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MLB Prospect profile: Joey Wentz, LHP, Atlanta Braves

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Joey Wentz is one of the many Braves elite pitching prospects in the system. What can we expect from him?

Wayne Cavadi

ROME, GA — Joey Wentz took the hill this past Tuesday night for the Rome Braves. The young southpaw was able to take home the win behind a solid six-inning performance.

Wentz was on for all but one of his six inning. He made his longest start of the season, tying the six inning mark he threw on April 27th. His 94 pitches were ten more than he had thrown in any outing all season.

It was an impressive performance to say the least.

So, who is Joey Wentz?

Wentz came to the Atlanta Braves out of high school in Kansas. He was drafted at the back end of the first round, sandwiched between Ian Anderson and Kyle Muller as the newest high school arms. He’s a big lefty, standing at 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, with all reports indicating he threw some serious heat in high school.

His 2016 debut was mixed. He showed some of the exciting stuff the Braves hoped to see. But Wentz was marred by inconsistency and a 5.11 walks-per-nine rate split between the GCL and Danville win the Appy League. His velocity on his mid-90s fastball was down as well, but still a very viable pitch, consistently hitting 91 and 92.

Wentz came out of the gates slow this year as well, allowing four runs in his first start of the season. He then settled in, cruising through his next three starts. An up and down May, a stint on the disabled list, and a slow June return led us to Tuesday night’s performance.

Just 19 and still one of the youngest pitchers in the South Atlantic League, to compare Wentz to the pitching stock that came through Rome last season is unfair. Let’s be honest, comparing any pitcher to that rotation sets pretty lofty expectations.

I checked in with Eric Cole over at Talking Chop asking him what I should be expecting to see. He told me that if Wentz’s curve was on, I’d be in for a treat, but know that Wentz wasn’t going to light up the radar gun.

As usual, he was spot on.

Wentz led off the game with a walk, but the runner was quickly erased trying to steal second by the big arm of Lucas Herbert. A strike out and fly out ended a relatively quick first. He wasn’t perfect, landing seven of his 13 pitches for strikes, but the curve was working from the start.

His fastball was hitting around the 91-92 mark and the curve and change both seemed to top out around 79 in the early goings. He held these marks well into the fifth, seemingly able to drop the speed on the curve to the low-70s at some points.

He opened the second inning with a four-pitch walk, but then he regrouped. He pitched to contact, and Cristian Pache registered all three outs, covering quite a bit of ground on two of the plays.

Wentz actually allowed a lot of fly balls, which was rather peculiar. The wind wasn’t particularly strong, but Wentz’s first four non-strikeouts were fly balls. He allowed seven fly outs to three groundouts by the end of his night. It is only the third time this season that his fly outs outnumbered his ground outs, and neither of the previous two times had such a large disparity. It could have to do that he left some of his pitches up, or it could have simply been a bizarre night.

The lefty made sure that second inning wasn’t a repeat and came out in the third with five straight strikes. The curve was really making people look confused. When he misses on his curve, you can see it just hanging there, like Christian Paulino did when he absolutely ripped one foul.

But when it works:

Wentz maintained his same velocity in the third. He had landed 18 of his 32 pitches for strikes and was cruising without a hit on the board.

Though he allowed a hit in the fourth, he cruised into the fifth inning. He really labored in the fifth, getting into his first jams of the evening. His pitches were missing high and he walked the bases loaded on three straight pitches. After seeing a four-pitch walk earlier, it is safe to wonder if Wentz loses focus when he loses a hitter.

Despite a 30-pitch inning, one in which he only landed 16 strikes, he came out relatively unscathed. Two runs crossed, but a misplayed Kurt Hoekstra double play could have ended the inning earlier. Sitting at just 77 pitches, skipper Randy Ingle sent his lefty back out for the sixth.

“Real solid,” Ingle said of Wentz’s performance. “The fifth inning? He got out of it, came back and had good clean last inning. I thought he threw the ball very well.

“We were going to send him back out there. He still had some pitches left. It’s always good if you can get them out on a good clean inning, and we did that. That’s the positive side of it.”

Finish strong he did. Wentz threw just 17 pitches, 13 of which were strikes. His fastball was sitting mostly in the upper-80s, but hit 92 once or twice when he reached back and fired. He ended his night the right way, striking out his fourth batter of the evening for his last out.

He seems to use his length well in his delivery. He stands closer to the third base side, and has a very-well defined leg kick, but he repeats his delivery well. The inconsistencies seem to be in his release points every now and then. Overall, it’s very impressive to see a tall, lanky teenage pitcher control his delivery as consistently as Wentz did.

There was a lot to like about Wentz. His final line was nice (6 innings, 5 hits, 2 earned runs, 4 walks, and 4 strikeouts) and so was his physical performance. The way he bounced back so strongly in the sixth after his one poor inning of the night speaks volumes about his makeup.

While the Braves may never match the Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, Patrick Weigel, Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, Ricardo Sanchez rotation of their 2016 championship season, this rotation is panning out nicely. Ian Anderson, Bryce Wilson, Jeremy Walker and now Joey Wentz are all not only already exciting, but seemingly improving with each outing.