The Braves are pushing some of their top prospects this year.
Atlanta will send lefthanders Max Fried and Kolby Allard and righthander Mike Soroka to Double-A Mississippi, skipping all three over high Class A Florida after they spent last year at low Class A Rome.
For Fried, the move isn't all that unexpected. The 23-year-old is a 2012 first-round pick whose advancement was slowed by August 2014 Tommy John surgery. He largely missed the 2014 and 2015 seasons and the Braves were cautious in his return, leaving him in low Class A Rome all season last year where he helped Baseball America's Minor League Team of the Year to the South Atlantic League title.
But the ascent for Allard and Soroka is much more rapid. Both were 2015 first-round picks. Soroka went 9-9, 3.02 in 143 innings with Rome. He impressed scouts with his ability to command three pitches and his knack for setting up hitters.
Allard's jump is even more surprising. At this time last year, he wasn't on Rome's Opening Day roster because he was still recovering from a back injury that wiped out his senior season in high school and also limited him to six pro innings in 2015.
He made three starts in June and was demoted to Rookie-level Danville. But after returning to Rome in July, he was dominating down the stretch, including 12 scoreless innings in the playoffs. Overall Allard was 5-3, 3.73 for Rome last season. Both Allard and Soroka won’t turn 20 until August.
“They are both really special pitchers we think will rise to the challenge. We feel like we want to see where they will go with this," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. “We felt like they can handle this challenge. They may be 19-years-old, but we felt they are advanced beyond their years. The good ones get there early and these are two really good ones."
The Braves bumped Allard and Soroka in part because of a pitching log jam as well. With them headed to Double-A, the Braves begin the season with five-man rotations all through the minor leagues that are stacked with legitimate pitching prospects (albeit in some cases they are young pitchers who have exceeded rookie eligibility).
The one missing pitcher from this list is lefthander Kyle Muller, last year's second-round pick and the team's No. 17 prospect. Muller is being held back in extended spring to get stretched out after a late start, but is expected to join the Rome rotation in the not-too-distant future.