Bulls for the ‘Pen: Atlanta Braves

LHP Alex Wood was a beacon of light and a huge reason for the Braves' bullpen success in 2013. Who is behind him on the depth chart for '14? (Photo: Getty Images)

LHP Alex Wood was a beacon of light and a huge reason for the Braves’ bullpen success in 2013. Who is behind him on the depth chart for ’14?
(Photo: Getty Images)

In the latest in a thirty-part series (yeesh!), We will be looking around baseball at potential bullpen vacancies and the internal candidates that each organization has in the upper levels of their systems to fill those vacancies. We’re hoping to expose some fresh faces that should see plenty of action in 2014 barring injuries or roster screwery and in doing so provide a bit of a relief summary for each organization’s upper minors. Without further ado, we’ll get moving onto the Atlanta Braves.

The Atlanta Braves enter 2014 with the bullpen a position of strength, to say the least. Braves relievers in 2013 posted the lowest FIP in the game by a margin of a tenth of a run, and the bulk of the men responsible for that should be back in 2014. Jonny Venters will open the year on the DL recovering from Tommy John surgery and Eric O’Flaherty has departed for free agency so, barring a trade or signing there looks to be at least a season and a half of innings up for grabs in the Braves’ pen this year for their promising young arms. David Carpenter, Jordan Walden and Luis Avilan are all set to rejoin with prodigal phenom Craig Kimbrel to finish off games, so any openings should be, as usual, in the 5th/6th inning and swingman type roles. David Carpenter would not be a wise pick to repeat his numbers from last year, that’s not to say that he won’t hold down a job at the back of the ‘pen, but like with most reliever breakout performances, one must keep the small-sample-size bucket nearby to douse any over exuberant optimism. There may be some volatility around the 7th inning as well, giving the youngsters room to push up further into prominence in 2014.

Those youngsters are highlighted by Alex Wood, last year’s graduate and more-than-capable swingman, putting up a 2.65 FIP over 77.2 innings while striking out almost 9 per 9. Very good numbers from the promising young lefty, and he looks like a lock to hold down that role into next year; the Braves seem worried enough about his ‘awkward’ delivery that the topic of a move to the bullpen comes up regularly. Aside from Wood, who made more than a brief cameo in 2013, there are still a couple fresh faces we may expect to see throwing innings in the blue and red in 2014.

(Video: Northeast Baseball Prospects on Youtube)

RHP James Hoyt was, just over a year ago, playing in independent baseball for the Wichita Wingnuts. The Braves signed him as a reliever out of Wichita at 26 on the strength of his 93-94 mph fastball and his big projectable frame (6’6″, 215lbs). Hoyt responded well to the jump, reaching AA in 2013 with 2.86 FIP in 32.2 IP. He has some control problems as evidenced by Steamer’s projection of a 4.37 BB/9 rate were he to jump up in 2014, but the whiffs have been there throughout Hoyt’s time as a pro. In the Mexican League and High-A he struck out over 13 per 9 and while that took a tumble to 9.09 in AA, he also knocked a full BB/9 off his walk-rate, cutting it to a near league-average 3.58. His nice AA numbers come with some huge caveats, namely his 0.28 HR/9 and a .195 BABIP sit there screaming for regression to normal, and Steamer projects him to have a fairly unsightly 4.20 FIP if he makes the jump. Considering that reports on him seem to suggest he has a plus fastball and an average-plus slider, and that his delivery looks smooth and easy, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him outperform those projections should he make the jump. At least in the video above it appears that while his extension leaves something to be desired given his large frame, he has nice arm action and posture and uses his lower half quite well to get good momentum to the plate. I may be a little high on Hoyt as I tend to have a soft spot for indy-league signings, but I think he projects to be at the very least a solid major league reliever.

Another name to watch in the Braves’ system is Mark Lamm. Lamm was drafted fairly high for a pure-reliever in the 6th round by Atlanta out of Vanderbilt in 2011. He throws a low-mid 90s fastball that he complements with an above-average changeup and slider giving him a nice arsenal for a reliever, and some prospect-hawks like to believe that getting Tommy John Surgery ‘out of the way’ early is a plus in the makeup and conditioning areas. He hasn’t really shown elite strikeout numbers and his walks are a bit high in his time as a pro, but especially in the early parts of the season while Venters is still sidelined I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Lamm eating up some innings for the Braves in ’14. He finished the year with 22 reasonably effective innings at AAA, albeit with an unsightly 6.04 BB/9.

The Braves are likely prime candidates to sign a free agent reliever this offseason in light of their top relief prospects looking a bit shaky, but count me amongst those with faith that Hoyt at the very least has a decent chance to impress this year.

Posted on November 23, 2013, in Braves, Bulls for the 'Pen, Relief Pitchers, Top Prospects and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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