14. What other pitchers might help in 2006?

Bill Shanks continues his 35-part series on the top questions facing the Atlanta Braves this winter with a look at some of the other pitchers from the farm system that might contribute in 2006.

The Braves will have a number of terrific arms headed to Disney next February. They'll have six returning starters (Smoltz, Hudson, Thomson, Sosa, Ramirez, and Davies), two additional young rookies (Anthony Lerew and Chuck James) who could step into the rotation if needed, and five relievers (Chris Reitsma, John Foster, Blaine Boyer, Joey Devine, and Macay McBride) who spent some time in Atlanta in 2005.

That's thirteen pitchers right there, one more than what will be needed. And you can bet that GM John Schuerholz will add a veteran arm in there this winter.

But there are still some pitchers that we can talk about who might come up from the minors and make an impact next season. I mean, who in the world would have honestly predicted last winter that Davies, Boyer, and McBride could have made an impact on the 2005 season?

My top candidate for possibly making an impact next season is Kevin Barry, a right-hander drafted out of Rider back in 2001. Barry has pretty solid numbers throughout his Braves' career, but it doesn't mean it hasn't been topsy-turvy. Last season he started out as a reliever in Richmond, struggled a bit in midseason to where the Braves demoted him to Mississippi, and then was helped tremendously by Mississippi pitching coach Kent Willis. When he returned to Richmond, the Braves put him in the starting rotation and Barry was excellent.

But expect the Braves to keep him as a reliever, even if he does start in Richmond next season. Barry has been a very successful reliever throughout his Braves' career, and he almost made the Atlanta roster out of spring training last year.

Barry has a lot of sinking action on his pitches, which can help if you come into the game with runners on base. He can get a lot of ground balls, much like Kevin Gryboski did for several years. Barry's fastball can touch 94 mph, and he's always gotten a lot of strikeouts throughout his career.

Left-hander Chris Waters is one that could surprise and make the jump next season as well. Waters returned from shoulder surgery last May had a very good comeback season in Myrtle Beach. He showed he was healthy by throwing 103.1 innings in 17 starts, and by the end of the season, Waters had regained his velocity that is usually lost for a while when rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

Waters was on track with Bubba Nelson and Adam Wainwright two years ago as one of the Braves' best prospects before he was injured. Being left-handed, the Braves will show tremendous patience with him. Some believe Waters could be a Frank Dipino-type reliever. He is a terrific athlete, and when healthy, he's always gotten hitters out.

If the Braves need a lefty reliever at some point next season, especially if John Foster does not bounce back from his spotty second half of 2005, Waters could get a chance.

Glenn Tucker and Ryan Basner are two pitchers doing well right now in the Arizona Fall League. They both spent last season with the Mississippi Braves in AA. Tucker is a side-armer that had a decent 2005 season, posting a 3.09 ERA. Basner had been a reliever for his entire Braves' career until the organization ran out of starters in Mississippi. They elected to move him to the rotation to get him innings. Basner struggled a bit, posting an overall ERA of 5.34. But the organization believes he can still be a reliever in the bigs one day.

Tucker and Basner will probably go to AAA Richmond, and don't be shocked if they are non-roster invitees to big league camp.

Paul Bush is another right-hander to keep in mind. He is also out in Arizona this fall. Bush has bounced back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen, and always seems to be effective. The coaches in Myrtle Beach loved him last season, and after he was promoted to Mississippi, Bush remained effective. He seems to never have a defined role, but at the end of every year Bush seems to put up good numbers. That's the kind of pitcher that will come out of nowhere and make a big league roster.

Lefties Matt Coenen and Brian O'Connor and right-hander Sean White should also be in Richmond next season. If effective and needed, they could be candidates to be called upon.

Of those thirteen pitchers mentioned at the top, you have to wonder if at least one might be traded this winter. And as we saw in 2005, injuries can change the shape of rosters in a hurry. So keep these pitchers in mind as people who may pop up at some point in the 2006 season.

Now that we're finished with the pitching questions, tomorrow we'll move on and talk about the future of Brian McCann.

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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