January 28, 2013 at 11:51 am by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
Last season was a bit of an adventure for the starting rotation. With Tim Hudson recovering from an injury, the Braves started the season with a rotation of Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, and Randall Delgado. Delgado was the assumed pitcher to be dropped from the rotation when Hudson came back, but Jurrjens’ terrible start saw him demoted to AAA. Mike Minor’s strong start soon evaporated into a home run binge that made Coors Field jealous, and Delgado continued vacillating between solid starts and starts in which Livan Hernandez threw more innings. This led the Braves to demote Kris Medlen to transition back into the rotation, but as he got closer to being ready, Delgado and Minor would start pulling out of their downward spirals. Medlen returned to the bullpen, but in mid-June, the Braves lost Beachy to Tommy John surgery, leading to the promotion of Jurrjens.
By mid-June, the rotation was Hudson, Hanson, Jurrjens, Minor, and Delgado, but unsure of the stability of Jurrjens and Delgado, the Braves signed Ben Sheets, who hadn’t pitched since 2010. Two minor-league starts later, Sheets was back in the rotation in early/mid July, and Delgado had finally lost his spot in the rotation. Jurrjens, after a strong return, couldn’t keep it going, and he lost his rotation spot to Medlen, who would begin his epic run, at the Trade Deadline. Further bolstering the rotation, the Braves acquired Paul Maholm from the Cubs and put the slumping Hanson on the DL. In about a month, the Braves rotation had all of a sudden become Hudson, Maholm, Minor, Medlen, and Sheets.
As Hanson worked his way back from injury, the rotation stabilized. Medlen was awesome, Minor was also awesome, Hudson battled through ankle problems, Sheets was oddly consistent, and Maholm was pretty good. Considering the extended use of a six-man rotation, the inevitable Sheets injury occurred, and Hanson would fill that spot for the rest of the season. By the end of the season, the Hanson, Jurrjens, Beachy, Minor, and Delgado rotation had become Hudson, Maholm, Medlen, Minor, and Hanson with Medlen acting as the ace of the staff.
It’s not exactly what everyone had in mind, but such is the life of a major-league pitching rotation.
Heading into 2013, the rotation has changed yet again. Jurrjens would be non-tendered, and Hanson would be traded for Jordan Walden. After trading Delgado to the Diamondbacks, the open slot in the rotation appears to belong to Julio Teheran, unless someone else is signed to compete with him. The depth of the rotation, especially after the trade of Delgado and Spruill, has lessened, and as evidenced by last season (and basically most seasons), depth is important.
Luckily, the one thing the Braves do have in their system is pitching. While Sean Gilmartin and JR Graham aren’t likely to begin the season ready for the MLB, both could be ready enough to fill in if there’s an emergency situation, and if the Braves can hold out until mid-season, Beachy’s comeback can give the rotation depth a significant boost. I wouldn’t expect him to be awesome when he gets back, but considering the rotation is likely to lose a member due to injury or lack of production, Beachy’s a much better addition than many other clubs would have. The Braves just have to make it to that point.
Looking to 2014, Hudson and Maholm are obviously free-agents. That leaves a 2014 rotation of Medlen, Minor, Beachy, Teheran, and one of Gilmartin/Graham. In addition to whoever loses the 5th spot in the rotation, the Braves will have additional depth in Aaron Northcraft, Alex Wood, and Cody Martin heading to AAA in the same capacity as Graham/Gilmartin this season. There’s some depth here, but things are beginning to become tenuous.
The 2015 rotation could look very similar, but Medlen will be heading into his final arbitration season. That leaves 2016 with a rotation of Beachy (now in his final arb season), Minor, Teheran, Gilmartin/Graham, Graham/Gilmartin/Northcraft/Wood/Martin, and the best two pitching prospects (well at this moment), Mauricio Cabrera and Luke Sims, are scheduled to be getting to AAA. Of course by 2016, a lot of things can change, especially with pitching. Below is a table of possible rotations/depth for the next five years (guys in gray are scheduled to be in AAA but are probably just emergency options for that season).
Heading into 2013, I feel very confident in the rotation as I’m bullish on Medlen and Minor retaining most of their 2012 second-half success, and solid veteran seasons from Hudson and Maholm should help steady the rotation. I will, however, remind you of the general concerns about rotation depth and attrition.