While Didier Fuentes was hailed as the most anticipated international arm to make his stateside debut, Jhancarlos Lara actually had the more impressive professional stint in 2023.
How he was acquired
Lara was signed out of the Dominican Republic as a 17-year-old, part of Atlanta’s 2021-2022 international signing class. He received a $10,000 signing bonus from the Braves.
Preseason report card
Lara was kind of an under-the-radar prospect coming into the season. Sure, he had the size and tools to merit at least a conversation about being included in our top prospects list, but not too much else. As such, he was left off our preseason rankings but managed to sneak into our midseason top-25 list.
Coming into the season, Lara only had a handful of games under his belt in the Dominican Summer League. In ten games (nine starts), Lara spun a sparkling 1.78 ERA across 30 1⁄3 innings while striking out 38 batters. While he didn’t allow a single home run over that span, the concerning number was walks, as the young righty issued 26 free passes over those 30-plus innings. As a result, his ERA estimators were not anywhere near as exciting as his ERA, as a 3.88 FIP and 4.32 xFIP in the DSL is okay, but not much more than that.
What we saw in 2023
Lara started his 2023 campaign with Augusta and put up excellent strikeout numbers while keeping his walk rate in check. Across 18 games (13 starts) for the GreenJackets, the 20-year-old struck out over 31 percent of the batters he faced while walking just 12 percent of them, way down from his unsightly 19 percent walk rate in the DSL.
While Lara’s ERA stood at an even 4.00 after his 72 innings at Low-A, his peripherals were much better, posting a 3.51 FIP and 3.48 xFIP during his time with Augusta.
Lara was promoted to Rome for a couple of games in the latter part of the season and while his numbers on the surface weren’t great, a deeper dive into the statistics show he was actually quite dominant albeit in a small sample size.
In two starts across 9 1⁄3 innings, Lara struck out nearly half the batters he faced (18 of 38), while issuing four walks and hitting one batter. Lara also posted an ERA of 4.82, and two homers saddled him with a 4.27 FIP, but his xFIP of 2.54 suggested that he suffered from quite a bit of bad luck.
Lara frequently put his potential on display, striking out a plethora of batters in relatively short frames. His best performance of the year arguably came on a 12-strikeout performance in just 4 2⁄3 innings against Asheville after getting promoted to Rome.
Personally, I am very high on Lara and think he has top ten prospect potential going into next season. But, given the amount of quality arms the Braves have down on the farm , he may fall outside the top ten, which is not a comment on his potential, at all.
Overall, if Lara can continue to stack up good strikeout numbers while continuing to cut down on the amount of walks he issues, there’s a very good chance he makes a name for himself as one of the Braves’ better pitching prospects, especially for those focused on prospect ceilings.
Lara will begin 2024 in Rome and will turn 21 on January 15. Given his track record and age, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see the right-hander make the jump to Double-A — and possibly beyond — in the second half of the season if he keeps posting solid performances.