7. How good is Jair Jurrjens?

The Braves made one heck of a trade when they got Jurrjens from Detroit, but can he get even better than he was in his rookie campaign?

Not many people knew what to expect from Jair Jurrjens when the Braves acquired him from the Tigers almost a year ago. In fact, not many people even knew who the heck the guy was.

But it did not take long for the Braves' nation to fall in love with the 22-year-old from Curacao. He impressed the team enough in spring training to win the job as the fifth starter. But as the injuries mounted, and as Jurrjens produced good work, he climbed the chart and actually ended the season as the ace of the staff.

Jurrjens had two decent starts to begin the season, and then ended April with four straight quality starts. From May 1st through the end of July Jurrjens was 7-4 with a 3.06 ERA. He wore down a bit in August and September (5.14 ERA), but it did nothing to diminish his fine work all season.

The rookie led the Braves in almost every pitching category, finishing with a 13-10 record, a 3.68 ERA, 188 innings, and 139 strikeouts. With Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine all going down with injuries, Jurrjens became Atlanta's top starter.

Jurrjens won 13 games as a rookie. Is he a one-hit-wonder, another Craig McMurtry, or do the Braves have a long-term option for the rotation? Well, there's little reason to worry about Jurrjens. We all saw his stuff, and we all know his aggressiveness. And his mound presence, for a rookie, was simply impressive.

The Braves have said they're going to bring in two new veteran starting pitchers for the top of their rotation, which will push Jurrjens down as the number three starter. How much will this help Jurrjens knowing that he doesn't have to be the ace of this team next season?

No young pitcher needs the pressure of carrying a rotation, whether it's Jurrjens or Tim Lincecum. The preference is to have more veteran pitchers at the top of the rotation to allow the younger arms to develop more in their first few seasons in the big leagues. Just think of how much better Jurrjens may have been in 2008 if Hudson and those other veterans had not been injured.

Can Jurrjens actually improve from what he did as a rookie? Sure, it's possible. He's got the stuff, the mound presence, and the aggressiveness to make anyone believe he can continue to be a pitcher that can win 13-18 games per season.

But the Braves will just need him to be a productive third starter next season. This kid is good, really good. And there's every reason to believe he's got a chance to be even better as he continues to mature as a major leaguer.



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 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.



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