The Braves opened camp on Monday looking to wash the taste of last year's September collapse from their mouths. Holding a three-game lead in the NL wild-card race with five to play, Atlanta never won again and was passed on the season's final day by the Cardinals, who went on to take the World Series. While it was the offense that failed them down the stretch—the Braves scored seven runs in those last five games and just 3.2 per game in September—optimism about 2012 is high thanks to baseball's deepest crop of major-league-ready young pitchers.
The most exciting of the bunch is Julio Teheran. One of the game's top 10 prospects, the righthander tore up Triple A last year with a 2.55 ERA and an excellent 122/48 strikeout-walk ratio in 25 appearances. Just 21, Teheran has unusual maturity and polish, with a mid-90s fastball and a terrific changeup. He's on the short list of NL Rookie of the Year candidates.
Teheran has plenty of company at the Braves' complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Lefthander Mike Minor, the team's top draft pick in 2009, was effective after an August recall last season, with a 3.83 ERA and 51 strikeouts against just 15 walks in nine starts. Although he has less upside than Teheran, Minor, 24, is a polished college starter, from Vanderbilt. Randall Delgado, 22, made seven starts for the Braves down the stretch last year and had a 2.83 ERA. The righty is a lesser version of Teheran—good velocity, good changeup, a bit older though not as finished—but still one of the game's top prospects. Righthander Arodys Vizcaino (3.06 ERA and 100 K's in 97 innings in the minors last year), who's just a few months older than Teheran, has been pushed to the bullpen by the Braves' depth. He worked in the upper 90s when used as a reliever, and could give manager Fredi Gonzalez an additional option to keep from burning out closer Craig Kimbrel and setup man Jonny Venters again this year.
Seeing this many quality young arms in camp must give the Braves a feeling similar to one they had 20 years ago, when Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery showed up and helped launch a dynasty. No team is this deep in young pitching. Already, the Braves and their fans have good reason to forget the pain of 2011.
February 27, 2012