A year ago, Atlanta right-hander Julio Teheran entered spring training as a high-buzz pitching prospect, a 21-year-old seeking a spot in the Braves' starting rotation. Teheran was coming off a dominant season at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he went 15-3 with an ERA of 2.55. Baseball America rated him as the No. 5 prospect in the game, behind only Bryce Harper, Matt Moore, Mike Trout and Yu Darvish.
And then this happened: 2.0 IP, 6 H, 7 ER, 6 HR, 1 BB, 1 K.
That was the stat line from Teheran's disastrous 2012 spring debut. The Tigers absolutely lit him up, banging out six homers in just two innings on a windy day in Lakeland.
Teheran made four additional Grapefruit League appearances for the Braves last year, allowing multiple runs in three of them. He finished the spring with an ERA of 9.37, then was shipped back to the International League.
Instead of thriving at Gwinnett, as he had the previous year, Teheran struggled badly. His velocity dipped, his K-rate fell, his ERA rose to 5.08, and he allowed as many home runs as he'd given up in his three prior minor league seasons (18). Not surprisingly, Teheran also fell a few dozen spots in everyone's prospect rankings.
But entering spring training in 2013, Teheran again found himself battling for a big league rotation spot. Here's how his five exhibition appearances have gone:
PIT, 2/24 – 2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K
WAS, 3/1 – 3.0 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K
DET, 3/7 – 4.0 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K
STL, 3/12 – 5.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K
NYM, 3/17 – 6.0 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K
Not so shabby. Add up the stats and you get 20.0 innings, seven hits, three runs, six walks and 25 Ks. Teheran hasn't yet struggled in any outing, and he's allowed only two home runs (one to Bryce Harper, the other to Jordany Valdespin). As of this writing, only Stephen Strasburg has struck out more batters this spring.
So what's different about Teheran?
Well, for starters, he's tweaked his arsenal. During Grapefruit League play, he's featured a two-seam sinking fastball and an almost unfair curve. Check the tape from Sunday's seven-strikeout performance against the Mets.
[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
Kris Medlen offered these thoughts on Teheran to David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
"Everything’s working for him right now. His mechanics look awesome, and he’s getting dudes to swing over the ball by that much (holds hands six inches apart).
“When you have a 93-94 mile-an-hour four-seamer and can throw a two-seamer with the same arm speed, it’s insane.”
The Braves actually had some concerns about Teheran's mechanics back when he was cruising through the minors, so they asked him to make a few changes.
Here's more, via O'Brien:
[Teheran] made adjustments to his delivery at the team’s request, in order to reduce the torque and strain on his knee and elbow. Some of his reduced velocity in 2012 might have been related to those changes.
The kid only recently turned 22, so let's hope he's still on your prospect radar. Teheran's average draft position in Yahoo! leagues is just 244.8 and he's only 24 percent owned, so there's not much risk attached. He'll do his pitching in the right league, supported by a terrific lineup. There's a lot to like in this profile.
"If we've got to break camp tomorrow," manager Fredi Gonzalez recently said, "he's our fifth starter."
If you're a fantasy owner looking for a high-ceiling/low-cost SP, bump Teheran's name up a few spots on your cheat sheet.
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