Teheran heads up next wave of Braves' talent

Teheran heads up next wave of Braves' talent

ATLANTA -- With Jason Heyward already in place and Freddie Freeman preparing to begin his role as their starting first baseman, the Braves find themselves in an enviable position.

At the ripe age of 20, Heyward spent this past summer establishing himself as one of the National League's top rookies and legitimizing the belief that he could become one of the game's next superstars. Freeman, who won't turn 21 until September, will enter the 2011 season as an NL Rookie of the Year Award candidate.

Braves general manager Frank Wren draws the envy of his peers, who are attempting to build their respective futures around solid youthful foundations. Throw in the fact that highly regarded right-hander Julio Teheran could also make his way to Atlanta by the end of next summer, and it's easier to understand why there aren't many big league GMs who pity Wren's current situation.

"He's a pretty special talent," Wren said of Teheran, who will celebrate his 20th birthday on Jan. 27 and likely participate in his first big league Spring Training just a few weeks later.

Teheran will enter spring camp with some of the same fanfare that recently greeted Tommy Hanson, who came to Braves camp in 2009 regarded as baseball's top right-handed prospect, and Heyward, who entered this past year as the game's top overall prospect.

When MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo unveils his top prospects list later this year, Teheran is expected to be one of the top five. There's a strong possibility that he will be ranked ahead of Aroldis Chapman, the 22-year-old Cuban southpaw who displayed his top-flight fastball for the Reds in September and during the NL Division Series against the Phillies.

Teheran has quickly matured and lived up to the expectations the Braves had when they gave him an $850,000 signing bonus in 2007. In the 24 combined starts he made for Class A Rome, Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi this year, he posted a 2.59 ERA and recorded 159 strikeouts in 142 2/3 innings.

After right shoulder discomfort limited Teheran to a total of 20 starts during the 2008 and '09 seasons, the 19-year-old right-hander proved both healthy and capable of being much more than simply a thrower this past summer.

"When we first signed him, we thought he was a very polished kid," Wren said. "He had a good changeup and a good curveball. He looked on the mound like he was very confident. When he actually got into games, he looked like a kid again. I think it took him a little while to figure out that he still had to pitch; he couldn't just go out there with that great stuff and blow people away. I think this past year, he finally learned that he had to pitch to get people out, even though his stuff is exceptional."

After posting a 1.14 ERA in seven starts for Rome, Teheran went to Myrtle Beach and further impressed, posting a 2.98 ERA and recording 76 strikeouts (13 walks) in 63 1/3 innings. His control wasn't as crisp as he recorded 38 strikeouts and issued 17 walks in 40 innings for Mississippi. But the young hurler still managed to produce a 3.38 ERA in the seven starts he made at the Double-A level.

"It was fun to watch, because he absolutely dominated hitters," Wren said.

With Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Hanson and Jair Jurrjens returning and either Brandon Beachy or Mike Minor filling the fifth spot, the Braves already have their projected 2011 rotation in place. But Wren believes that Teheran will show the confidence required to get a call to the Majors if necessary at some point this year.

"It wouldn't surprise me if he ends up here at some point next year, but it also wouldn't surprise me if he didn't," Wren said of Teheran. "Barring a lot of health problems up here, we have depth in the starting rotation and they're guys that we like a lot."

As Wren looks toward the future, he has plenty of reason to be optimistic about what he sees in the starting pitching department. Hanson and Jurrjens still haven't celebrated their 25th birthdays and Jurrjens is the only member of this duo who will become arbitration-eligible after this upcoming season.

One of the biggest surprises this year, Beachy went from being an undrafted free agent to potential rotation member in a span of just two years. His presence enhances the optimism centered around the 22-year-old Minor, who enjoyed some initial success after being called to the Majors in August, when the talented Kris Medlen was forced to undergo Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.

Now the Braves are nearing the next wave of pitching talent. While Teheran might be considered the best of the bunch, right-hander Randall Delgado is also considered to be among MLB's most promising pitching prospects.

Delgado and Teheran will both likely receive invitations to their first big league Spring Training in a few months. Next year, they could be joined with Arodys Vizcaino, another heralded 20-year-old right-handed prospect, who made just 17 starts before being sidelined by right elbow discomfort this year.

"I feel good about our depth," Wren said. "It's going to be fun to see some of these young guys start pushing. It's going to be fun to see them in Spring Training. That's already one of my things to look forward to -- to see the Delgados and Teherans and guys like that in big league camp."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.