Coming off a 101-win campaign, the Braves again look like one of the top teams in the National League. There aren’t many areas of concern on the roster. On the position player side, all but shortstop and left field have established solutions who should play at somewhere between an above-average and star level if healthy. The bullpen is one of the sport’s best, and the top four starters of Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Kyle Wright and Charlie Morton is elite.
There is a little bit of uncertainty as to who’ll round out the starting staff, however. Atlanta has a handful of pitchers vying for the final rotation spot in Spring Training. A couple have had some big league success but struggled with underperformance or injury recently. Another is a less proven, younger talent.
At this time a year ago, it’d have seemed foolish to picture Anderson fighting for a rotation spot at any point in the near future. Heading into 2022, the former third overall pick carried a 3.25 ERA with a 24.5% strikeout rate in 30 career regular season starts. He’d twice excelled on the postseason stage. Anderson looked like an upper mid-rotation arm, a key starter both in the present and over the coming seasons.
The 2022 campaign was the first in which the righty ran into trouble. He made 22 big league starts but allowed five earned runs per nine innings across 111 2/3 frames. Anderson’s strikeout rate fell to a personal-low 19.7% clip, although he still picked up swinging strikes on an above-average 12.3% of his total offerings. While he did a solid job keeping the ball on the ground, he surrendered a little more hard contact than he had in prior seasons. Anderson also walked a career-high 11% of opposing hitters.
With Atlanta in the thick of a division race, they optioned the struggling Anderson to Triple-A Gwinnett in early August. He started four games there, posting similar numbers as he had in the majors. His season was cut short when he strained his left oblique in the middle of September.
Anderson is just 24 years old and certainly capable of bouncing back from the down year. His average fastball velocity was down marginally last year but still checked in at a solid 94 MPH. He owns one of the game’s better changeups. Anderson’s curveball was a little less effective, with the lack of an impact breaking ball contributing to a disappointing .313/.375/.511 line in 253 plate appearances against same-handed hitters last season. Anderson told reporters last week he’s working on a new slider to try to add a weapon to deal with righty batters (link via David O’Brien of the Athletic).
A fifth-round pick out of Texas in 2020, Elder flew through the minor leagues. He was in the majors by April of his second full professional season. The 6’2″ righty started nine of his first ten MLB contests, posting a 3.17 ERA through 54 innings. That came with strikeout and walk numbers each a bit worse than league average (20.7% and 10.1%, respectively) but a quality 49.3% ground-ball percentage.
He had a longer run in Gwinnett, starting 17 of 18 games. Elder’s 4.46 ERA in 105 Triple-A innings wasn’t as impressive as his MLB run prevention mark, but his peripherals were stronger across the board. He punched out 22.2% of opponents, kept walks to a 7.3% clip and racked up grounders at a 55.9% rate.
The 23-year-old isn’t overpowering, averaging only 90.7 MPH on his sinker during his MLB action. He consistently kept the ball down in the minor leagues, though, posting grounder numbers on over half the batted balls he allowed at every stop. Elder almost carried that over against big league competition in his first crack and should some aptitude for avoiding hard contact — thanks in large part to a cutter and slider he was comfortable deploying against lefties and righties alike.
Soroka, another ground-ball specialist, was one of the sport’s top young pitchers not too long ago. An All-Star at 21, he finished sixth in NL Cy Young balloting after posting a 2.68 ERA through 28 starts as a rookie in 2019. That came on the strength of an excellent 51.2% grounder percentage and tiny 5.8% walk rate, with Soroka demonstrating rare polish for a pitcher his age.
Unfortunately, a brutal series of injuries has limited him to three big league outings since then. Those came in the abbreviated 2020 season before he blew out his right Achilles. After a year of rehab, the same thing happened again shortly before he could make his return to a mound. He lost all of 2021 and almost all of ’22 recovering. Soroka returned from the injured list to start five Triple-A games late last year but felt some soreness in his elbow — not unexpected for a pitcher coming off such a long layoff — and was shut down for precautionary reasons.
While the Achilles and elbow concerns are hopefully behind him, Soroka has again been slowed up by his body this spring. He experienced some hamstring soreness that’ll delay his getting into Spring Training games for a few weeks. It’s not believed to be a major concern, but the righty candidly called it “a kick in the groin” given how much work he’s put in rehabbing from other injuries the past few seasons. It remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to fully build up for Opening Day.
It looks as if the early battle for the fifth starter job comes down to one of the three pitchers above (with Soroka perhaps behind the others given his hamstring issue). However, a few others could find themselves in position to vie for reps at some point during the season, particularly if one or two of Atlanta’s top four starters suffers an injury.
