Atlanta Braves: The Southpaws rise again

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 13: Starting pitcher Luiz Gohara
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 13: Starting pitcher Luiz Gohara /


Atlanta Braves
Atlanta Braves /

The Atlanta Braves collection of high-upside lefties is remarkable

The farm system of the Atlanta Braves is absolutely overflowing with left-handed talent.

Truth be told, the system is brimming with all kinds of talent, but lefty hurlers in particular. In MLB Pipeline’s recently released Top 10 LHP, the list featured three Braves. Of the three, Luiz Gohara (4th) and Max Fried (10th) will both figure prominently into the Braves’ plans in 2018, and Kolby Allard (7th) could join the party mid-season.

Gohara’s dominant ascent through the minors in 2017 culminated in five September starts at the big-league level. His tantalizing arsenal, including a laser fastball and mouth-watering slider, actually ticked up in Pipeline’s recent grades. Gohara’s fastball grade stayed as a 70, but his wipeout slider ticked up from 45 to 50.  His control – arguably his most significant hurdle aside from conditioning – also jumped from 45 to 50. He has all but guaranteed himself a spot on the Braves’ Opening Day roster.

Allard’s stock has dipper ever so slightly, which seems counter-intuitive based on his performance last season. He was the top-ranked LHP in Pipeline’s 2017 rankings but fell to 7th in the new list. Grades on two of his pitches dropped a bit (fastball decreased from 60 to 50, curveball fell from 60 to 55). His changeup, meanwhile, jumped from 55 to 60. He still grades out as a 55 overall, which is no small feat. He will more than likely start the season at Gwinnett, and could see a bit of time in Atlanta.

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Fried’s pitch grades all stayed the same (60 fastball, 60 curveball, 50 changeup), but his overall grade jumped to 55. The numbers don’t tell the full story of his 2017, as his affliction with blisters led to some ugly statlines. The team still saw enough to call him up in August in a swing role, and he made the most of it. As an encore, he looked like a man among boys in the Arizona Fall League, posting a 1.73 ERA with 32 K in 26 innings. Fried’s 2018 path is less clear than Gohara and Allard, but in this writer’s humble opinion, he belongs to the Braves Opening Day rotation.

Despite occupying 30% of the Top 10, some Braves fans were understandably outraged by the omission of Joey Wentz. Wentz, who finished 2017 as Pipeline’s 95th overall prospect, was one of the anchors of a stellar Rome rotation. His 152 strikeouts were second in the South Atlantic League, 2.60 ERA was 4th best, and his 1.10 WHIP was good for 7th. He could be lurking just below the surface, and join the Top 10 list upon a graduation or two.

The Braves collection of high-upside lefties doesn’t end there. Recent graduate Sean Newcomb and future closer A.J. Minter saw extended time with the Braves in 2017. Tucker Davidson, Ricardo Sanchez, and Kyle Muller are a few more of the exciting arms working their way towards Atlanta. The Braves carry strong odds having a reliable lefty starter at each minor league level in 2018.

Next: Four reasons the Giants will make the playoffs in 2018

It’s a good time to be an Atlanta Braves fan. It’s an even better time to be a Braves pitcher.