Shelby Miller gave the Braves 205.1 innings in 2015. That will not be easy to replace next season with Miller now headed to Arizona.
There is still a question about Julio Teheran, who pitched 200.2 innings for Atlanta last season. Could he be traded? That would give the Braves even more innings to replace. But right now, assuming for the time being Teheran will be with the Braves, he will be the number one starter. He struggled in the first half of the season (4.56 ERA in 18 starts), but Teheran bounced back to be more like what he had done the last two seasons with a strong second half (5-4, 3.42 ERA). In September, Teheran was 2-1 in six starts with a 1.62 ERA. In the last three seasons, Teheran has averaged 202 innings and 175 strikeouts.
Bud Norris, signed a few weeks ago, was mainly a starter in his career until last season when he made 27 relief appearances to compliment his 11 starts. But the Braves acted like Norris would fill a spot in the rotation. Norris is 30 years old, so he'll be the veteran of the rotation with Miller gone. Can Norris give the Braves close to 200 innings? He's never done that before. Norris made 28 starts for Baltimore in 2014 and pitched in 165.1 innings. The year before Norris made 30 starts (with two relief appearances) and had 176.2 innings. We all know if Norris does well, and if the Braves are struggling, he could be a trade candidate in July.
Let's look at the other candidates for the rotation:
Matt Wisler - 23 years old - He started 19 games in Atlanta last season, with one relief appearance. Combine that with his 12 starts in Gwinnett and Wisler made 32 appearances, 31 starts with 174 innings. The Braves are confident Wisler can be an innings-eater and approach 200 innings. In Wisler's last five starts of the season, he was 3-2 with a 2.34 ERA, 30 hits allowed in 34.2 innings, nine earned runs, nine walks and 24 strikeouts. Wisler is a lock to be in the rotation.
Williams Perez - Turns 25 next May - Perez was solid before he was injured, posting a 2.88 ERA. Then when he returned, Perez struggled in his first seven starts (8.53 ERA). Perez then bounced back at the end of the season. In his last five starts of the season, Perez was 3-0 with a 2.35 ERA. With his time in Triple-A and the big leagues, Perez made 31 appearances and 28 starts last season and racked up 155.1 innings. He will need a good spring training, but chances are Perez will either be in the Atlanta rotation or the bullpen as a long reliever.
Mike Foltynewicz - 24 years old - Will he stick as a starter or go to the bullpen? Last season Foltynewicz showed flashes of brilliance with a blazing fastball. He pitched in 18 games with Atlanta with 15 starts after he made 10 starts with Triple-A Gwinnett. The Braves want him to be a starter, but it's almost a crutch to know if he doesn't succeed, putting that fastball in the bullpen would be tempting. He'll be given a full shot at winning a job in the rotation. Folty pitched in 28 games (25 starts) between AAA and Atlanta last season, with 143.1 innings.
Manny Banuelos - 25 years old - In his second full season back from Tommy John surgery, Banuelos was allowed to pitch a bit. He made 16 starts in Gwinnett with 84.2 innings and then made seven appearances (six starts) in Atlanta with 26.1 innings. That's 23 games (22 starts) and 111 innings for the season. Then he had a bone spur removed from his left elbow late in the season. Banuelos has great stuff, which gives the Braves hope he can make it. But Banuelos must first prove he can stay healthy for a full season.
Ryan Weber - 25 years old - Weber came up and made five starts for Atlanta late in the season. He's been a swing man all his career, and chances are that's how he would be used if he makes the roster. The Braves believe Weber can pitch in the big leagues, but his time in the rotation would likely be as a fill-in. It's just doubtful Weber would be able to stick in Atlanta's rotation for a full season, especially since he's now going to be pushed by others with more talent and potential. But for a spot start, Weber would be a good option.
Tyrell Jenkins - Turns 24 next July - Jenkins started the season in AA and made 16 starts (93 innings pitched). Then he made nine additional starts in Gwinnett, with 45.1 innings. The 138.1 innings were the most Jenkins has ever had in one season. He doesn't miss bats (88 strikeouts), so that's a concern. The Braves like Jenkins, but he's in danger of being passed by other prospects who have more potential. At the least, Jenkins could become a bullpen option. He really needs to have an impressive spring training
Aaron Blair - Turns 24 next May - Blair started the 2015 season in AA and made 13 starts (83.1 innings). He had a 2.70 ERA. Blair then pitched in 13 additional games (12 starts) in AAA Reno and had a 3.16 ERA. So that was a career-high 160.1 innings for the season. Blair now has 363 career innings, so if you're using the theory most prospects needs 450-500 minor league innings, Blair is close. The Braves could likely start him in AAA to extend his arbitration clock. But Blair could push for a job in Atlanta's rotation in spring training.
Sean Newcomb - Turns 22 next June - Newcomb's 2015 season was split in three spots - seven starts (34.1 innings) in Low-A, 13 starts (65.2 innings) in High-A and seven starts (36 innings) in Double-A. So that was 27 starts and 136 innings in his first full season. Newcomb is believed to be special enough that he could push for an appearance late in 2016, but the Braves may be better suited to give hiim a full year in the minor leagues. They may even be tempted to start Newcomb in Triple-A to start the season and give him a full year in Gwinnett.
Lucas Sims - Turns 22 next May - After an impressive appearance in the Arizona Fall League (2.12 ERA in six games, with 17 strikeouts in 17 innings pitched), Sims is on the radar. He had a gap in his 2015 season due to the bus crash, but Sims showed enough signs to let the Braves believe he's not too far off. He made 20 starts in 2015, and he now has 399.2 career minor league innings. With a full and healthy season, Sims could be ready late in 2016 or to start the 2017 season at the new ballpark in his backyard.
Chris Ellis - 23 years old - Ellis made 11 starts (62.2 innings) in High-A last season and then finished with 15 starts (78 innings) in Double-A. That was 26 starts and 140.2 innings in his first full season. Ellis does not need to be rushed. Give him a full season in Double-A and see where he is at the end of the 2016 season. The Braves want to see Ellis work more on his changeup, and if he can make that improvement Ellis could be ready to push others for a spot in Atlanta. But he's a year away.
John Gant - Turns 24 next August - Gant started last season in High-A and made six starts (40.1 innings). Then he made 11 starts (59.1 innings) for the Mets' Double-A team before the trade to Atlanta. For the Braves, Gant made seven impressive starts (1.99 ERA in 40.2 innings). So with 18 starts (100 innings) in Double-A, Gant could make a case to start next season in Gwinnett, but the Braves might be safe and put him back in Double-A to let him continue his success. Gant's fastball and change are solid, and the Braves think he could come quickly.
This picture revolves first around Teheran. If he stays, Teheran willl lead the rotation with Norris and Wisler next. Then you will have five pitchers - Perez, Foltynewicz, Banuelos, Weber and Blair - fighting for the other two spots in the rotation. If Teheran is traded, expect the Braves to possibly pursue another low-priced starting pitcher to help provide innings. But at the end of the season, it will be interesting to see how many of the other pitchers - Newcomb, Sims, Ellis and Gant - will be close to knocking on the door.
This is the type of logjam and depth the Braves crave. This could present them with more trade options a year from now, when additional pitchers who will spend 2016 in Double-A or High-A (Zach Bird, Steve Janas, Andrew Thurman, Touki Toussaint and Max Fried - to name a few) will be getting higher on the radar. But another plus to this depth is the Braves will not have to rush any of these pitchers and let them fully develop in the minor leagues.
So even though the Braves traded a 200-inning pitcher in Miller, they remain in good shape for having plenty of options for the short-term and the long-term for the starting rotation.
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