Kolby Allard, a former Braves first-round pick, was acquired back from the Rangers at the start of the winter for Jake Odorizzi. He has a 6.07 ERA in 65 big league contests but occupies a 40-man roster spot. The same is true of Darius Vines, whose contract was selected at the start of the offseason to keep him from the Rule 5 draft. He’s never pitched in the majors but posted a 3.95 ERA with a 28.5% strikeout rate over 20 Double-A starts to earn a late-season bump to Gwinnett.
Former Cubs righty Matt Swarmer signed a minor league deal over the weekend and is in camp as a non-roster invitee. 2020 first-rounder Jared Shuster had an impressive start at Double-A before a more average performance in Gwinnett last season. He’s not yet on the 40-man roster and one of the better prospects in a now-thin Atlanta farm system.
Soroka might be a Brandon Beachy situation.
Beachy always had arm problems tho. What’s intriguing about Mike is he hasn’t had any besides a bit of soreness after coming back last year.
That’s true, but it doesn’t matter if it’s arm or Achilles. If it’s chronic, it’s a problem.
Your point is true but it does matter to a degree in how much they are going to keep giving him chances. If he kept hurting his arm they would be much more concerned than they already are about whether he can ever be a successful pitcher again. It makes sense that he could have just been compensating a bit while recovering from the first Achilles injury and so he hurt the other. Any other injuries have been essentially the equivalent of 15 day dl
I thought it was the same ankle both times. I could be wrong.
The same Achilles indeed. I thought so but someone had told me otherwise. And I also should note he did actually have a shoulder problem in 2018.
Correct, he’s had one healthy season in the last five years. When you take as long a layoff as he has, these minor issues (obliques, soreness, hamstrings, etc.) tend to pop up once you expose yourself to the rigors and grind of Major League Baseball.
It’s a shame because by all accounts he’s a great and intelligent perso and a helluva a pitcher to boot. Probably would’ve been a prime extension candidate for AA or reached free agency around 27-28 and cashed in.
I remember as a prospect, his scouting reports even mentioned that his floor was high because of how disciplined he is in his preparation and nutrition. Hope he can make it back.
The Beachy comment brings into relevance what I said about Spencer Strider tho. Look at Beachys first two years and you would go into the third thinking he is ready to start pitching a full season but no, he got hurt. I’m just saying that the track record is important to be able to predict. I think Spencer will be fine. He is a bit of an expert on how to prepare his body for pitching. They did a special on this and it was interesting how in touch he is with his body and how it is supposed to move
Strider only has two plus pitches. You’d think that eventually he’s going to need a third pitch.
Strider going need to learn and a lot of pitchers to pitch to contact more and not always strike everyone out.
Why? It would help him to have some quicker outs but he doesn’t NEED to unless he is maxing out effort wise. He is already so good. Everyone can be better but it’s not mandatory if your already really good.
@Benjamin I think you’re going to see the opposite from most teams with the shift removed. Strikeout pitchers become even more valuable. And when it comes to Strider and with the pen the Braves have, I think they will be perfectly fine with him limiting contact for five innings and turning it over to the pen. The other part when it comes to him is it’s not like he was going out there trying to trick guys to get k’s. Countless times he threw nothing but fastballs in the zone and the hitter simply couldn’t hit it.
Wait wait wait. Guy broke Randy Johnson’s fastest to 200 K’s as a rookie as you’re saying guy needs to pitch to contact?!?! Lololol. Way to bury a lead.
Not me. I’m only saying if perhaps 2 ab a game went 2 pitches instead of a prolonged ab he could average another inning. Guys with dominant stuff can enduce weak contact. It is simply a matter of approach. I’m not saying he should necessarily try to do that. I was just responding to the other comment that it would be good in an ideal situation if he didn’t always go into so many deep counts yet remained basically just as good, and could give 7 instead of 6 innings. If your bullpen in excellent who cares anyway.
RunDMC, Not every direct comparison of players is a good one. Johnson’s career arc was slow in developing. It took several seasons for Johnson to corral his pitch speed, and become effective.
In Johnson’s first 4 seasons, 3 full,, and a partial first season, he posted 8.5 SO/9, and a 1.54 SO/W ratio. His ERA+ was 99. He didn’t lead MLB in SOs until his 5th season.
Not saying that Strider won’t be great, he’s an impressive young pitcher, but the fact that he got his career off to a quicker start than the Big Unit doesn’t mean he’s comparable to Johnson.
They’re 2 elite pitches — and they heavily play off each other. Sure, a third one will be great, but most don’t have 1 elite pitch and he has 2.
