The Situation: The Atlanta Braves optioned Mike Foltynewicz to Triple-A Gwinnett before Wednesday’s game following three consecutive rough starts that showcased his poor command. The Braves now need of a starter for Friday’s game to take his place, and they’ll give Matt Wisler his first major league opportunity.
Background: Wisler worked his way into a solid prospect after being drafted out of an Ohio high school in the seventh round of the pitching-heavy 2011 draft. He has consistently been regarded as one of the Padres’ top prospects, ranking as high as 47th in the top 101 before the 2014 season. He entered this season ranked 53rd. The Braves attempted to trade for him in the December deal that shipped Justin Upton to San Diego, but the Padres said no. A.J. Preller and company then came back to the Braves for Craig Kimbrel in April, and this time, they acquiesced.
Scouting Report: The right-hander is a low-risk pitching prospect who profiles as a mid-rotation innings-eater for a playoff contender. He shows flashes of no. 2 value and is a very good bet to be a Role 5 starter, so the overall grade is a Role 6, no. 3 starter.
In a recent look, Wisler’s fastball was 92-95, touched 96 with arm-side movement. He’s capable of pumping 94-95 deep into games. In that same look, he pumped four fastballs at 95 to Francisco Lindor in the ninth inning, showing confidence and a competitive mindset on the mound. The pitch has life down in the zone and comes out of the hand easily. The knock is his command, which can be inconsistent across the board. This shows up the most with his fastball, as he leaves it hittable on the plate at times. Regardless, it’s a plus pitch.
Wisler’s slider sits in the low-80s with good bite and two-plane action. It breaks at a three-quarters shape and is at its best when it bites late away from right-handed batters. The break isn’t quite sharp enough for big bat-missing regularity, but he’s capable of keeping batters off-balance and inducing weak contact with it. He’ll occasionally drop his arm slot and get on the side of it, especially when he tries to backdoor it to left-handers. It profiles as an out pitch with plus potential.
Even though his changeup is a tick behind the slider, it still carries above-average potential, and it currently resides as fringe average. He throws it in the mid-80s with fade and some deception when the arm action is good. He’ll occasionally slow the arm. Wisler’s command of the pitch is inconsistent and he’ll float some over the plate. It’s enough for a good third offering. He also mixes an occasional curveball with depth, but it can be picked up early with some hump. It’s a fringe offering.
Wisler is a competitor who wants perfection with every pitch. He was noticeably frustrated when he missed a spot, and he beared down in big spots by going to his plus velocity. He has the type of mindset a team wants in a pitcher.
Immediate Big League Future: The 22-year-old has the chance to earn a permanent major league rotation spot with this promotion. The Braves aren’t simply rotating their prospects to get their feet wet; they expect them to succeed and stay with the big league club when they get these calls. Wisler’s control is ahead of his command by a good bit, so if he struggles commanding his stuff and avoiding damage, the Braves have already won’t hesitate to send him back down rather quickly—as they’ve shown with Foltynewicz. It is reasonable to think Wisler will throw well enough out of the gates to hold a rotation spot the rest of the season. —David Lee
Fantasy Impact: Wisler ranked no. 44 on the Dynasty 101 before the season and his fantasy stock was widely assumed to have taken a hit when he was traded from the Padres—and away from Petco Park—before the start of the season. With the alterations made to the Padres home park over the winter, Turner Field and Petco have played the same in 2015 for right-handed hitters, and Turner Field has actually suppressed offense by left-handed hitters more than “new” Petco to this point. Obviously, it’s too early to draw massive conclusions based upon less than half of the Padres home slate, but Wisler should undoubtedly benefit from pitching not only in front of an actual defense in Atlanta (something not likely to happen in San Diego), but one anchored by Andrelton Simmons.
The 22-year old Wisler hasn’t been dominant at Triple-A this year by any definition. However, his ERA of 4.29 is almost a run higher than his FIP of 3.33, and his ERA checked in at a respectable 3.52 mark before giving up seven earned runs in 3 2/3 IP his last time out against Indianapolis, his worst start of the year. Wisler’s strikeout rate has dipped over the last few years, whiffing 24.7 percent during his first taste of Double-A in 2013 to 18 percent this season in the International League. His walk rate in Gwinnett this season is the lowest of his career (just under five percent) and not surprisingly, he’s been able to keep the ball in the ballpark at a much better clip this season (0.69 HR/9) compared to the bandboxes of the Pacific Coast League, where he gave up 1.47 homers per game in 2014.
Wisler should settle into a nice SP3 option as he matures, making him a solid target in dynasty leagues, but in the short-term, his inability to strike hitters out with regularity will likely keep him from making a noticeable fantasy impact in mixed redraft leagues over the rest of the season. He’s worth rostering in 14-team mixed leagues and deeper, but owners in shallower formats should wait and see before jumping in—though he does make for an attractive streaming option at home against the Mets in his debut. Wisler is worthy of a $12-$15 bid in NL-only leagues, but keep in mind that if Wisler doesn’t pitch deep into games and further exposes the Braves horrific bullpen, they could turn to another starting option currently in minors like Manny Banuelos or Cody Martin (who is currently being stretched out as a starter at Triple-A) or give the recently demoted Mike Foltynewicz another chance to conquer his command issues. —J.J. Jansons
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