With the great buzz going around about the Braves after acquiring Justin Upton, lost in the shuffle with the trade is the loss of Randall Delgado. While I’m not big on Delgado, he was a usable arm to compete for the last spot. With him gone, the Braves currently have three kids with little to no experience to fill the spot until Brandon Beachy returns around the All-Star Break.
Julio Teheran should have the upper hand, though last year was a major step back. There was some talk about him being uncomfortable after being forced to change his delivery, which will not help a pitcher’s confidence or performance. As Fred has noted in previous posts, the Braves have told Teheran to return to his old windup, which has produced better results in the Dominican League, though he struggled against lefties. Turning 22 today, he still has a bright future, and he should be able to hold down a rotation spot this season.
If Teheran has not shown improvement or one of the five gets hurt early on, two pitchers yet to make their MLB debut are likely next on the list. J.R. Graham was last year’s fast riser, pitching very well in Lynchburg and Mississippi, nearly passing Teheran on most prospect lists for this year. He is not the biggest guy, but he has a big arm who had a 55% GB rate at both levels. He was a strike-thrower with Lynchburg, walking 4% and striking out 17% of hitters. After the promotion, he fit his big fastball profile a bit more, walking 9% and striking out 22%. With only one season of full-season pro ball under his belt, he may not get the call, but the just-turned 23-year-old should be in the rotation in 2014.
Sean Gilmartin is the other non-roster invitee with a shot at a rotation spot. The lefty is very similar to Mike Minor with a bit less potential. He hasn’t shown the ability to miss bats too much, but he throws a lot of strikes. I think he’s well behind Graham and Teheran, so a return to Gwinnett should be in order.
The Braves could choose to sign a veteran free agent to fill the last spot or be insurance in case of an injury. Roy Oswalt is probably the highest quality starter available on the market, but he’s leaning towards retirement or another half-season, which doesn’t do Atlanta any good. Kyle Lohse had a great 2012 season, but he would require giving up our 2nd round pick (signing B.J. Upton cost the Braves the first rounder). I also don’t think Lohse can come anywhere close to last year’s performance, mostly due to his high 24% line drive rate allowed only led to a low .262 BABIP allowed. Joe Saunders is probably the only other remaining healthy veteran able to produce average results.
There are a few teams that have an excess of experienced starters that the Braves may be able to trade for. The Blue Jays will likely take a good offer for J.A. Happ, but he is as much of a risk as Teheran or Graham. The Tigers have been taking offers for Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, both of whom would be upgrades, but at a pretty high price. The Dodgers have seven pitchers for their rotation, so it’s likely Chris Capuano or Aaron Harang could be moved. They also could eat some of Ted Lilly‘s remaining $12M in a trade.
I do not know if the Braves can afford to give up more talent to trade for one of the available trade targets. They may choose to go the route of signing someone like Freddy Garcia or Kevin Millwood to a minor league contract, able to be released if not in Atlanta by May 1. The best case scenario is that Teheran takes the chance and runs with it, showing why he was so highly-touted before last year.