Organizational Depth Chart – Starting Rotation

As we work our way towards the non-tender date (5 days after the World Series ends), the GM Meetings (November 9th-12th in Boca Raton),  and the Winter Meetings (December 6th-10th at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville), we’re going to work our way through the organization position-by-position – noting not only the players within the organization and where they rank and their potential, but also potential free-agent or trade options that “The Johns” might consider (from our point of view, of course).

Our first installment will begin with a look at the Braves’ starting Pitchers…

The Big Club:

1.) Shelby Miller

2.) Julio Teheran

3.) Matt Wisler

4.) Mike Minor

5.) Williams Perez

6.) Manny Banuelos

7.) Mike Foltynewicz

8.) Ryan Weber

Heading into the offseason, the Braves have 8 legitimate options for the 2016 rotation with MLB experience already on the 40-Man Roster. The prevailing sentiment is that Matt Wisler’s strong finish to the 2015 campaign has made him all but a lock to occupy one of the three available slots behind Miller and Teheran. Perez, Fotynewicz, and Weber have options remaining,meaning at least two (and possibly all three) will be ticketed for Gwinnett to begin 2016. Banuelos is out of options, leading you to think that he’ll be given every opportunity to win a spot if he’s healthy. The toughest decision lies with Minor. The former first round pick (7th overall in the 2009 Draft) and 2008 Baseball America Summer Player Of The Year has flashed #2 or #3 SP potential for periods, but he’s spent almost as much time on the shelf as he’s spent contributing thus far in his big league career. The company line regarding the plans for 2016 has been intentionally confusing to this point – The Johns have said they intend to bring Minor back when asked, but they’ve also said that they may be in the market for an experienced mid-rotation starter as well. Considering the perceived intent to maintain the financial flexibility the organization achieved when ridding itself of the B. J./Melvin Upton contract, something doesn’t jibe here. IF the intent is to have a veteran around to be part of the staff and they’re not going to play at the top of the market – David Price/Zack Greinke/Johnny Cueto/Jordan Zimmerman – adding a second- or third-tier SP AND keeping Minor seems to take some of that financial flexibility away. The absolute minimum Minor can make in 2016 is $4,480,000 if the Braves ask for the maximum decrease in his arbitration salary as their number because of the injury-risk involved. The early projections have him receiving the same salary he made last season ($5,600,000) IF he’s brought back. With 3 of the 5 spots spoken for in Miller, Teheran, and Wisler, it doesn’t seem to make sense to pay Minor that kind of money to be the 5th starter when you have so many other MLB-ready options. That money would seemingly be better allocated if it went to lessening the blow of signing a healthier, less-risky veteran like Scott Kazmir/Bartolo Colon/Ian Kennedy/Mike Leake to provide stability and innings.

One important thing worth keeping in mind – the company line has been that the Braves aren’t going to play at the top of the market this winter even though the finances appear to be available to do just that (depending on what the supposed ceiling for salaries is, there should be in the neighborhood of $30-$35 million of space to play with). Just remember, the company line when Hart took over was that they didn’t “need” to trade anyone prior to the Heyward deal. Then it was that they weren’t interested in trading Justin Upton after that. Next up was the statement that there was no plan to move Evan Gattis just a couple days prior to shipping him to Houston. Then a quote that said in no uncertain terms that they envisioned Craig Kimbrel closing out postseason games in a Braves’ uniform. The underlying reality in all this is that they are committed to doing ANYTHING that they feel will help the club in the long run. While it’s not likely to happen, don’t rule out a potential pursuit of an “Ace” – if and only if – the dollars and length of commitment make sense. Just an observation from the cheap seats, but much like Cole Hamels at the 2015 deadline, Zack Greinke could provide the type of value that might make it worth pulling that trigger. While the dollars look as daunting as what Max Scherzer received from the Nationals as a free-agent last winter and Price likely to require the same commitment, acquiring a slam-dunk Top 10 SP for significantly less commitment in the number of years has to at least factor into the decision-making process. My feeling (as well as others’) is that the eventual winning bid for Greinke’s services will be in the 5 year/$150 million range –  that looks much more palatable than 7/210+ for Price, or 6/150 for Cueto or Zimmerman to me personally, especially when you expect a revenue spike during at least one season when SunTrust Park opens.  With the ability to bid on anyone they’d like to sign, I’d never say never. Jon Lester was the “right Pitcher – wrong time” last winter. That was a year ago.

 

The Next Level

9.) Tyrell Jenkins

10.) Andrew Thurman

11.) John Gant

12.) Rob Whalen

13.) Lucas Sims

The next five players on our list represent the “break the glass plan” for the Braves – at least a couple of them will be in the Gwinnett rotation to start the 2016 campaign, and would become the “next man up” in case of injury or a decision to convert some of the above-mentioned arms to relievers (the most likely candidates being Banuelos, Foltynewicz, and Weber). Make sure to remember that this isn’t a ranking of the best prospects in the system (you can find our take on that here), rather the next wave of Pitchers you might see if things go awry. Of this group, Jenkins and Sims are the ones to keep an eye on as potential long-term rotation contributors in Atlanta as they have substantially-higher ceilings (potential #2/#3 SPs at the big league level), but each one of these guys could conceivably be considered capable of helping fill-in at the back of the rotation next season if the opportunity presents itself.

 

Keep A Very Close Eye On

14.) Touki Toussaint

15.) Kolby Allard

16.) Max Fried

17.) Zack Bird

18.) Ricardo Sanchez

19.) Mike Soroka

20.) A. J. Minter

This category may contain the names Braves Nation might wind up being the most excited about in the not-so-distant future. All seven of these Pitchers have flashed legitimate top-of-the-rotation stuff. While they’re younger and widely considered to be further away from contributing at the big league level, any of them could be placed on the fast-track as they begin checking off the boxes the brass wants to see checked. Toussaint, Allard, and Fried have shown utterly nasty breaking stuff while also comfortably touching the mid-90s with plenty of projection remaining.

 

There’s been plenty of talk about returning to the “Braves’ Way” – mainly astounding pitching depth to both be able to promote from within as well as use as trade pieces to fill needs at the major league level – since John Hart came on board last winter. To describe the organization’s Pitching landscape in years gone by, we’ll borrow and paraphrase one of his oft-uttered phrases…

“This is what they looked like.”

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