Our roundtable series continues on Saturday with our thoughts on the Atlanta Braves’ starting rotation. Entering the spring, the Braves appear to have one spot available in the rotation with several internal options. Here are our thoughts on how we think the rotation will shake out.
What will the Braves five-man rotation look like on Opening Day?
Kris Willis - The only question mark I see in regards to the rotation is for the vacant fifth starter spot. For this exercise I am assuming that the first four spots are occupied by Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, Max Fried and Cole Hamels. While having Felix Hernandez in camp is a great story I am afraid that we are going to see that he doesn’t have much left to offer and won’t make the team. I am going to go with Kyle Wright over Sean Newcomb to get the first crack at the spot. Wright had an excellent spring last year and opened the season in the rotation. Things didn’t go well from there but I still think he has the stuff to hold down a spot in a major league rotation.
Scott Coleman - Barring injury it will be the four obvious choices. I’d love to see King Felix win the 5th spot, but I’m just not sure how much is left in the tank. He’d also require a 40-man roster spot, which aren’t exactly free and clear given the depth assembled in the upper levels of the minors. I’ll go with a hunch and say Bryse Wilson takes the job with a strong spring — he’s a more-consistent breaking ball away from being a really intriguing arm — but it’s going to be a true battle between Wilson, Sean Newcomb, Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint and others. I’d imagine the competition will extend into the season, which is hardly a bad problem to have. Pitch well in Atlanta or hit the shuttle to Gwinnett.
Eric Cole - So Soroka, Folty, Fried, and Hamels are assured spots at this moment in time. After that, there are a slew of options both on the 40 man roster as well as outside of it that could be in play for the 5th spot including Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson, Patrick Weigel, Felix Hernandez, Tucker Davidson, Sean Newcomb, Jasseel de la Cruz that all are in play (with widely varying degrees of probability) for that last slot. I’ll give the edge to Wright because I think he is already on the 40 man, his second half in the minors was encouraging, and he has arguably the best stuff of all of these guys outside of Ian Anderson who could use some more seasoning in Triple-A.
Ivan - Four guys are locked in, pending injury, and while I feel fairly confident that someone will have some sort of nagging injury setback in Spring Training, there’s no way to know whether that’s gonna be to one (or more) of the apparent stalwarts, or someone else. So, pending no injury shenanigans, I just don’t see anyone other than Sean Newcomb walking away from the fifth spot at first. It’s also hard to believe that Spring Training is going to deftly settle anything in this regard — Kyle Wright and Wes Parsons mutilated their Grapefruit League opposition last March, and we all know what happened afterwards.
Daniel H-K - This question obviously assumes that everyone stays healthy through spring training, so with that being the case, I’ll assume that Soroka, Fried, Folty, and Hamels are locked in. I wrote a full article breaking down my thoughts on this competition here, but I’ll take Touki Toussaint to re-discover his command enough to take the fifth spot, partially out of hope, and partially out of faith in Touki.
AB - Typically you don’t need the entire rotation for Opening Day. But the fifth starter will be required from the beginning of the season this year as the Braves will play seven consecutive games to start the year. They usually add off days into the first week in case of rain outs, but playing in Phoenix and San Diego probably eliminates that risk.
The top four are set. I will go with Bryse Wilson for the fifth spot. He will discover an off-speed pitch and dominate, much like Max Fried from last year. When he does, maybe he will show it to Foltynewicz.
Shawn Coleman - My biggest hope for the Braves, beyond what I have already mentioned, is good health through Spring Training. Last season, ailments to the bullpen and rotation created struggles for Atlanta that plagued them through April. If everyone remains healthy, I feel the ideal rotation to start the season will be Soroka, Hamels, Folynewicz, Fried, and Kyle Wright.
This development would give both your bullpen and rotation added upside from the beginning, as Sean Newcomb becomes the second lefty out of the pen, while Wright winning the fifth spot means he had a successful Spring. While Felix Hernandez becoming a reliable option would be great, this feels like a season in which the Braves need for one of their more seasons pitching prospects to take that next step in case of injury or regression. My hope is that Wright has the breakout season we all know he is capable of.
Anthony Traurig - We already know that Soroka, Fried, Hamels, and Foltynewicz will start the season in the rotation, barring an injury. There is a slew of candidates to fill that last spot, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Felix Hernandez, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Touki Toussaint, Sean Newcomb, or Ian Anderson in the fifth spot to start the season. I think King Felix will be given every opportunity to make the rotation to start the season. Everyone else I listed could benefit from some more time in the minors except Newcomb, who I really would prefer to see in the bullpen anyways. Wright ended his season strong in Triple-A last season and still has lots of potential, but at least to start the season, my guess is it’ll be Hernandez.
Cory McCartney - We know that for the first time since 2014, someone other than Julio Teheran will be on the mound. Mike Soroka, coming off his All-Star season and top-five ERA is the clear favorite to assume that role on March 26, and we know he’ll be followed by Mike Foltynewicz, Max Fried and Cole Hamels. The fifth spot is there for the taking for Sean Newcomb, and given the way he responded to last year’s demotion and move to the bullpen, I expect we’ll see him enter camp with a singular focus to claim that spot. He’ll be pushed by the likes of Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson and Felix Hernandez, who should try and reinvent himself a la Anibal Sanchez, but Newcomb found his groove in allowing a .167 batting average against in July, .205 in August and .188 in September. That confidence will go a long way to his claiming the fifth spot.
Brent Blackwell - Soroka, Fried, and Hamels are my only sure bets. My hunch is this is the last season for Folty to show the team whether he’s the 2018 weapon or, yet again, merely the guy who flashes that weaponry while putting up league average numbers. That leaves one spot, and there are a lot of options. As much as I’m rooting for the King to lead the team to glory, I’ll say injuries/ineffectiveness elsewhere force Newk back into the ‘pen and Bryse Wilson gets the nod.
Demetrius Bell - Soroka, Folty, Fried, and Hamels are pretty easy to pencil in right now. That fifth spot is going to be a proverbial knife fight and I’d imagine that it won’t be settled until the season gets underway. From a pure fan perspective, I’d like it to be Felix Hernandez because it would just be so cool to see him bounceback and do so while wearing a Braves uniform. Realistically, I think that the fifth starter will end up being Sean Newcomb. I never really got the feeling that Newcomb’s move to the bullpen was going to be a permanent one. I think the Braves were just waiting on him to find a way to cut down on his walks and sure enough, he just barely got his walk percentage below 10 percent — he finished 2019 sitting at a cool 9.9 percent for the season! That’s still not a great number at all, but it’s better than when he finished 2018 as the “leader” in walk percentage. I’d be fine with Kyle Wright if he has a great spring and breaks out, but as it stands now, I’d be fine with Newcomb starting the season as the fifth starter.
Dillon Cloud - I expect Mike Soroka, Max Fried, and Cole Hamels to be the only locks in the rotation, with Mike Foltynewicz in the next tier. His candidacy is rooted in the hope that his second-half performance last season, which followed a trip to Gwinnett, was not an anomaly. Beyond those four, Felix Hernandez will obviously be given a long look in Spring Training, but Sean Newcomb, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson each have the talent to earn the spot outright. This will be among the most intriguing storylines in camp, and the fifth starter spot could be a revolving door for much of the season.
Wayne Cavadi - Pretty much the same as everyone else here. We know Soroka, Hamels, and Fried are in. I’d like to believe King Felix wins the last spot, but I don’t think that’s until a little later down the road. I don’t know that I want to see Kyle Wright open the season in the rotation (last year was a nightmare, so I’d expect Sean Newcomb and Bryse Wilson to round out the five.