With the Braves cruising to a National League Eastern Division championship behind one of the youngest rotations in the game, the future could not look any brighter for the franchise. Even the most casual of baseball fans around Atlanta have some knowledge of the team’s run through the ’90s, led by the “Big 3”.
However, many may not be in tune to what this current group of young pitchers is accomplishing. The impending free agencies of veterans Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm, may very well be setting the stage for an extended stretch of youthful dominance on the mound in Turner Field. The earliest that any member of the current starting staff will reach free agency, is 2015. Braves Country could very well be witnessing the makings of a “Big 5”.
Believe it or not, at the ripe old age of 27, Kris Medlen is the elder statesman of the present Atlanta rotation. Well known to many, Medlen’s 2010 season ended prematurely after an elbow injury led to Tommy John Surgery. He returned to the mound very late in 2011 for just two relief appearances and followed that with 38 more in 2012, before embarking on his incredible 12 start run on July 31st. The right-hander is now in his first season as a full-time starter. Although Medlen has somewhat struggled with consistency, and been unable to duplicate the stretch-run form of last year, he has been solid as of late. Medlen has won his last four starts and reaching 10 victories for the second straight season. A career 29-19 record and 3.13 ERA have him poised to be a solid contributor until reaching free agency after the 2015 season.
Brandon Beachy has also previously gone under the knife for Tommy John Surgery, only much more recently. When his 2012 season came to an early conclusion, Beachy was leading the National League with an outstanding 2.00 ERA through 13 starts. His return three weeks ago, could not have been more timely for the team, coming just five days after Hudson was lost for the season to an ankle injury. The first outing versus Colorado was disappointing, albeit not a surprising struggle for the 26-year-old. However, the three starts since have him looking like his old self, by picking up two wins and three quality starts in a row. Beachy’s career big league numbers now stand at at 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA and very strong 9.3 K/9.
To say that Mike Minor has been the rock of the rotation this year would be an understatement. The 25-year-old has a team high 12 wins and is well on his way toward leading the Braves in innings pitched for the second consecutive season. The southpaw was snubbed out of a roster spot on the NL All-Star team, but has pitched himself to the title of staff “Ace” nonetheless. A 3.06 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 145/36 K:BB ratio have Minor seeming like a cinch to take the mound first in any October series that may await. Considering the progression that the Vanderbilt product has made over the last two years, it is not difficult to imagine him being firmly in Cy Young Award contention in the near future. His lifetime 31-20 mark should only see improvement from this point forward.
Perhaps the most exciting piece of the Atlanta staff is Rookie of the Year candidate Julio Teheran. Signed as a 16-year-old free agent in 2007, the dynamic righty was one of the most hyped prospects in the farm system, until his debut in May of 2011. He would make just seven appearances at the big league level before 2013, struggling to a 5.19 ERA over 26 innings. This season, the now 22-year-old, has painted a different picture. Teheran became the first Colombian born Major League player to reach 10 wins in a season, with his August 18th performance. The youngster is paving the road to stardom with his team best 2.96 ERA and strong 1.18 WHIP.
Another 22-year-old rookie, Alex Wood, has been the most unexpected addition to the group. Following several early season injuries that greatly damaged the depth of the bullpen, the 2012 second round pick was added to the mix in late May and provided solid relief leading up to the all-star break. He sported a 2.37 ERA and 9.9 K/9 in 15 appearances out of the ‘pen. Wood’s brilliance on the bump has continued, especially in August, since being placed in a starting role after an injury to Maholm on July 20. In three starts this month, the lefty is 1-0 with a dominant 0.98 ERA and 0.65 WHIP. With the vast number of Braves fans that double as University of Georgia fans, Wood is sure to become a hometown favorite as Bulldogs are typically true to their own.