The Atlanta Braves appear to be ready to call up prospect Kolby Allard. The left-hander was scratched from his Gwinnett Stripers start on Sunday, leading to the sweeping speculation that a promotion was imminent.
Speaking of the Braves rotation, sources earlier today said 20-year-old left-hander Kolby Allard was scratched from his Triple-A start because Atlanta plans on bringing him to the big leagues. Tentatively, he's slated to start Tuesday.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 29, 2018
Of course, this time of year, a scratch could mean a trade as much as a promotion, especially for one of the Braves top pitching prospects. So, just who is the Braves latest rotation piece?
Allard is just 20 years old. The 6’1”, 190-pound left-hander was selected in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft out of high school in San Celemente, California. He quickly became a dominating presence in the 2016 Rome Braves heralded rotation, taking his spot alongside fellow 2015 first-rounder Mike Soroka. The two have pretty much climbed the ladder together, both almost always amongst the youngest pitchers at each level.
He is 6-4 this season in Gwinnett, pitching to a 2.80 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 18 starts. Allard has struck out 87 and walked 33 in 109.1 innings, getting hit at a .249 lick. He’s been a bit of a workhorse of late, throwing at least 90 pitches in each of his last six starts.
This is the primary concern surrounding Allard, as much has been made about his declining velocity over the past few seasons. That said, it seems that Allard is really learning how to pitch, which is obviously to his advantage.
Allard uses a fastball, curveball and changeup, commanding all three pitches very well. The fastball, which was once seen as a possible power pitch, seems to be more upper-80s, low-90s, but his command and the fact that it plays up still make it an effective pitch. As with most young pitchers in the Braves system, his breaking ball is at the least average, but usually a plus pitch. He also has one of the better changeups in the system, an impressive feat in a system loaded with some of baseball’s best pitching talents.
The concerns are are that his strikeouts continue to drop at each level, while his ground ball rate remains close to a split with his fly ball rate. Without that ability to put a Triple-A hitter away with a go-to out pitch, it is fair to have those concerns at the big league level as well.
Allard came in at the No. 10 prospect in my Braves midseason Top 20. Here’s why:
Allard is 6’1”, 190 and knows how to pitch. There is no denying that his velocity has not jumped, and is in fact much lower than what was anticipated, but he has responded by learning how to pitch, as evidenced by his 2.61 walks-per-nine rate. This is what keeps him slightly ahead of both Wilson and Wentz, for now at least. (Incidentally, the Fried, Wilson, Wentz, Allard run here was pretty much interchangeable and could easily be 10A, 10B, 10C, and 10D.)
The strikeouts have dropped tremendously at each level, currently striking out just 6.99-per-nine in Gwinnett, and without being an aggressive ground ball pitcher, that may come to hurt him eventually.
Here’s what our own John Sickels said in his midseason top 20 review:
5) Kolby Allard, LHP, Grade B+: Age 20, first round pick in 2015; 2.85 ERA in 104 innings in Triple-A, 81/31 K/BB, 96 hits; keep in mind his age; a few more strikeouts would be nice; reports on change-up and curveball are impressive; basically rolling along and stock holding.
Talking Chop had him at No. 12 in their midseason top 30. Their thoughts:
Much has been made of Allard’s velocity not taking a step forward over the last couple of years (and those concerns are fair), but all the guy does is put up results. He has a career minor league ERA of 2.97 and despite being just 20 years old with stuff that some consider less than optimal, he is slaying on the mound for Triple-A Gwinnett with a 2.85 ERA in 17 starts. Where we have seen issues are in his strikeout rate which has gone down each year in the minors and currently resides at 6.99 K/9 which we would obviously prefer to be higher. However, he is good at limiting free passes on the basepaths and his command of the entire strike zone has given him the ability to induce easy ground balls and he doesn’t really have any splits that one has to be concerned about. While Allard’s overall projection has changed given his development path, he is still very young and could project out some more and he is still a really good prospect even if some of the initial expectations placed on him don’t appear as though they will be met.
Baseball America sees Allard as the No. 8 prospect at midseason. Here’s why:
Allard is always one of the youngest and most successful pitchers in his league. But scouts are concerned that he doesn’t have the stuff to do more than survive in the majors. Allard pitches with a fringe-average fastball (88-91 mph), while neither of his secondary pitches generates consistent plus grades. The optimistic forecast sees Allard becoming a front-of-the-rotation mainstay, but most soft-tossers don’t reach those lofty heights.
So, what’s the verdict? Obviously, his big-league debut should come with tempered expectations. Allard has the skills and talent to succeed, and if he can show the stuff that made him a first-rounder, he will do just fine, even if it is just as a spot starter. However, the major league hitters will be a real test to see if his declining velocity and strikeout rates are true concerns or if he has truly learned how to pitch.
Without that deadly out pitch, or even a elite fastball-secondary combo, Allard doesn’t profile much to a bullpen piece. His role will be at the middle or back of the rotation for now, hopefully going innings to limit the Braves bullpen from use and give the younger pitchers in the rotation some rest.