According to Mark Bowman of MLB.com, the possibility of the Atlanta Braves re-signing free agent setup man Eric O’Flaherty appears to be dwindling on a daily basis. Even in the event that he does return to the club, the southpaw will miss at least the first month of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Likewise, left-handed fireballer Jonny Venters should be out all of April and maybe more after undergoing the same procedure last year. Therefore, in the likely event that young Alex Wood begins the regular season as the No. 5 starter, the Braves will desperately need another huge effort from Luis Avilan in 2014.
Avilan quietly came onto the scene in Atlanta shortly after the All-Star Break in 2012. That summer, the Venezuelan-born reliever helped the Braves clinch a Wild Card berth to the playoffs by sporting a 2.00 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 33 outings down the stretch. Needless to say, it seemed like the organization had developed yet another outstanding arm.
Heading into 2013, hopes were obviously high for Avilan to have a breakout season. The 24-year old definitely accomplished that feat. In his second MLB campaign, the sophomore southpaw took the mound a team-leading 75 times while posting some very impressive numbers. Amassing 65 innings, Avilan put up a record of 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA and 0.95 WHIP while only giving up one home run.
If indeed the Braves leave spring training with Avilan as the only lefty in the bullpen, the team will desperately need him to maintain the form he displayed over the last season and a half. That may be a tall order, but Avilan, armed with both a nasty mid-90s two-seamer and a very effective curve that combined to hold opposing hitters to a ridiculous .174 average in 2013, seems up to the challenge.