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Braves have internal pitching options but could still stand to add a starter

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A closer look at where Atlanta’s 40-man roster stands in terms of pitching depth

World Series - Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros - Game Three Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

After a brief stretch of early action this offseason, it has turned into a long, cold winter for the Atlanta Braves and Major League Baseball as the sport finds itself in labor turmoil. Not much has changed since the start of the lockout, but hopefully a sense of urgency for the league and players will start to build over the next few weeks with Spring Training report dates on the horizon.

Over the next week or so, we are going to be taking a closer look at where things stand for the Braves. Up first is a look at the pitching side of the 40-man roster. We will follow that up with a look at the position players and then a position by position look at the system’s depth. Atlanta currently has 38 players on their 40-man roster, including 23 pitchers.

Additions: Jay Jackson, Kirby Yates, Darren O’Day (Minor League Deal)

Subtractions: Richard Rodriguez, Jasseel De La Cruz, Grant Dayton, Jesse Chavez, Chris Martin, Drew Smyly, Josh Tomlin

Ian Anderson (2021: 24 GS, 128.1 IP, 23.2 K%, 9.9 BB%, 3.58 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 1.9 fWAR)

A shoulder injury slowed Ian Anderson in the second half of the season but he still set a career-high with 128 1/3 innings pitched in 2021. He added four more postseason starts totaling 17 innings, including a five-inning, no-hit performance in Game 3 of the World Series. Anderson will head into Spring Training with a rotation spot locked up and if healthy, will likely be setting another career high in innings pitched in 2022.

Tucker Davidson (2021: 4 GS, 20.0 IP, 21.7 K%, 9.6 BB%, 3.60 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 0.2 fWAR)

For a moment, it looked like Tucker Davidson was going to hold onto a spot in the Braves’ rotation in 2021. He allowed just three earned runs over his first three starts (17 2/3 IP) before suffering a strained forearm on June 15 against the Red Sox in a game that he allowed five runs in just 2 1/3 innings which skewed his final numbers. Davidson would largely miss the remainder of the regular season before making a rehab start at Gwinnett in their final regular season game. He was called upon to start Game 5 of the World Series following the injury to Charlie Morton.

Davidson figures to be in the group of pitchers that will be competing during the spring for one of the final spots in the rotation for 2022.

Max Fried (2021: 28 GS, 165.2 IP, 23.7K%, 6.1 BB%, 3.04 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 3.8 fWAR)

Depending on Charlie Morton’s health, Fried is probably the early favorite to be Atlanta’s Opening Day starter in 2021. He put together another outstanding season in 2021 that was capped off by six shutout innings in Game 6 of the World Series. Fried is arbitration-eligible for the second time this offseason.

Jay Jackson (SFG 2021: 23 G, 21.2 IP, 31.1 K%, 13.3 BB%, 3.74 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 0.1 fWAR)

The Braves acquired Jackson from the Giants in exchange for cash in late November. The 34-year-old veteran will come into Spring Training looking to land a spot in the bullpen for 2022. Per FanGraphs, Jackson has one minor league option remaining, so he could also be a depth option that could be stashed at Gwinnett until needed. Jackson hasn’t really provided much more than replacement-level relief work in his career to date, but his pitches are fine enough that he might be able to serve as an average reliever if given a shot.

Luke Jackson (2021: 71 G, 63.2 IP, 26.8 K%, 11.1 BB%, 1.98 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 0.6 fWAR)

After a disastrous 2020 season, Jackson returned to form and was again a key piece of the Braves’ bullpen in 2021. He rediscovered his slider this past season and his strikeout rate recovered as a result. He figures to once again lock down a spot in the back half of Atlanta’s bullpen. Jackson is arbitration-eligible for the third time this offseason.

Dylan Lee (2021 Triple-A: 35 G, 46.2 IP, 30.9 K%, 3.4 BB%, 1.54 ERA, 2.61 FIP)

Lee wasn’t added to the Braves’ 40-man roster until the final weekend of the regular season after putting up solid numbers at Gwinnett. He appeared in two games allowing two runs in two innings but showed enough to lock up a spot on the postseason roster, where he made three appearances. Lee will head into the spring as part of the competition for one of the final spots in the bullpen.

