ROME, GA — The Rome Braves opened their 2018 season Thursday night at State Mutual Stadium. Taking the bump was third-year pro, Kyle Muller.
It was a quick outing, not at all surprising for such a young arm in his full-season debut. Muller threw 65 pitches, lasting just 3.1 innings. He was able to rebound after a shaky first inning, and that was perhaps the most important takeaway.
Muller was selected in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft. Despite an exciting debut in the Gulf Coast League, Muller did not advance up the ladder in 2017 like his draft mates Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, and Bryse Wilson. Statistically speaking, Muller took a step back in the Appalachian League, posting a 4.15 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 49-to-18 strikeout-to-walk rate.
That mystery led him to be one of my three Atlanta Braves prospects with something to prove during spring training.
The 20-year-old Texas native is a hulking specimen on the mound. He’s listed between 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-7 and as much as 240 pounds. He is a self-described power pitcher. He has a heavily-used fastball with a curve and change as his secondary offerings.
Thursday night, Muller got off to a rocky start. He was aggressive, landing first strikes to his first two batters, but was also hittable. Cole Freeman led off the game with a double and Juan Soto smoked a fastball opposite field in a nice display of his bat strength. Muller walked Anderson Franco after the home run, missing high with the fastball a few times. After a first-pitch ball to the 5-hole hitter, it looked like the wheels may fall off early in his full-season debut.
It was quite the opposite, which was impressive. Muller settled in, never really overpowering anyone, but moving his pitches to strike out five of his next eight outs. Muller picked up 10 outs on the evening and they all came via strikeout or groundout. Even when Cole Freeman reached on an error to open the third, it was on a ground ball to third. The only really hard hit ball was Soto’s home run, and his skill set won’t be in the South Atlantic much longer.
Muller threw a lot of fastballs. The velocity was not what I expected, playing around the upper-80s and lower-90s all night. The highest I saw was 94, despite several observers saying they saw him hit the upper-90s earlier this spring. The curve was seldom used, but it seemed to break nicely and took a bunch off, coming in at 73. The change was in the upper-70s, low-80s all night, and can definitely be used as a strikeout pitch.
The delivery seems to be relatively smooth, considering how big he is. Though his release was sometimes inconsistent, his mechanics seem like they are in a good position.
It was a short viewing. Unfortunately, Muller lost his last batter, walking the final hitter of his night. He ended strongly overall, allowing the two runs on two hits, striking out five and walking two. I will need a few more looks and longer outings, but there was plenty to like in the first look of 2018.