EDITOR’S NOTE: Please welcome Mat Batts to the site. He will provide a great player’s perspective to our staff.
Much of the offseason is spent looking at what teams don’t have and how GM’s can improve the glaring holes that last season exploited. But why not harp on the strengths that do rest in our corner? The Braves sure have a handful. None is more apparent than the abundance of strong pitching that has accumulated on their Braves 40-man roster and throughout the minor league system. So why not look at the horses that will likely carry the 2013 Braves to any successes that they might enjoy? We’re talking about Braves starting rotation, of course. And boy do they have a chance to be great.
Frank Wren and his team came together this winter with a mind to cut the fat from Atlanta’s pitching staff, starting with Tommy Hanson. Wren held no reservation in dealing Hanson, who, in 2009, ranked 4th on Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects. When interest surfaced from the Los Angeles Angels for the 26-year old right hander, the Braves jumped all over it, exchanging Hanson for the erratic yet promising Jordan Walden. Atlanta then promptly non-tendered Jair Jurrjens, releasing him to free agency, and quickly freed up two spots on an already talented staff.
Who exactly will fill those spots is yet to be seen, but it’s clear here in December that Atlanta already has a rotation in place that could be among the league’s best. While Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen are far from being your everyday aces, it is easy to see why they are heralded as two of the game’s most consistent starters. Hudson, who, at age 37, is just three wins shy of 200, has been Atlanta’s horse since he joined the Braves in 2005. Coming off of a 16-win season in 2012, and boasting 16 or more wins in his last three seasons, Hudson is showing no sign of decline and should be the foundation of the Braves rotation for at least another two years.
Medlen, who burst onto the scene in 2012, has nothing but upside as he gained more and more experience starting games for Atlanta over the course of the season. While it is unreasonable to expect Medlen to match his 1.57 ERA or 10 wins in 12 starts pace from 2012, you can bet on Medlen to fill up the zone every time he takes the mound. With a walks per nine inning average of 1.5 in 2012, Medlen is a rare breed in this day in age, in that he can be expected to work deep into games every fifth night. Over the course of a long season, those deep starts are invaluable to keeping your bullpen fresh.
The three and four slots in Atlanta’s rotation will likely be filled by two interesting left-handed options. Paul Maholm will be looking to improve on his 2012 season as he will enjoy his first full season in Atlanta after being traded mid-season by the Cubs. Known to be the “steady Eddy” on a staff, Maholm struggled at times last season, giving up 20 home runs, but regularly showed his durability, and ended the season with 13 total wins. His experience as a 30-year old with over 200 career games started should serve him will and give the Braves a solid middle-0f-the-rotation option.
Mike Minor is almost the polar opposite of Maholm, and can be tabbed as nearly anything but consistent. But with electric stuff in his arsenal and flashes of greatness in both 2011 and 2012, Minor is regarded as one of the game’s best young arms. With a strikeout per nine ratio of 7.3 in 2012 (a career low) it is easy to see that Minor has the raw ability to mow through lineups. Look for 2013 to serve as Minor’s coming of age season, as he will likely take on a larger role in the Braves’ rotation needs.
The fifth and final spot for Atlanta is easily the most intriguing. Phenoms Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran will compete for the Opening Day rights to this job, but don’t expect either to occupy this slot for long. Delgado, who has just 24 career starts, is the favorite to be in Atlanta come April, but after accumulating nine loses in 2012, Degaldo will have Teheran hot on his heels. Both young stars will benefit from extended periods in the majors, but with Atlanta enjoying such an abundance of starting pitching, it’s hard to say when their time will come. Frank Wren has made it clear that he would like to hold on to both Delgado and Teheran in hopes of one day enjoying them as a solid 1-2 combo.
The dark horse of Atlanta’s staff in 2013 could very well be the addition of Brandon Beachy. Before blowing out his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery in late June, Beachy was on pace to have a Medlen-esque 2012, with a 2.00 ERA through 81 innings. Assuming all goes well with the latter parts of Beachy’s rehab, Atlanta can expect to enjoy him again in June. In a perfect world, Beachy will slide seamlessly into the Braves rotation, creating a powerful three-headed monster with Hudson and Medlen up front.