Sunday, November 20, 2016

2016 Player Reviews: Vizcaino, Whalen, Winkler, Wisler, Withrow

I started this series on October 3 and it has finally reached its conclusion. Welcome to the final edition of 2016 Player Reviews, brought to you by stubbornness and procrastination. I was going to do two more posts, but remembered that the Braves did me a solid by dropping Ryan Weber so I only had five players left to review and decided to supersize things so I can move on to other pressing concerns. Thanks to everyone for reading and sharing on social media along the way.

Did you miss the last edition? I got your back. Want to catch up on all of the series? I have you covered as well.

*Ages reflect the player's age on opening day, 2017.

By Keith Allison on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational
(Crop) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Arodys Vizcaino, RHP, 26 years-old

2016 Review: It was the tell of two seasons for Vizzy. After taking over as the full-time closer following a brief time-share with Jason Grilli, Vizcaino was absolutely lights-out through 34 games. In 32.2 innings, he struck out 45 compared to 15 walks. While the Braves rarely needed a prototypical closer in the first half, Vizzy nailed down ten saves along the way. But, over his next five games, he surrendered eight runs (five earned) and walked five compared to just two strikeouts. He hit the DL with an oblique strain after being used in a blowout against the Rockies in which his heater averaged a season-low 91.7 mph. A month later, he returned, but was ineffective over four games before being placed back on the DL with shoulder inflammation. The Braves had hoped he would return in September, but he never made it back.

2017 Projection: The expectation is that Vizcaino will be good-to-go by spring training after taking the winter off. If Vizzy comes back ready to fly, it'll be interesting to see what version of Vizzy we receive. Obviously, the injuries were an issue, but his groundball rate shot up 19% last year from where it was in 2015. Was it better control that made his fastball induce a higher frequency of grounders? Was it the Roger McDowell-effect? It'll be something to watch in 2017 provided Vizcaino returns to form and, if he does, the Braves will have yet another weapon in a pen that is shaping up to be a strength for the Atlanta Braves.

Robert Whalen, RHP, 23 years-old

2016 Review: It was a bit surprising to see Whalen ascend to the big leagues in 2016. It's not that he wasn't a prospect, but he carried just a fringy prospect grade in a system filled with higher-end prospects and when 2016 began, Whalen had yet to throw a pitch above A-ball. The Braves were able to uncover some strikeout potential that he hadn't shown since rookie ball in 2013 and Whalen K'd 22.2% of Southern League batters that he faced over 18 starts. He also carried a 3.19 FIP while doing it. He received a promotion to Gwinnett, where he looked brilliant over a trio of starts. In August, he joined the big league club. He had a pair of quality starts mixed in, but also looked a good deal like a rookie pitcher. His season came to a close on August 25 with shoulder fatigue. He had thrown a total of 144.2 innings - nearly 50 innings more than the previous season when he tossed a career-best 96.2 innings. It should also be noted that Whalen had offseason surgery on both of his knees last winter, which allowed him to pitch without pain for the first time in a few years.

2017 Projection: Whalen won't stand out compared to some of the other prospects the Braves throw at you. He has below-average velocity and works off his four-seamer while utilizing his slider against lefties and his sinker versus righties. He also has a change-up and curveball. Whalen definitely punched his ticket for an extended look this spring and might have some value as a long reliever who can be tough on righties with a sinker that is both difficult to connect on and elevate when you do. However, I see him heading back to a very deep Gwinnett pitching staff where he can try to show the Braves (and potential suitors) that his success in 2016 was a sign of bigger and better things to come for the former Mets farmhand.

Daniel Winkler, RHP, 27 years-old

2016 Review: In a first half of low points for the Braves, few were more depressing than what happened on an April afternoon when Winkler, on a 1-2 count, fractured his elbow on a pitch to the Cardinals' Randal Grichuk. Winkler, who had missed most of 2015 after recovering from Tommy John surgery, had been an early season bright spot for the Braves. He had allowed just one of the eight batters he had faced to reach and that came on a walk. He also had four K's and was throwing his 92 mph fastball, 88 mph cutter, and 81 mph slider with confidence. For a brief moment, it looked like he might be a hidden gem in 2016.

2017 Projection: If there was any measure of good news related to Winkler's injury, he (and Braves fans) took solace in the fact that there was no ligament damage. He's unlikely to pitch this winter, but should be on schedule to try again this spring to get his major league career going. He is still a Rule 5 player who will have to be kept to begin the year or waived and offered back to the Rockies. At this point, we know he has an electric arm, but there have been questions about his pitching motion to begin with. He'll be a good story this spring if he's able to recapture his previous form.

From the Fort Bragg luncheon. By Sgt. anthony hewitt
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Matt Wisler, RHP, 24 years-old

2016 Review: There was a lot of hope attached to Wisler after he finished 2015 with a 2.21 ERA and 26 strikeouts over his final 36.2 innings. He had a few rough starts early on, but finished this May with a 3.16 ERA and 48 K's over his first 68.1 innings. However, the wheels came off after that. Over his next ten starts, he had a 7.71 ERA before a demotion to Gwinnett took Wisler out of the picture. After four starts in the minors, Wisler was back in the majors to finish the season and we saw Good Wisler (career-high 10 K's against the Padres) and Bad Wisler (six runs given up in his next start).

2017 Projection: So far, Wisler has not shown the ability to command the strikezone and fool hitters. While he won't walk many batters, he's getting 1.5% less swinging strikes than the average. He's also a shade below-average in first-pitch strikes. This is despite inducing more swings than average and even a bit more contact than average. He still has a lot of potential to be a middle-of-the-rotation arm, but the reason the Braves signed Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey while bringing back Josh Collmenter is because Wisler and others have yet to prove that they belong in the majors. He'll get another shot in 2017 to shine, but things won't be any easier. Not only is there is a tougher road to securing a spot, but the competition is getting even more fierce with Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims joining the fray.

Chris Withrow, RHP, 28 years-old

2016 Review: After missing most of the last two seasons on the shelf, Chris Withrow was glad just to be back on the mound. The plus side was that, when combined with his dozen games in the minors, Withrow pitched 58 times and logged 48.2 innings of action. However, his arm wasn't nearly as electric as it was with the Dodgers when he first got to the bigs in 2013. His four-seamer was down 2 mph from when he was a top prospect and the results were a bit lacking (4.90 FIP/4.99 xFIP versus 3.57 FIP/3.03 xFIP in 2013).

2017 Projection: Unlike many of the lively arms the Braves have, Withrow doesn't have age on his side. On April Fool's Day, 2017, he'll turn 28 years-old. To put that into perspective, remember that Julio Teheran won't turn 26 until the end of January. There's a lot to like with Withrow, but a K% that was just  17.7% (down from over 30%) is not one of them. As I've said many times during this rundown of returning Braves, Withrow is in the mix. He used his final option this year, though, so how attached the Braves are to him will be tested if he struggles next spring.

Thanks for coming along for this ride.

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