There are many lessons learned from the last few seasons, but none more important than the need to plan for more than just five starting pitchers during the course of a season. We all fixate on the five that are in the rotation at the start of the season, but we have discovered that it usually takes more than that.
The Braves have two pitchers that are predominantly relievers who could be used as a starter in an emergency. That's a terrific option these days, with pitchers frequently needing to take a start off. Buddy Carlyle did not start a game in 2008, but he did start 20 games for Atlanta in 2007. The Braves know that, in a pinch, Carlyle can start if needed.
Jeff Bennett pitched in 72 games for Atlanta in 2008, including four starts. Compared to his work as a reliever (3.12 ERA), Bennett struggled a bit (6.48). He'll likely return to the bullpen next season, but Bennett does have the ability to slide in as a starter in an emergency.
The battle for the fifth starter's spot next spring will include young Tommy Hanson, who is the talk of the Arizona Fall League. Hanson had yet to give up an earned run in his four games, and he has only three walks and 19 strikeouts. As long as he is not traded, and the Braves are saying he's off-limits, Hanson will be a possibility next season.
In many respects, Hanson's success in the AFL is making the Braves wonder if he will be ready to start the 2009 season in Atlanta. Perhaps this stint here is the equivalent of Hanson being in Triple-A. Even if he does go back to the minor leagues, chances are Hanson will be in the big leagues at some point next year.
James Parr came up to Atlanta late in the season and made a positive impression. His first two starts were quality starts (12 shutout innings), and Parr finished with a 4.84 ERA in his 22.1 innings. Parr will be in the battle for the fifth starter next spring. If he's not successful, Parr will be back in Triple-A and will wait his turn if a need is there.
Lefty Francisley Bueno is now on the 40-man roster after he was promoted to Atlanta in August. He promptly got suspended after throwing a pitch behind Alfonso Soriano's head. So if and when Bueno does make it back to the big leagues, he'll have to sit out the first three games. Bueno will go to major league spring training, but it's likely he'll start the season in Triple-A Gwinnett. The Braves do like Bueno, and if he does well and there is a need in Atlanta Bueno will be considered.
Anthony Lerew is coming back from Tommy John surgery. He pitched in fourteen games between the Gulf Coast League and Richmond. Lerew was 1-5 overall with a 4.44 ERA, 54 hits allowed in 48.2 innings, 24 earned runs, 26 walks, and 30 strikeouts. As of now, Lerew is still on the 40-man. He will be out of options next spring, so Lerew will have to make the team or go through waivers to get back to Triple-A.
Todd Redmond was the Southern League Pitcher of the Year for 2008. Acquired from the Pirates for Tyler Yates in spring training, Redmond had a great first season in the Braves' organization. He was 13-5 with a 3.52 ERA, with only 33 walks and 133 strikeouts in his 28 games. Redmond's stuff is ordinary, but you cannot ignore his success. The Braves will take a close look at him in spring training, and while he'll start in Gwinnett Redmond will definitely be on the radar.
And finally Kris Medlen is a name to keep in mind. There's a good chance he'll get a look as a starting pitcher next spring and be a candidate for the 2009 fifth starters' job. Medlen was switched to the rotation in AA in midseason and took off as a starter. Now he's pitching well in the Arizona Fall League and that is only helping his case for next season. Medlen's name might come up in trade talks, but if he's still a Brave Medlen will definitely be in the mix for next season.
The Braves depth is strong. This group of pitchers is impressive, and if there is help needed next season in the rotation, these candidates will have a solid chance at contributing.
Bill Shanks hosts The Atlanta Baseball Show on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and The Bill Shanks Show on SportsRadio 105.5 the Fan in Macon. He 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. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
12. Who are the other potential starters?
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