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Tanner Gordon looks to continue dominance in tonight’s M-Braves debut

Tanner Gordon looks to continue dominance in tonight’s M-Braves debut

It’s not as if the kid has come completely out of nowhere. As a sixth-round pick by the Braves back in 2019 (out of Indiana University), righty Tanner Gordon isn’t just some organization-filler pitching in the minors. However, you won’t find Gordon featured on many Braves prospect lists. Neither Baseball America (this year) or FanGraphs (last year’s list) has him listed as a “ranked” prospect, and during my time covering Atlanta’s system, I haven’t seen too much discussion about the kid. But heading into this season, while I was constructing my own Braves prospect ranking, I couldn’t help but notice what the 6-foot-5, 215-pound righty had done during what was really his first full season as a pro. And so I included Gordon, ranking him 24th this offseason. Here’s what I said…

The big righty pitched well in his first full season in the Braves organization. As a former sixth round pick from back in 2019, I’m sure Gordon was chomping at the bit to get back on the mound; following a strong 2.22 ERA in the Appy League during his draft year, the Braves decided to move Gordon to a starter’s role full time, and it appears to have been the right decision.

Split equally between Single-A Augusta (11 starts) and High-A Rome (10 starts / 1 relief appearance), Gordon held his own as a pro in 2021. With the GreenJackets, the righty averaged 10.1 strikeouts per nine and just 1.6 walks on his way to a 3.43 ERA. He wasn’t as overpowering with the R-Braves, with his K rate falling to 7.8 K/9 there, but he still maintained a decent 4.44 ERA, and just as important, as he rose a level he continued to keep the free passes down (2 BB/9).

Despite being built like a power-pitcher, the guys at Talking Chop call Gordon more of a pitch-to-contact guy, and the drastic drop in K rate from Single-A to High-A sort of proved that this past season. The righty will pitch as a 24-year-old all year in 2022, so regardless, he’s on track to reach Mississippi at some point this coming season. I want to see how he handles the upper-minors before I get into invested, but so far I believe this could be a potential mid-rotation arm for the Braves.

Well, here we are: Gordon has officially reached the “upper-minors” as on Tuesday he was promoted from High-A Rome to Double-A Mississippi. I said a few months ago that I needed to see him perform well against better competition, and Wednesday night Gordon will get his first crack at it, when he starts for the M-Braves against Pensacola.

The low walk-rate I mentioned in the excerpt above has reached video game-like levels. So far, in four outings with Rome, Gordon has yet to walk a single batter, and he’s struck out 36 in 22 innings (14.7 K/9) in 2022, while holding opponents to a .220 AVG. The kid has done everything you could ask a prospect pitcher to do so far this year, and you can’t help but be excited to see him earn the deserved promotion.

Now obviously we shouldn’t expect Gordon to continue at this crazy rate. A bit of regression is appropriate given he’ll be facing better hitters with Mississippi. But I don’t think this is simply an out-of-nowhere, fluke-type thing we’re seeing. I think we’re witnessing a guy coming into his own, developing into the pitcher he was always meant to become, hence the high draft pick.

And it makes sense. Now 24-years-old, Gordon has had time to mature and not just develop physically, but also mentally. The kid continues to go deep into games, having now tallied six innings in three-straight outings recently (after reaching the fourth in his season opener). Plus, when it matters most, Gordon is settling in and performing his best, shown by his success when runners are on base. Per Baseball Reference, this season the prospect has allowed a .402 OPS with runners on, compared to a .582 with the bases empty. I mean, either mark is obviously low, but an 80-point swing is impressive nonetheless. Being able to get guys out when a team is threatening is probably one of the most important skills to have for a young guy trying to post strong numbers and make it to the majors.

The only thing that’s a bit concerning, as Gordon heads to the Double-A level, is his platoon splits. Generally, pitchers do better versus same-handed batters, and that’s certainly been the case for Gordon, as righties this season are slashing just .163/.163/.204 against him. However, lefty batters… well… so far they have turned in a .303/.294/.455 line versus Gordon – a nearly 400-point swing in OPS. Sure, four outings is a small sample size, so there’s plenty of noise included in those stats. But there could also be some regression in Gordon’s future, and what will be important is just how much.

We’ll find out tonight. But regardless of what happens in his first start with the M-Braves, Gordon has exceeded expectations making it this far this fast in 2022. Coming into the campaign, I would’ve probably guessed that he’d reach Double-A by the end of the season, with mid-season being the earliest. At this rate, with another dominant stretch, Gordon could even reach Triple-A over these next 4-5 months. Given his age, it wouldn’t be all that aggressive of a move by the Braves (although, perhaps considering his limited pro experience it’s arguable). Either way, though, let’s hope Gordon can keep it up. One thing’s for sure, he’ll definitely have a strong supporting cast to give him some runs, as the M-Braves lineup is red hot at the moment.

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