Peter Moylan was nontendered and then signed to a minor-league deal after his second major surgery since 2008. When relatively healthy, the sidearmer is a key to the bullpen, soaking up 80 appearances or more in all three relatively complete seasons (of five). He was just maybe starting to get his control back where it was before his 2008 Tommy John surgery when his labrum and rotator cuff went. He’s on rapid recovery. Popular with teammates and fans, everyone is rooting for him, with the possible exception of Cory Gearrin. As another sidearmer, Gearrin’s chances of spending much time in the city instead of the suburbs rely heavily upon there not being another sidearmer with a better track record and more attachment from the organization being around. They also depend upon putting up an ERA better than 7.85. Gearrin’s ERA was 3.38 through his first fifteen appearances; he blew up in the last three, allowing six runs in the first and four in the last. Before that, he looked like at least a decent spare part, as well as making sure that the Braves tradition of usually having a sidearmer around (The Upshaw/Garber Protocol) was upheld.
The Braves have talked about Julio Teheran and/or Randall Delgado pitching out of the pen if they don’t make the rotation. Once upon a time, using young starters out of the bullpen, getting them work in a controlled environment and not overusing them, was a progressive strategy that had some success. Today, with seven- and eight-man bullpens, they don’t get enough work unless they’re being used in a 7th or 8th inning role, and they find those roles hard to escape. So it’s dumb, unless Fredi is suddenly going to surprise us with a new bullpen paradigm. I don’t see that happening, do you? Teheran was the only pitcher on the Braves who both started and relieved last year. Having only one swingman in a whole season (and that for only five games) is more unusual than you’d think.
The Braves shifted J.J. Hoover to the pen last season, not, I think, because of any failings on his part so much as a feeling that with the Braves’ starting pitching depth — including three better prospects all of whom are younger than he — it’s a smoother path to the majors. He got as far as AAA, where he struggled with his control but otherwise looked like a potential puzzle piece, maybe as soon as this summer.
Billy Bullock, the payment for letting the Twins stash Scott Diamond in AAA after his Rule V pick, is a high-ceiling arm who strikes out a lot of people but whose control isn’t up to major league standards. If the light comes on, he could be up quick. Jaye Chapman got a promotion to the 40-man after putting up a pretty good season for Mississippi and Gwinnett, and I figure he is one of the guys who could get a callup at some point. The Braves seemingly see something in Erik Cordier that the stats do not show, putting him too on the 40-man. Last season, his strikeout rate (6.3/9) came perilously close to his walk rate (5.0/9) and he is not a guy who goes out there and gets lots of double plays either. He was the return for trading L’il Tony Pena, who is a better pitching prospect now. It isn’t minor league free against Robert Fish‘s fault that his name is almost Robert Fick, but a lot of his career minor league 4.87 ERA? That’s on him. In 2010, he was selected in the Rule V draft, but even the Royals didn’t want to keep him, to give you some idea. The backwards wiring of his brain will continue to get him chances, though.
There are always the NRIs, often LOOGY wannabees, hanging around. Dusty Hughes has given up 51 runs in 83 innings over the last three years pitching for bad teams (the Royals, of course, in 2009-10 and the Twins last year). Yohan Flande, signed before last season out of the Phillies organization, was mostly a starter, and pretty mediocre one, for the pride of Lawrenceville, but any chance of doing much for the big club will be as a reliever and probably a specialist. From the non-LOOGY ranks, short righthander Jason Rice spent years in the White Sox organization as nothing but fodder, but a chance of footwear to a red variety worked wonders, as he’s pitched well and spent all of last season in Pawtucket. He’s obviously a longshot, but one who’s shown an ability to get strikeouts and limit homers.
As always, Todd Redmond might be a possibility, depending upon how the timing is, for a callup. He’s probably better than 30 percent of the pitchers in the NL, and that might be conservative. And also as always, I surely have missed at least one person who will be a serious candidate. Also, the Braves are likely to go dumpster-diving at the end of spring training, having done some of their best work picking up guys (like Eric O’Flaherty) in April.