After being acquired by the Braves in the Shelby Miller deal, the 24-year-old righty found initial success in a brief stint with Triple-A Gwinnett, posting a 1.42 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 22:5 K:BB in 19 innings before being promoted to the majors on April 24. His time in the big leagues was less glamorous, as he routinely struggled to retire batters and dealt with a brief knee injury. He posted a 7.59 ERA while recording a similarly unimpressive 14.2 percent strikeout rate and 10.5 percent walk rate in 15 starts with the Braves. The 2017 season holds a lot of question marks for Aaron Blair, who will likely have to compete for a spot in the Braves' rotation during spring training. Just a year ago he was seen as a safe bet to be a mid-rotation starter, but given how much he struggled during his rookie season, Blair should only be considered in deep mixed and NL-only leagues.
Blair was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett on Thursday. The 24-year-olds made 15 starts in the majors last year to the tune of a 7.59 ERA and a 1.66 WHIP. Blair will begin his third stint at Triple-A, his second at Gwinnett since joining the Atlanta organization before last season, and will work to earn a seat on the shuttle when Atlanta needs a spare starter.
Blair gave up one run in 2.2 innings of work Thursday, allowing five hits while striking out three and walking one. This was his first game back after missing time with a bruised hand. He struggled in the majors last season, accumulating a 7.59 ERA across 70 innings with a 46:34 K:BB. Blair has flashed potential, striking out 10 in his final start of the 2016 season against the Tigers, but he is ultimately expected to start the season at Triple-A Gwinnett after the offseason acquisitions of R.A. Dickey, Jaime Garcia, and Bartolo Colon.
Blair left Saturday's Grapefruit League game after getting hit on the left hand by a Cesar Hernandez line drive, Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports. Hernandez was the only batter Blair faced. Though Blair is reportedly day-to-day with a bruised left hand, it's unclear whether he'll be able to make his next start. The righty is expected to begin the season at Triple-A Gwinnett after the offseason acquisitions of R.A. Dickey, Jaime Garcia, and Bartolo Colon.
Blair feels that the slider he added to his arsenal late last season can become a true out pitch for him, Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports. "Developing that pitch was big for me at the end of the year, and hopefully it's big for me moving on," Blair said. "Throwing it [in live batting practice on Tuesday], I had a good feel for it. It was late [break] and I kept it down in the zone. That's pretty much all you can ask for." His 10-strikeout performance against the Tigers in his final start of 2016 certainly offered a tantalizing glimpse of his potential, but the Braves' offseason pitching acquisitions all but ensure Blair will head back to Triple-A Gwinnett to begin the season. If he continues to refine his slider, however, he could be the first starter recalled if injuries hit the rotation, and he'll be an intriguing stash in keeper formats.
Blair is expected to begin the season at Triple-A Gwinnett following the Braves' offseason additions to their rotation. With veterans R.A. Dickey, Jaime Garcia and Bartolo Colon in the fold, there's no room on the 25-man roster for Blair. The 24-year-old's performance in the majors last season was a big part of the reason why the club went looking for rotation help, though, so another stint at Triple-A can only help in the long run. Blair did strike out nearly a batter an inning in 13 starts for Gwinnett in 2016, so the tools are there for future success if he can sharpen his command and control.