3 Atlanta Braves rookie of the year candidates for 2020

With the 2019 Rookie of the Year awards set to be announced on Monday, let's take a way-too-early look at potential favorites for the award in 2020.

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HIROSHIMA, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 13: Outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. #13 of the Atlanta Braves poses for photographs during his 'National Lague Rookie of the Year' press confernece prior to the game four between Japan and MLB All Stars at Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium on November 13, 2018 in Hiroshima, Japan. (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)

The Atlanta Braves have developed quite a reputation when it comes to exhibiting talented rookie players. Since 2000, the Braves organization has taken home three National League Rookie of the Year awards.

Three trophies in 20 years may not seem all that impressive, but the Braves have hit the jackpot with its rookies more than any other NL organization in that span, save for of course, wait for it… the Miami Marlins (two of the Marlins' RoY awards came when the team was still named Florida).

Ronald Acuna Jr. in 2018, Craig Kimbrel in 2011 and shortstop Rafael Furcal in 2000 — all put together incredible first years as rookies, and even more so as seasoned big league contributors (of course Acuna is just getting started).

Sure, there have been a few one-hit wonders from time to time, but all-in-all, becoming the game's best rookie is usually a great indicator to gauge a player's future by. As in, it's really hard to win a RoY award.

And so, predicting a RoY winner is quite a difficult task too, as small-sample sizes and various other unknown characteristics are literally built into the exercise.

To be a ROOKIE, batters mustn't have more than 130 at-bats and pitchers 50 innings pitched at the major league level, all while NOT reaching 45 days on an active (25-man)  big league roster.

In turn, projecting the game's best Rookie player involves quite a bit of guesswork. There are numerous variables in play, including but not limited to: playing time, health, team performance, plain old luck and even front office competence. Neither of which can be predetermined with any real notion of confidence.

But it's the offseason and this is what we do, right? So with the 2019 Rookie of the Year awards set to be announced on Monday, all I have to do is select three players that could become favorites during the 2020 season.

And considering catcher Alex Jackson is the only rookie position-player currently left on the team's 40-man, the best chance the Braves have at winning a 2020 NL RoY will most likely come from one of its highly ranked pitching prospects, right?

(If you're wondering, Austin Riley surpassed the rookie-status threshold in 2019, accruing 274 at-bats.)

So, to make this exercise a bit easier to manage, let's talk our way through this. First, we'll look at a list of eligible Braves players, featuring rookies that have a shot to contribute to the major leagues this upcoming season..

Heavy with rookie pitchers

Going back to the Rookie status requirements in the first slide, I have created a list of Braves major and minor league players that are currently on the team's 40-man roster AND that also fit inside those at-bats and innings pitched parameters (with the addition of Cristian Pache and Drew Waters… because they're awesome!).

Of course Pache will be added to the 40 this season (sometime before November 20), as he will need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft, which will be December 12.

This list isn't necessarily the ONLY possible Braves RoY in 2020, but these are the most realistic choices when considering service time and each prospect's current minor league level (Triple-A)

  • SP, Kyle Wright 
  • SP, Bryse Wilson
  • SP, Ian Anderson
  • RP, Jeremy Walker 
  • RP, Chad Sobotka
  • SP, Touki Toussaint
  • RP, Jacob Webb
  • SP/RP, Patrick Weigel
  • SP, RP, Huascar Ynoa
  • C, Alex Jackson
  • OF, Cristian Pache
  • OF, Drew Waters

 

As you can see… lots of pitchers in this pool of players. But it wouldn't be any fun to pick ONLY pitchers, so here are three Braves candidates for 2020 National League Rookie of the Year, including each player's major league experience, plus — since FanGraphs just recently released its 2020 Steamer projections — I'll share their Steamer and Baseball Reference numbers.

The three are listed from unlikeliest to likeliest candidates...

#3. OF, Cristian Pache

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SURPRISE, AZ - NOVEMBER 03: AFL West All-Star, C ristian Pache #27 of the Atlanta Braves is introduced to the Arizona Fall League All Star Game at Surprise Stadium on November 3, 2018 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by C hristian Petersen/Getty Images)

ML Experience: None

This may wind up being a rather far-fetched pick, considering it's highly doubtful Pache is promoted to the majors anywhere near the 1st Half of the 2020 season.

The new roster rules make his 2020 MLB debut even more difficult to gauge, being that teams can no longer load up on in-house additions in September. Starting this season, from Opening Day through August 31, teams are permitted to carry 26 active players on its rosters (that number increases to 27 during doubleheaders).

However, from September 1 until the postseason, teams can carry 28 players, instead of the usual 40 we're used to seeing.

Presumably, teams will be more conservative with call-ups, most likely prioritizing pitching over anything else.   This because other rules starting in 2020 include pitchers being required to pitch to a minimum of three batters in a game, which may very well cut down on pitching changes but will also certainly impact roster and bullpen construction.

On the other hand, at this current time in the offseason the Braves don't look too inspired to acquire any help in the outfield, as GM Alex Anthopolous recently re-signed Nick Markakis and plans to platoon him with Adam Duvall.

Of course, there's still a lot of offseason to go, but if that plan holds and the Markakis-Duvall duo goes sideways (or an injury occurs), the Braves may be forced to quickly promote Pache and get him as comfortable in the majors as possible before the games start to really matter at the end of the season.

It's just a really hard situation to predict, and ultimately it may not be such an unorthodox scenario as above. Pache could very well earn his call-up in September, just as the Braves are more than likely planning.

Although, one month of baseball isn't going to be enough playing time to win a RoY award, so for Pache to be the Braves representative in 2020… disaster may have to happen.

