It seems as if the Josh Donaldson signing was the domino that needed to fall for the Atlanta Braves to get active once again in filling out their major and minor league depth for the 2020 season. While the moves over the past few days may be considered minor, the last six weeks of the 2019 season for the Braves showed that depth can be a very valuable asset. After adding to their organizational infield depth earlier this week, the Braves turned their focus to the bullpen early Saturday.
Free-agent left-hander Chris Rusin agrees to minor-league deal with #Braves with invitation to major-league spring training, source tells The Athletic.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 18, 2020
Per Ken Rosenthal, the Braves have agreed to a minor league contract with southpaw Chris Rusin. He also has an official invite to major league Spring raining. As mentioned above, this move is likely one made in the process of filling out the Braves Major League Spring Training Roster. However, due to the potential need for left-handed depth in the bullpen and Rusin’s past success, this could be an under the radar addition that provides value during the season.
Due to injuries and ineffectiveness, Rusin has pitched only 55 2⁄3 innings over the past two years, including just one inning last year. However, before that, Rusin, who had been with the Rockies since 2015, provided good value out of bullpen in 2016 and 2017. Over that two year span, he produced 4.0 bWAR. Though Rusin has never been a high volume strikeout pitcher, the secret to his success is producing grounders. From 2016-2018, Rusin produced ground ball rates between 56.2% and 58.5% in over 220 innings pitched. This resulted in his FIP never rising above 4.25 over that time frame.
Rusin will join a growing group of left-handed relief options that will look to secure the secondary southpaw role in the Braves bullpen. With Will Smith pegged as a major contributor in closing and late inning situations, the Braves may prefer another lefty to complete their bullpen. Names such as Sean Newcomb and A.J. Minter likely offer more upside than Rusin. However, with Newcomb getting looked at again as a starter and the uncertainty with Minter after his dreadful 2019 season, it makes sense to have other options in place to rely on if the need arises.
Overall, it is more likely than not that Rusin does not make much of an impact out of the gate for Atlanta this season. However, if he stays in the organization past spring training, he could fill a need if injuries were to arise, even if it is for a short period. Furthermore, as Jerry Blevins and Josh Tomlin showed last year, if Rusin can return to his effective ways from a few years back, he could work his way into the Braves plans over an extended stretch as well. In the end, the Braves continue to place a priority on having depth in place to best handle the unexpected twists and turns each season possesses.