The Atlanta Braves’ starting pitching picture (say that three times fast) has changed dramatically since the 2008 season came to a disappointing end for the organization. Once a strength for the club, the starting rotation was inconsistent in 2008 despite the emergence of Jair Jurrjens and, to a certain degree, Jorge Campillo.
The club has worked hard to improve the rotation and it added veterans Javier Vazquez, Tom Glavine, and Derek Lowe over the winter. The Braves organization also brought in Japanese starter Kenshin Kawakami. If all the veterans are healthy on opening day, Jurrjens will likely take the fifth spot in the rotation with Campillo sliding to the bullpen.
Should a starting pitcher succumb to injury, though, Tommy Hanson will be waiting in the wings to prove himself. The right-hander broke out in a big way in 2008 by posting a 0.90 ERA in seven High-A starts. He allowed just 15 hits in 40 innings of work and posted rates of 2.48 BB/9 and 11.03 K/9. Hanson then was promoted to Double-A where he allowed 70 hits in 98 innings and posted rates of 3.77 BB/9 and 10.47 K/9.
After the season, Hanson appeared in the Arizona Fall League and dominated some of the best prospects in baseball by posting a 0.63 ERA in 28.2 innings. He allowed just 10 hits and struck out 49 batters. The 6’6” pitcher needs to induce a few more ground balls and left-handed batters have hit 30 points higher against Hanson than righties in his career. His repertoire includes four pitches that are average or better: an 88-93 mph fastball, slider, curveball and change-up.
With all the moves made by the big club in the 2008-09 off-season, Hanson is all but certain to begin the season in Triple-A but he seems to have surpassed both Jo-Jo Reyes, and Charlie Morton on the depth chart, despite the fact both hurlers have big league experience. Given enough innings, Hanson could have a significant impact on the Major League club in 2009. He’s certainly one of the best starting pitcher prospects in keeper leagues.
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