The Atlanta Braves right-hander Freddy Tarnok is yet another young arm in an seemingly endless arsenal of highly-rated pitching prospects. One viewing of Tarnok and three words quickly come to mind: electric, exciting, and raw.
That last thought leaves a lot of question marks with Tarnok, but he certainly put together a strong full-season debut to let you believe that it could all work out into a fine starting pitcher.
(Video courtesy of The Minor League Prospect Video Page on YouTube)
Tarnok entered the 2017 season as a two-way superstar, playing shortstop as well as pitcher for Riverview High School. While there was little question Tarnok had an arm, he showed he could actually pitch his senior year. That made him the Braves’ third overall pick of the 2017 MLB Draft. The first two picks of that draft — Kyle Wright and Drew Waters — have already lept to the top of the Braves farm rankings. If Tarnok harnesses his stuff, he may not be far behind.
He’s a bit tall and lanky, standing at 6’4” and 185, but wears it well and should only grow more into it. He had a nice half-season debut with the GCL Braves, making eight short starts. Last season, at the age of 19, he made his full-season debut with Rome and it came with mixed results. He was lights out in the bullpen to start the season, but a move to the rotation for the second half was every bit inconsistent as it was exciting.
Simply put, when Tarnok lands a pitch, it’s filthy. Unfortunately, that’s also a work in progress, but fortunately, it’s understandable as to why.
Tarnok has a nice fastball that can really move and sat around 92, 93 all night in a July 30, 2018 start against Greensboro. He stands on the first base side, has a big leg kick, and and shows a pretty smooth delivery for the most part, although sometimes it seems that there is some effort. That velocity was reportedly down from his shorter stints in the bullpen, but that is also expected as throwing out of the pen is a different beast. He also showed a curve that has nice spin and a changeup that has nice fade, both of which mixed up batters for two of his five strikeouts that evening.
While both his curve and change flash plenty of above-average potential, they are still very inconsistent. He also needs to work on separating his fastball and changeup a bit more, perhaps adding a bit more deception to the change to become a more effective pitch. That said, he has all the tools to pitch and it’s clear to see he knows how.
Tarnok went five innings that night in Rome, striking out five and walking three, landing 61 percent of his pitches for strikes. He was the victim of some bad luck in the first inning, including a wild pitch of his own, but flashed his brilliance in a strikeout of Christopher Torres who went fishing for a curve. He remedied that quickly, and was much more aggressive in the second, landing two of three first pitch strikes, while going 1-2-3, striking out the final batter of the inning on three-straight fastballs that went 93, 92, 94.
The big takeaway was his velocity diminished by the fifth inning. He was sitting 89 for the most part, hurting his changeup as well. The off-speed pitches he landed made you pine for another, but he struggled to string them together.
For the most part, Tarnok seemed like a pitcher who exactly was who he was. A teenager making his full-season debut, adjusting to the grind of the most he threw from start to finish in a season. His game changes a bit going deeper into games, and he could still use some work in figuring out how to get through a lineup twice. But those aren’t negatives. He’s super raw, but is also still newer to the craft. Not everyone is going to be a Mike Soroka or Bryse Wilson and debut by the age of 20.
The Braves should be in no rush with their young righty. He seems like he has a relatively nice ceiling if he can figure out to complete his game and transition to full-time starter. What he showed in the first half out of the bullpen — a 1.42 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 44 strikeouts in 31.2 innings — leaves plenty to be excited about as a reliever should that be a road he has to take. The Braves were ultra-aggressive with their prospects last season, so while it’s safe to expect Tarnok spends the entire year in Florida, don’t be surprised by anything.