Braves pitcher Tucker Davidson loosens up his arms before pitching in the bullpen Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Brian Snitker encouraged by Braves’ youthful pitching depth

The Braves still boast an enviable amount of pitching despite promotions and trades that have trimmed their upper-level pool. They were ranked the fourth-best farm system in Baseball America’s latest rankings, with top starter prospects Ian Anderson (No. 44) and Kyle Wright (64) in the publication’s top 100 overall players.

But Snitker praised some of the lesser-profile players Friday afternoon, including Jasseel De La Cruz and Patrick Weigel.

“The De La Cruz kid has a nice arm,” he said. “Really nice arm. It was good to see Patrick Weigel, too. Coming into camp without restrictions, just being a normal guy as opposed to last year when he was coming off the injury. They’re all really impressive young men.”

De La Cruz, 22, is an electric pitcher who’s been overshadowed in a deep system. He posted a 3.25 ERA in 133 innings while spending most of last season at Double-A Mississippi. He struck out 73 against 37 walks in 87 innings in the Southern League. 

De La Cruz throws mid-90s with a slider that likely will determine his ceiling as a major leaguer. He has the tools that would make him an asset as a starter or reliever, though he likely would be the latter if he debuts this season.

The towering 6-foot-6, 240-pound Weigel has long been a Snitker favorite. The 25-year-old received a call to the majors last season, further distanced from Tommy John surgery in June 2017, but didn’t appear in a game.

“He’s been through a lot,” Snitker said when Weigel was promoted to the bullpen in July. “If he hadn’t have got hurt, I’d probably assume he’d have been part of this club right now anyway.”

Snitker also was impressed with Tucker Davidson, who was the organization’s 2019 minor-league breakout star. Davidson recorded a 2.03 ERA with a 122:45 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 21 starts before his promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett.

Davidson, who turns 24 next month, complements a low-to-mid-90s fastball with three off-speed pitches, including what scouts consider an intriguing curveball. The Braves want to see the lefty make strides with his command, but despite the high walk totals, Davidson burst onto the scene and made himself a legitimate prospect.

“I liked him last spring,” Snitker said. “I loved his assortment. He’s bigger, stronger. Had a really good year. A guy like Ian Anderson, those kinds of guys, you can’t wait for the games to start so you can watch them.”

Weigel, Davidson and De La Cruz won’t be the first names mentioned in the Braves’ trove of pitchers. But they’re perfect examples of the team’s increasing pitching depth behind its set starters: Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Cole Hamels and Mike Foltynewicz.

Hamels will miss the start of the regular season because of shoulder discomfort, at least temporarily opening another job in the rotation. Sean Newcomb is considered a favorite to take one of the two vacant spots, but the other is up for grabs among a bevy of youngsters and a hopeful veteran in Felix Hernandez.

Wright, Touki Toussaint and Bryse Wilson are the oft-mentioned candidates. Each didn’t solidify a role on the major-league club last season, and while each disappointed to some degree, the Braves are extremely patient. Each will have opportunities this spring and at some point in the regular season. As Snitker often reiterates, those pitchers aren’t finished products.

“There’s numbers there,” Snitker said. “All these guys have another year under their belt, a lot of them are getting healthy, it’s good to see. There are a lot of guys who are going to provide us depth.”

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