@tad2b13 — Not a comp, a fact.
You’re using semantics. Saying he broke Randy Johnson’s record for anything is implying a comparison. Compare them in a few years, and Strider’s fastest record might look irrelevant. If Strider, starts striking out over 300 hitters a season, like Johnson did 6 times, and 290 or more 2 other times, then you might have something.
It would help him pitch longer into games, but honestly most teams don’t want their starters facing batters for the 3rd time anymore anyways…
It could definitely help save the bullpen though, especially on days when Strider is following up a popr performance by their previous starter, where the pen had to work 6 or so innings…
@tad2b13 — Whew! You’re loading up that simple fact. I’ve already given the disclaimer (that wasn’t needed) from a rookie going into his 2nd season and a Hall of Famer. If Strider comes anywhere close to the rest of Johnson’s career, they’ll have another massive bargain.
RunDMC, Implying a comparison and then calling it a fact doesn’t make it less of one. Again, your fact, if you wish to call it that, would be similar to someone saying the fact that Cody Bellinger’s first season was significantly better than Willie Mays’, and thinking that had any relevance whatsoever.
Johnson wasn’t the strikeout pitcher in his first several seasons that he became later on. Strider has hit the ground running while Johnson did not in terms of what he became later on. Call your take a fact if you want, but as facts go, it’s somewhat irrelevant.
@tad2b13 — I know in this crazy world “facts” take on a new meaning, but you’re hilarious. Take a look at this MLB.com article that states the Strider’s accomplishment: https://www.mlb.com/news/spencer-strider-becomes-fastest-pitcher-to-200-strikeouts#:~:text=Strider%20reached%20200%20strikeouts%20at,reach%20the%20mark%20in%202019.
You ramble on Randy Johnson’s career when we’re talking about one fact. LOL! In a single-season, Strider reached 200 strikeouts in 130 IP, quicker than any other pitcher in the modern era, including Randy Johnson, who did it in 130 2/3 IP.
RunDMC, It’s obvious that you’ve completely missed the point. My comment had nothing to do with what Strider did in his first season, just the flawed association of it to Randy Johnson’s. The two had very different career starts. But whatever…
@tad2b13 – it’s obvious you don’t believe in facts. You pulled out the Jump to Conclusions mat and went crazy with it. “The two had very different career starts…” — great!
Great article! I think Dylan Dodd has a sneaky chance depending how well he does and everything else falls
Dylan Dodd was one bame that wasn’t mentioned, very good catch.
He had an EXCELLENT spring training debut, where he looked lights out!! It’ll be interesting to see how he does this season, and I think it’ll say alot about what the organization thinks of Dodd moving forward if he gets any ML starts..
I don’t think he’s on the 40 man roster, so that would really speak volumes if they moved him into the 40man early and called him up.
I think the Braves got a steal in Dodd, whether he ends up being a multi-inning relief pitcher or a quality mid to back of the rotation starter!!
Also, Dylan Dodd just had another excellent outing against the Mets, assuming he’s done for the day.
2IP 2H, 0R, 0BB, 3K
It wasn’t like he was facing their scrubs either.
In Dodd’s first inning of work he got McNeil to ground out to 1B. Then, he gave up a single to LF off the bat of Lindor. After that, he got Big Pete Alonso to strike out on a low-middle 94mph sinking fastball. Escobar then singled on a grounder to RF, but then he escaped the 1st and 3rd jam by getting Canha to fly out to CF.
His second inning of work was alot easier and much cleaner for Dodd. First, he sat down Vientos on three straight strikes, finishing him off with a 94mph 4-seam FB in and right above the knees. Next, in a 1-2 count, Dodd got Baty to ground out weakly to 3B, by having him chase a mid and away slider that was just outside the zone. Finally, Dodd finished his night sitting down Narvaez on three straight pitches. He led him off with a sweeping slider down in the zone that Narvaez chased for strike one. That led to Dodd throwing a 94 mph sinker down in the zone but for a strike that Narvaez couldn’t make contact with, and then finally Dodd continued climbing up the zone with an upper quarter played 95mph sinker that Narvaez also couldn’t touch for the strikeout..
EXCELLENT sequencing and pitching for Dodd, especially for a young man that’ll be in AAA starting out the season. He had his 4-seamer looking good, excellent movement on his sinker, and his slider was completely fooling the Mets getting a few swings and misses nowhere near the strikezone…
Small sample size, but I’m loving what I’m seeing from Dodd thus far, and I hope he continues to build off his success each and every outing.
EDIT: Dodd pitched into the next inning immediately striking out Pham, but then McNeil got the best of him with a single. After McNeil single Dodd was replaced in the game..
