In the starting rotation, there are two pitchers who might go if something goes wrong with one of the top five, though unless someone gets hurt or Mike Minor is really bad, I don’t think anyone has much of a chance of pitching himself onto the roster.
The incumbent option is Brandon Beachy, who came from nowhere to wind up in the rotation at the end of the season. The righthanders from Kokomo was dominant in the minors and pitched well (despite going 0-2 as the offense was in free-fall) in three starts in the majors, striking out fifteen in as many innings and posting a 3.00 ERA. He did walk seven, but three were intentional. All things being equal, you’d expect him to have frontrunner status in the fifth-starter competition, but Minor is lefthanded, a former #1 draft pick, and in all honesty is a much better prospect.
The Braves signed Rodrigo Lopez to a minor-league deal as, I’m sure, an insurance policy. A hard-throwing Mexican righthander who has always been more potential than performance, Lopez is 75-84 in his career, mostly with the Orioles, and last year (his first full season since 2007 Tommy John surgery) was 7-16, leading the league in losses for the D-Backs. He wasn’t that bad — the D-Backs were a terrible team in all phases of the game, and he did manage 33 starts and 200 innings — but there is no reason why the Braves should think of him as more than AAA roster filler. He’d be much more valuable to a team without their pitching depth.
Kenshin Kawakami should be traded by the time you read this. If he isn’t, he should be soon. He is, obviously, a better pitcher than Lopez, but this marriage just didn’t work. Kris Medlen should become available some time after the All Star break, though I couldn’t guess if they still think of him as a starter, and if they do if that they wouldn’t prefer to bring him back to begin with as a reliever anyway. Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino are on the NRI list, and Randall Delgado is already on the 40-man. I doubt any of them could pitch their way onto the opening day roster, but there’s a good chance Teheran is in the rotation by September.
In relief, the pitcher with the best chance to supplant one of the Scotts would seem to be the Lisp, Cristhian Martinez, who was a decent enough last man in the pen last year, posting a 4.85 ERA, and who has an established relationship with Fredi Gonzalez from their time with the Marlins. He’s just a guy, has no real strengths but no outstanding weaknesses.
Nobody else on the 40-man or the NRI list has any major league experience as far as I can tell. Of the minor-leaguers, Stephen Marek was probably the most impressive in 2010, posting a 1.14 ERA with 13 saves in 63 innings of AA and AAA work. There’s no good reason I can see why Marek isn’t getting a strong chance to make the roster, but (a) sometimes minor league relievers just don’t get taken seriously, and (b) the Braves are a lot closer to the situation than I am.
Then there’s Jairo Asencio, who actually did make three major league appearances for the Braves in 2009 as “Luis Valdez” before it was discovered that he was not Luis Valdez but Jairo Asencio, and was on the restricted list all of last season when he couldn’t get a visa. Asencio/Valdez pitched quite well as the Braves’ AAA closer in 2009 and yet never got a serious shot even as the bullpen was falling apart. I don’t know that the Braves’ opinion of him has changed with his name, though Asencio was born later than Valdez.
In all seriousness, nobody really knows who’s going to look good in spring training and move into the picture. How many people had heard of Jonny Venters this time last year?