By Jim Pratt
Editor’s note: Over the next week, BravesWire scribe, Jim Pratt, will be evaluating the strength of future Atlanta Braves talent in several areas (pitching, catching, infield and outfield). Today, he breaks down the pitching talent in the Braves’ system.
With Mike Minor graduating from prospect status, the ‘Big Four’ are now the ‘Elite Three’. Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino and Randall Delgado will all most likely join Minor enough times in Atlanta that they too will no longer be prospect eligible after this season.
Braves RHP Julio Teheran
Where does that leave a farm system that prides itself on producing a pipeline of arms to the major league club? The next group coming through won’t be able to rival the ceiling of the pitchers they are following, but they will provide quality depth.
Julio Teheran (A+): Ranks as the top right-handed pitching prospect in baseball. Has a plus fastball, topping out around 96 mph, which he can locate in the zone to either side of the plate. His other plus offering is a changeup that some grade as a 70 on the 20-80 grading scale. The breaking ball could use refining in the minors before he takes his turn in the Braves rotation every five days. Teheran has the ceiling of a frontline starter that can anchor a playoff contending pitching staff.
Arodys Vizcaino (A-): His value lies in whether he ultimately becomes a starter or remains in the bullpen. (A move back to the rotation could change my grade back to a solid “A”.) In his current status as a reliever, he has two plus pitches that complement each other well in short one-inning stints; a fastball that sits 96-98 mph out of the bullpen and a hard breaking curveball. His changeup is below average, and he will be unable to refine that pitch working in the back-end of ballgames. If Atlanta wants to move him back into a starting role, he will need some minor league time to further develop the changeup. Vizcaino has the stuff to be a top notch closer at some point. With Craig Kimbrel entrenched at that spot, it’s unlikely that will be in Atlanta.
Braves RHP Randall Delgado
Randall Delgado (A-): Nitpicking just slightly, Delgado is just a notch below Teheran and Vizcaino as far as upside is concerned, even though he is usually mentioned alongside the other two. Both secondary pitches could use more work, but he seemed to favor the changeup over the curveball during his seven starts with the Braves last season. He threw the changeup 22.4% of the time while only using the curveball at a 7.9% clip. The fastball sits 91-94 mph and can touch 96-97. Delgado’s ceiling is a number two with a more likely projection of a very good number three starter, although ESPN’s Keith Law mentioned in his Top 100 prospect column that, “There’s a good enough chance that Delgado ends up in the bullpen because of the lack of a third pitch…”
Sean Gilmartin (B): Selected 28th overall in the 2011First-Year Player Draft out of Florida State, Gilmartin is a polished college product that could move quickly through the system. His command has been stellar in his first taste of professional baseball. Between Low-A Rome and the Arizona Fall League, he has a K/BB ratio of 56:10 in 50.1 innings. His fastball is 88-91 mph and he has a groundball inducing changeup that flashes plus capability on occasion.
Zeke Spruill (B): Inconsistency early in his career had Spruill wavering as a true prospect, but he was able to put together a solid season last year that has got him back on the radar. He led the Carolina League in WHIP (1.01), CG (5) and was fifth in ERA (3.19). Spruill has a low 90’s fastball with a sinking action that helped him produce 1.29 groundball outs per fly ball outs. If he can continue to show the maturity and determination he went into 2011 with, Spruill could potentially be a mid-rotation starter in the major leagues within two years.
JR Graham (B-): A personal favorite, Graham has a 92-95 mph fastball that has been clocked as high as 97 mph at times, and his curveball has plus potential. His changeup must get better to remain a starter. If he can refine that offering, he could jump some of the pitchers ahead of him in the rankings. Standing 6’0 and 185 pounds, size and durability seem to be the biggest question marks among scouts.
Braves RHP JJ Hoover
JJ Hoover (B-): Making the transition from starter to reliever late last season, Hoover struck out 46 batters in 33 innings while pitching in relief between two levels. Mainly a two-pitch guy, he has a low 90’s fastball and sharp slider. Hoover has an ideal bullpen arm and could reach the major leagues at some point this season. However, he could still succeed as a starter, and a move back to the rotation may change my grade to a solid “B”.
Navery Moore (C+): A closer at Vanderbilt, Moore was selected in the 14th round in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. His fastball has good life at 93-96 mph and is a swing and miss pitch within the zone. If he can improve on the breaking ball, getting harder break instead of a sweeping action, Moore can become solid set-up man. He made five appearances in the Arizona Fall, with four strikeouts and five walks.
Carlos Perez (C+): High hopes turned to disappointment last season as Perez struggled to find the results to match the talent. He had a promising K/9 at 7.93, but command was a problem all year as he posted a 4.71 BB/9. The command issues could be partly due to less than ideal mechanics. The fastball is not dominating at 89-91, and his curveball is currently below average. The one potential plus pitch is his changeup, which he has a nice feel for. Still only 20 years old and throwing from the left side, the Braves will be patient with this kid in hopes the talent eventually turns into results.
Billy Bullock (C+): A power first pitcher with a 94-96 mph fastball that misses bats, he had 66 strikeouts in 50.2 minor league innings last year. That is the positive. The negative lies in the control issues he has continually shown with a 6.67 career BB/9 rate. He has the intimidating presence of a back-end of the bullpen guy, standing 6’6 and 225 pounds. The secondary stuff is usually what separates the toppitching prospects from the others and that can also be said of Bullock, who needs more consistency out of his slider.
Pitching Staff — Overall Grade: B+
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