Also, let’s give Kolby Allard some love for his performance today throwing 3 scoreless and hitless innings while striking out three batters and only allowing one walk. Great work for Allard, as he has an outside chance of claiming the last spot in the rotation.
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I’d put So-broke-a at the bottom of the list.
I don’t know if I’d say the rotation is elite. It is very good. Morton is a bit of an uncertainty and although Strider is dominant it’s not like he has much of a track record to go on to provide one with the confidence he could pitch 150+ innings every year (although I’m sure he very well could). I would bet on Ian Anderson taking the spot.
Yeah even as a Braves fan I wouldn’t say elite.
Strider to me seems like he could be due for a huge regression. He was elite last year, no question. But it was only 20 starts and he had more success in those than he ever had at any stop in the minors. Braves need look no further than Soroka to see how a young successful pitcher can bust or struggle as they go on.
I don’t think he will regress personally. I think he is elite. He is a very bright “kid” and has a lot of confidence. You can’t get lucky and strike that many guys out. They can’t hit him. I don’t know how much max effort he potentially is. As a previous reliever he may have learned to turn it up a bit higher than he can maintain but all that is speculation. All I know is he was the most dominant pitcher in the innings he pitched that I have seen in ATL since at least John Smoltz.
I could see it, especially based on his playoff performance, but I think he was still hurt. Dude was unreal before the injury.
@rct Any stop in the minors? He only got into 22 minor league games in 2021 and was called up that same year. He also stuck out 152 hitters in only 90 minor league innings. Seems he was plenty good in his small minor league sample but I don’t see how that would be more relevant than what he actually did in the majors in the same amount of games.
Yeah, great players don’t spend much time in the minors, it’s true.
@Chipper: “Seems he was plenty good in his small minor league sample”
Right, but what I’m saying is that he was more successful in MLB than he was at any level in the minors. It goes beyond merely looking at K/9. Lower WHIP, H/9, ERA in the majors than in his brief stint in the minors.
He seems like a legit stud at the moment, but so did a lot of other guys after one full season in the majors. Including… Soroka. Not knocking Strider, but I think banking on him as a given high-end starter is premature.
They have pitchers who would be number 1s in a lot of rotations and their 4th starter would be a number 2 in a lot of rotations. That sound pretty elite to me.
DTD/ATL1313, Yeah, I think most teams, even some with WS hopes would take Anderson as a #5, with Elder as depth, Soroka is a wild card but anything he can contribute is gravy. The Braves rotation is solid.
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Solid… but not “elite”
Don’t forget they’ll also have Shuster, Dodd, and Darius Vines in AAA as well to provide depth..
Then, down in Single A and Advanced A they’ll have their next big waves of young starting pitchers. Ritchie, Murphy, Phillips, Maier, Burkhalter, AJ Smith-Shawver, Schwellenbach, Shoemaker, and Keller….
There are questions about every starter other than Fried. If everything breaks right, the rotation could be elite. If Charlie fades, or if Wright’s shoulder balks, or if Strider can’t repeat, then the Braves will be scrambling.
Most teams have a bad pitcher or two in their rotation. It would just make them less of a powerhouse team. Now if several pitchers got hurt then they would be in trouble unless more than one of those pitchers listed can step up (totally possible tho)
The only question I have about Fried is why hasn’t an extension been worked out. Is he asking for a relatively high contract or is the team trying to sign another bargain deal. I’m not sure how forgiving I would be if Fried leaves after ’24. It’s been bad enough with Freeman after ’21 and Swanson after ’22. I could also see d’Arnaud leaving after ’23. Those 4 consecutive losses to free agency would be tough to take..
They waited too late on Fried. They aren’t going to pay him what other teams are willing to pay him, or for the years that other teams will go.
It happens tho. He has gone to two straight arbitration hearings. He clearly wants to be paid what he feels he is worth. They are not going to get any more than a small discount (if any). He is too close to free agency to be motivated to sign an extension. If he puts up two more years like his recent ones he will get a huge deal. They have so much already committed. I believe they have a team option in 24’on d’arnaud as they reworked his contract late in the season.
I get Strider is just coming off a rookie season and will attempt to the slay the dreaded sophomore slump, but guy had a historic season — for any pitcher — quickest to 200K, beating a veteran Randy Johnson. Even with regression, he’s a stud with ‘stache. He was not himself coming back in the playoffs vs. PHI and threw Rhys Hoskins a can of corn.
I know it’s irrelevant to this but I always wonder did nobody notice we kept IBB the coldest hitter on their team right in front of Bryce Harper? Some front office mandates? Idk.
