When the Braves acquired Mike Foltynewicz in a trade jettisoning Evan Gattis to the Astros, he not only became a top three prospect in Atlanta’s farm system, but he also entered a competition for the Braves final rotation spot. That competition could be open to as many as five other starters, including the recently signed Eric Stults. Foltynewicz is a former first-round pick (selected 19th overall by the Houston Astros in 2010) with a fastball that can reach triple digits and has the type of potential that could make him a mid-rotation starter or heir apparent for Craig Kimbrel as a closer.
At 6 foot 4 and 220 pounds, he has the overpowering fastball and developing breaking ball that could make him a prime breakout candidate if he can harness his talent. With his primary competition coming in the form of Stults, Manny Banuelos, Chien-Ming Wang, and Wandy Rodriguez, Foltynewicz should be considered the lead dog in the clubhouse for the 5th spot. His brief stint in the majors consisted of 16 relief appearances, while striking out 14 and walking 7 while sporting a 5.30 ERA.
Despite the disappointing numbers in 2014, he has some positives that the Atlanta Braves coaching staff has to view as encouraging. He gave up only 0.88 home runs per 9 innings while churning out 8.94 strikeouts per nine in Triple-A. His main issue has been his control problems, yielding 4.56 walks per nine in Triple-A and 3.38 walks per nine in the major leagues.
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The good news for Foltynewicz is that he is entering the ideal situation for any young pitcher. Pitching coach Roger McDowell is amongst the best in baseball and he has developed multiple young pitchers during his tenure in Atlanta. Under his leadership, the Braves have seen their staff earned run average drop each season since 2008. In 2013, McDowell’s staff on the Braves led the majors with a 3.18 staff ERA and ranked second in walks per nine innings with only 2.54.
Most notably and possibly most importantly for Foltynewicz is the success of closer Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel had a reputation for severe control problems in the minors and a fastball that was so lively it was difficult to control at times. With McDowell and the rest of the Braves coaching staff likely to be at Foltynewicz’s side throughout spring training, he should be viewed as the best option for Atlanta as they look to fill their final rotation spot for Opening Day.