Since the days of Paul Snyder the Braves scouting and development system has revolved around cultivating young projectable talent. Within that sphere of thinking they put more of their focus on pitching than position players with the idea that it is better to have an abundance of pitching because you can always trade good pitchers for good hitters. And much like a Russian Nesting doll, they focus on left handed starting pitchers. The theory behind this is there are more good hitters than good pitchers and more good right handed pitchers than left handed pitchers so by nature they are more valuable than their counterparts simply for being a rarer breed in general. So with all of that said the Braves have a history of left handed starting pitching depth in the minors and this year isn't really any different though there is separation from the top player and the rest of the group. There isn't as much total potential and several of these guys are similar players (as lefties are wont to fit a certain mold) but nearly half of this list could be ready to contribute in the majors in the next year or so.
6. Scott Diamond B/T: L/L Born: 07/301986 HT: 6'3" WT:190
Scott Diamond signed with the Braves as a non drafted free agent after pitching well for Binghamton for 3 seasons. He used some personal connections from playing in the Coastal Plains league to get a tryout with Braves scouting director Roy Clark and was signed but couldn't join the team until instructional league because of visa issues. In 2008 he posted a 15-3 record between Rome and Myrtle Beach while maintaining solid control and a respectable strike out rate. Diamond was also one of the hardest players for the Talking Chop crew to agree on as we ranked him 2nd, 7th and not at all on our individual lists for lefties.
Scott throws in the high 80s to low 90s. While his fastball isn't very fast, it does have excellent sinking action and produces a lot of groundballs. He mixes in a cut-fastball, curve and changeup. None of his secondary pitches are considered outstanding but his his ability to hit his spots and change speeds is well above average. Diamond also has the classic 'bulldog' mentality that Braves scouts love so much. He is not afraid to pitch inside and challenge hitters. One oddity about his stats is that his ERA was 2.5 runs higher at home than it was on the road this season even though his BB and K%'s were nearly identical between the two. Both Diamond's walk rate and hits allowed spiked a bit this year with his jump to AA, but he was still very effective. His FIP was 3.14 vs a 3.5 ERA with a .366 BAbip so he was a bit hit unlucky on the year.
Diamond passed the AA litmus test this year and looks to move up to Gwinnett in 2010 and could be in the Brave's plans in the next year or two. His entire game is built around changing speeds and keeping the ball down in the zone. Up to this point he has been able to maintain that. Going forward he is going to need to show the spike in walks is something he can control. He looks like a 4th or 5th starter or a solid arm in the bullpen.
7. Cole Rohrbough B/T: L/L Born: 05/23/1987 HT: 6'3" WT: 203
The Braves selected Cole in the in 22nd round of the 2006 Amateur Draft. He debuted in 2007 splitting time between Rome and Danville where he was nothing short of dominant posting a combined 1.17 ERA and striking out 96 in just 61 1/3 innings which put him squarely on the prospect radar. Coming into this season many people probably still would have ranked Rohrbough as the Braves top left handed starter due to his combination of stuff and projectability, but given his results the last two seasons his star has dimmed a bit.
2008 was a bit of a mixed bag for Cole as he split the year between Rome and Myrtle Beach. His ERA ballooned up to 4.40 in the Sally League and then dropped to 3.41 in Advanced A ball. Most of that was due to him cutting his walk rate in half (12.1% to 6.2%) and he was a bit hit unlucky in Rome to start the season. 2009 was a completely different story as Cole struggled all season and posted an ERA of 5.77 in a full season at Myrtle Beach. He started the year flat out dominant in April and May before falling apart for most of the rest of the season.The two things that draw my interest the most are Rohrbough's walk rate has sat around 9.5% of his batters faced over the last two seasons and his K rate has dropped at each one of his professional stints and he was down to 19.5% this season (about 7.7 p/9).
Rohrbough has good stuff from the left side with a fastball that ranges from the low 90s and can touch 93-94. He has always been praised for a spike curveball that is nearly unhittable when he is on and developing changeup. When his control is on he can dominate hitters and toy with them, but he has a tendency to lose command of his pitches and get in trouble.
Cole has as much potential as anyone in the system but with his recent bumps he needs to show that it isn't all for naught. He was hampered by shoulder and ankle injuries last year a bit and one has to wonder if there is something going on there that no one knows about. There have also been some whispers about his mental toughness when things fall apart on the mound. 2010 is going to be a big year for Cole and he needs to prove that he can command and control his pitches and still get batters out.