I think it’s a valid concern. We haven’t seen him be dominant since before the injury. The entire league has him scouted now. I do expect significant regression that will force Strider to adjust. That’s all sophomore slumps are really, hitters have pitchers scouted, and pitchets need to react to that. I think Strider will be absolutely fine, but I don’t expect his magical 2022 season to be repeated in 2023.
Name a pitcher who isn’t volatile…..after that name any elite rotation who doesn’t have the same probability…..
@LonnieB Exactly this. There’s no such thing as a flawless rotation, but on paper, the Braves are top 5 for sure. I think it’s fair to call them elite even with the question marks.
Ian had some awful bad luck last year, I think demoting him was a poor choice but here we are. He should get every chance to reclaim the 5th spot.
Hitters seem to have figured him out. His unusual delivery isn’t that deceptive any more. Unless he can develop a third pitch, or add some kind of wrinkle to his too-straight fastball, 2022’s results might be normal for him.
The tunneling action of Anderson’s changeups/fastballs was enhanced by his ability to command his fastball down in the zone. The very low spin rate on both pitches made it difficult for hitters to differentiate between the two. When he lost command of his fastball after injuring his shoulder in 2021, he started throwing fastballs up. Ruined the tunneling effect and hitters started waiting for his changeups. Adding a slider should help, but it might not matter if he doesn’t get his shoulder right and regain fastball command.
The Braves were in a tight race and couldn’t give him too much longer of a leash.
Yeah, but… Odorizzi?
I wouldn’t be upset to see Vines get a shot as 5th starter this year if injuries led to it. Allard is dump, and if he gets any starts then the Braves are going nowhere.
Why does no one consider Ynoa? Still hurt?
He underwent TJ on 9/7/22, so he won’t be appearing in any of 2023, by previous recovery standards. He could be ready for ST 2024 or shortly thereafter.
If healthy Soroka. If not, Ian Anderson until Soroka is healthy
“…until Soroka is healthy.” That could take like….forever.
Soroka has only 1 complete year of MLB action. That could be a fluke like many of rookie seasons in the past. I always thought he was the Braves future ace but now I’m thinking we should package Soroka/Anderson for a mid grade arm and play their upside in a trade. In true AA style the team would have to pick up all salaries so the Braves could duck under the tax again.
Sure, but none of the injuries happened to his arm. I get the hesitation, but he’s a relative minimal investment with high upside. I get the Achilles is important in pitching mechanics, but it’s still not the arm — while another positive is Soroka isn’t a high-velo pitcher. They have the luxury of letting him get back in there gradually at the back-end of the rotation. They aren’t dumb enough to trade Soroka/Anderson while their stock is low. Anderson is one of the most successful postseason SP in recent years, and if nothing else, there’ll be a team that would want to take a chance on that in a postseason run, even if he doesn’t look like vintage Ian.
Yeah take it from me, Swarmer isn’t the answer. Except to the question, Who will be the first pitching DFA for the Braves?
Fred McGriff HR
I’m not being pedantic, but are you guys going to change Michael Soroka’s name on here to Michael instead of “Mike”, as that is what he is wanting to be known as, by what’s on his birth certificate. It is correct on baseball ref, they changed it. https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/sorokmi01.shtml
I wonder if he and Mike Harris are buddies
Mike got injured too often. Perhaps Michael will have better fortune.
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McGriff – focused on the “important” things.
We have the same info as any other team on our starters which is what they did last year! As volatile as pitchers seem to be now that’s all you can really go off of. We have the expectation of what they were last year and every other team has the same on their pitchers.
As with any rotation, it all rides on the health of ligaments about as thick as a dollar bill.
T r e v o r.
B a u e r.
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I hope the Braves sign Trevor Bauer. Personality fits right in with that of the ATL fanbase.
You sure about that? Mets have a recent history of hiding the very stuff Bauer was accused of doing: https://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mets/ny-sandy-alderson-harassment-report-20210416-sxne6elqnvajvddaaqryewuu5m-story.html
NY fans trying to troll Braves Country? Not all but NY fans are obnoxious for no reason at all especially when YOU HAVEN’T WON ANYTHING! I went to both home series at Truist last year against the Mets and like I said some not all Mets fans were still talking garbage about the Braves and they got smoked in Atl.
You’re describing all fans. People are people.
“People are people.”
Too small of a sample size. Over time, people will adjust to the mean, regression will kick in. Could have a sophomore slump. Or people could have a career year.
There’s no risk. They can always be flipped at the deadline. Let’s just hope they’re not blocking anyone.