The inquiries about Atlanta's upper-level pitching prospects came this winter, just as they did at last season's Trade Deadline. The answer has never changed.
The Braves might be known for pitching more than any other organization in the past two decades. Right now, Atlanta fully intends to make the right-handed trio of Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino and Randall Delgado -- the team's top three prospects, and in that order -- a part of its future plans, not someone else's. In the National League East, where there's a chance four teams could contend in 2012, depth of arms is invaluable.
"Pitchers get hurt, there's a lot of things that happen that suddenly deplete that depth. So when you have it, it's very difficult to give it away," assistant general manager and director of player development Bruce Manno said. "So we have kept our young pitching for a reason. We feel we can compete with what we have. There is a lot we can do later on."
Down the road, of course, depth could always translate into pulling the trigger on a trade, if need be. But entering Spring Training, Teheran, 21, and Delgado, who turns 22 on Thursday, have chances to make the big league rotation if an opening presents itself, while the 21-year-old Vizcaino can contend for a bullpen spot. Vizcaino has spent almost all of his pro career as a starter -- and he could be one again, if he ends up at Triple-A this season. But for now, the organization sees him as a reliever long term.
All three had a taste of the bigs in 2011, with Teheran making five appearances (three starts), Vizcaino making 17 appearances, and Delgado seven starts. Delgado, a 6-foot-3 Panama native, fared the best in the Majors, with a 2.83 ERA in 35 innings. But it's Teheran, a 6-foot-2 native of Colombia, who dominated the Triple-A International League to the tune of 15 wins, a league high, and a 2.55 ERA, tied for tops in the league.
While some fans would love to see any one or all break camp with the Braves, the organization doesn't have a desire at the moment to move Teheran or Delgado out of the rotation and into the bullpen for the sake of heading north at the end of camp.
"If you're going to have that idea with one of those young pitchers, you're really talking about an 11th man, or a long man," Manno said. "They would not get the work they need to continue to progress, with our bullpen as it sets up with [Craig] Kimbrel, [Jonny] Venters, [Eric] O 'Flaherty, Kris Medlen coming back. Cristhian Martinez did a good job last year, Anthony Varvaro did a good job last year."
For Manno, who was brought in by general manager Frank Wren in 2007, this is his first season as Atlanta's farm director, after Kurt Kemp resigned on Sept. 1. But the change hasn't been drastic, considering Manno's been a part of the club's braintrust for more than four years.
"Everything's been really good, smooth," Manno said. "We got off to a great start with instructional league and implemented some things we wanted to do, and we hired some new staff. It was early enough right at the start of the offseason that we were able to get them into instructional league to get a chance to see our young players and also mix in with our current staff. So that worked out real well. Everything has been going really well, and we're just about ready to get going."
Top 20 Prospects
The three arms draw most of the attention, but there's depth behind them -- namely up the middle at catcher, shortstop and center field, with, yes, even more arms to boot.
Christian Bethancourt, a 20-year-old catcher and another product of Panama, comes in at No. 5, with plus arm strength and soft hands. Manno pointed to Betancourt's success in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .306 with five home runs in 72 at-bats, and improved on using the whole field. Betancourt hasn't shown a propensity for walking much yet, though. He may start the season at Double-A.
The Nos. 4 and 7 prospects are both 22-year-old shortstops: Andrelton Simmons and Tyler Pastornicky. Simmons is ticketed for Double-A, while Pastornicky's in line for the big league job. Further down the list at No. 12 is Nick Ahmed, who made his pro debut last season, hitting .262 in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. Ahmed is 22 in March.
No. 14 Matt Lipka was a shortstop when he was drafted at No. 35 overall as the Braves' top pick in 2010. But he's converted to center field, and Manno said he adjusted "very quickly, very well" in instructional league. Lipka, 20, profiles as a leadoff hitter.
Southpaw Sean Gilmartin, the No. 6 prospect, and the team's top pick in 2011, and righty J.R. Graham, No. 10, a fourth-round pick in '11, keep the pitching pipeline well stocked.
Under the Radar
Adam Milligan, OF: Milligan, a lefty swinger who turns 24 in March, was drafted by the Braves three times, so there's confidence from the front office. In the Class A Advanced Carolina League last season, Milligan put up a .291/.345/.557 line, with 12 home runs in 64 games. But injuries kept him from further action, as they have in past years. Health is key.
Chris Jones, LHP: A southpaw, Jones was a 15th-round Draft pick by the Indians in 2007, and he came over in the Derek Lowe trade in October. Jones posted a 3.36 ERA, with 66 strikeouts and 30 walks, in 72 1/3 innings in the Carolina League last season.
Hitter of the Year -- Joe Terdoslavich, 3B:
Terdoslavich, 23, broke the Carolina League single-season record for doubles with his 52nd and last of the season on Sept. 5 with Lynchburg. The switch-hitter finished with a .286/.341/.526 line in a breakout first full season.
Pitcher of the Year -- Sean Gilmartin, LHP:
Gilmartin, 21, threw just 23 1/3 innings in his pro debut, but with 31 strikeouts and two walks between Class A Rome and the Gulf Coast League. With his status as a first-round Draft pick in 2011, his first full pro season could bring big numbers.