While most everyone knows about the front-line Braves pitching prospects — names like Teheran, Minor, Beachy, and Vizcaino. Pitching in their shadows the past couple of years has been another prospect named Brett Oberholtzer. This spring, Oberholtzer has begun to establish a reputation of his own, so much so that some scouts are now claiming that he needs to be thought of in the same breath as he better known brethren. Even so, for most fans he remains an unknown. Hopefully we can shed a little light on him for you here.
The first thing you should probably know about Brett is that he’s still only 21 years old. The next thing is that he throws left-handed. Across baseball, talented young left-handed pitchers are some of the most valuable assets around. In the NL East, where the Phillies and Braves both tilt heavily to the left side on offense, left-handed pitching is even more valuable. In his three professional seasons, Brett has put up some impressive numbers, striking out eight batters per nine innings, allowing a WHIP of only 1.1, and establishing an ERA of 3.15. He’s also kept the ball in the park, allowing less than a half a home run per game. Even his control is advanced, as he’s allowed only 1.5 bases on balls per nine innings. It is a testimony to the depth of the Braves pitching prospects that he has remained a relative unknown. When you factor in the tendency of left-handed pitchers to develop later than their right-handed contemporaries, the future does look bright for Brett.
Let’s turn to his stuff for a moment. Labelled early as a soft-tossing lefty when drafted out of junior college by the Braves, his velocity has continued to improve to the point that he now sits in the low nineties and sometimes hits 94 with good late movement. He has an above-average curve-ball and a change-up that is average to slightly-above and improving. He also fields his position well. The biggest knock on him thus far has been his ability to hold runners on base, as base stealers were 18 out of 22 against him last year.
This spring has also been a bit of a coming out party for him, as he’s pitched six innings without giving up an earned run while allowing only three hits. Look for him to start the year at AA Mississippi. Scouts see him as being a number two or three starter in a good rotation, and the ceiling seems to be lifting for him as well. Given the Braves priorities, Oberholtzer could be a trade candidate. In my opinion, trading him now would be selling low, as he’s still improving. A trade involving him could be one that looks good short-term but has a high risk of coming back to haunt long-term. I hope that Wren recognizes the value of his asset and acts accordingly. What do you think?