One of the several starting pitching prospects to make their debuts for the Braves in 2018, Kolby Allard arguably had the most to prove. While he wasn’t successful in doing so this past year, there is still a path forward for him to be a successful major leaguer although it does appear that it is a tight rope he will have to walk.
Allard was drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft as one of the better prep arms in the draft. He was billed as a kid with a projectable fastball that was already touching the mid-90’s with one of the better breaking balls in the class. He could have easily been one of the top picks in the draft if not for a back injury that saw his stock slide a bit.
In the minor leagues, the story was a bit different although he was still quite successful. His fastball velocity settled more in the low 90’s and his curve wasn’t as sharp, but his changeup was a weapon and he was able to command his fastball and changeup in all parts of the zone. After a relatively successful first full season at Rome, he impressed the Braves enough the following spring that he, along with Mike Soroka, got jumped all the way to Double-A Mississippi where he posted a 3.18 ERA and struck out 129 batters against 45 walks in 150 innings.
Coming into 2018, Kolby had plenty of doubters. Many questioned whether his fastball velocity and lack of a definitive swing and miss pitch would derail his chances in the major leagues. As of now, we don’t have answers either way. On the one hand, Kolby pitched very well for Triple-A Gwinnett where he posted a 2.72 ERA in 19 starts (112.1 innings). The Braves decided to give him a look in the major leagues and the results were....well, not great. Allard appeared in three games (one start) and posted a 12.38 ERA in eight innings of work.
What the future holds for Kolby is somewhat unclear. No, he does not appear to be the potential front line starting pitching prospect that the Braves’ hoped he could be, but he is still very much still a guy that could stick in the major leagues. His command will have to be better in the majors to be successful, though, given his diminished stuff and he has a limited ceiling. Adding some strength this offseason certainly wouldn’t hurt his cause, either. If he can spot his fastball better and find more consistency with his breaking ball, there is still a very real chance that he ends up as a major league starting pitcher. Whether that is with the Braves, who are loaded at starting pitcher in the minor leagues right now, is a very real question. Completely dismissing Kolby after a very abbreviated stint in the major leagues in 2018 is likely a mistake especially when his one start was in less than optimal weather conditions, but he is a guy that will have to show he belongs.
Bottom line, what did Kolby do in 2018? 2.72 ERA in 19 starts in Triple-A. 12.38 ERA in three games for the Braves.
Will he be on the roster in 2019? As of now, it looks like Kolby will be on the outside looking in. Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson, and Kyle Wright at least are all going to be competing for jobs on the Braves’ roster in spring training and all of them are more likely to get a spot than Kolby right now. If he is with the organization in 2019, he will be in Gwinnett again as he looks to prove that he deserves to be in the major leagues.
As with basically every prospect right now, there is a very real possibility that Allard could be traded this offseason. The Braves have a very real logjam in the minor leagues right now and with some areas of need at the big league level, there are going to be prospects sent out before the start of the 2019 season. With Kolby being as close to the big leagues as he is, he could be an attractive part of a trade package for a team in need of arms. It is really hard to predict who will and won’t be traded mainly because we don’t really know who the Braves are going to target to make a deal, but it isn’t unreasonable to think that Kolby could end up being one of the players dealt.
What will he do in 2019? Kolby’s path forward is still as a starter. At this moment in time, he doesn’t appear to have the sort of stuff that would play up in a bullpen role although that could easily change. Best guess right now is that he spends a good chunk of time in the minor leagues next season as a starter, pitches well, and gets another shot at playing time in the majors.