Our post-spring training roundtable series continues today with a look at the Atlanta Braves rotation. Atlanta entered the spring looking for one starter but that quickly became two after Cole Hamels irritated his shoulder during an offseason workout. Veteran Felix Hernandez pitched well through the early part of the Grapefruit League schedule. Sean Newcomb and Kyle Wright were equally impressive as internal options. So what will this situation look like on Opening Day?
What are your thoughts on the rotation battle? Who will be in the Opening Day rotation?
Scott Coleman - It sure felt like Sean Newcomb and Felix Hernandez were the two heavy favorites to win the 4th and 5th spots to begin the year. Kyle Wright spending additional time in Gwinnett is not a bad thing by any means. And while he’s had a great spring, Touki Toussaint has not shown he can maintain any kind of consistency at the higher levels. So I’ll say Newcomb and Hernandez would’ve been in the rotation if the season began at the end of March. The postponement does, of course, give Cole Hamels additional time to get ready.
Eric Cole - There has been too much noise around the potential inclusion of Felix Hernandez for me to ignore that he was a likely candidate for a spot before the season was postponed. Newcomb has been floated as another name as well and pitched pretty well this spring. I still think the Braves really want Kyle Wright to get a spot in the rotation, but everything is in flux now. With the added time that Hamels should have to heal up (although how he can be stretched out and rehabbed without organized play is an open question in itself), there may only be one spot up for grabs. I think the Braves will give Newcomb a temporary look in the rotation and revisit his inclusion and the second, more permanent spot I expect would go to Felix to start although you could convince me easily that using the 40 man spot and not giving a guy like Wright a shot in this scenario isn’t the best course of action.
Garrett Spain - The rotation I want and the rotation I expect to see are two different things. I think Felix Fernandez and Sean Newcomb will lock down the fourth and fifth spot, as even with the gap I think the Braves will show patience and give Hamels a bit to make sure he is 100%. Once Hamels comes in I think they slot Newcomb in the bullpen or at Triple-A with another player coming up to take a bullpen spot. The rotation I want would be Soroka, Fried, Hamels, Wright, Newcomb/Hernandez, but that’s a pipe dream.
Demetrius Bell - Of course, this is going to be extremely interesting since Cole Hamels should hopefully be ready whenever the season eventually gets underway. Had the season actually started on time, you could have easily penciled in Sean Newcomb and Felix Hernandez into the rotation. In my view, Newcomb would be getting the fourth spot since Felix would probably still be a huge question mark once the regular season begins due to his recent track record. Kyle Wright making his way into the conversation with his spring performance was a huge positive, though.
Ivan - My thought on the rotation battle is that the Braves would probably be best-served not wasting their time entertaining the Felix Hernandez comeback attempt. I like to think that the Braves are mostly on board with this, but honestly, who knows. Ideally the season rotation (at least at this point) is Soroka, Foltynewicz, Hamels, Fried, and Newcomb, with Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright stepping in. It looks like Wilson has been crossed off in the early going (sad, see below) and while I wouldn’t give Wright a nod over Newcomb at this point, giving Hernandez innings over either (or even Wilson) seems incredibly blah to me.
Wayne Cavadi - Hopefully, Cole Hamels is healthy. Hopefully, the layoff doesn’t cool down the red-hot Felix Hernandez. Coming out of a normal spring training, I’d have no problem with unleashing Kyle Wright in the rotation, but I don’t know that I trust him with a shortened spring training. If we have baseball by July 4th, I think you start Wright in Triple-A and roll with Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Cole Hamels, Mike Foltynewicz and King Felix with Newcomb getting one more season as a dominant bullpen piece before getting him into the rotation for a full year.
Matt Powers - Lets start by locking in Maple Maddux, Folty, and Max Fried. If the season began today, Wright has done too much to start the year in the minors and King Felix seems to have re-invented himself over the winter. That would be pretty set for me, but with the season unlikely to start until at least June, Cole Hamels has a real chance to be healthy for Opening Day. In this scenario I see Felix and Hamels taking the last two spots, with Wright going to Gwinnett simply because he has an option year remaining. I’ve always had Nuke in the outside looking in because we know he can be an asset in relief easier than the other guys.
Daniel H-K - I think the delay in starting the season will allow Cole Hamels to get healthy by “opening day”. That would mean that only one spot would be up for grabs with Soroka, Fried, Folty, and Hamels locked in. I do think that Sean Newcomb gets that final spot, despite strong springs from Felix Hernandez and Kyle Wright.
Cory McCartney - Calling out the elephant in the room here, because we don’t know when the season will actually start and it changes everything. Had we remained on track to start in March, a grouping of Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, Max Fried, Sean Newcomb and Felix Hernandez would have been entirely possible, but this delay opens the door for Cole Hamels to be an immediate contributor. At a mere $1 million, King Felix has earned himself a longer look, one that — even if we get a multiple-week ramp-up period — may now necessitate meaningful games and push Newcomb to the bullpen to start. So give me Soroka, Foltynewicz, Fried, Hamels and Hernandez.
AB - I’m not sure of the point of keeping Felix Hernandez once Cole Hamels is ready to go. Assuming Cole is ready for Opening Day, I would lean toward Soroka, Hamels, Foltynewicz, Fried, and Newcomb. You have Touki Toussaint, Kyle Wright, Bryce Wilson, and Ian Anderson waiting for more opportunities to pitch versus MLB hitters. We may keep Felix anyway and he may indeed have a run of good luck, but the projections show a 0.5 WAR starter. The Braves have plenty of starters (and Patrick Weigel) at that level.
Anthony Traurig - The delay to the start of the season will undoubtedly play a large role in what happens with the rotation. If Cole Hamels is healthy for whenever the start of the season might be, it would change how I view the rotation. If Sean Newcomb or Kyle Wright seem prepared by the start of the season, I think one of them should get a spot in the rotation. Felix Hernandez would thus be expendable. I view Hernandez only as an option if Hamels, Mike Foltynewicz, Mike Soroka, or Max Fried could not start the season. If all four can, then one of the younger guys should get a shot, and I think Newcomb has the inside track.
Aaron Huston - You have locks with Soroka, Fried, Folty and Hamels. That leaves just one spot. I felt we saw some really good pitching from Newk, Wright and Hernandez. While I feel the Braves are likely to give the final spot to Hernandez, I’d like to see Newk get it and see if he can hold it. Or even better, have Newk and Hernandez piggyback each other. They could alternate between who starts and who comes off the bench; each throws about 4 innings. You’d keep both from having to see the lineup a 3rd time and I bet you’d maximize their performance. Also, you’d be giving the rest of the bullpen extra rest. I see this as a win-win. Even though I say this, I look at who manages the Braves and I don’t think Snit is progressive enough to do something like that.
Shawn Coleman - With the delay in the season, it certainly appears as if it will be Soroka, Fried, Foltynewicz, and a potentially healthy Hamels. A big factor for the final spot in the rotation, to me, is how many games this season will be. If the regular season is shortened, I feel the Braves have to go with talent, which would be Kyle Wright in the rotation and Sean Newcomb in the pen. I know Felix Hernandez pitched very well this spring, and if it is a normal season length, he could get the first crack in filling out the rotation. However, in a shortened season, Newcomb and Wright just simply have more upside in elevating the effectiveness of the Braves pitching staff as a whole.