Tyler Matzek (2021: 69 G, 63.0 IP, 29.2 K%, 14.0 BB%, 2.57 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 1.1 fWAR)

One of the team’s many postseason heroes, Tyler Matzek emerged as one of the key pieces for Atlanta’s bullpen, if not the most critical piece overall. He successfully built off of a strong 2020 by logging 63 innings in 69 appearances while posting a 29.2 percent strikeout rate. The walk rate did jump from 8.3 percent to 14.3 percent during the regular season, but it didn’t limit his effectiveness. Matzek is arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason.

A.J. Minter (2021: 61 G, 52.1 IP, 25.8 K%, 9.0 BB%, 3.78 ERA, 2.69 FIP, 1.3 fWAR)

Minter ended up appearing in 61 games for the Braves in 2021; that number doesn’t count a brief stretch where he was sent back to Gwinnett. He put up solid numbers across the board, actually leading the team’s relief corps in fWAR despite the temporary demotion, and played a big role out of the bullpen during the postseason. Minter is arbitration-eligible for the second time this offseason.

Charlie Morton (2021: 33 GS, 185.2 IP, 28.6 K%, 7.7 BB%, 3.34 ERA, 3.18 FIP, 4.6 fWAR)

Morton is another one-year contract success story for Alex Anthopoulos as he gave the Braves more than anyone could have expected in 2021, logging the second-most innings of his career. His season ended in Game 1 of the World Series when he suffered a fractured fibula after he was struck by a line drive. The initial prognosis was that he would be ready for Spring Training but Atlanta won’t rush him. Morton and the Braves agreed to a one-year, $20 million extension in September that also includes a club option for 2023. Given the fast-moving pitching market this offseason, that proved to be an excellent move.

Kyle Muller - (2021: 9 G, 8 GS, 36.2 IP, 23.9 K%, 12.9 BB%, 4.17 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 0.7 fWAR)

Muller made his major league debut in June and pitched well, allowing three runs or less in his first seven appearances. However, he struggled with his command in two starts in August before returning to Gwinnett, where he would finish out the season. He logged 79 2/3 innings pitched at Triple-A, posting a 3.39 ERA and a 4.12 FIP to go along with a 27.0 percent strikeout rate. Muller will likely be among the group of starters that are in competition during the spring for one of the final rotation spots.

Sean Newcomb (2021: 32 G, 32.1 IP, 28.7 K%, 18.0 BB%, 4.73 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 0.3 fWAR)

There was some thought that Newcomb might be a non-tender candidate but the Braves elected to tender him and will bring him to Spring Training. Newcomb’s stock has dropped considerably in recent seasons. He appeared in 32 games out of the bullpen for Atlanta and spent a fair portion of time on the team’s taxi squad, but was left off the postseason roster. The strikeouts were way up in 2021 but so were the walks, at least at the major league level. Newcomb is now out of options so this is likely his final chance to grab hold of a roster spot and carve out a role.

Alan Rangel (2021 A+, AA: 22 G, 21 GS, 104.2 IP, 3.87 ERA, 3.27 FIP)

Rangel began the 2021 season at High-A Rome, but turned some heads with his performance at Mississippi, where he posted a 31.1 percent strikeout rate in 34 innings. The Braves added him to the 40-man roster in early November to protect him from becoming a minor league free agent.

Will Smith (2021: 71 G, 68.0 IP, 30.7 K%, 9.9 BB%, 3.44 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 0.4 fWAR)

Smith assumed the closer role in 2021 after Mark Melancon signed with San Diego. He put up solid numbers across the board but the regular season was often a bit of a wild ride. However, all of that changed in the postseason, where he allowed just five hits and three walks and eight strikeouts in 11 scoreless innings, despite worse peripherals than in the regular season. Smith will be entering the final guaranteed year of his contract in 2022, although the Braves do hold a team option for 2023.

Mike Soroka - (2021: DNP)

If someone had told me in 2019 that the Braves would win the World Series in 2021 and that Mike Soroka wouldn’t throw a single pitch, I am not sure I would have believed it. Yet here we are, as Soroka has logged just 13 2/3 innings pitched since that breakout 2019 season due to a pair of Achilles tears. It will be interesting to see where he is at post-lockout and during the spring.

Spencer Strider (2021 A, A+, AA, AAA: 22 G, 94.0 IP, 39.3 K%, 10.3 BB%, 3.64 ERA, 2.80 FIP)

Strider was a fourth-round pick by the Braves in 2020 out of Clemson and began the 2021 season in Low-A before advancing four levels to make his Major League debut during the final weekend of the regular season. Strider will be an intriguing name to keep an eye on during the spring, not only for his performance, but also to see how he’s used. Strider worked mostly as a starter in 2021 before his late-season cameo as a relief option for the postseason roster. I expect him to begin the season at Gwinnett, but he will no doubt be an major league option of some sort at some point during 2022.

