As of this writing, Randall Delgado’s future with the Atlanta Braves is uncertain. He might be used as a trade chip to acquire a starting left fielder (or third baseman). He might open next season in the team’s starting rotation. He might start next season in Gwinnett, provided the more-touted Julio Teheran finally begins realizing his enormous potential and beats Delgado out for a rotation spot.
But I believe that this is certain: Delgado has a bright future in the major leagues.
Delgado signed with the Braves as a 17-year old out of Panama, before the 2007 season. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and plus curve, he then rolled through the ranks of the Braves system. In 2009, Delgado posted a 3.20 FIP and 10.23 k/9 in low-A ball; in 2010 he spent most of the season dominating Carolina League hitters (2.93 FIP, 3.75 K/BB) before reaching AA as a 20-year old.
Then, in 2011, Delgado pitched 174 total innings while splitting time between three levels, but despite a seemingly impressive 2.83 ERA in 35 innings with the big league club, he wasn’t quite ready for the majors. That’s how I look at a 21-year old pitcher with a 4.63 k/9: Not ready yet.
But he might be ready now. This season, Delgado proved that he could at least be a viable major league starter making league minimum. Over 92 2/3 innings with the Braves, Delgado helped solidify the back end of the rotation while Mike Minor struggled and Tommy Hanson morphed into the perfect parody of Tommy Hanson.
The strikeouts, so elusive in 2011, started to come to Delgado a bit more frequently in 2012. All told, in 92 2/3 innings over 17 starts with the big club, Delgado turned out to be a league-average pitcher: 4.37 ERA, with 7.4 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, a 1.81 K/BB, a 4.07 FIP and a 4.13 xFIP. That’s not bad for a 22-year old making the minimum. Not bad at all.
As we look ahead, the major hurdle for Delgado will be his control. He has never had elite control, but he’s going to have to get the BB/9 below 4, and the K/BB ratio above 2, if he is ever going to be more than he was in 2012. Don’t get me wrong: as a young, cost-controlled pitcher who can post a league average FIP, he’s a valuable commodity for the Braves organization as we sit here, right now, in December 2012.
He nevertheless can become an above-average starter as soon as 2013, if he limits the walks. And considering that the Braves control his rights for another five seasons, that is a deeply alluring proposition. Indeed, before it’s all said and done, Randall Delgado may well turn out to be one of the more valuable players — or at least more valuable commodities — for this mid-market team.