Braves have pitching aplenty rising through system
Sims, Hursh, Cabrera, Graham headline organization's top arms on the farm
ATLANTA -- Braves left-hander Alex Wood will return to the rotation Wednesday, rejoining fellow southpaw Mike Minor and right-hander Julio Teheran to make up one of the best young starting staffs in the Majors.
The trio of Teheran, Minor and Wood is a good start, but the future has not yet arrived for Atlanta's rotation. The Braves are excited about their young arms, but vice president and assistant general manager Bruce Manno emphasized the necessity of bringing along the organization's other young hurlers at a reasonable pace.
"They show you when they're ready to pitch," Manno said. "We have a saying: We like to challenge players when they're ready to be challenged. They usually will tell us when they're ready to take that next step. Sometimes it's right on, and sometimes it may be a little advanced, and sometimes it might take a little more time.
"But ultimately, they pretty much will tell us when they're ready by how they're commanding the strike zone and their stuff and how they're repeating [their deliveries] and how deep they're getting into games. Usually that's what we look for."
Top prospect Lucas Sims and third-ranked prospect Jason Hursh, both right-handers, wait in the wings. Hursh, at Double-A Mississippi, could come to Atlanta as soon as next season, while Class A Lynchburg's Sims is expected to arrive in 2016.
Neither hurler has posted incredible numbers this season as Hursh owns a 3.48 ERA in 14 starts, while Sims has compiled a 5.14 ERA in 15 trips to the mound. But Atlanta knows these pitchers are talented. The organization want to see how they handle themselves.
Manno believes that Sims has navigated adversity beautifully in 2014.
"He's never stopped pitching," Manno said. "I saw him earlier this year in a game where he gave up four runs in the game early, and he continued to pitch and he stayed in the game and he pitched six innings, and we ended up coming back and winning the game later. But he kept his team right there, and he never stopped pitching and he never stopped competing.
"Those are the kind of things you look for, when guys don't stop competing and they still keep pitching, they still keep making pitches, they still keep getting outs and they give their team some sort of a chance to fight back. That's one of the things that builds character, and it really shows you the type of competitor you have. He's fought through some struggles, but he'll be better in the long run, because he'll learn more. And I think if he comes through this, it'll make him a better pitcher in the long run."
Behind their best duo, the Braves have starting pitching depth despite trading former fourth-ranked prospect, left-hander Sean Gilmartin, to the Twins for veteran bench player Ryan Doumit during the offseason.
Right-hander Mauricio Cabrera, Atlanta's hard-throwing fifth-ranked prospect, could develop into a solid starter if he can improve his command. However, he could potentially be headed for a bullpen spot like sixth-ranked prospect J.R. Graham, another hard thrower who has compiled a 5.18 ERA in 15 starts for Mississippi this season.
Cabrera pitched an inning Friday in the Gulf Coast League in his first appearance since suffering a forearm strain with Lynchburg in late April.
"He's coming back from it," Manno said. "It's taking some time. He had a strain and we just got him that inning of work. He feels real good, and he's going to be able to go out here really soon and start pitching again at the higher level [Lynchburg].
"I think, though, right now, we'll take a look and see how we want to use him. We want to make sure we bring him along at the right pace, so all of that will be determined once we decide he's ready to go back out and how his workload looks and how his innings will look from that point on the rest of the season. But we're real pleased that he's come through this strain healthy and he's back pitching."
Gwinnett right-hander Cody Martin (No. 9 prospect) and Mississippi right-hander Aaron Northcraft (No. 14 prospect) are also on the rise. Although they may not achieved their ETA of 2014, each has impressed in the Minor Leagues.
Northcraft owns a 2.88 ERA and has walked only 24 in 65 2/3 frames. Martin has a 3.17 ERA and has given up only two earned runs in his past three outings to recover from a rough three starts (7.36 ERA, 14 2/3 innings) from May 25 to June 4.
"They're still learning about themselves," Manno said. "They're still learning about their delivery. They're still learning what they're capable of doing."
But before any pitcher moves up a level in the organization, regardless of his talent or how well he has performed, the Braves look at his makeup. Manno believes Sims and Cabrera are two guys who have shown strong mental fortitude this year.
"How do they handle failure? How have they dealt with it? Can they fight through it? Or are they going to let it overcome them and overwhelm them?" Manno said. "And is there a chance that if you progress this player and he fails, is he going to have to back off? Or will he stay and fight his way through it and be mentally tough enough to get through it?"
Joe Morgan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.