Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden are out. Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins are in.
The new Braves front office has made it obvious they are looking to build their club just as they did in the 1990s: with young pitching. Julio Teheran and Alex Wood are both very good, and Mike Minor has shown he can be very good when he's healthy. Add in a couple of potential front-end starting pitchers, and it's not hard to see why the Braves would be inclined to move Heyward for pitching.
Did the Braves get front-end starters in his deal? That's widely up for debate.
Miller, who just turned 24, was a first round pick in 2009. He breezed through the minor leagues with big strikeout numbers, routinely being placed on top-50 prospect lists. After getting a cup of coffee with St. Louis in 2012, he became a full-time starter in 2013 and pitched rather well. Miller posted a 3.06 ERA and 3.67 FIP over 173 innings. He struck out 23 percent of the batters he faced (very good) and walked just 7.9 percent of them (also good).
Miller's sophomore campaign was much tougher. He was downright awful in the first half of 2014 (4.29 ERA, 4.67 FIP) as he saw a severe drop in strikeouts (15.4%) and an uptick in walks (11.4%). His mechanics were out of whack, according to multiple outlets, and it seemed he was having trouble adjusting to hitters in his second full season.
The second half of 2014 was better as Miller had a 2.92 ERA and 4.20 FIP. What changed?
While Miller continued to throw his mid-90s fastball at a high rate, it was his usage of his big curveball that led to better results; after throwing it occasionally throughout the first few months of the campaign, he began throwing it 23 percent of the time in the second half of the year. Miller also ditched his changeup completely and decreased his usage of a decent cut-fastball. He essentially became a two-pitch pitcher. The results still weren't great – 18.7 K%, 6.6 BB%, 0.4 fWAR – but his peripherals were much closer to what he posted as one of the game's promising young pitchers in 2013. And now Roger McDowell gets a chance to work with him.
Here's Miller shutting the the Bad News Bears in May:
There's serious upside with Miller, and there's a chance he could be a high-end No. 3 starter or even a No. 2 guy down the road. He's got to clean some things up on the mound, but he's still quite young and will have another great pitching coach working alongside him.
Jenkins, 22, was another first round draft pick, though he came a year after Miller in 2010. He's battled serious shoulder issues throughout his career, but Keith Law has a promising take after seeing him pitch in the Arizona Fall League:
When I saw him there in October, he was 93-96 with good downhill plane, turning the pitch over quite well even at 95 mph, generating lots of ground balls. His slider was plus at 83-87, with curveball depth, and actually got sharper into his second and third innings. His changeup was fringy, straight at 86-88, effective because his delivery of the pitch is close to his fastball delivery, but lacking any life or action. He's as strong as ever, and his shoulder is the healthiest it has been in more than two years.
Our pals over at Viva El Birdos also had a great writeup of Jenkins in the AFL, complete with videos of him on the mound.
It would seem Jenkins has the potential to be a front-end starter one day if he can stay healthy. There is also the potential for him to be a late-inning reliever should his shoulder start having problems again. Law pegged Jenkins as the No. 1 pitching prospect in the Braves' organization, though that doesn't mean a whole lot right now. Look for him to start the year in Mississippi.