Atlanta: The Pitching Factory

Bill Shanks takes a look at talks about the Braves ability to create pitching staffs. He recalls some of the pitchers that the Braves have let slip by, and where they are today, in addition to some solid up and coming prospects. (Photo by Getty)

It's very easy to look at the daily box scores and cringe when you see a former Braves pitcher doing well. It happens more than we would like to admit. Kevin Millwood is 4-1, Damian Moss is 4-0, Jason Schmidt is 3-0, Tom Glavine 3-2, and Odalis Perez is 1-1. Put those five together on one team and you've got one of the best rotations in the game.

Don't even start to count the relievers around the big leagues who once wore a tomahawk across their chest.

Remember Joe Borowski? Acquired from the Orioles in the Kent Mercker deal, Borowski has since moved on to the Cubs and has become one of the top set up relievers in the game.

If the Braves were struggling, seeing former pitchers do well elsewhere would hurt even more. But Atlanta is in its natural position after the first month of the season: first place. Save the Millwood debate and Glavine's personal decision, most of the pitchers who are elsewhere either didn't work out here or were dealt away for talent we needed at another spot.

In 1986, then-General Manager Bobby Cox and then-Director of Scouting Paul Snyder made the decision to emphasize pitching with every transaction. When the Braves were bad, they forced every team they dealt with to give a pitcher in return in a deal. Then when the team became a winner, it continued to stress pitching in the draft and to maintain the depth in the rotation.

Braves scouts do a wonderful job finding high school pitchers and even pitchers who may have fallen out of favor with their orginal team (Andy Pratt, Ryan Glynn). Then the pitching coaches in the farm system take over. Guy Hansen at Richmond, Mike Alvarez in Greenville, Bruce Dal Canton in Myrtle Beach, and Kent Willis in Rome all do a wonderful job getting these guys ready for the big leagues. Horacio Ramirez will tell you that all four of the coaches were instrumental in getting him to the majors.

There also seems to be something about struggling pitchers putting a Braves uniform on that magically corrects problems. Shane Reynolds is not looking like the struggling Astro he was in spring training, but the top flight pitcher he was in the late 90's. And in Richmond, a former Texas Rangers prospect named Ryan Glynn, who struggled in his brief major league stints, is getting back to the form he was as a top pitching prospect. Is it simply the cloth on their chest?

Followers of the minor leagues will tell you now that the depth has never been stronger. Andy Pratt, John Ennis, Adam Wainwright, Bubba Nelson, Brett Evert, Matt Belisle, Chris Waters, Macay McBride, Zach Miner, Gonzalo Lopez, Matt Coenen, Dan Meyer, Kyle Davies, Anthony Lerew, Jose Capellan, and Blaine Boyer are all legitimate prospects. Will all make it? No. Some will get hurt, some will not turn out, and some will get released or traded.

Oh, yea, almost forgot that member of the Atlanta staff who is temporarily in Richmond. Jason Marquis is a third or fourth starter in most organizations. Heck, in Detroit, he'd be the ace. But in Atlanta, there's no room.

The depth in the minor league rotations is scary. Rome has had to make left hander Matt Merricks a sixth starter in a middle relief role. If any Rome pitcher gets knocked out early, Merricks comes in to get his three innings. In a few weeks, left hander Chris Waters will head to Greenville (Waters will make a few starts at Myrtle Beach first) after spending April at Extended Spring Training strengthening his arm. When he returns, it is believed Roman Colon, who is 2-0 with a 2.86 ERA in his first four starts and has arguably been Greenville's best starter so far, will be moved to a role similar to that of Merricks. Daniel Curtis was in the same position in Greenville until Myrtle Beach pitcher Gonzalo Lopez went on the disabled list. Curtis had to go down a level to once again be a starting pitcher. Greenville simply had no room.

When Richmond got Jason Marquis last week, pitching coach Guy Hansen had to move Joe Dawley to the bullpen. The Braves believe that will be his role when he returns to the big leagues, whether it's with them or another team. Dawley has the potential to start, but not in this organization.

There's a great chance many of these minor leaguers will make it to the big leagues, but only more than a handful will be with Atlanta. Many of these kids are going to be traded, released, or probably a few will be lost in this December's Rule V draft. Hopefully, General Manager John Schuerholz will select the correct ones to keep. But it's likely that a few of these guys are going to go elsewhere and do well for other teams.

This makes one predict two things. First, the Atlanta Braves have an excellent chance at staying competitive with this glut of pitching. And second, getting frustrated at seeing former Braves in the boxscores for other teams is just beginning.

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