The Yankees have James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and likely JA Happ heading for free agency after the season, and they will have to make decisions to make on how to fill those holes. Paxton and Tanaka are strong candidates to return, but 29 other teams will also have a say when free agency begins.
Waiting in the wings are top-100 prospects Clarke Schmidt and Deivi Garcia seeming ready to contribute at the exact time that the Yankees will have holes to fill. The Yankees may be tempted to let the young pitchers factor into the starting formula, but with a roster built to contend for a World Series every year they may want to look at the Atlanta Braves to see the risk of waiting on young arms to develop.
The Atlanta Braves possessed one of the best farm systems in baseball for several years after they entered a deep rebuild that saw acquire top prospects though the draft, international free agency and trades. They’ve built a great core of players from their farm system, but while their lineup has blossomed their pitching rotation has had its ups and downs.
The ascension of players like Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson on the position player side coincided with the organization returning to the playoffs for several consecutive seasons. Owned by a publicly traded company, the Braves are known to be wildly profitable but have avoided playing in the deep end of the free agent pitching market —passing on serious offers to known commodities like Gerrit Cole, Patrick Corbin and Zack Wheeler over the last several seasons.
The Braves likely have passed while waiting for their young arms to develop. Since 2017 they have seen more than 10 pitchers appear on top 100 prospects list. Two of these players — Mike Soroka and Max Fried — have established themselves as top notch starting pitchers, while many of the others have been given a chance to make their mark but failed to find success in the rotation to this point. Even Fried bounced between the rotation, bullpen and minor leagues for two seasons before before putting together a strong 2019 in the rotation.
The result is that the Braves have a top notch offense but have tried to patch rotation holes with lesser short term options as they wait for their prospects. When Dallas Keuchel fell through free agency the Braves were able to get him for half a season. He was a productive piece, but they still watched their division rival Washington Nationals win the World Series behind strong veteran arms.
This past offseason the Braves again passed on the top of the market to pursue past his prime veteran Cole Hamels, who is now on the 45 day IL with a triceps injury. Hamels would not be missed if former elite prospects such as Luiz Gohara or Sean Newcomb had been able to carve out a spot in the rotation.
Even a highly regarded college arm like Kyle Wright has failed to establish himself at the major league level. Taken fifth in the 2017 draft, Wright has consistently been a top 50 prospect in baseball as a professional. He has seen action with the Braves over the last three seasons and has a career 7.41 ERA so far.
The Yankees got a first hand look at two of the Braves talented but young arms on Tuesday when they roughed up Touki Toussaint and Bryse Wilson. Both Toussaint and Wilson have been top prospects for a couple of years now, with flashes of success at the major league level. Outside of Fried and the now injured Soroka, the Braves do not have a starting pitcher with an ERA below 6.75 this season, despite the impressive prospect lineages.
The Yankees have their own experience with trusting young pitching. A trio of first round draft picks in Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain were supposed to usher in a young stable rotation for the Yankees just over a decade ago. While each player found a level of success in the major leagues, they never became the core of a successful Yankees staff.
Several years later, Yankees fans began to hear about another talented trio as they put their hopes on Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman and Dellin Betances. All three players caught the eyes of evaluators, but could not reach their ceilings in a starting rotation with only Betances finding any success at the major league level.
The Yankees will have options to turn the rotation over to, with their two top-100 pitching prospects Clarke Schmidt and Deivi Garcia on the cusp of arriving in the majors. The team will also have players like Luis Severino and Domingo German returning in 2021 from extended absences and are not sure things to regain their peak form.
Even with two full rotations worth of top-100 pitching prospects over the last four years, the Atlanta Braves are struggling to find quality starting pitching from within their system. The Yankees have two elite pitching prospects on the cusp of the major league, but when given the opportunity to plan they should not place excessive expectations on the young arms.