Alex Anthopoulos assesses Braves’ rotation, bullpen

Michael John Graydon Soroka was born Aug. 4, 1997 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The Braves drafted Mike Soroka in the first round (28th) of the 2015 draft. In 61 minor league games (59 starts), Soroka has a 2.91 ERA and 287 strikeouts in 330 2/3 innings. A non-roster invitee, Soroka has struck out three batters in three innings. On Thursday, Soroka struck out Miguel Cabrera on a 95 mph fastball that impressed Cabrera.

The Braves’ offseason shopping list includes retaining third baseman Josh Donaldson (or replacing him), adding another catcher and upgrading their rotation. They have no shortage of opportunities to do the latter.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos spoke with reporters at this week’s GM Meetings in Scottsdale, reiterating a desire to enhance the rotation with veteran help. Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Mike Foltynewicz comprise three spots in the projected 2020 rotation.

That leaves two openings, vacated by free agents Dallas Keuchel and Julio Teheran. They would like to add at least one more known quantity, in which case the final spot could be a rotating door similar to 2019.

They’re less concerned about their bullpen, where Mark Melancon and Shane Greene are penciled in for the later innings. The team likes its internal options and sees value in the blend of experience and youth likely to assemble the group. They could still add others to the mix, but it probably won’t be splashy.

How the Braves attack their rotation needs could be somewhat linked with Donaldson. The team would have money to reallocate if he left, and it would gain a draft pick, since Donaldson will decline the qualifying offer.

Should the Braves sign a qualifying-offer free agent - starters Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler and Jake Odorizzi among them - they would sacrifice a pick. If they gained one for Donaldson’s departure, that would essentially offset the second rounder lost for a starter.

The draft-pick discussion holds extra emphasis for the Braves given the team’s limitations on the international market. The domestic draft is their best means of strengthening a farm system that’s gotten weaker in the lower levels.

The Braves could afford to keep Donaldson and sign a free-agent starter, even if it costs a pick. The draft choice is a factor, though not a determining one, in the process.

“If we find someone we like, we’ll go after them,” Anthopoulos said.

They’ll also scan the trade market - their usual preference - for rotation help. Despite graduating so many players, the Braves’ farm system still holds appeal to other clubs.

Here’s a rundown on pitching-related topics Anthopoulos covered Tuesday and Wednesday:

On the importance of a starter’s resume and track record when assessing value:

“Those are all nice things, but generally speaking, we just evaluate players based on what we think they’ll do for us. Added experience is always a nice thing to have. I wouldn’t say it drives anything, but it’s better to have it than not.”

On possibly working Sean Newcomb back into the rotation:

“We’ll let him compete and get stretched out (in spring training). We don’t know what rotation additions we might add. The thought right now is to give him the opportunity to get stretched out in spring and compete for a spot unless there are other trades, signings, things like that. But right now, he’d like an opportunity to start, and it makes sense for us to have him at least stretched out in spring and go from there.”

On the young trio of Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright struggling in 2019:

“No doubt (development isn’t linear). You can look at all kinds of guys. I’ve used Fried as an example. Got called up in ’17, missed a ton of time, pitched a little bit in (Double-A) Mississippi, got called up and went to the (Arizona) Fall League. Even in ’18, he was up and down. Had a few starts that were strong, others that weren’t as strong. Postseason, he did a nice job for us. And then really came into camp and had a strong year for us. You’re hopeful that some of the other guys take that next step.”

“You’re hoping with all this other young talent we have on the mound, another one or two guys take a step forward. That might be spring training. It might be midseason. You don’t know when they’re going to come, but we do believe in the talent long term.”

On Foltynewicz's erratic season:

“It was an odd year for him. Rocky start, optioned, came back and pitched really well for us. Great Game 2 of the playoffs. He did a nice job for us down the stretch. He really pitched well for us those last two months.

“I wouldn’t have expected this year to happen. If you’d asked me going into 2019 if this guy would get optioned, I’d say no way. But it happened. So whether it’s the injury in the spring, the performance - he did turn it around, to his credit. He got a lot better, and he pitched the way he was capable of the second half of the year.”

On confidence in his bullpen and appreciating the mix of older and younger:

“We do feel like we’re in a better starting position (with the bullpen) when you look back now to a year ago. Darren (O’Day) did a nice job at the end. We were excited to sign him back. We think there’s obviously upside there. … Even Luke (Jackson), the full season he had, he’s in better position than he was coming off 2018. I think we’re in a good spot. We still can get better.”

“It’s nice to know we have some back-end guys to start. Now you know you can break in some kids, guys like (Jacob) Webb and so on – hopefully he comes back healthy, he was performing really well for us. So knowing we have some established guys in the back end, it allows us to give guys opportunities and maybe not throw them into tight spots early on.”

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