• Exclusives

    Bubbling at AAA, Braves’ young arms ready for showtime

    Gwinnett Braves' starter, Julio Teheran

    By Bud L. Ellis

    Glavine. Smoltz. Maddux. The names roll off the tongue as easily as the vaunted Hall of Fame “Big Three” frustrated opposing hitters en route to pitching the Atlanta Braves into baseball’s elite in the 1990s.

    That type of pitching rotation is once-in-a-lifetime stuff. If many of us are lucky, we may see one hurler of that ilk pitch for our hometown team, but three at the same time?

    Those of us who followed the Braves through the glory years of the 1990s know how blessed we were to see Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux form the cornerstone of one of baseball’s most successful and sustainable runs. Nobody, and I mean nobody, who bore witness to the greatness of Atlanta pitching in the ’90s could realistically expect to see another deep batch of top-shelf arms come our way again.

    But alas, it very well may be about to happen again. In fact, it’s already happening, a short ride up Interstate 85 from Turner Field.

    There are more than a handful of Major League teams that would love to run out a trio of young pitchers as talented as Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino and Randall Delgado. Throw in Mike Minor, and the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate in suburban Gwinnett County features as talented and as hyped a pitching staff as one can find toiling in the minor leagues.

    Minor league baseball is awesome, plain and simple. The prices are lower. The access is easier (10 minutes after arriving at the stadium in Bowling Green, Ky., last month for a baseball fix while on vacation, both of my sons had baseballs – thrown by that night’s starting pitcher, no less – and a ton of autographs). The pure essence of players fighting for their ticket to “The Show” makes the price of admission a worthwhile investment.

    But there is talent in the bushes, and for the Braves, the gathering young squadron of pitchers just might thrust Atlanta back into perennial World Series contention.

    Teheran has anchored Gwinnett’s staff all season, save for two spot starts for the big-league club. It’s clear his days in Triple-A are numbered; Teheran is 12-1 on the season with a dazzling 1.90 ERA in 19 starts, striking out 99 in 113 2/3 innings while displaying the command and the talent that makes him the organization’s top prospect.

    Vizcaino is at his third stop this season in the Braves’ organization. Starting the year in High Single-A Lynchburg (after grabbling fans and Braves’ brass attention by hitting 100 mph on several occasions in spring training), Vizcaino struck out 92 hitters combined between Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi. Promoted to Gwinnett, Vizcaino has moved into the bullpen, perhaps foreshadowing a future role as reliever in the majors. In four relief appearances at Triple-A, Vizcaino is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA, fanning six in four innings with no walks.

    Delgado is the newcomer to the highest level of minor-league ball. In 21 starts for Mississippi, Delgado went 5-5 with 110 strikeouts in 117 1/3 innings with a 3.84 ERA. The right-hander, who made a spot start for Atlanta in June, makes his Triple-A debut Saturday night at home against Charlotte. Minor, who has shown flashes of brilliance at times at the major-league level, sits at 4-5 with a 3.13 ERA in 19 starts for Gwinnett, striking out 99 in 100 2/3 innings.

    Put it all together, and you see why Frank Wren was willing to move two really good minor-league starters – Brett Oberholtzer and Paul Clemens – as part of the Michael Bourn trade on Sunday. In many organizations, Oberholtzer and Clemens would be at or near the very top of the pecking order.

    But not in this organization. The Braves are fortunate – again – to have pitching, pitching and more pitching. The core of that pitching future sits 37 miles northeast of Atlanta, poised to move into the major-league rotation and ready to fashion another once-in-a-lifetime run for Braves’ fans.


    Follow Bud Ellis on Twitter: @bud006

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