Sean Gilmartin could find his way into Atlanta's rotation some time in 2013. - CB Wilkins
The Braves tradition of strong starting pitching doesn't seem likely to end any time soon.
From Warren Span to Tom Glavine, the Braves have a history of talented lefties getting the most out of ordinary stuff, and several prospects currently in the organization look poised to continue that tradition. The team has gone out of its way in the last few years to acquire lefty talent, both through the draft and through international free agents.
1. Sean Gilmartin: B: L, T: L, Ht: 6'2", Wt: 190, DOB: 5-8-90
The Braves believed they were getting a polished pitcher who would move through the system quickly when they selected Gilmartin out of Florida State with the 28th overall pick in 2011, and the early returns were promising as he went 2-2 with a 3.09 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP, 12 K/9, 0.8 BB/9, and 15.5 K/BB in 23.1 innings over 6 starts between the Gulf Coast League and Low A Rome in his professional debut. He jumped all the way up to Mississippi to begin the 2012 season and had little trouble handing AA hitters, going 5-8 with a 3.54 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 2 BB/9 and 3.31 K/BB in 119.1 innings over 20 starts. He moved up to Gwinnett in July and where the fatigue of his first full season and the jump to AAA took a toll on him, as he went 1-2 with a 4.78 ERA, a 1.43 WHIP, 6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, and 1.9 K/BB in 37.2 innings over 7 starts.
Teammates have marveled at Gilmartin's consistency and unflappable nature, comparing him to a metronome. He has an incredibly advanced feel for pitching and comes into every game with plan of how to attack hitters, including ways to vary his approach for the second and third time he faces batters. He has excellent command of all his pitches, which he needs since his stuff isn't exceptional. His changeup, which sits between 77-80, is easily his best pitch, and it serves as a great compliment to his fastball, which runs between 87-91. He has a looping curve that drops in between 70-72, and a show me slider he'll drive in at 80. He'll also use the occasional cutter at 85. He has easy, repeatable mechanics and a strong frame that make him a workhorse capable of piling on inning after inning.
Gilmartin is as close to a sure thing as you can find in a prospect. He might never be a star, but he'll certainly pitch in the Majors, and likely have a long, fruitful career, eating up innings, limiting walks, and keeping his team in the game every time out. He'll return to Gwinnett to start 2013, turning 23 just after the start of the season, and he's likely to put up similar numbers to what he did in Mississippi this year. He'll likely see time with Atlanta at some point this season, and could become a permanent fixture in the Braves rotation starting in 2014.
2. Alex Wood: B: L, T: L, Ht: 6'4", Wt: 215, DOB: 1-12-91
The Braves believed they got a bit of a steal when the plucked Wood out of UGA in the 2nd round this year, and he showed dividends immediately by anchoring a second half turnaround for Rome by going 4-3 with a 2.22 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 3.7 K/BB in 52.2 innings over 13 starts.
Unlike most lefties, Wood has a big time fastball, working it from 90-94 while regularly hitting 96. He has great control, especially with the fastball, and that allows him to set up hitters with an above average changeup. He has a developing slider, and the team is working on teaching him a curveball. Many teams overlooked Wood because his delivery is unusual. He winds and coils in his delivery, with his front (right) foot leading well before his body, and after he lands on the right foot, there's a slight hop backwards. While the motion is quirky, there's nothing essentially wrong with it, and there's no added strain on his arm. As long as he can keep his legs healthy, he shouldn't have any issues with the delivery. He's a hard worker and instantly became a vital part of the clubhouse when he joined Rome in June.
Given his college experience and his success at Rome, Wood will likely begin 2013 in Mississippi's rotation. As a left hander with a plus fastball, he's going to be a valuable asset to a Major League team. If he can continue to develop his slider and learn the curveball, he could become a solid back of the rotation innings eater, but even if he's can't and is limited to a fastball-changeup combo, he could be a dynamite reliever.
