Sometimes they sneak up on you. Case in point: Atlanta Braves rookie pitcher John Gant. A year ago he was an anonymous right-hander starting games for the St. Lucie Mets in the High-A Florida State League. Now he is in the Braves bullpen with a chance to take a larger role at some point. Where did this one come from?
From the 2016 Baseball Prospect Book:
John Gant, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-5 WT: 205 DOB: August 6, 1992
SLEEPER ALERT!! The Braves picked up John Gant from the Mets last summer in the Juan Uribe/Kelly Johnson trade. Originally a 21st round pick from high school in Florida back in 2011, Gant pitched especially well in Double-A after the trade and could see the majors this year. He projects as a classic fourth/fifth starter with a fastball in the 88-91 range, an adequate curve, and a very good change-up. Mets experts regarded him as a solid sleeper prospect and he has certainly performed well enough over the last two seasons to justify that judgment. Sometimes the strike-throwing inning-eaters exceed expectations if they learn a new pitch or boost their velocity. Keep an eye on Gant. Grade C+.
Gant was effective in spring training with the Braves, posting a 3.18 ERA in 11.1 innings with a fine 10/2 K/BB ratio and 10 hits allowed. This is very much in line with his 2015 performance, particularly after the trade when he posted a 1.99 ERA with a 43/14 K/BB in 41 innings in Double-A.
The numbers are obvious and there's been a concurrent shift in scouting reports. For most of his career Gant's fastball has been generally average, right around 89-90 or a touch higher, those reports reflected in the book comment. However, reports from late last year showed an increase in velocity, up to 90-93 consistently with peaks at 95. His curveball has also improved and he already had a good change-up. The command is there, too.
If Gant can maintain these improvements, he goes from being a possible mop-up guy or fifth starter to being a legitimate starting pitcher candidate, maybe even a middle of the rotation arm. The Braves would love it if he turns out something like another ex-Mets prospect sleeper who suddenly developed, Astros starter Collin McHugh.
For now Gant is in the bullpen getting his feet wet but he should not be under-estimated.