13. Can Macay McBride be a top reliever?

Bill Shanks continues to look at the top 35 questions facing the Braves this offseason with a look at lefty reliever Macay McBride.

When an organization analyzes its minor league pitchers, it usually projects whether or not the pitcher will be a starter, what kind of starter he might be, or a reliever. The belief that pitchers who aren't good enough to start will simply become relievers is no longer holding true, as many organizations are now making it a point to develop relief pitchers.

The Atlanta Braves saw something in Macay McBride a few years ago that made them believe he could become a solid reliever. It wasn't that he couldn't be a productive starting pitcher, but that he had the stuff and the makeup to become a relief pitcher. The depth in the organization allowed them to be selective in who they believed could fill that role.

McBride was switched to the bullpen in 2004 in Double-A, and after a rocky first appearance, he settled down and showed the Braves he could handle the responsibility. Then in 2005, McBride was sent to AAA Richmond and even though his numbers weren't great, he showed the Braves that he could get hitters out when coming into a tough situation in a game.

When the Braves needed to call on yet another rookie in late July, McBride answered the call. He showed that he could be effective, and gave the Braves hope that he'd be apart of the 2006 bullpen.

McBride has always been a bulldog. He's very intense on the mound, and that temperament is one reason the Braves believed he might be a good reliever. He seems to thrive in pressure situations, and that's just the type of person you want coming in to face a Jim Thome or Carlos Delgado or Nick Johnson late in the ballgame.

Plus, McBride is one of the many Georgia boys on the Atlanta roster. He grew up a Braves' fan, and there is little doubt he has tremendous pride in wearing that uniform. Don't underestimate that. These Georgia boys want to win a World Series in a Braves' uniform more than anyone, and they feel it is their responsibility, more than anyone, to get the franchise back to the ultimate stage in baseball.

When you look at the players that could make up the 2006 bullpen, you'll find a lot of youth and energy, the same combination that propelled the Braves to another division title this past season. Blaine Boyer, Joey Devine, and McBride should take up three spots. Considering there are now a few questions about John Foster, McBride's potential becomes much more important.

McBride wouldn't mind starting again, and who knows, that might happen one day, But with six starters returning already next season, and eight if you include Anthony Lerew and Chuck James, two terrific prospects that have been starting, there's really not any room. This makes it all the more likely that McBride will remain in the bullpen.

And there's a lot of evidence to support the belief that he will be productive. McBride has the stuff to come in and get a big strikeout, and the personality to take charge and cherish the role he's been given.

The makeup of the 2006 bullpen already looks promising. Whether it's bringing back Kyle Farnsworth or signing a veteran free agent, a true closer should be in place. And the people backing up that closer could be very solid. McBride should be a big part of that group, and for someone who has waited for this chance all his life, he probably can't wait.

Tomorrow we'll discuss some of the other pitchers from the Atlanta farm system that might contribute in 2006.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. Bill can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com.

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