More Young Arms On The Way To Atlanta
The Braves added five players to their 40-man roster, protecting them from eligibility for the Rule 5 draft. Among them were two highly regarded prospects, outfielder Cristian Pache and catcher William Contreras, along with a trio of lesser-known arms.
Lefthanders Tucker Davidson and Phil Pfeifer and righthander Jasseel de la Cruz were also protected. Davidson and de la Cruz, in particular, present interesting potential—and could impact the club in the nearer future.
Davidson was the system’s pleasant surprise of 2019. The 23-year-old posted a 2.15 ERA and struck out 134 in 129.2 innings, primarily at Double-A Mississippi. Davidson, a 19th round pick in 2016 from Midland (Texas) JC, is expected to debut in Atlanta next season. The team considered calling him up to join the bullpen in September.
The lefthander boasts a fastball hovering in the low-to-mid 90s and a trio of offspeed pitches. His curveball is the biggest wild card, with his future as a starter hinging on its growth.
The 22-year-old de la Cruz is similarly intriguing. He recorded a 3.25 ERA in 133 innings while also spending most of his season at Mississippi. In the Southern League, he struck out 73 against 37 walks over 87 innings.
De la Cruz, who signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, has what some scouts have described as an electric arm. He throws mid-90s with a slider that could make or break him in the majors.
The Braves have grown so accustomed to seeing pitchers skyrocket through their system, a la Mike Soroka or Kyle Wright, that sometimes it’s the regular trajectory that seems uncommon in the south.
"You’re hoping with all this other young talent we have on the mound, another one or two guys take a step forward,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "That might be spring training. It might be midseason. You don’t know when they’re going to come, but we do believe in the talent long term.”
— The Braves will stretch out lefthander Sean Newcomb, a former prized prospect, in spring training. Newcomb has been up and down over his first 100 games, plagued by inconsistent command issues and walks.
He seemingly found a role when the Braves moved him to the bullpen last season following a demotion to Triple-A. They’ll again give Newcomb a look as a starter, at least allowing him to compete for a rotation spot in spring. Worst case, he’s back in the bullpen and ready to start if necessary.
"We don’t know what rotation additions we might add,” Anthopoulos said. "The thought right now is to give him the opportunity to get stretched out in spring and compete for a spot unless there are other trades, signings, things like that. But right now, he’d like an opportunity to start, and it makes sense for us to have him at least stretched out in spring and go from there.”
— The Braves’ farm system is among the most desirable in baseball. In the past two winters, Anthopoulos has resisted turning a significant package of youngsters into win-now help. That might be the case again, though he admits nobody in the team’s stable is untouchable. Prospects rarely are, he said, with the occasional exception of a Ronald Acuña Jr., who was the top prospect in the game when Anthopoulos arrived two winters ago. He acknowledged Acuña as a "unique” case.
"We like a lot of our young players, but we’re open-minded,” Anthopoulos said. "I don’t think you close any doors on any trades. Generally speaking, I don’t like to go into ‘unwilling’ to talk about anybody, but some guys are harder to move than others. You keep open minds and sometimes it leads to conversation.”