The Youth Movement Is Finally Here

The Youth Movement Is Finally Here

G-Braves Media

You’d be forgiven if at times this season, you said, “where’re all these prospects we traded everyone I knew for?”

The opening day lineup included five players over the age of 30. Two of the five reserves used that day were over 30. That doesn’t include Emilio Bonifacio, Kurt Suzuki, Jaime Garcia, Jim Johnson, Sam Freeman, or Josh Collmenter – all regular faces over the first few months who were in the Age-30 season or older. Oh, and that definitely doesn’t include R.A. Dickey or Bartolo Colon, who both hit their 30’s over a decade ago. For a team that was all about the rebuild, this was an old team and a guy like Jason Motte didn’t help make it any younger.

It was frustrating for casual and decidedly more-than-casual fans of the team to watch as prospects began to accumulate in Gwinnett while Adonis Garcia and Eric O’Flaherty appeared with regularity and disappointment over the first few months. You may have even lost a bit of your faith in the Braves front office and management. It’s okay if you did. Like I said, you’re forgiven.

On Wednesday night, we witnessed the latest example of what this youth movement might mean. Facing a playoff bound team destined to win 95 or so games, the Braves beat the Nationals with ease, leaning on a young quartet of pitchers. Sure, Matt Kemp‘s Grand Slam was the Sportscenter highlight, but the real story of this game was the youngins.

On the mound to begin the game was Luiz Gohara, who just turned 21 on the last day of July. Embarrassed by first-game jitters his last time out, Gohara took the mound against Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and Ryan Zimmerman and made the Nationals quite aware that the young lefty just might be a problem for them to deal with for the next half-decade. With control that was missing his first time out, Gohara surgically placed his 97 mph fastball wherever he wanted throughout the evening. He then followed that up with his slider, which had the Nationals swinging themselves into pretzels. He was even able to spot his much-improved changeup, using it effectively to keep the Washington hitters at bay. It was the kind of stuff that may have made Bryce Harper happy to still be on the shelf.

He’s right, ya know.

The Braves followed Gohara’s outing with the 27-year-old rookie, Dan Winkler. Since he returned to the team last month, Winkler has been nearly as a lights-out as he was at the beginning of last season before he fractured his elbow. A rare bullpen piece that throws five pitches, Winkler gave his changeup the night off and worked instead off his four-seamer, cutter, and slider with a sinker tossed in there for good measure. Whatever he threw, the Nats were powerless. Howie Kendrick hit a grounder to short while Michael Taylor struck out looking. Jayson Werth saw three fastballs, including a cutter, before swinging over an 82 mph slider.

A.J. Minter got the call next and Turner singled off him. That at-bat followed back-to-back strikeouts of Matt Wieters and Raudy Reed with the latter looking just sad against Minter’s slider. Randy, don’t disappear. You aren’t the first, nor will you be the last to look to the heavens as the slider defies physics. Minter toyed with Wilmer Difo next, throwing the infielder four sliders at 89-90 mph before throwing a 97 mph fastball that Difo could only look at.

With the lead safely in hand, the Braves called on Lucas Sims to finish it. A starter by trade, the 23-year-old Sims has been moved into a bullpen role. He drew three of the better bats in Wednesday’s lineup – Rendon, Zimmerman, and Kendrick. They didn’t have a chance against Sims’ four-pitch mix of a 93-94 mph fastball, 87-89 mph slider, and the occasional 84 mph change and 82 mph curve. Zimmerman struck out for the second time in the game and the Braves’ rookie arms struck out 12 overall.

Not to be outdone, the first two batters, Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson, reached base a combined four times. They also scored twice and were credited with three runs driven in. Lane Adams, another 27-year-old rookie who keeps hitting, filled in admirably for Ender Inciarte with three hits, including his first major league triple.

On Wednesday, we didn’t see Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Max Fried, or Johan Camargo, but all four are 25-and-under and contributing.

This season has been trying for Braves fans – myself included. Watching Jason Motte get innings while Akeel Morris remained in Gwinnett was difficult. And watching Adonis Garcia play over Rio Ruiz was very frustrating. For a rebuilding team, the Braves of the first several months seemed awfully focused on the here-and-now. That much appears to be changing. The Braves are beginning to put the kids first and it’s about time.

On Thursday, the Braves started just three players over the age of 30.

It’s progress. And progress, my dear friends, is a good thing.

3 Comments

I'd FORGO spending any money in free agency this offseason! Assuming that Braves management trades Nick Markakis (with only 1 year/$10.5 mil left on his contract, he's tradeable! He can still get on base, plays everyday…basically a one year stop-gap for some team)….Ronald Acuna will start in Right Field on Opening Day 2018.

I know that a lot of people would feel 'comfortable' with Acuna hitting lower in the batting order and 1st proving himself before elevating him to the #2 spot of the batting order….however I feel that he's simply TOO GOOD/TOO 'Toolsy' to be subjected to that! Put Ozzie Albies #1, Acuna #2, Freddie Freeman #3 (which would position him to lead MLB in RBIs in 2018..assuming he can stay healthy), Kemp #4 (I get it, he's overpaid/bad defensively…however he does have power/he'll be more 'tradeable' after the 2018 season, when he only has 1 year/$18 mil left on his contract. If he stays relatively healthy/productive in 2018, an AL team in need of a DH for 2019 may find him attractive IF we eat an agreed upon amount of his last year), Ender Inciarte #5 (I feel that he'll knock in more runs/give lefty-right balance to the batting order batting between Kemp and #6 Tyler Flowers), Rio Ruix/Johan Carmago #7, Dansby Swanson #8 (his ability to draw walks/hit the ball the other way has value in turning over the lineup by clearing the pitcher's spot).

