ATLANTA—The Braves’ new world came closer to reality in April with the opening of SunTrust Park. Their on-field talent also showed signs of progress when a trio of first-round pitching prospects skipped the high Class A level.
Lefthanders Kolby Allard and Max Fried and righthander Mike Soroka opened the season at Double-A Mississippi after toiling all of last year at low Class A Rome. All three pitchers served critical roles in the R-Braves’ run to the South Atlantic League championship last September.
That combined with their performance this spring convinced the Braves that the aggressive promotion was warranted.
While Fried turned 23 in January, neither Allard nor Soroka will celebrate their 20th birthdays until August. The Braves have a long history of prioritizing high school pitchers in the draft—and a long history of being conservative when promoting prep pitchers early in their pro careers.
The early returns did not disappoint. Soroka recorded an 0.77 ERA in his first two starts at Mississippi while striking out 14 and walking none in 11.2 innings.
Allard pitched to a 1.69 ERA through three starts while striking out nine and walking four in 16 innings.
Fried pitched 1.2 innings in his first start while allowing two earned runs and four hits. He bounced back to surrender two hits and one earned run over six innings in his second appearance.
The quiet confidence exuded by all three pitchers and their determination on the mound continue to impress the Braves. And while some younger hurlers might be intimidated about facing older competition, that is not the case with the two teenagers.
“(Age) is just a number,” Allard said. “That’s the way I look at it, and I know Mike does too.
“The Braves believe we’re ready, so we’re going to go out there and keep doing what we’ve always done.”
• Righthander Ian Anderson, the third overall pick in the 2016 draft, allowed one run through 9.2 innings in his first two starts at Rome. He struck out 16 and walked five.
• Speedy veteran minor league outfielder Lane Adams, who signed in December, started hot at Triple-A Gwinnett, swatting four home runs in nine games and batting .333.
— Bill Ballew is a writer based in North Carolina