The dust has finally settled, and the Braves are ten million dollars poorer and one top-100 prospect richer. I am not here to make sense of the Touki Toussaint - Bronson Arroyo "trade" that went down on Sunday, John already attempted this difficult feat. Rather, I would like to re-evaluate the newest prospect in the Braves system. What did the Diamondbacks just give up? Can Toussaint really become a frontline starter? What are the chances that he is just another teenage flameout? I’ll try to answer such questions and give my thoughts on Toussaint’s performance, delivery, arsenal, and what he needs to improve to succeed in the bigs.
Statistics & Background
Drafted in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Toussaint was praised for his live arm, nasty curve, and overall mean demeanor reminiscent of an ace. The DBacks signed Touki for $2.7M, an above-slot deal, and sent the 6-3 righty to the Rookie Leagues to begin his career.
Suffice to say, things did not go well. Overall, Toussaint pitched 28.1 innings, allowed 27 runs, and walked 18 batters in his first year in pro ball. The 18-year-old did strike out a nice 10.2 batters per nine innings, but the rest of his statistics were pretty dumbfounding for a supposed top prospect.
The Diamondbacks promoted Toussaint to A-Ball Kane County to open the 2015 season, and there the teenager showed great improvement. In 39.0 innings, Touki nearly halved his 2014 WHIP and lowered his ERA to 3.69. The advanced metrics, however, do not like Toussaint’s 2015 season all that much. His FIP checks in at a more-pedestrian 4.61 and his strikeout rate dropped to 6.7 K/9, the lowest mark of his young career.
Clearly, while Toussaint improved drastically upon his Rookie Ball performance, he is still a work in progress. But how much does he have to work on? Are his flaws fixable? In the next phase of this article, I will examine the 2014 Draftees’ delivery and arsenal and pinpoint certain strengths and weaknesses of the newest Atlanta prospect.
Toussaint’s stuff is where he really makes his bread and butter as a prospect. His fastball, which sits in the high-to-mid 90s and touches 98, has late movement into right-handed batters and away from lefties, making it an extremely difficult pitch to hit. Touki's curve is likely already a plus major league offering. The hook exhibits extreme break in a 12-6 fashion, so much so that Toussaint himself often seems to have little idea where the pitch is going. His change-up lags behind his other two offerings, but considering Touki’s age and premiere athleticism, there is good reason to believe he can transform this pitch into at least an average offering at maturity.
Toussaint employs a maximum-effort delivery in order to fully capitalize on his plus velocity. Touki begins his motion in a fairly standard manner, but following his leg kick, he turns it into another gear. Once he stretches out his left leg towards the plate, the righty rears back and speeds up his motion. Toussaint actually puts so much effort into his delivery that he cannot balance at all following the release of the pitch. In every clip I have watched, the Florida-native falls significantly toward first base after completing his motion. This forceful and unbalanced effort is hard to repeat on a consistent basis and not at all helpful for controlling the extreme break on his pitches. Thus, it is not surprising that Toussaint has struggled reproducing his delivery and controlling his arsenal.
Touki’s motion is very similar to that of Jenrry Mejia, who came up as a starter but ultimately ended up in the ‘pen. Mejia dealt with various arm injuries and stamina concerns during his ascent to the big leagues; I would expect Toussaint to go through similar tribulations if he does not change his motion to be more forgiving on his arm. Touki’s delivery is not unfixable, but it is also not sustainable or beneficial a starting pitcher. A more complacent motion may allow the youngster to be more consistent, control his excellent stuff, and avoid the Disabled List. It will be interesting to see how the Braves handle this situation.
Toussaint has all the tools to succeed at the major league level. He is tall, strong, athletic, and his fastball-curve combination is as deadly as any prospect in the lower minors.
But like many young pitchers, learning how to pitch and harnessing his stuff will be the key to his development. Consider this statistic. When Touki has gotten ahead in the count this season, batters are hitting just .103. But when Toussaint falls behind hitters, that number jumps .273. Touki's potential is limitless if he can refine his mechanics and consistently get out in front of hitters. However, his bust prospects are also high due to the current lack of that consistency.
As Doug Bochtler, Toussaint’s pitching coach in Kane County, puts it: "With Touki, it's a matter of working in counts and controlling his effort level out there, a less is more kind of mentality. It's harnessing the tools that God has given him, because they are special"
If the Braves can instill that less is more mindset into Toussaint, this trade could go down as one of the greater steals in major league baseball history. If not, we might not even remember this kid's name a half-decade down the road.