins– “Back-end rotation” ceiling now out of a job after being released by the Padres in July. Many, including myself, got caught up in his dynamic personality and decent ERA despite having poor peripherals that showed their true colors against the best baseball hitters in the game.

So, the GREEN FLAG wave has passed and as of now, only 1 of the 4 have come close to prospect projections. Is this more a lesson in prospect projections? Patience? Expectations? Really, it’s all of the above. It is pretty rare for baseball players to live up to the hype of their prospect status, but the expectations that were thrown on this first wave to bear fruit were unfair to the players and the fans, not to mention the pressure the front office put on them with unreachable ceilings. But baseball is hard, and the guys above still have plenty of time to grow into their projections.

They call me MELLOW YELLOW

The Braves are in the midst of their YELLOW FLAG wave. These are guys with higher ceilings but have not put it all together in the MLB or MilB.

1.Sean Newcomb– The poster child for the YELLOW FLAG as Sean has a ceiling that is likely as high as anyone in the entire system, but is still plagued by control issues that were still present at Gwinnett. It’s not a bad strategy for him to try to work through control issues in the midst of a punt year, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens next year when the Braves are supposedly going to try to compete for the division and likely won’t have the patience to run a pitcher out every 5th day plagued with the same issues that have cursed his baseball career. 

Rick Briggs via Flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

2. Lucas Sims– Once considered the Braves best-pitching prospect, Sims is now overshadowed by 2 handfuls of pitchers throughout the system.  Like Newcomb, Sims has been plagued by the ol’ 4-baller, but that’s taken care of itself over the last 2 years, but at what cost?  What made Sims valuable at a younger age was a fastball that had lots of movement and could hit 96.  Now his fastball sits in the low-90s. At Gwinnett this year, it didn’t effect his strikeout rate as he was punching out over 10 per 9. However, in the MLB it’s down to 4.7, albeit in a very small sample. The thing about Sims is if you look at projecting the Braves over the next 4-5 years, he doesn’t seem to have the sticking power to stay in the rotation. His ceiling is much lower now than what it was after his age 19-season, and current projections have him as a back end guy/high-leverage reliever. It’s my opinion that Sims received his 2017 chance due to his 40-man roster placement, not his performance, which was good but not really call-up worthy. As part of the yellow wave, I think Sims’ best chance to stay in a rotation would be in a rotation that doesn’t have a tomahawk across the chest. 


3. Max Fried– Fried is a poster child for small samples, both good and bad. His overall body of work has looked very pedestrian, but he flashes brilliance on a regular basis. Like Sims, Fried is likely on the MLB roster due to his position on the 40-man roster, but also the Braves are likely trying to keep his innings down as they’ve been extra cautious with guys coming off of Tommy John surgery. All of Fried’s pitches are still present and his hook looks as filthy as ever, but something has held him back from tapping consistently into greatness. My guess is simply location as there’s nothing else that can be pinpointed to mediocrity. He’s one to keep an eye on as his ceiling is that of a 3-4 starter, but health could take him down as low as middle relief.

Red Flag?  SKIP THAT! DOUBLE RED FLAG IN FULL-EFFECT in 2018!!!

2018, the bulk of high-end pitching prospects will be at full-bloom at some point in time during the year, and it could be a wonder to behold!  Our next group all have front-line potential (number 1-2 starters) and this isn’t organizational fluff but real prospect gurus with real projections.

1. Luiz Gohara– 20 years of age and flying through the minors after being mercifully removed from the Mariners’ organization, Gohara might have the highest ceiling of all the pitching prospects with a serious left-handed power arm that’s capable of striking out the fiercest of opponents. His issues stem from problems outside the diamond of which I’m not willing to delve into, but if he can keep those at bay, look out MLB.


2. Mike Soroka– Comparing anyone to Greg Maddux is setting them up for failure, so I’m not going to do that, but Soroka’s pinpoint control is reminiscent of Maddux’s reputation. Also only 20, Soroka is on pace to see time in the MLB as early as April of 2018, and I cannot possibly imagine a scenario where he’s not in the bigs by 2018’s end. Works low in the zone and uses every scrap of the plate, and if Tyler Flowers has anything to do with it, he’ll use bits right outside the plate as well. With 3 plus pitches in his arsenal, this dude’s the real deal. While he might not have the front-line arsenal of Gohara, his control could put him in the conversation.

3. Kolby Allard– At 19, the Braves might be pumping the brakes on this young stud as he’s run into his first professional stretch where he hasn’t dominated. Like Soroka, Allard has 3 plus-pitches and can run a FB up to 97, but normally ranges from 91-94. The fastball has lots of movement and his curve has different levels of break depending on the velocity. He’s in AA and I think he stays there the rest of this year and maybe part of 2018. From there, it’s anyone’s guess, but I think his MLB debut happens sometime in 2019.

