Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino has help for anyone confused by the team’s long list of young starting pitchers, including several who had Atlanta auditions in 2018.
As Atlanta’s pitchers and catchers prepare to report to spring training this week, there are many highly regarded candidates for at least one open spot in the rotation. The list includes Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Kyle Wright, Kolby Allard, Max Fried, Bryse Wilson and Luiz Gohara.
Vizcaino sees one starter emerging from the crowd.
“Touki. Touki,” Vizcaino said last month. “He’s very good. He impressed me a lot.”
Vizcaino wouldn’t be swayed. Nor would he seek a diplomatic way out when asked about Soroka.
“I like Touki more,” Vizcaino said.
And that was that.
Vizcaino isn’t the only Braves player with high expectations for Toussaint, 22, who was acquired from Arizona in 2015. The Braves agreed to take on Bronson Arroyo’s $10 million contract with Toussaint for third baseman Phil Gosselin.
Toussaint could make that $10 million price tag look like a bargain. First, though, the 6-foot-3 right-hander with the big curveball must win a job.
Mike Foltynewicz, who was last season’s breakout starter while landing an All-Star spot, is expected to lead a rotation that also includes Sean Newcomb, Kevin Gausman and Julio Teheran.
The competition for the fifth spot could be the highlight of the Braves’ spring. The first workout for pitchers and catchers is Saturday. The full squad reports next week.
“There are so many talented arms,” said catcher Tyler Flowers. ” … Of course everybody wants to get a (Justin) Verlander or a (Max) Scherzer or somebody like that, but not every team can bring those guys in. Sometimes you’ve got to grow them yourself and I think we have a lot of guys who can grow into those types of pitchers.”
The wealth of young starting candidates kept Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos from entering a bidding war to keep right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who instead signed with division rival Washington.
“Knowing we have guys internally we think are ready to take a step, the bar is high for us,” Anthopoulos said.
Manager Brian Snitker believes the depth will allow Atlanta to bring up a sixth starter from Triple-A Gwinnett when needed to keep the rotation fresh.
Snitker said the depth was “real important” to the Braves’ NL East title last season.
“The extra day’s rest is big now with what we’re doing and we have numbers you can bring up here and stretch guys out,” Snitker said.
The Braves used 13 starting pitchers in 2018. Toussaint, Soroka, Wright, Allard and Wilson made their major league debuts. Toussaint’s debut came after he was selected to pitch in the Futures Game on All-Star weekend.
Toussaint was impressive in his first start, allowing only two hits and one run in six innings in a win over Miami on Aug. 13. He was 2-1 with a 4.03 ERA in seven games, including five starts.
In what could be an indicator of the team’s 2019 plans, Toussaint was placed on the postseason roster. Pitching in relief, he earned the decision in Atlanta’s only win in the NL division series loss to the Dodgers.
Toussaint said his 2018 experience helped him believe he belongs in the major leagues.
“I’d say very confident,” he said when asked about his mindset. “I know what I have. I’ve seen it. I’ve watched it. I’m ready to get after it.”
Soroka also was impressive when healthy. He could be watched carefully in his return from a sore shoulder that put an early end to his 2018 season. He said he began throwing in November and feels strong.
Many of the young pitchers moved through the organization together after they were on the same Class A Rome staff in 2016.
“It’s pretty incredible to be with those guys,” Soroka said. “Healthy competition is always good. It brings out the best in everyone.”