The Braves have announced that right-handed pitching prospect Aaron Blair will be called up to make his Major League debut on Sunday in a start against the Mets. Southpaw Matt Marksberry was optioned to Triple-A to create a roster spot in a corresponding move.
Blair, 23, has looked tremendous in three starts for Triple-A Gwinnett this season, posting a 1.42 ERA, 10.4 K/9 and 4.4 K/BB rate over 19 innings. He would be making a regular turn in the rotation by starting on Sunday, which David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently cited as a possible reason why Blair could get the call over Mike Foltynewicz, beyond the fact that Blair has simply pitched better than Foltynewicz has this season.
Selected by the Diamondbacks with the 36th overall pick of the 2013 draft, Blair came to Atlanta as part of the blockbuster trade that sent Shelby Miller and minor league lefty Gabe Speier to the D’Backs in exchange for Blair, Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte. Much of the attention was focused on Inciarte (a hot trade target coming off a breakout season) and Swanson (last summer’s first overall draft pick), though Blair’s inclusion was also seen as a major get for Atlanta, and a reason why some pundits considered the trade as the steal of the offseason from the Braves’ perspective.
Blair was ranked as the 39th-best prospect in the sport by ESPN’s Keith Law, and the righty also had prominent spots on top 100 lists from Baseball Prospectus (ranked 43rd), MLB.com (54th) and Baseball America (60th). The 2016 BA Prospect Handbook described Blair as “projecting as a workhorse with a knack for going deep into starts,” praising his ability to generate both grounders and weak contact off a heavy fastball in the 91-95 mph range. Blair also has plus command, a plus changeup and a greatly improved curveball. In 382 career minor league frames, Blair has a 3.13 ERA, 8.3 K/9 and 2.88 K/BB rate.
Should Blair remain on Atlanta’s roster for the rest of the season, he’ll gain 159 days of service time and be well on pace to earn an extra year of arbitration eligibility as a Super Two player. Over the last seven seasons, the Super Two cutoff point hasn’t been any higher than two years and 146 days. It isn’t yet clear if Blair will just be up for a spot start and then ahead back to Triple-A (a la Blake Snell’s start for the Rays today), or if the Braves want to take a longer look at their prized young arm.