The 2018 MLB trading deadline has come with Alex Anthopoulos and the Atlanta Braves not only adding an under-30 starter, but also not taking away from the large collection of high end pitching prospects.
Make no mistake, the move to add Kevin Gausman was a very solid one. However that adds just one more name to the already long list of younger, controlled starters towards the top of the organizational depth chart.
Lets take a look at the names along with their age for the bulk of the 2019 season and their highest level reached.
Julio Teheran, 28, MLB
Mike Foltynewicz, 27, MLB
Sean Newcomb, 26, MLB
Kevin Gausman, 28, MLB
Mike Soroka, 21, MLB
Max Fried, 25, MLB
Luiz Gohara, 22, MLB
Kolby Allard, 21, MLB
Kyle Wright, 23, AAA
Touki Toussaint, 23, AAA
Bryse Wilson, 21, AAA
That’s 11 guys and every single one of them is already in at least Triple A. I don’t think you need me to tell you that only five spots to start exist in Atlanta, and just five more in Gwinnett. Should everyone be healthy simple math says one of these guys won’t open 2019 in a starting rotation without doing something unconventional, like using a six-man rotation.
This doesn’t even mention the fact that there are other young arms in the system which could play into this as well. Should he be healthy Patrick Weigel was in Triple A in 2017 prior to his Tommy John surgery. Then not far behind are the trio of top prep arms from the 2016 draft in Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, and Kyle Muller.
With potentially 11 guys competing for just five spots and all of them expected to be ready for a big league opportunity within the next calendar year, it means one thing. A big trade is coming, and maybe more than just one. Realistically you just can’t keep these guys in the minors all year in 2019 and expect them to develop properly while also maintaining their full trade value. You can’t just move them all to the bullpen either, as some of these guys are more valuable as a trade chip than a reliever in addition to there being some other relievers in the system deserving of roles.
So where do we go from here?
I think everyone can agree that the top four names on the list- Teheran, Foltynewicz, Newcomb, and Gausman are all big league starters. They are all assured of a big league starting job in 2019(assuming health), as they just don’t stand much chance of being demoted or sent to the bullpen. Now this does not mean that they are all in the rotation in Atlanta, as one(or more) of these four could be the trade bait, but they should all safely have big league starting jobs.
The one guy with some current bullpen experience is Max Fried. I don’t think he’s best used out of the pen, but he’s battled minor injury issues that have kept him from reaching his full potential and that has resulted in his role bouncing around a bit. While I’m not trying to predict what will happen with Fried, it’s clear to me that a final decision on him needs to be made this winter so that he can settle into a permanent role either in Atlanta or another organization.
Mike Soroka has earned his shot to have a regular big league spot and doesn’t seem like a guy that the Braves would want to deal, especially considering there are many who consider him to be the best pitching prospect of the group. Unfortunately Soroka is currently sitting on the disabled list and pitchers with shoulder injuries are never a good thing. Hopefully Maple Maddux is healthy and ready to go in 2019 so that he can claim a spot in that rotation.
When the 2018 season ends Kolby Allard will have spent an entire season in Double A and then an entire season in Triple A. He may not be 21 yet, but he’s done everything you could ask in the minors. Sending him back down next year would not be the best thing for his development as he’s more than proven himself in the upper levels of the minors.
It’s been a tough year for Luiz Gohara. He’s battled injuries and very sad stuff in his personal life, and that has spilled over onto the field. The Braves know he is clearly very talented, but he was also a guy that was being heavily looked at by other teams ahead of the deadline. After his tough 2018 season, he could be a candidate to open 2019 in the minors to prove that he is still the same pitcher, but I can’t see any way he spends all of the season there. While I tend to believe he may not remain here longterm, I am not willing to bet money on that because he could come back in 2019 and look like the guy we saw in 2017.
Touki Toussaint is very close to the big leagues, and I actually expect him to be in Atlanta this summer out of the bullpen during the stretch run. He’s made a small handful of Triple A starts so far and looked very good overall. I don’t think he needs to start the 2019 season in the big leagues as he could potentially use that extra month or so in the minors, but by next July he will be ready for a full time big league role.
Kyle Wright feels like the biggest long shot to be moved along with Soroka. The Braves didn’t take him fifth overall in the 2017 draft and spend big money to get him because they saw him as trade bait. Wright checks all the boxes and is close to finished in his development right now. I don’t think he opens the 2019 season in the Braves rotation, partly for service time as well as partly because I think he could use that extra month of Triple A to fine tune his game, but Wright will be a mainstay sooner rather than later.
Bryse Wilson is probably the only one in the group that you can say may be able to spend all of 2019 in the minors. That’s because the 20 year old just recently was promoted to Triple A and still could use some innings in the minors before he gets to face big league hitters. I believe that right now he is not one of the guys that a decision needs to be made on this winter due to the fact he’s a little bit behind the rest developmentally.
I can’t accurately predict what the 2019 Atlanta Braves rotation will look like, and it’s still possible that they add another young controllable starter via trade, but it’s clear that something needs to happen and it needs to happen soon. That is why I firmly believe that this winter is the time for some kind of move.
I’m not sure if they try to use their assets to cash in on a high end pitcher like a Jake deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, or Carlos Martinez, or if they want to get a high end bat in the outfield or even in an attempt to upgrade catcher or shortstop. Or maybe they try to add a top young reliever. I do know that Alex Anthopoulos has a plan, and it may be dependent on how the Braves do with their top free agency targets this fall, but either way the time has come that some of the prospect fans have long been dreading.