It should come as no surprise that the 2003 season has started off with pitching as the primary story in the Braves farm system. Once again, a number of quality starting pitching prospects are showing their legitamacy as top prospects.
In Richmond, veteran Chris Fussell is proving he might not be finished after all. After being a long shot in spring training to make the Atlanta roster, the former Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals righthander has gone to Richmond and become its most dependable starter. Fussell is 3-1 with an ERA of 1.97. Is he a possibility for Atlanta? Well, don’t rule it out since Atlanta manager Bobby Cox loves veterans. But the presence of younger prospects in Richmond make it more likely Fussell is auditioning for other teams.
Andy Pratt pitched six hitless innings in his last outing with ten strikeouts. Overall, Pratt is still winless at 0-2 but has an ERA of 3.87. Andy still has occasional battles with his control, but he’s showing he’s getting close to being ready for the big leagues. He’s definitely on track to come to Atlanta in September and should be a candidate for the big league team next spring.
Jason Marquis had a rough outing this past Friday night (8 ER in 3.1 IP) and has an ERA of 7.50 in his first 3 starts back in AAA. Would the Braves recall Marquis if, say, Darren Holmes went on the disabled list this week? It’s doubtful. Marquis needs a couple of solid consecutive outings in Richmond to show he can be effective. The Braves wanted Marquis to get regular innings when they sent him down, but right now he’s looking like just another Braves pitching prospect. That’s not good for a pitcher who has had the success he has had in the big leagues.
John Ennis is 2-1 with an ERA of 4.44 so far this season. The 23-year old righthander is getting solid time in AAA and will also be a call-up candidate in September.
Former Texas Rangers farmhand Ryan Glynn continues his comeback attempt in Richmond. Glynn has had four straight solid outings (2.45 ERA, 21 K’s in 22 IP) after missing a start with a groin pull in mid April. He’s 1-3 overall with an ERA of 4.46. Glynn really impressed the Braves in spring training and should not be discounted when discussing pitchers in the minors who could help the major league team this season. Braves minor league pitching instructors have worked with Glynn on several mechanical flaws, and the results have been very positive.
The Greenville Braves have had a number of terrific outings over the past several weeks. Bubba Nelson pitched what he called "my best game as a pro" when he went eight solid innings allowing only one run on three hits. Nelson is 3-1 overall with an ERA of 2.21. He’s trying to repeat as minor league ERA champion. Last season he led all minor leaguers with an ERA of 1.72. Nelson’s sinker was working strong Sunday and he seems to really be learning how to pitch. Bubba has had only one bad outing all season. His other five starts have been solid.
The other member of Greenville’s dynamic duo had his best game of the season this past weekend. Adam Wainwright went seven innings, allowed only one run on one hit, walked one and struck out ten. Wainwright said he was able to locate his fastball better Saturday than any of his other starts. He’s now 2-2 with an ERA of 2.83. Wainwright changed a few mechanics in spring training and is now getting very comfortable. Adam and Bubba have followed the same track since they were both high draft picks in 2000, and fans should follow their progress closely.
Both Matt Belisle and Brett Evert are trying to find some consistency in Greenville. Belisle had a strange line Friday night (6 runs, 10 hits, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts in 4 innings pitched) and reportedly had his best curve ball of the season. Matt is trying to regain the consistency he had before his back surgery two seasons ago, and it has been slow in coming back to him. Evert is 1-3 with an ERA of 4.03. Brett shows signs of figuring out AA and then he’ll have a subpar game to make you wonder. Both Belisle and Evert are still two pitchers with tremendous ability and promise, and don’t be surprised if both pitchers finish up with productive seasons.
Roman Colon was expecting to start the season in the Greenville bullpen, but the injury to Chris Waters pushed him into the starting rotation. He’s done very well, going 2-0 with an ERA of 2.97. Colon has always been on the periphery of the top prospects, but is showing signs he may need to one day get a chance. Colon has some nasty breaking stuff and a fastball that is around 90 miles an hour.
Waters has been at extended spring training in Orlando and is schedule to make a start for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in the next week. He is doing much better physically and is scheduled to head to Greenville after his rehab starts at the beach. Will the Braves have a 6-man rotation in Greenville when Waters returns? It’s doubtful, but who knows how it will shake out.
