So, it does indeed appear to be Touki Toussaint in Game 1 of Monday's doubleheader against Miami. Yet another MLB debut for a prized #Braves pitching prospect. This one may be the most intriguing of them all.— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) August 12, 2018
Toussaint has electric, exciting stuff, but he hasn’t come without his struggles and question marks up the ladder. He’s always shown a knack to figure things out and has arguably been at his best this season. Here’s what you need to know about the righty.
Toussaint is now 22 years of age. The righty has a solid frame, listed at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds. He was the Arizona Diamondbacks 16th overall pick in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft. He came to the Braves with Bronson Arroyo in June of 2015 for Phil Gosselin (who, incidentally rejoined the Braves’ organization this season). Coming directly from high school, Toussaint was seen as a project as his stuff was dominant, but his ability to control and command it was behind.
He struggled with the Diamondbacks, and even in his first Rome stint in 2015. Toussaint opened 2016 as part of the heralded Rome Braves rotation, joining Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, Max Fried and Patrick Weigel on the bump. It was a tale of two halves for him that season, vastly improved and arguably the hottest pitcher in the second half of that championship run.
Those improvements have continued on his climb up the ladder.
The stuff is why Toussaint cracked the top 5 in our Midseason Top 20 here at Minor League Ball. He has a mid-90s fastball that he compliments well with an ever-improving changeup. His curveball, of course, was what put Touki on the map, once ranked the best secondary offering in the low minors by Baseball America.
It is also what is so impressive about him. His big improvements in that second half in Rome back in 2016 were because he abandoned becoming reliant upon the curve. He wound up using a changeup that was behind instead of the bender, honing a third pitch into a very usable offering. That’s really where the course of Toussaint’s history changed. Had he decided to become complacent with the curve, he likely would be a bullpen piece by now, with a fastball-curveball combo, but instead, with improving strike-throwing abilities, it’s safe to continue with the starter experiment.
Here’s why he was No. 5 in the Braves midseason top 20:
Toussaint, who is listed at 6’3” and 185 pounds, could have rested on his well-known curve but as early as 2016 as a 20-year-old, he focused on using it less to hone in on his changeup and power up his fastball to one that can hit the upper-90s but sit perfectly fine around 95. His changeup is heads and shoulders above where it was. Toussaint may never be a command artist, but a big league pitcher he will be.
There are still those that question his future role. The 22-year-old has appeared a few times out of the bullpen in All-Star games and is absolutely filthy. But it’s time to believe that he can excel as a starter. Sure, his strike throwing ability may hurt him at first, limiting him from going deep into games, but the stuff is just too filthy to ignore. His growth as a pitcher from the 2016 Rome rotation to now is remarkable if you’ve followed his path.
He is producing one of the best strikeout-to-walk ratios of young career (2.97 in Double A and 2.46 since his promotion to Gwinnett) and also showed the best ground ball rates (45.6 percent) in Mississippi. Those numbers have leveled out in Triple-A, so it is worth noting with some pitchers having home run issues at SunTrust Park. That said, he doesn’t get hit hard, and the days off being hit often seem to be increasingly falling behind him.
It appears that Toussaint’s MLB stay will be short lived, making a start in Monday’s double header against the Marlins and then heading back to Gwinnett. Touki’s success will rest entirely upon Touki. If he can control his stuff, and command the strike zone, Toussaint should be able to find success against the nearly-Triple-A lineup that the Marlins are currently fielding. If he doesn’t throw strikes, Toussaint will have a long few innings in his big-league debut.
This also won’t end the ongoing debate of where Toussaint fits best in the Braves future plans. Albeit extremely limited, Toussaint is a dangerous weapon when appearing in a bullpen role, but he has worked too hard on remaining a starter to abandon hope just yet. That said, his quickest way to the Braves playoff push in 2018 will likely be out of the ‘pen, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect where he will stay either.
For Monday, sit back and enjoy a few of the best curveballs you will ever see. Sprinkle in an exciting fastball and some Touki flare, and it should be a successful day for the 22-year-old.