In relief of Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, pitching coach Roger McDowell spoke at the Forsyth County Rotary Club luncheon Thursday afternoon, offering insights into his role with the organization—namely, how he plans on approaching spring training with the largest group of pitchers he’s inherited since taking his current job in the wake of the long-tenured Leo Mazzone in 2006.
Gonzalez was expected to attend but was in Florida attending the funeral of former Sun Sentinel Miami Marlins beat writer Juan Rodriguez, who passed away after a battle with brain cancer on Monday at the age of 42.
The Braves will report 38 pitchers to Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 19, with many of them being new faces that have come via flurries of transactions, dating back to last offseason, under President of Baseball Operations John Hart and John Coppolella, who took over the general manager position in early October.
Without getting into the preliminary details, McDowell highlighted the fact that the replenished farm system is full of pitching prospects—“Which I’m happy about,” he said with a grin—who will compete for open positions in the starting rotation and bullpen.
Aside from established No. 1 starter Julio Teheran, who has gone 39-29 over the last three seasons, McDowell mentioned 23-year old right-hander Matt Wisler (acquired last April in the Craig Kimbrel trade to San Diego), 24-year old right-hander Mike Foltynewicz (acquired last January in the Evan Gattis trade) and 24-year old Manny Banuelos, formerly of the New York Yankees, who had surgery for a bone spur in September. Foltynewicz will also come back from surgery after having a rib removed in September.
“There are a lot of good, young players on the way,” McDowell said. He particularly highlighted 19-year old pitcher Touki Toussaint, who had 10 starts with the Rome Braves, Atlanta’s single-A affiliate, last year.
“(Touki) stood out, instructionally,” McDowell said of his time spent with the Braves’ No. 5 rated prospect, according to MLB.com’s prospect watch.
McDowell is also eager to get spring training hours in with a plethora of top-rated prospects, including Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims, Tyrell Jenkins, Aaron Blair, and Max Fried.
To accommodate so many mound players during spring training, McDowell will look for “b-games” and inter-squad scrimmages as opportunities to spread significant hours of work across the board.
“It will be a little bit of a challenge, but not something I don’t think we’ll be capable of doing,” McDowell said. “They say in baseball, every year you might see something different. That’s true. But that’s the enjoyment. We’ve got 38 pitchers, and hopefully, the challenge is, all 38 will one day pitch in the big leagues. Will that happen? Probably not, but if these guys pitch in the big leagues, that’s great. That’s terrific. It’s about getting them to reach their dream.
“So this spring will be interesting. But we have the extra day because we don’t have a leap-year this year.”