Snitker: Braves have two, maybe three rotation locks

Jan 30, 2018
Michael Cunningham/AJC Mike Check
Julio Teheran anchors what FanGraphs predicts will be an improved Braves pitching staff. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

The Braves’ focus in spring training will center on the starting rotation, with a plethora of arms competing for three spots.

Braves manager Brian Snitker said Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz will make up the top of the rotation. The rest is in competition’s hands.

“You’ve got a guy like Julio that’s going to be in our rotation. Folty’s going to be in the rotation,” Snitker said. “But after that, guys don’t have big baseball cards. “

Regardless of the opening-day group, Snitker suspects most of the candidates will make a few starts anyway.

“We’ve got some good candidates, and it takes a lot,” Snitker said. “The average in the major leagues is like 11 starters, I think, that were used (during season). It takes a lot of guys to get through a major-league season. Starters, bullpen; we’ll get down there (in Florida), stretch some guys out and see where we’re at.” 

General manager Alex Anthopoulos added veteran starters Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir in his salary-swapping trade with the Dodgers last month. Both of whom will be rotation candidates.

Kazmir’s health is still a serious question mark. McCarthy has battled through injuries as well, but if healthy, he’s the most likely to join Teheran and Foltynewicz, the team has indicated.

“It’s good to have a guy like Brandon McCarthy who’s been through it, a veteran guy like Scott Kazmir,” Snitker said. “We’ll see where we’re at. For me it’s wide open, and it’s a good thing to have, especially with the emergence of the young guys. It’ll be fun.”

Snitker and Anthopoulos, along with some players, including first baseman Freddie Freeman, hold lefty Luiz Gohara in high regard. Gohara made five starts at the end of last season, striking out 31 in 29 1/3 innings.

Max Fried, Lucas Sims and Sean Newcomb are among the other young arms vying for spots. Snitker tossed in 20-year-old Mike Soroka for good measure.

“We really liked what we saw of Gohara, Max Fried,” Snitker said. “I haven’t seen much of Soroka. I’m really excited to see him go. With McCarthy, Kazmir you like the fact that with these young guys, you have some stability there also, which is good.”

The team temporarily employed a six-man rotation last season, and while Snitker wouldn’t rule out trying it again, it’s unlikely. 

Instead, look for a starter or two to transition to the bullpen. Fried and Sims were used in that capacity a season ago.

“It might come up, but if you pin me down I’d probably say no,” Snitker said of a six-man unit. “I think that’s always an option and something we wouldn’t rule out, but I think probably if you ask me now, I’d say no. We’ll take whoever we feel like at the time is our five best. 

“We want to keep the other guys pitching. It’s not a bad thing if a guy starts in the bullpen. Who knows? A lot of really good starters have opened their careers in the bullpen. So that’ll be an option we have also as we get through spring training and it dwindles down and we see where some of these guys are.”

Snitker stressed that the team has improved its defense with the goal of aiding the young starters in mind. He believes that, along with last year’s experience, is paramount to their development.

“They all pitched a major-league season, and I said my goal was the day after the season was over, I wanted them all to be able to pitch again, make their next start, pitch the next day if you’re a reliever, and we did it,” Snitker said. “They were all upright. To experience that long season, make those starts and the experiences in between, it won’t be such a culture shock now. We’re excited about those guys maybe taking a step forward.”