After a brief Aaron Blair interlude, right-hander Lucas Sims has stepped into the Braves starting rotation after a successful season with AAA Gwinnett.
Lucas Sims, RHP
OFR Rank: 25
2017 Level: AAA Gwinnett Braves
3.75 ERA / 4.30 FIP
20 G, 19 GS
Brookwood High School alum Lucas Sims grew up idolizing Braves right-hander John Smoltz and ran the bases in the Sky Field kids activity area of Turner Field when he was three years old. Now at the ripe old age of 23, Sims will step onto the field as a member of the big-league Atlanta Braves.
Drafted as the 21st overall pick by Atlanta in the 2012 draft, Sims has made a steady climb through the Braves organization. After a terrific 2013 season for class-A Rome that solidified his place atop Braves prospects lists, Sims found high-A Lynchburg challenging the following year. He started 2014 repeating the level and looked to be nearing a jump to AA when an early morning team bus crash interrupted his season and landed him on the disabled list. As it turned out, Sims was one of the lucky ones as teammate Tyler Brosius never was able to shake his medical issues following a concussion, and Andrew Thurman‘s career trajectory also veered off course.
Sims returned to the mound in July and quickly re-established himself. Sims moved up to AA by the end of the month and pitched well for Mississippi down the stretch as the team came up just shy of a playoff appearance. Sims returned to Mississippi for the start of 2016 and performed well in three more starts and got a quick bump up to Gwinnett.
His first trip to AAA started well, but in his third start he was blown up for 8 runs in just 2.2. innings pitched. It was about this time that Gwinnett manager Brian Snitker and pitching coach Marty Reed got their own call-ups to the majors after the dismissal of Fredi Gonzalez. The new Gwinnett staff was unfamiliar with Sims and he with them, and they couldn’t seem to get on the same page as to what Sims needed to do to get back on a good path. After 10 starts that saw Sims pitch to a 7.56 ERA, Sims returned to AA Mississippi and pitching coach Dennis Llewelyn. While Sims would continue to struggle with walks, otherwise he seemed to return to his pre-AAA form, pitching to a 2.83 ERA after his return.
Assigned to Gwinnett again to start 2017, Sims has been a steady and reliable member of the rotation. Most encouraging has been the tremendous dip in his walk rate this year. After a strong April and early May, Sims experienced a string of disappointing starts at the end of May and June which may have cost him a call-up when Bartolo Colon experienced an “oblique strain” and the opportunity was instead given to Sean Newcomb. Sims has righted the ship, and in the month of July he’s pitched to a 3.07 ERA/2.88 FIP while striking out 40 in 29.1 innings over 5 starts while only walking 6.
Sims’s delivery is textbook clean, almost mechanical, with a high leg-kick that uncoils slowly to maintain balance before he explodes toward the plate, using his entire 6′-2″, 220 pound frame to generate power. From the stretch he simplifies things even more, lowering the kick but still pausing to ensure balance before primarily using his hips to generate torque.
He has a three-pitch mix, including a fastball that sits 92-94 and can touch 98. He complements that with one of the better curveballs in the Braves system, hard breaker that helped him limit right-handed batters to a .176/.246/.333 line against him this season. Sims also throws a change-up that is an average offering at this point, sometimes above average when he’s got a good feel for it and can keep it down and away from lefties.
Sims throws out of a high 3/4s delivery and can run into trouble when if he allows the slot to fall or if he loses focus and doesn’t repeat his follow-through. Those issues have been infrequent so far this season. Sims traditionally has been a quick worker, almost rapid-fire, but this season he seems to have deliberately slowed down his pace to allow him time to think through each pitch.
It’s been a hard road for Sims to the majors, in some cases quite literally, but he’s finally made it. Sims is the second major starting pitching prospect to debut with Atlanta after Sean Newcomb. With the amount of starting pitching still in the Braves pipeline, Sims needs to make the best of this opportunity to show that he can be a viable major league starter. There are many who believe Sims’s ultimate roll in the majors will be as a high-leverage reliever, and he certainly has the stuff and competitiveness to excel in that roll, but for now the Braves will exhaust all opportunities for him to make it as a big league starter.