So we don't have any young pitchers?

Are the Braves running out of prospects? Has the faucet of the free-flowing prospects been turned off. Bill Shanks says not so fast.

Okay, I read a post on our message boards the other day that made me chuckle. Yeah, it happens frequently, especially when the Braves lose. But this post happen to include my name.

"Bill, will yell at me, but I'm starting to get concerned with our minor league pitching talent."

I love how folks believe the faucet has been turned off. Yeah, this team got eighteen rookies to the big leagues last season, so that must be the end of it. How in the world could this team continue to develop talent that will get to the big leagues?

Well, I'm sorry to tell you folks, but the faucet is running free and easy. The flow of prospects that will continue to supply talent to the Atlanta roster is continuing. So far, all is well in the Braves' farm system.

This article is not about Anthony Lerew, or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, or Yunel Escobar. This is about the kids in Rome that have started off the season 10-2. This is about the kids that make up that group that at least some people seem to be worried about.

Let's see. Chris Vines just pitched six scoreless innings on Monday. He didn't walk a batter and struck out nine. Vines is repeating Rome this season, and every time the Braves make a player repeat a level, they really hope he can show early on he's ready to move out of there. Well, Vines is doing just that. With only one walk in seventeen innings of work, don't expect the tall right-hander to be in Rome much longer.

Jo Jo Reyes was a question mark coming into this season. No one quite knew how well he'd bounce back from the ACL injury he suffered last season, just as he was bouncing back from Tommy John surgery. Reyes has been spectacular, and when he can prove he can be effective past the fourth inning, he too might find himself in Myrtle Beach. A few years ago, Reyes was on the fast track to the big leagues. Those injuries slowed him down, but he's quickly getting right back on track.

Jairo Cuevas was only the Appalachian League Pitcher of the Year last season, and he's started off 2006 in fine fashion. Here's a kid that came to the Braves as a third baseman three years ago, and he's quickly developing into a fine prospect. Cuevas has 18 strikeouts in only 12 innings of work. He's only going to get better.

Nelson Payano is the back end of the piggyback with Cuevas, and all he's done is strike out 14 in 12.1 innings of work, along with allowing only four hits. Cuevas and Payano have been a deadly combination so far this season.

And then the last three have been absolutely outstanding. It's funny, the 2005 draft was not supposed to all about pitching, but that's quickly changing. Beau Jones, the supplemental first-rounder last season, has been terrific in his first two starts. Jones has an ERA of 2.08 and has struck out 11 in 8.2 innings. Jeff Lyman, the second rounder, has a 1.17 ERA in 7.2 innings. And Tyler Bullock, the sixth rounder, has a 0.96 ERA and has given up two hits in 9.1 innings.

And holy cow, Steve Russell has made an appearance ladies and gentleman. After years of trying to come back from Tommy John surgery, the fourth rounder from 2002 has been excellent. Russell is 3-0 with an ERA of 1.00, three hits allowed in nine innings, three walks, and ten strikeouts. So far, Mr. Russell is the breakout pitcher in the farm system.

Through the first twelve games, the Rome pitching staff has an ERA of 2.45. They have walked only forty batters and struck out 125 in 110 innings pitched.

The young pitching, folks, is why this team is 10-2.

Yeah, it's early. Yeah, these kids are sinfully young. But talent always shines through. These kids have oodles of talent, and this is not an aberration. I'm not saying this team is going to continue this pace of winning ten out of twelve games. Heck they'd finish with 105 wins. But this team is showing exactly how much pitching talent this organization has at the lower levels.

And remember, more will be added in a few months when we sign several draft-and-follow pitchers and then draft a bunch more in June. We've even got extra picks this year, and all of you know what that means.

So yeah, the pitching is okay in the minor leagues. Kyle Davies and Macay McBride and Blaine Boyer have all graduated, but the kindergarten kids are just getting started. And before you know it, they'll be knocking on the door of the big leagues as well. Either that, or get traded!


Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.


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