Braves hope rotation vets will be key in '17, beyond

Braves hope rotation vets will be key in '17, beyond

ATLANTA -- Even though R.A. Dickey, Bartolo Colon and Jaime Garcia might each end up sticking with Atlanta for just one season, their presence will likely impact the Braves on both an immediate and a long-term basis.

There is no doubt the decision to acquire the three veteran starters was influenced by the Braves' desire to bid for a winning record and possibly re-establish themselves as postseason contenders during SunTrust Park's inaugural season. At the same time, Atlanta seemingly wanted to motivate Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair, who now appear to be the odd men out of the new-look rotation.

Dickey, Colon and Garcia were targeted as short-term additions who have the capability to provide immediate benefits while bridging the gap toward the arrival of the organization's next wave of pitching prospects. The key products within this wave -- Sean Newcomb, Patrick Weigel and Max Fried -- likely will not be deemed big league ready during the season's first half.

But the Braves must remain cognizant of how the short-term arrangement might impact the long-term value of Wisler and Blair, who were both highly regarded prospects before they endured inevitable growing pains at the big league level within the past two seasons.

The Braves are hopeful that Wisler and Blair will benefit from the proverbial kick in the rear they received courtesy of the offseason rotation additions and make the most of the time they might spend with Triple-A Gwinnett while waiting for their chance to rejoin Atlanta's rotation.

Wisler K's J.D. Martinez

An injury, weather-related effect or another unanticipated turn of event likely will open rotation spots at different points throughout the season. But at the same time, the Braves must ensure that they do not go through long stretches this season which would result in blocking opportunities for Wisler, Blair or any of the other approaching prospects who prove they are ready to further their development at the big league level.

While there's no doubt the Braves want to be more successful in 2017, they don't want to allow the pursuit of this success to prove to be a detriment in '18 and beyond, when they may need to rely on some of these young starters.

Here's a look at Atlanta's projected rotation:

1. Julio Teheran 
After enduring a disappointing 2015 season, Teheran displayed better command and found more consistent feel for his secondary pitches last year. His ability to once again utilize his slider as a weapon helped him produce a 2.46 ERA over the 16 starts he made before being burdened by a couple of minor ailments in July. The season's second half wasn't as pretty, but Teheran at least got back on track last year.

Teheran's 12-strikeout gem

2. Mike Foltynewicz 
While Blair and Wisler struggled enough to be sent back to Gwinnett last year, Foltynewicz limited his growing pains enough to remain in Atlanta's rotation after coming to the Majors in May. The hard-throwing right-hander flashed the potential to be a top-flight starter, but he'll need to find more consistency with his secondary pitches to take that next developmental step and solidify his place in the rotation.

Foltynewicz strikes out eight

3. Colon
Colon, 43, stands as one of 19 Major Leaguers to have totaled at least 775 innings over the past four seasons, and he ended this past season by allowing two earned runs or fewer in 10 of his last 14 starts. The likeable veteran served as an invaluable mentor to Noah Syndergaard and some of the Mets' other top starters over the past few years.

4. Dickey
Given a chance to fulfill his childhood dream to play for the Braves, Dickey returns to the National League East for the first time since he won the NL Cy Young Award with the Mets in 2012. The knuckleballer had logged five consecutive 200-inning seasons before producing a 4.46 ERA over 169 2/3 innings for the Blue Jays in 2016.

5. Garcia
Garcia might have a little extra motivation as he enters a contract year, but his will to succeed has not necessarily been the issue, as his body has allowed him to make more than 20 starts just three times dating back to 2010. The southpaw made 30 starts last year for the Cardinals, but he stumbled at the end, producing a 8.58 ERA over his final seven starts. If he pitches effectively early, the Braves may be wise to flip him to another club in order to open a rotation spot for one of their young pitchers.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.