There are strong rumors Friday evening that the Atlanta Braves will promote right-hander Aaron Blair to the major league roster this weekend and give him the start on Sunday against the New York Mets. This is not, however, official as of 930 PM CDT Friday.
It may very well be official by the time you read this, but I will be away from my computer for much of the weekend and can't guarantee a timely posting if the official word comes suddenly. Therefore, in the interests of information dissemination, baseball education, and internet page views, we'll just go ahead and write Blair up. If he starts Sunday, here's the info. If he doesn't, well, no loss: he'll be up soon enough.
First, the basics. From the 2016 Baseball Prospect Book:
Aaron Blair, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-5 WT: 230 DOB: May 26, 1992
2014: Grade B; 2015: Grade B+
The Diamondbacks drafted Blair in the supplemental first round in 2013 from Marshall University. He’s moved quickly and is near-major league ready, making him very attractive to the Braves who acquired him in the big Shelby Miller deal during the off-season. Blair is not as athletic as ex-Dback teammate Braden Shipley but has more dominant stuff at present, featuring a 90-95 MPH sinking fastball, a plus change-up, a fair slider, and a curveball that has improved from shaky to slightly above-average over the last two years. He’s big and strong and has been very durable to this point. The general consensus is "future number three starter" and I agree with the consensus in this case. If the curveball improves further, he could exceed those expectations. Don’t underestimate him. Grade B+.
No one should under-estimate Blair right now: he's been excellent in his first three starts for Triple-A Gwinnett in the International League, with a 1.42 ERA in 19 innings and a 22/5 K/BB. He fanned 10 with one walk and zero hits in seven innings in his last start this past Tuesday. He sure looks ready by all indications. Blair is the type of pitcher who has a "high floor" but perhaps his ceiling has been under-played a bit in the prospect community. The early numbers at Gwinnett could be read that way, granted the sample size is quite small.
The main change in Blair between now and when he was originally drafted by Arizona is with his secondary pitches: both his curveball and slider have improved considerably (especially the curve). Since he already had a fastball and a change-up the added polish to his breaking stuff has carried him forward successfully.
When he takes the mound in the majors, a key factor to watch for: how much does he trust his off-speed stuff?