The Situation: Amazingly, Aaron Blair became ready to become a part of the Atlanta rotation a couple of days after the service-time issues passed. What a fortunate coincidence for the Braves to have everything align in such a miraculous fashion.
Background: Blair’s stock fluctuated throughout his junior season at Marshall, but the Diamondbacks saw enough in the right-hander to take him with the 36th pick of the 2013 draft. After two solid —if unspectacular—seasons in the Arizona system, Blair turned a corner in 2015; posting a 2.92 ERA in stops at Double- and Triple-A. Despite looking like one of the future cogs to the Diamondbacks future, Arizona instead chose to trade him, Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte in a (controversial) move to acquire Shelby Miller. He dominated in three starts at Triple-A Gwinnett, and he’ll now get a chance to show that stuff at the big-league level.
Scouting Report: You don’t see pitchers who flash three plus pitches very often, but that’s what Blair’s got in his repertoire. He’ll touch 96 mph with his heater, and he gets plenty of sink on his fastball making it an easy 60 pitch.
The secondary pitches aren’t quite as consistent, but both will show that level when everything is clicking as it was in Gwinnett. The change has good sink as well, and you’d have to be looking very hard to notice a discernable difference in the arm speed when he’s throwing his change. The curveball is the “weak” link here, but only because there has to be a weak link. It has good shape, and when his elbow doesn’t get underneath it, he can locate the pitch for a strike.
And speaking of throwing strikes, that’s what Blair does best. Is the command elite? Nope, but you don’t need elite command when you have the stuff we just discussed. He repeats an aesthetically pleasing delivery well with a high three-quarters arm slot, and does a great job of limiting the self-inflicted damage while throwing quality strikes at the same time.
Immediate Big League Future: if there’s a common trait for pitchers that come up and pitch well immediately, it’s that they’re really good at baseball. If there’s a second trait, it’s that they can get ahead in counts and throw their secondary pitches for strikes. Blair can do that, so assuming he does everything he’s done over the past few years, he can absolutely be successful. The upside is a no. 3 starter, and the floor—assuming he stays healthy—is a backend starter who can stay in the Atlanta rotation for a very long time. —Christopher Crawford
Fantasy Impact: There’s a time and place for Aaron Blair in your fantasy league, and it is here and now only if you’re in a medium-depth NL-only or deep mixed league. Blair’s excellent start to the season (22 whiffs to five walks with just three earned runs allowed on ten hits across his first 19-plus innings at Triple-A) likely raised an eyebrow or three, and there is absolutely a solid-if-unspectacular ceiling here that could ultimately make Blair a solid rotation component in shallower formats.
For now, the former 36th-overall pick’s bread and butter combination of a low-90’s two-seamer and a cambio that’s geared more towards weak contact than whiffs isn’t ideal. A deep arsenal and advanced command helped him rack up decent strikeout totals in the minors, but the reports suggest he lacks the kind of swing-and-miss finish to his pitches to expect those sometimes-gaudy numbers to translate in full against the best hitters in the world.
He has limited long balls successfully throughout his professional career, and his park will help further contain any mistakes he makes. So that’s good. But Blair’s above-average groundball tendencies are potentially wasted in front of an infield defense that has been the worst in the majors thus far at converting worm-burners into outs. His batterymate situation is muddled as well, with a 57-43 percent split in the early going between A.J. Pierzinski (who caught his debut yesterday) and Tyler Flowers. The pair is on opposite ends of the run-adding value spectrum, with Pierzynski a potentially legitimate liability. And while it wouldn’t factor much in normal circumstances, it is certainly worth highlighting in this particular case that the Braves’ offense has been terrible in the early going, to the degree that the lack of Win potential probably does nick his value further.
In medium and deep leagues Blair’s a wait-and-see for another couple turns (if he makes them at the big league level), while NL-only owners in need of pitching depth are right to consider an exploratory bid in the $8-12 range depending on league depth. —Wilson Karaman
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