I'd use The 2018 Season to TRULY audition who we want to be our 2019 Opening Day Pitching Staff! I'd use the payroll savings (our payroll will significantly decrease from 2017 to 2018 under this scenario) to make a move to sign Manny Machado to play 3rd. Assuming we can trade Matt Kemp during the 2018 offseason….I would also sign Bryce Harper to play left field.

With our cheap pitching staff for 2019, if we opened up the vault for Machado and Harper..our 2019 line-up would be the following:

1. Albies….2nd
2. Acuna…..RF
3. Freeman…1st
4. Machado…3rd
5. Harper…LF
6. Flowers…C
7. Inciarte…CF
8. Swanson…SS

Starting Rotation

1. Julio Teheran
2. Luis Gohara
3. Sean Newcomb/Max Fried
4. Mike Soraka
5. Kolby Allard

2018 will determine how effective both Fried and Newcomb are as starters. Both have live arms…however health/developing a 3rd out pitch will determine both's long term outlook. If both pan out, then Julio Teheran will be tradeable. However, if one/both cant cut it as a starting pitcher…then one/both can audition to be the next Andrew Miller! I agree that Folty's long term future is either being traded to another team OR being the next closer for The Braves.

With Joey Wentz, Ian Anderson, Tooki Touisant, Bryce Wilson, and others just a couple of years away….The Braves will have an embarrassment of options to choose from for starting pitching/bullpen help!

Love it, but I don't think anyone outside of Bill Gates is signing both Machado and Harper in the same off-season — least of all Coppolella who's said he views big free agent contracts as things that completely cripple mid-market teams.

Signing BOTH Machado and Harper after The 2018 Season WOULD NOT cripple The Braves 2019…IF things play out in 2018 like I hope/expect!

1. We're able to trade Markakis this offseason, opening up an 2018 Opening Day spot for Ronald Acuna.

2. Matt Kemp can stay healthy/productive in 2018 (I feel this is a possibility, with IMPROVED starting pitching AND with Inciarte/Acuna patrolling the outfield)…then with only 1 year/$18.5 mil left on his 2019 contract, Kemp will look attractive enough for an AL team in need of a DH to acquire (even if we have to eat a few mil)!

3. In the above post, I stated that if Newcomb, Gohara and either Sims/Fried all show that they are ML caliber starting pitchers in 2018, then BOTH Teheran AND Folty will be expendable (assuming that BOTH Mike Soroka AND Kolby Allard are ready for prime time come Opening Day 2019). Trading either/both Teheran/Folty would save around $15-$20 mil for 2019 (Teheran's $11 mil 2019 salary and if Folty has a decent 2018 season, he'll be up for a raise to around $8-9 mil for 2019). A 2019 starting rotation of Gohara, Newcomb. (Sims/Fried), Soroka and Allard (with Tooki Toussaint, Joey Wentz, Bryce Wilson, Patrick Weigel) all waiting in the wings SHOULD anyone get hurt/falter off!

4. A HELLA CHEAP rotation/bullpen COMBINED with Swanson, Albies, Acuna ALL making The Minimum, Inciarte making around $5 mil in 2019…leaves ONLY Freddie Freeman making ANY money (at $21 mil in each of 2019-20-21) for the 2019 season! Either we resign The Flowers/Suzuki duo for 2019 OR we give a Minor Leaguer a chance IF someone rises up the system during The 2018 Season!

5. Opening up THE VAULT for BOTH Machado and Harper (even if we pay each of them $35 mil a year)….WOULD NOT break The Braves payroll. Here's potentially The 2019 math (again, assuming the above happens, especially with the pitching):

1. Albies…2nd….$600k
2. Acuna….RF…..$600k
3. Freeman…1st…$21 mil
4. Machado….3rd…$35 mil
5. Harper….LF…..$35 mil
6. Flowers/Suzuki….$8 mil (combined, at most)
7. Inciarte…..$5 mil
8. Swanson……$700k

That's $105,700,000 for the starting 8.

Starting pitching

1. Luiz Gohara….$600k
2. Sean Newcomb…$600k
3. Sims/Fried…..$600k
4. Mike Soroka….$550k
5. Kolby Allard…$550k

That's a COMBINED $2,900,000 for our starting rotation. So for our top 13 players (starting pitching/starting line-up)…that's a payroll of $108,800,000.

With 12 bench/bullpen players left to fill…I'm CONFIDENT that Braves management can fill those spots with $21,200,000 (IF Braves Management decides to open The 2019 Season with a $130 Million Payroll…subtract however much they have to eat from a Matt Kemp trade, from that amount)!

Now, if Braves Management were to decide make a move to sign Craig Kimbrel (whose a free agent after The 2018 Season)…then the payroll may have to be increased to $140,000,000! However, with this lineup and our young pitching….we'd be SERIOUS PLAYERS come playoff time!

Again, all this is ASSUMING that the above 'predictions/hopes' happen in 2018! A lot of 'ifs', I know…but not impossible!

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