3. Luis Merejo: B: L, T: L, Ht: 6'0", Wt: 175, DOB: 10-8-94
At just 17 years old, the Dominican born Merejo was the youngest professional baseball player in the US in 2012, becoming the rare foreign player to skip the Dominican Summer League, instead making his pro debut in the GCL, going 0-5 with a 4.61 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, 11.6 K/9, 2 BB/9, and 5.9 K/BB in 41 innings over 10 games, 8 starts.
Merejo has a surprisingly advanced feel for pitching despite his age, and he's able to pair it with great natural talent. This season his fastball was working between 90 and 92 while occasionally hitting 94 and he paired it with a curveball and changeup that both show signs of being above average pitches down the line. The Braves believe both that his velocity will increase and his stuff will improve as he gets older and stronger.
The Braves have a knack for finding international talent under the radar, and Merejo seems like a great win for the scouting department. He'll only be 18 in 2013, but the team will give him every opportunity to win a job in Rome's rotation to begin the year. Even if he ends up spending time in Extending Spring Training and waiting until Rookie level Danville's season begins in June, it should be an exciting to see what Merejo can do with his a season of experience under his belt. At this point, the sky is the limit and the Braves will have no trouble letting this young man develop at his own rate.
4. Daniel Rodriguez: B: L, T: L, Ht: 6'0", Wt: 185, DOB: 12-11-84
Prior to 2012, the 27 year old Rodriguez had never played affiliated baseball in the US, but he was playing in his seventh season as a professional, all coming with Saltillo in the Mexican League. He began his career at 21 and this year was by far his best, as he went 11-5 with a 2.54 ERA, a 1.26 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, and 2.9 K/BB in 117 innings over 20 starts before the Braves signed him in August. He made 2 appearances with Gwinnett, allowing 1 earned run in 6 innings while walking 7 and striking out 4.
Rodriguez's strikeout pitch is his looping 12-6 curveball, which he pairs with a solid changeup and a fastball that sits between 89 and 93. Control issues have plagued him his entire career, as his 3.5 BB/9 rate from this season was the lowest of his career. If he's going to have success, he's going to have to be more consistently in the strike zone. He has a great feel for pitching and setting up hitters, but he needs to stop being his own worst enemy by giving up free passes.
Beginning 2013 as a 28 year old, Rodriguez is hardly a typical prospect, but the Braves believe he can be a useful pitcher, and will give him a chance at a full year in the US by starting him out in Gwinnett's rotation. At worst, he could become a great situational lefty, but if the coaches can figure out his control problems, he could become a viable Major League starter.
5. Dimasther Delgado: B: L, T: L, Ht: 6'2", Wt: 180, DOB: 3-9-89
After putting up a 5-7 record, a 3.61 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, and 4 K/BB in 99.2 innings over 17 starts as a 20 year old with Rome, Delgado was a rising star in the Braves system. But an offseason car accident left him with a broken leg that caused him to miss all of the 2010 season. He returned in 2011, moving up to Lynchburg where he went 9-6 with a 3.94 ERA, a 1.40 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 4.5 BB/9, and 1.6 K/BB in 96 innings over 23 games, 17 starts. This season, a minor injury caused him to miss most of Spring Training and most of April, and when he returned he put up a 7-7 record, a 3.92 ERA, a 1.42 WHIP, 5.6 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, and 2.1 K/BB in 128.2 innings over 24 starts with Lynchburg.
Delgado's stuff is only average, a fastball that sits between 88-91 paired with a solid changeup and curveball, but early in his career he was able to get the most out of his pitches by utilizing advanced feel and control. The leg injury and the layoff seemed to affect both, as he hasn't been able to come close to recreating is pre-injury strikeout or walk rates. His landing leg was the one that was injured, and it's possible that he simply hasn't felt comfortable since his injury. Given his so-so results the last two years, the Braves may move him to the bullpen in 2013 in an attempt to make him more aggressive and reactive in his pitching.
It's tough to see a once promising prospect derailed by a freak offseason injury, but if Delgado ever hopes to become a Major Leaguer, he's going to have to recapture some of the advanced feel he showed in his youth. He'll head to Mississippi in 2013 as a 24 year old, and it's going to be a real test for the future of his career.