Should pitching be a priority?

Expect the Braves to draft pitching Thursday and Friday. But how much do they need? Well to answer that, let's see how many arms are slated to go to Danville and the Gulf Coast League this summer.

We know the Atlanta Braves are going to go after pitching in the draft this year. That's not a huge leap to take for a prediction. The Braves always go after pitching.

But we wanted to look at what the team is currently scheduled to have at the rookie leagues with the pitchers on the roster before the draft starts. Then we might know a bit about what they'll be looking at in the next two days.

DANVILLE

The ace of the Danville rotation, at least for the first few weeks, will be Julio Teheran, the seventeen-year-old phenom signed last July out of Columbia. He had the chicken pox in early May in Florida, which might have delayed his trip to the South Atlantic League. But coaches are confident it will be beneficial for Teheran to see at least some time in the Appalachian League.

Randall Delgado, a 6'3", 165-pound right-hander signed out of Panama two years ago, will be next in the Danville rotation. He had a 2.00 ERA in 11 games (10 starts) last season in the Dominican Summer League. Delgado allowed 34 hits in 45 innings, with only 12 walks, and 50 strikeouts. Delgado has a fastball that reaches 94 mph, with a good curveball and solid changeup.

Australian lefty Steve Kent was 3-2 last season in the Gulf Coast League, with a 3.86 ERA in 13 games (10 starts). He allowed 52 hits in 56 innings, with 12 walks, and 44 strikeouts. Kent will now get his chance in the Appy League.

Junior Rojas could also get some starts in Danville. He was 3-3 last season in the GCL in seven games (six starts). He allowed 33 hits in 31.2 innings, with 10 walks, and 28 strikeouts.

Steve Figueroa got nine starts in 12 games in the GCL last season and then made one start in Danville. The right-hander could go back in the rotation. He had a combined ERA of 5.43, with 53 hits in 53 innings, with 16 walks, and 46 strikeouts.

Those are the main candidates for the Danville rotation. We know of eight other pitchers who have a good shot at being on the Danville staff, and obviously some of them may get some starts. But we also must remember that Teheran might only be in Danville for a couple of weeks, which would create another hole in the rotation.

Here are the other pitchers currently slated to go to Danville as relievers:

Left-handers: Tim Ladd (14 games in relief in Danville last season), Clayton McMillan (13 games in relief in the GCL and Rome), and Derrick Himpsl (50th round pick in 2005).

Right-handers: Matt Timms (Australian finally gets his chance), Matt Small (10 games in relief in the GCL last season), Cody Railsback (10 games last season in GCL and Rome), and Angelo Paulino (reliever in the DSL last season).

Expect the Braves to perhaps add a college starting pitcher to place in Danville. Again, we've got to project next year's Rome rotation when thinking about the draft. While those heading to Danville could easily move up, some of those kids have to really prove themselves to stick in a Sally League rotation.

The Braves have been successful with college relievers the last few years, so we could see a few more added and then placed in Danville sometime this summer.


GULF COAST LEAGUE

There are currently six pitchers slated to be starters in the Gulf Coast League. As usual, there will be numerous piggyback situations, with pitchers paired together in order to get significant innings.

The Braves' plan right now is to keep Cory Rasmus in the GCL to start the season. He is a year off shoulder surgery, and while he's done well they just want him to get in a few starts in Orlando before he goes up to Danville.

Two pitchers from last year's draft – right-handers Caleb Brewer (14th round) and Rico Reid (25th round) – are also scheduled to be starters in the GCL.

DiMaster Delgado, a 6'2", 170-pound lefty from Panama signed in February of 2007, comes over after striking out 86 batters in 59.1 innings in the DSL last summer. DiMaster walked only 12 and had an ERA of 2.43.

Julio Surinach is a 6'1", 170-pound right-hander from the Dominican who was 4-2 last season in the DSL in 15 games (nine starts). He allowed only 35 hits in 59.2 innings, with 15 walks, and 49 strikeouts. He's likely to start in the GCL this season.

And finally Luis Avilan, who was 6-3 last season in the DSL with a 2.44 ERA in 14 games (13 starts). He allowed 54 hits in 70 innings, with 16 walks, and 71 strikeouts.

The three kids coming from the DSL have solid arms, and the Braves are anxious to see how they do in the Gulf Coast League this season. But they will obviously be joined by new draft picks, mostly high school pitchers who will be drafted in the next two days.

Four pitchers could see time in the GCL bullpen. Eliezer Murillo is the big kid from Panama who lost parts of two fingers in a traffic accident on the way to spring training in 2006. He'll see time as a reliever under GCL Manager Luis Ortiz, who signed him for the Braves back in 2005. Right-hander Eligio Lagua comes over from the DSL.

T.J. Wohlever, last year's 32nd rounder from Western Nevada, will be a southpaw in the GCL bullpen. And Chen En Hung, who was signed out of Taiwan two years ago, is now healthy throwing near 90 mph and will get some innings this summer in Orlando.

Obviously, the depth is pretty solid for the projected staffs in Danville and the GCL Braves. But expect the Braves to add to that depth this week in the draft.


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. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and on The Bill Shanks Show on SportsRadio 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.



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