8. Bret Oberholtzer B/T: L/L Born: 07/01/1989 HT: 6'2" WT:190
Bret Oberholtzer started his second year in the Braves organization pitching for Danville and pretty much dominating the Appy League. He went 6-2 with a 2.01 ERA and a 56-6 K/BB rate in 67 innings pitched. The Braves took him in the 8th round of the 2008 Amateur Draft after the Mariners failed to sign him from the 2007 draft when they took him in the 47th round.
Oberholtzer did what a lot of young lefties do in rookie ball: made most of the league look like fools with an advanced feel for pitching. He has good command of a lively fastball that ranges from 88-92. On top of his fastball he throws an average curve and changeup, but again he can throw them for strikes whenever he wants. Coaches and scouts were impressed with the fact that he wasn't afraid to throw his breaking pitches in any count, even when behind. Bret also possesses a herky-jerky delivery that creates a bit of deception on his way to the plate and with baserunners which led to only 7 people attempting to steal on him this season.
Oberholtzer has nothing left to prove in rookie ball and will look to make the transition from short season to full season ball next year in Rome, which has been a left handed haven the past couple of seasons. I look for him to be successful there as well with his command helping him to keep hitters off balance for most of the year.
9. Tyler Stovall B/T: L/L Born: 12/27/1989 HT: 6'1" WT: 180
Robert "Tyler" Stovall (not to be confused with the Reds prospect named Tyler Stovall) was taken by the Braves in the 2nd round of the 2008 Amateur Draft ahead of guys like Zeke Spruill, Craig Kimbrel, Jake Thompson, JJ Hoover and Richard Sullivan all of whom have moved ahead of him in the organization. Why was he taken first? Well coming out of high school he was the best pitcher in Alabama high school history setting win and strike out records two straight years and was considered one of the top prep lefties in the country last year year, but was raw in some phases of the game. This year he was strangely effective for Danville as he struck out more than a batter an inning for the season but also walked more a man an inning and somehow still maintained an ERA of 3.12.
Tyler brings a lot of good things to the table. For one he is just 19 years old and assuming he goes to Rome next season he will be 20 in his first full season league. He also has a wiry body that still has a bit of projection to it that may add a little more speed to his low 90s fastball. To go along with his lively fastball he also throws an above average changeup and dominant curve that lead to 200+ strike outs in consecutive high school seasons and 57 in 52 innings this year. The scouting reports on Stovall coming out of high school said his stuff was excellent but he relied on his curve too much and it could catch up to him against advanced competition. This season the Braves coaches had him working more off of his fastball and his command was evidence of how little he used it in the prep ranks leading to an astounding 56 walks in 52 innings.
Tyler will most likely make the jump to Rome in 2010 unless he shows in spring training that he hasn't made the necessary adjustments to face the advanced competition. Currently his stuff is exciting but as a starter he can't continue to walk batters at this rate and expect to keep be an effective pitcher.
10. Richard Sullivan B/T: L/L Born: 04/13/1987 HT: 6'3" WT: 235
Richard Sullivan is another Gerogia boy the Braves took in the 11th round of the 2008 draft out of Savannah College of Art and Design. He split the 2008 season between Rome and Danville putting up solid numbers in just 55 innings of work. In 2009 he found himself making starts with Rome, Myrtle Beach and Mississippi (though the stint in Mississippi was more as a roster holder than anything I believe) with mixed results and a 6-14 record on the year and 4.60 ERA. His FIP was about .75 runs lower than his posted ERA though his walks are still a little higher than I like out of a guy with his stuff.
Sullivan is a tall guy on a big frame, so there isn't much hope of him adding any more to his low 90s fastball. His fastball remains an excellent weapon however as he generates TONS of groundballs (about 62% as a pro so far) and gives up few homers. He also has a plus curve that drops off the table to go along with an improving changeup. He also has an odd delivery that helps keep hitters off balance.
Richard is going to be 23 years old next season and while he didn't wow the world at Myrtle Beach I think he will find himself in Mississippi to start next season, and if not at the beginning of the year he will probably find his way there at some point. I would like to see him raise the strike out totals some, but his ability to induce groundballs will make up for the lack of Ks he gets and may mean he could actually improve as his defenses improve behind him.