January 30, 2013 at 11:01 am by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
One of the fallouts from the Braves’ blockbuster acquisition of Justin Upton has been that the spotlight, and pressure, seems to fall even more squarely on the shoulders of Julio Teheran. With the dealing of Randall Delgado in the package to Arizona, if the season started tomorrow, Teheran would basically be given the fifth starter position at least for the beginning of the year, as Brandon Beachy recovers from surgery. This increased spotlight has revealed a certain rift around those that follow the team. Many view Teheran as either a borderline bust or a premium prospect who has finally proven himself and ready to assume his rightful spot in the rotation.
Let’s first address the ‘bust’ angle. Julio Teheran just turned 22 years old a couple of days ago. The current darling prospect amongst many Braves fans, Evan Gattis, for example is four and a half years older than him. Had Gattis lived in Colombia at the time, he very well could have baby-sat Teheran. Yet, many Braves fans are perfectly fine with Gattis not being ready for MLB quite yet, but Teheran is a bust? It’s important to remember that Julio Teheran entered the Braves system at the age of seventeen. An age when many players are entering their junior year of high school. Due to the fact that Teheran has been talked about as a top prospect since the days when he still had to worry about outbreaks of acne, and hadn’t evan began to fathom shaving, prospect fatigue has set in for many casual observers. It’s important to remember that Stephen Strasburg is two years older than Julio Teheran.
On the other side of the debate, the notion that Teheran should just be given the spot is maybe equally absurd. Again, he’s young, and obviously still developing. Yes, he’s thrown a lot of innings in AAA already, but overall, they haven’t been terribly effective innings. In his two years in Gwinnett his strikeout to walk ratio has been a very middling 2.4. Last year his strikeouts per nine was more Jair Jurrjens than Clayton Kershaw, and he saw his homerun rate spike as well. All of these worrisome developments led to an ERA north of FIVE over the course of 26 starts, in AAA. Maybe he was bored with AAA, but is boredom an excuse for being pounded by hitters who are supposedly inferior to your talent level?
As has been well-documented, much of Teheran’s struggles last year came when he got into trouble he tried to overthrow, which led to what pitching mechanics gurus like Ethan call ‘dropping and driving’. Essentially you really stride hard forward and really drive off your legs, but this causes the plane you throw from to flatten out, resulting in a fastball with little movement, that may be a couple of mph faster, but is much more hittable and prone to running out over the middle of the plate. Much of this appeared to be ironed out by the time Braves scouts viewed him in the Dominican Winter League. But, I still think it’s a stretch to say that such a performance in the DWL has earned him much of anything. Teheran, if he wants to be the 5th starter, will have to carry that performance over into spring.
So, if Teheran hasn’t necessarily earned his spot yet, what are the Braves to do if he falls on his face again in spring training? Right now the options would be JR Graham, Sean Gilmartin and little known Daniel Rodriguez. The first two are generally considered to not quite yet be ready for MLB and the latter is a bit of an unknown former Mexican League pitcher who is already 28. None are exactly enticing options, as you’d like for Graham and Gilmartin to continue to develop at a natural pace, and we had hoped that depending on older former Mexican league pitchers had ended with tenure of Jorge Campillo.
One of the few upsides of including Martin Prado in the trade for Justin Upton (outside, of course, of getting Justin Upton) was that the Braves do have a bit more financial wiggle room than a prospects only trade for Upton would have afforded them. Thus the Braves could be in position to sign a guy like Javy Vazquez. The Nationals have shown interest in Vazquez already, and that was even before the idea that Gio Gonzalez could possibly face a 50 game suspension in the Miami PED scandal came to light. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be Vazquez. It’s not terribly difficult to find fifth starters willing to prove themselves for a couple million in early spring training, and I’m sure Frank Wren has his ear to the ground. I don’t necessarily think that Teheran must have somebody to compete with him for the job, so to speak, but I do think the Braves need to have contingency plans that don’t involve JR Graham or Sean Gilmartin, and preferably not a 28 year old former Mexican League pitcher. I don’t believe that Teheran really needs competition to get motivated, because I think his past couple of years probably provide all the motivation he would need. If he ever did feel entitled to a rotation spot, struggling to get AAA hitters out likely washed much of that away.
Obviously the best case scenario is that Teheran comes in during spring training and is lights out and earns the fifth spot and even makes Maholm expendable at the trade deadline when Beachy returns. However, I don’t think that’s anywhere close to a given, and the Braves need to be fully prepared to deal with the possibility that such a dream scenario won’t play out. Luckily, they have the financial flexibility to do that, and those are the sorts of moves Frank Wren has always been pretty good at. Let’s be clear about one thing though, Teheran is absolutely not ‘behind schedule’ development wise, even if he spent another entire year at AAA, 23 year olds in AAA are pretty common. There is absolutely no reason to assume that Teheran won’t eventually put it all together and be the dominating 1-2 starter he has the potential to be, we just shouldn’t freak out if it is or isn’t this year.