Julio Teheran was good for the Braves on opening day, but he couldn’t match Aaron Nola even on an off day for Philadelphia’s ace. Teheran hasn’t been very good since 2016, so you know the team’s pitching is in bad shape when he’s the default No. 1 after Mike Foltnyewicz went on the injured list.
Starting pitcher is another potential weakness that the Braves didn’t address during the offseason. The plan is to depend on their depth, which means send out their many young arms and hope a couple of them can hold up. It’s a risky plan for a team short on reliable starters and trying to win the division, but it’s not unreasonable.
This weekend we get to see the first real test of that strategy. The Braves will send Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright against the Phillies on consecutive days. They aren’t brand new — they pitched a combined 13 innings for the Braves in 2018 — but they are rookies. The Braves say it’s the first time since 1905 that they’ve had two or more rookies start in the first three games.
There are big, important questions about how or if Wright, Wilson and the other prospects fit into the team’s future. But the Braves are trying to win games now. That’s the tension for the Braves as they rely on unproven arms while defending their National League East title. It’s the questions they will face if they don’t get enough from those pitchers and fade in the standings after ownership sat on its cash.
Wright and Wilson will face a Phillies lineup that scored 10 runs Thursday despite Bryce Harper getting zero hits. The Braves urgently need Wright and Wilson to give them enough effective innings so manager Brian Snitker won’t have to reach deep into a bullpen that immediately leaked oil on opening day.
The only way to find out if Wright and Wilson can be major league pitchers is to let them pitch to major leaguers. It could turn out that the only way for the Braves to be competitive against the Phillies this weekend is if they can be effective now.
“I feel really good about them,” Snitker said. “They are rookies, but they were up here last year. They both pitched in the major leagues last year. Went through the playoff run, got to experience all that.
“It’s a great opportunity for those guys and our organization. They are getting a young start on this thing, and when those young, talented players get ahold of this, then they’ve got a chance to be good for a really long time.”
That could be the Braves’ mission statement from the time the previous front office stripped the roster and accumulated prospects. Develop a young ace or two from among many candidates and ride them for years of team-friendly contracts and division titles. Prospects usually don’t pan out, pitchers most of all, but the Braves planted so many young arms on the farm they were playing the percentages (and still are).
It’s a sensible way to go about building a team. We’re still waiting for those pitchers to graduate from touted prospects to real major leaguers. The Braves surprised most everyone by winning the East last season, before those prospects were ready to make a dent in the big leagues.
Foltynewicz was among the first wave of prospects the Braves acquired. He seemed to figure out some things last year and now needs to be more consistent, a hard step to take. Foltynewicz isn’t yet on Nola’s level, but there’s a chance.
Wright and Wilson are among the next wave of pitching prospects. We haven’t seen them pitch in enough official big-league games to know what to make of them. Both were good during spring training, and “competitive” is the word that Snitker keeps using to describe them.
Effective outings for Wright and Wilson this weekend would alleviate some short-term concerns for the Braves. They need them to hold down rotation spots until Foltynewicz and veteran Kevin Gausman return from the injured list sometime in April.
If Wright or Wilson falter, the Braves have more touted prospects waiting for their chance. Max Fried is in the bullpen now. Mike Soroka and Luiz Gohara are on the mend. Touki Toussaint and Kolby Allard are at Triple-A Gwinnett.
Those names represent the foundation of a bright Braves future. That’s always been the plan. But the Braves need Wright and Wilson to help them beat the Phillies now.
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