2020 Steamer projections: 18 games, .253 AVG, 76 wRC+, 2 home runs, -0.1 WAR

2020 BR Projections: None

 

3 of 4

#2. RP, Jeremy Walker

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ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 29: Members of the Atlanta Braves enter the bullpen to get ready for the game against the Cleveland Indians at Turner Field on June 29, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

ML Experience: 9.1 innings pitched, 1.93 ERA

Like Pache above, Walker would be an interesting case for 2020 NL RoY. Although, unlike Pache, Walker has a much greater chance of getting hefty big league playing time this upcoming season, though he isn't usually mentioned amongst the other Braves top-tier pitching prospects.

A 5th round pick by the Braves in 2016, Walker has done nothing but flourish in the system, having never reached an ERA above 3.97 in his now four seasons as a pro.

Now 24-years-old, Walker started in the Braves system as a reliever for Rookie-Advanced Danville in 2016, though thanks to his advanced pitch mix and repertoire he was moved to the starting rotation midway through the season.

The 6'5" righty would remain a low to mid-90s starter throughout the 2017 and 2018 seasons as he started and progressed through full-season ball, but ever since the start of his 2019 season in Double-A Mississippi, Walker has been solely a reliever. And a good one at that.

This past season, Walker pitched 81.1 innings for Mississippi and Gwinnett, flashing strong K and BB rates of 9.1 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9 across both levels, plus a stingy 2.88 ERA and only 3 home runs allowed.

The strong performance in Double and Triple-A earned him a major league call-up in late July, where Walker took the place of a struggling Wes Parsons (Shane Carle was also DFA'd to clear space).

During his 9.1 innings of major league exposure in 2019, Walker at first struggled with walks but eventually settled down for a decent rate of 3.86 BB/9 with 5.79 K/9 and an impressive 1.93 ERA.

The problem with Walker's RoY candidacy is that relief pitchers very rarely enter the pool of potential winners.

Since 2010 (that's 18 total RoY awards between both leagues), five starting pitchers have won the award and two relievers (Kimbrel in '11 and Neftali Feliz in '10). It's not impossible for a relief pitcher to win it, but extremely difficult.

Those two cases featured both Kimbrel and Felix converting at least 40 saves (Kimbrel struck out 14.8 batters per nine that season!) during their rookie seasons, not to mention both of them were primary closers for their respective teams.

It's apparent, for Walker to even have a chance at winning a RoY award, he's going to have to be one of the Braves go-to guys out of the bullpen, which may be unlikely considering the guys currently ahead of him: Mark Melancon, Chris Martin, Shane Greene, maybe even Luke Jackson and Jacob Webb.

Also, the Braves just signed veteran reliever Darren O'Day, on Friday, to a one-year deal with a club option for 2021.

However, you never know what could happen. Walker could have a dominant Spring Training and open the 2020 season as a dependent high-leverage reliever. If that ends up being the case, than anything is possible.

2020 Steamer projections: 35 appearances, 35 innings, 4.33 ERA, 0.1 WAR

2020 BR projections: 30 innings, 4.20 ERA

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#1. SP, Kyle Wright

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ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 12: Kyle Wright #30 of the Atlanta Braves delivers in the first inning of an MLB game against the New York Mets at SunTrust Park on April 12, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

ML Experience: 25.2 innings pitched, 7.71 ERA

Wright, the Braves 5th overall pick in 2017, made his major league debut in 2018, though his promotion on September 4 allowed for just six innings in that initial season.

His 2017-18 seasons in the minors and even the majors — 4.50 ERA in those first six big league starts, during the final month of the '18 season — were promising, leaving a first impression that garnered even higher expectations for the 2019 season.

However, Wright didn't progress as expected this past season, posting a 4.17 ERA in Triple-A Gwinnett and an 8.69 mark in his 19.2 innings in the majors (although his K and BB rates were the best of his career).

Whether it's warranted or not, expectations regarding Wright's 2020 season will certainly be higher than they've ever been, as the Alabama native enters Year 4 with the organization.

Depending on how active the Braves are this winter, will depend on how much of a look Wright will get in 2020. With Julio Teheran seemingly out of the picture — the Braves declined to pick up Teheran's $12 million option for this season — the Braves are currently at three for-sure starters in the rotation (Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz and Max Fried).

It's all but a guarantee the Braves will at least add one starting pitcher this offseason, but if the team pursues reinforcements at several other areas on the roster, the budget may not allow for another arm. In that case, Wright, Bryse Wilson and maybe even Sean Newcomb will be in a three-way fight to fill that final rotation spot.

So as you probably figured out by now, my No. 1 candidate was between Wright and Wilson, as obviously Newcomb is no longer a rookie. I'm definitely pro-Wilson, but it's Wright who wields the better repertoire at this juncture in their careers.

When Wright has his pitches working, he is the best pitching prospect in the organization. Unfortunately, pitches and working never seemed to be consistent words to describe the 24-year-old in 2019. Which is a bit unfair to say… Wright had a solid third professional season at the highest level of the minors. Prospects don't always dominate!

If everything lines up just right and Wright fully takes advantage of the opportunities given to him in 2020, he has a good a shot as anyone in the Braves organization at bringing home an NL RoY.

And the great thing about that is if Wright establishes himself as a regular at the big league level, the Braves will have themselves one heckuva young starting rotation for the foreseeable future. Win-win.

2020 Steamer projections: 23 starts, 10 relief appearances, 136.0 innings, 4.40 ERA, 1.5 WAR

2020 BR projections: 50 innings, 5.22 ERA

Next: The Braves didn't just do this without purpose

With 2020 on its way, who do you think the three Braves favorites should be for NL RoY this upcoming season?