4. Touki Toussaint– If you were like me (don’t be like me) you rated Touki lower on the prospect chart due to an inflated ERA that’s been present his entire MiLB career. Like I said, don’t be me and listen to others when they say Touki was, and still is, raw, but he is really coming around these last 4-5 starts. Like Gohara, if everything goes right, oh boy! Hold on to your seat because he’s going to rocket. For now, his 95 MPH fastball and ridiculous curveball will make its home in Pearl, MS where he’ll make foes look like fools. My bet is he’d be on the Allard track.

5. Kyle Wright– Could the Braves push Wright to MLB next year? You bet your butt they could…but I wouldn’t expect it. Like Dansby, Wright is a polished pitcher that’s got the frame and arsenal to be great. If the Braves need a push from a pitcher late in 2018, Wright could be that guy. However, 2019 seems more realistic and that’s only 1.5 years in the Minors, a little more than Dansby.


Calm after the Storm? HECK NO!!! RED FLAG COMING IN!!!!

This group could very well become a named storm, let’s call it Hurricane Arm Overload, and that would put them into DOUBLE RED FLAG status if they continue to develop, but for now, let’s just appreciate them for kicking butt in the system. Most of these guys are early in their development and while most players they’re facing off against are older, they’re still in Low-A or below (or injured) and I’ve learned valuable lessons about projecting guys as “stars” when they’re still in the lower minors (or injured). Watch closely to this group’s development when they get to Double-A and beyond. I most definitely have high hopes.

1. Ian Anderson– Only 19 years old, Braves 1st round pick from 2016 is sitting ’em down at Low-A and has a body to grow into. Can already run it up to 97, and has the projections to be a #2-3 guy.

2. Joey Wentz– Also only 19, and has been a personal favorite of mine since the draft (and I have articles to prove it!), I think he’s going to be really special. Putting up best numbers in the system at Low-A with a mid-90s peak fastball, and a change up and curve that’s reportedly getting better every outing. The athleticism is the game-changer here and Wentz was a serious 2-way star coming out of high school and that should really pay dividends on the mound. Early projections show his ceiling as a mid-rotation pitcher.


3. Bryse Wilson– The surprise of the system thus far, and forgive me if I repeat things, but Bryse is also 19 years of age. Only surpassed by Wentz, Bryse is sporting a 2.36 ERA with a great K-rate, low-BB rate, and a knack for controlling the zone. The knock on him when drafted was that scouts thought he was destined for the bullpen, but man oh man he’s proving he can play up. Working off of his fastball that sits the mid-90s, Bryse has a curve/slurve that’s very effective and a change-up that is developing with every outing. Early projections show him as a mid-to-back end rotation pitcher.

Jeff Morris – Follow on Twitter

4. Kyle Muller– Pitching at Danville, Muller seems to be a bit behind in development from the 3 above, but it’d only take 2-3 dominant performances for him to be right in the mix. Muller most definitely has one of the more suitable frames for longevity as he’s coming in at 6’6 225. Fastball sits at 92-93 but many reports I saw right after the draft had it pushing 95. I think we will see added velo to his fastball before it’s said and done and he’s likely toned it down to work on command which is very common for pitchers in the Braves system. Like Wentz, Muller is known for his athleticism and that should help his cause on the mound. A 3 pitch arsenal that’s being fine tuned and has a 4th pitch that he’s playing around with for now, Muller has the makeup to become an overnight surprise. Was in extended ST for a while nursing an ailment so I wouldn’t doubt if he’s up in Low-A by the end of the season when mass promotions will once again pour over the southeast like a summer thunderstorm.

5. Patrick Weigel– There’s no doubt that Weigel would be in the Double Red Flag group above had it not been for his season-ending Tommy-John surgery at June’s end. Like Muller, Weigel has a frame for eating innings if his arm can agree with his body post-surgery. Weigel works off of his fastball which sits 95ish and moves up to 100 on occasions. Weigel was promoted to AAA after 7 dominant starts in AA and ran into some hiccups. However, it was reported that his velo took a nosedive in the last 2-3 starts before being pulled on June 18th after only 3.1 innings.  Due to the Braves extreme caution on Tommy John victims, Weigel likely won’t see action again until 2019 or at earliest Winter Ball in 2018 which, in turns, begs the question, “Does Weigel remain a starter?” The short answer for me is yes, but I don’t think that’ll be his role in MLB. If he can stay healthy, I think Weigel becomes a back-end bullpen threat where he’s asked to come in and let it fly. Focusing on 2 dominant pitches in his fastball and curveball and keeping the 3rd (changeup) in his back pocket to keep hitters honest, Weigel could be a serious force for years.

WELL, that’s all folks!  Don’t fret when looking at the current fruits of the Braves pitching prospects that have peaked into the bigs this year. Dominance is coming and we are going to have wave after wave after wave for years to come.

Go BRAVES!!!

1 Comments

Note of caution: While I think our success rate for these guys will be better than 1 out of every 5, that's the expected outcome. Reason I think these guys are different are the rapid ascent at such young ages.

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