The Myrtle Beach rotation has been solid, despite the team’s lackluster win-loss record. It’s definitely been the offense to blame for the poor start. The pitching has been led by Macay McBride, who continues to establish himself as one of the Braves top prospects. McBride is 2-1 with an ERA of 2.30. He’s struck out 34 and walked only 10 in 31.1 innings of work.
Zach Miner has only one bad start to his credit through the five weeks of the season. Miner is 2-1 with an ERA of 2.88. Matt Coenen, acquired in a spring trade from Detroit for Chris Spurling, has done well with his new team. Coenen is winless at 0-2, but has an ERA of 2.33 with only eight walks in and 22 strikeouts in 27 innings pitched.
Matt Wright has been the most disappointing Braves pitching farmhand thus far. Wright is mirroring his 2002 season in Macon when he started out 1-7. This season, he’s 0-4 with an ERA of 7.46. Daniel Curtis is 0-2 with an ERA of 5.68 in his three starts for the Pelicans. Gonzalo Lopez is currently on the disabled list, but will return soon and cause more decisions to be made regarding the rotation.
In Rome, there are several pitchers off to terrific starts to the 2003 baseball season. Last year’s top draft pick, Dan Meyer, is off to a 2-1 start with an ERA of 2.61. Meyer’s other numbers are truly impressive: 24 hits in 31 innings pitched with only 3 walks and 36 strikeouts. Meyer is pitching like someone who may deserve a promotion in the coming months, particularly considering he will be 22 years old on July 3. But with five strong prospects currently in the Myrtle Beach rotation and Gonzalo Lopez coming back soon, the question remains how the Braves can afford to promote someone from the Rome rotation.
Kyle Davies is pitching Monday for the Rome Braves and has put up great numbers so far. Kyle is 2-0 with an ERA of 1.59. He’s allowed only seven hits in 22.2 innings pitched, allowed 16 walks and 36 strikeouts. Davies was a top pick two years ago and is really coming into his own this season. Remember, Davies was Baseball America’s top 14 year old pitcher in America and also the top 15 year old pitcher when he was a teenager. He’s always been a very heralded prospect and the Braves were lucky to get him in the fourth round.
Anthony Lerew was also a player who luckily fell in the Braves hands at a later round. He was an 11th round selection two years ago out of Pennsylvania. Lerew was dominating last season in Danville and has continued his solid work so far this year. Anthony is 2-1 with an ERA of 1.97. He’s allowed only 22 hits in 32 innings pitched, walked 9 and struck out 34.
Jose Capellan is an interesting story. Two years ago, Capellan was one of the best pitching prospects in the Atlanta organization. But then he had Tommy John surgery forcing him to miss the entire 2002 season. Capellan has regained the velocity on his fastball back into the mid-90's and is quickly returning to form. So far in 2003, he’s 0-2 with an ERA of 3.79. He has walked eight and struck out thirteen in nineteen innings of work. "Cappy" is a pitcher to keep an eye on.
Blaine Boyer was one of two closers at Macon in 2002, but was moved back into the rotation for the 2003 season. The Braves want Boyer to get some more innings, and that influenced the decision on the move. Boyer has outstanding stuff, including a lively fastball in the low-mid 90's. Leo Mazzone had Boyer in to Camp Leo in February, and then proceeded to get on "The Dan Patrick Radio Show" on ESPN Radio and call Boyer out as a prospect to watch. Mazzone compared Boyer to a young Rob Dibble. The Braves feel he could be a closer down the road, but for now, Blaine needs additional innings. He’s 1-2 so far this season with an ERA of 3.38. Boyer has struck out 23 in 24 innings of work.
Finally, Matt Merricks has kind of acted like a sixth starter for the Rome team. He was a starter for most of the 2002 season in Macon and in 2001 in Danville. Now he is pitching back ends of doubleheaders and whenever a Rome starter gets knocked out early, Merricks comes in 5 to rack up some innings. He’s 2-2 with an ERA of 3.32. He has 8 walks and 24 strikeouts in 21.2 innings.
The Braves have developed one deep farm system of pitchers. Richmond has several pitchers who have major league experience (Glynn, Marquis, and Fussell) and could contribute again this year. Greenville has several pitchers who could be factors in the rotation in 2005. Myrtle Beach and Rome both have loaded rotations of pitchers who have tremendous long term projectability. Braves Director of Player Personnel Dayton Moore has said the farm system’s role is to provide consistent options to Braves manager Bobby Cox and pitching coach Leo Mazzone. This season, Moore’s goal of building a mountain of pitching choices for the Braves brass is coming to fruition.