Freddy Tarnok (2021 A+, AA: 16 G, 14 GS, 73.1 IP, 36.5 K%, 9.4 BB%, 3.44 ERA, 3.21 FIP)

Tarnok began the season at Rome and ended it at Mississippi. The Braves added him to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 draft protection deadline. Tarnok’s season took off after his promotion, as he posted a 2.60 ERA and a 2.27 FIP in 45 innings at Double-A. He won’t be a factor for the Opening Day roster, but now that he is on the 40-man, he could move quickly.

Touki Toussaint - (2021: 11 G, 10 GS, 50.0 IP, 22.2 K%, 10.2 BB%, 4.50 ERA, 5.79 FIP, -0.2 fWAR)

A shoulder injury during the spring delayed the start of Toussaint’s 2021 season. He got off to a fast start when he rejoined the rotation, allowing two earned runs or less in six of his first seven starts. However, a number of those involved him playing with fire, and it all came crashing down when he allowed nine earned runs and walked seven over his final 10 innings. In the end, he was left off the playoff roster completely. It feels like Toussaint has reached the point where a shift in roles could be in order. Whatever the role, he will be one of the more experienced options that will be vying for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Jacob Webb (2021: 34 G, 34.1 IP, 21.6 K%, 9.2 BB%, 4.19 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 0.1 fWAR)

Webb bounced back and forth between the major league bullpen and Gwinnett for most of 2021. He ended up appearing in 34 games at the major league level and posted a 4.19 ERA and a 4.07 FIP in 34 1/3 innings. He finished the regular season on a good note and still has an option remaining in 2022.

Brooks Wilson (2021 AA, AAA: 39 G, 50.0 IP, 41.4 K%, 9.4 BB%, 2.34 ERA, 2.14 FIP)

Wilson was another young pitcher that was added to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 draft roster deadline. He showed big-time strikeout numbers between Double-A and Triple-A and put together a solid 2021 season overall. He should be in the mix to make his debut at the major league level at some point in 2022.

William Woods (2021 CPX, A+: 5 GS, 10.2 IP, 17.4 K%, 8.7 BB%, 4.22 ERA, 7.36 FIP)

Another pitcher added ahead of the Rule 5 draft roster deadline was hard throwing right-hander William Woods. Woods was slowed by injury and ended up making five combined starts between the Complex League and High-A Rome. He made six appearances in the Arizona Fall League where he had a 4.29 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 21 innings. It will be interesting to see if the Braves continue to use him as a starter, as he will be another intriguing name to watch during the spring.

Kyle Wright - (2021 AAA: 24 GS, 137.0 IP, 24.2 K%, 8.0 BB%, 3.02 ERA, 3.33 FIP)

Wright made just two lackluster starts at the major league level during the regular season but put up solid numbers for Gwinnett before two helpful appearances during the World Series. After bouncing between Gwinnett and the big league roster for parts of the previous three seasons, Atlanta essentially left Wright at Triple-A for all of 2021 and he put up good numbers. He has shown potential in the past, but just hasn’t been able to put it all together at the major league level. After his World Series performance, Wright will come to spring with some momentum and should be in the mix for one of the final rotation spots.

Kirby Yates (2021: DNP)

Yates signed with Toronto last offseason and then suffered a torn UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery. He signed a two-year deal with the Braves at the end of November that includes a club option for a third season. Yates probably won’t be ready until sometime around midseason and in theory could be a solid veteran addition to the bullpen. It is unclear at this stage of how much to expect Yates to contribute in 2022 but the Braves felt strongly enough about him to give him the multi-year deal.

Huascar Ynoa (2021: 18 G, 17 GS, 91.0 IP, 26.9 K%, 6.7 BB%, 4.05 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 1.4 fWAR)

Ynoa appeared to be on his way to a breakout season before he suffered a fractured hand after punching the dugout in Milwaukee during a subpar outing. He posted a 3.02 ERA and a 3.77 FIP in 44 2/3 innings during the first half and had bad surface stats after he returned that were mostly the product of bad luck and being hung out to dry by facing batters a third time through the order. He made two appearances during the postseason, allowing two runs over five innings but was dropped from the NLCS roster due to shoulder inflammation. Ynoa could be in the mix for a rotation spot, but he also profiles as an excellent multi-inning relief option.