ROME, GA — The Atlanta Braves have plenty of young pitching to talk about any day of the week. They also have a few guys way down on the farm that often get overlooked thanks to an abundance of elite talent.
I was in Rome Thursday night and Alan Rangel started for Rome. Later, Thomas Burrows came in and pitched three innings of shutout relief.
Let’s take a quick look at both.
ALAN RANGEL, RHP
Rangel is a 19-year-old righty making his full-season debut with Rome this year. After Thursday night’s no decision, Rangel now sits at 2-3 over eight starts (10 appearances) with a 4.35 ERA over 49.2 innings. He has struck out 40 and walked 10. The walks look nice, but are even more skewed by the fact that he walked three on Thursday.
He’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 170, but looks smaller in person. Still in his teens, if he adds a few pounds, it should definitely help his fastball. He works the third base side of the mound, hands about belt to chest high. He really gets into his delivery, tilting back a little as he attacks the zone.
The voice of the Rome Braves, Kevin Karel, told me to watch his curve before the game. While it isn’t surprising that a Braves pitching prospect has a nasty breaking ball, it was the confidence in which Rangel had in his that impressed Karel.
The curve was everything advertised. He threw it any time in the count, sometimes one right after the other. His fastball isn’t going to rock your socks off, topping out at 91, but usually settling in at 89 or 90. That said, the curve drops in about ten miles per hour less, so it works. He goes off speed on occasion as well, as I saw a few pitches in the low 80s swoop in the zone.
The problem I see with Rangel is that he is very hittable. Perhaps he has become too reliant upon the curves and opposing hitters know to wait for it. Perhaps there simply isn’t enough on his other offerings that opponents attack. But the fact that he has a .299 batting average against shows his struggles.
Asheville came out and attacked early. The first two batters got hits (an 0-2 single and a first-pitch triple to deep right-center) before a sacrifice fly to the wall by Tyler Nevin became the first out. It seemed like his fastball was up, but not missing by much. The second inning was much more of the Rangel I heard about. He tossed seven pitches, six of which were strikes. He struck out the final batter of the inning with his fastball after the second strike left the batter looking at a 75 mph curve. Clearly, there’s a smart mix of pitches going.
Through three innings, Rangel faced 15 batters. 13 first pitches landed for strikes. He tossed 36 pitches, 29 that were strikes. An interesting note, five of the 13 first pitch strikes were put in to play. I think hitters take an aggressive approach against Rangel, and if they see something other than the curve, they attack. The Rome defense wasn’t at its best Thursday, and seems to struggle when Rangel is on the bump, allowing a .354 BABIP which doesn’t help his cause.
All things aside, Rangel is a teenager that has excellent command of the strike zone. Any pitching prospect that has a 1.8 walks-per-nine rate and a devastating curve is certainly a pitcher to keep tabs on.
THOMAS BURROWS, LHP
Burrows was the other guy that came over in the Luiz Gohara deal. While Gohara has stolen the spotlight, Burrows has had a heck of a baseball career.
The big lefty was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the fourth round out of Alabama. An SEC-tested closer is obviously an instant commodity, but Burrows also left the Tide as their all-time saves leader, showing he had the make-up for the position.
His debut in the Northwest League came with mixed results. His numbers on paper look great, as he converted saves in six of his seven chances behind a 2.55 ERA and 37 to 11 strikeout-to-walk rate over 24.2 innings. But reports were that the velocity had slipped on his normal mid-90s heater, and he was also somewhat more hittable than in college, with a .240 batting average against and a 1.38 WHIP. Everything hinted that it was merely fatigue and nothing for concern.
Burrows has shown that was the likely culprit. The 22-year-old southpaw is simply too much for the South Atlantic League hitters to handle. He struck out five in three innings of relief, allowing Rome to mount its comeback. His fastball is just fine, and his slider is nasty. He struck out one Asheville batter on three straight sliders, each one dropping with that same consistency.
The 6-foot-4, 205 pound, 22-year-old commands attention on the mound. He throws pretty much sidearm, coming out just under a typical three-quarters slot. He dominates lefties, and is more than efficient against righties. Though he operates strictly off two pitches, it seemed like he likes to drop the slider against lefties and sweep it a bit against righties. Keep in mind, this was the first time I watched Burrows in person, so it is a small sample size.
Despite a rough June, Burrows has bounced back big time. He has allowed two runs on eight hits since the calendar flipped to July. He’s struck out 22 and walked just two over 14.2 innings, going as many as three innings, and as little as one. Now that concerns over his velocity and being hit seem to be diminishing, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Burrows a fast-riser in 2018.
Right now, however, he is a key cog in a Rome Braves bullpen that is on an absolute tear.