Atlanta Braves: is Touki Toussaint just in the wrong place?

Nobody is questioning the talent of Atlanta Braves starter Touki Toussaint.  The biggest question is how he can get back to the majors.

Just after operations were shut down in Florida, the Atlanta Braves optioned right-hander Touki Toussaint to the Gwinnett Stripers.  This happened on March 19 as a ‘solo’ transaction.

This wasn’t exactly a surprise, for in nearly every scenario for how the starting pitching could be aligned this Spring, Toussaint wasn’t listed among the hopefuls for the rotation – or even the bullpen.

But with others (Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson, and perhaps others like Tucker Davidson, Kyle Muller) now being the ones waiting in the wings, the real question is whether Touki’s time toiling in the minors is to the point where he should be given an opportunity… elsewhere.

He’s technically not a prospect any longer: 41.2 innings in 2019 (giving him a total of 70.2 at the major league level) put an end to that. He’s done essentially two full seasons in triple-A, and the thing that’s holding him back is the same thing that it’s always been: control.

Toussaint clearly has the ‘stuff’.  He’s averaged above a strikeout per inning at nearly every stop he’s made as a pro – including the majors. Unfortunately, his walk rate has also been sufficiently high enough to keep his WHIP score in the 1.3 to 1.6 range.

That combination often translates into having to throw a lot of pitches to get outs, and therefore he can have trouble getting deep into games.

There have been flashes of brilliance, though: 2018 at Gwinnett, for example. 50.1 innings in 8 starts with a 1.43 ERA and walks around 3 per 9 innings. That put him into the 7th inning on average.

Trouble is, he’s not been able to maintain that consistently – yet. Or at the very least, he can’t get umpires to help him out.

Heck, if there’s any pitcher who might be able to benefit from an electronic strike zone, it might be Toussaint. His grade 65 curveball (and that rating almost sounds light) is a true knee-buckler when its bottom drops out. But can he get the calls for strikes on these and also command the fastball?

Umpires have a tough time with these big curves, no doubt: Sean Newcomb’s hook is nearly as good, and he has trouble getting called strikes on that pitch as well.  If any pitchers are rooting for the adoption of the so-called electronic strike zone, it’s these guys.

But as things stand, the Atlanta Braves likely need to reckon with the notion that Toussaint is falling behind others in the pitching ‘pecking order’, and decide soon whether it’s better for the organization – and the player – to use him in a trade.

Such a deal could take multiple directions: either as part of a bigger deal in an attempt to land a better starting pitcher or a minor-leaguers-only trade that gets the Braves one or two lower-level prospects with some serious upside.

That latter move would accomplish a couple of purposes for Atlanta:

  • Freeing up a 40-man roster slot
  • Adding some potential where little currently exists in the low minors

It could certainly also provide a chance for Toussaint to get with an organization that might have a clearer path to the majors.

In what looks to be an abbreviated season, this decision could be deferred to the next off-season, though Toussaint will turn 24 as the Summer begins, and as pitchers go, that flower is starting to show signs of wilting.  The call can’t wait much longer.

Ultimately, the hope is that Toussaint can find a place to flourish: this isn’t about a question of talent – Toussaint is loaded with it. What he needs right now is a break… and right now, that’s not been happening lately as a member of the Atlanta Braves.