While Ronald Acuna has deservedly gotten a lot of attention for his remarkable ascension through three levels of the minor leagues this season, there’s been a Braves pitcher that has accomplished the same feat and stands poised to make his major league debut.
Luiz Gohara, LHP
OFR Rank: 8
2017 Level: AAA Gwinnett Braves
2.62 ERA/2.65 FIP
26 G, 25 GS
(Includes A+, AA, and AAA levels)
Gohara was an international amateur free agent signee by the Seattle Mariners out of Brazil in 2013, receiving a record $880,000 signing bonus for a player out of that country. While initially being aggressive with Gohara’s organizational placement, throwing him into the Appalachian League at the age of 16, the Mariners for some reason seemed surprised that Gohara exhibited some maturity issues early on. This caused them to hold Gohara back in the rookie leagues for three seasons before finally promoting him to A-ball in 2016. Gohara dominated the level in limited action, and Gohara was rated at the Mariners #3 prospect by Baseball America. However, new Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto was looking to compete immediately, and was not afraid to use prospects accumulated by the prior regime that had seemingly worn out their welcome as currency for immediate fixes. In the second trade of the offseason with Atlanta, the Mariners packaged Gohara with lefty reliever Thomas Burrows in exchange for outfielder Mallex Smith and reliever Shae Simmons (they immediately flipped Smith to the Tampa Bay Rays for veteran pitcher Drew Smyly).
Gohara was initially assigned to the class A+ Florida Fire Frogs and was dominant in 7 starts (1.98 ERA/1.99 FIP). The Braves were not shy to promote top prospects this season and Gohara was no exception. Gohara made his AA debut on May 15, but suffered his only real set-back of the season when he had to leave his start after 2 innings for what was diagnosed as biceps soreness. Gohara returned to the mound in a 2-inning relief appearance 15 days later and was pronounced good-to-go. Gohara proceeded to pitch to a 2.44 ERA/2.28 FIP with a 27.4% K rate in his next 10 starts.
Gohara was then promoted to Gwinnett, making his AAA debut on July 28. While his 3.31 ERA in 7 AAA starts is a little higher than in his prior two minor league stops this season, his strikeout rate rose even higher, to a 31.2% rate.
Gohara has two things going for him that is unlike almost all other lefty starters. First off, he’s got a fastball that sits in the mid ’90s that he can push up to the 98 mph range with minimal effort, and has been clocked at 100 mph. Secondly, he has possibly the most devastating slider in the Braves organization, a high-80s monster that is his biggest swing-and-miss offering. To go with these plus-plus pitches, Gohara has also been working in a change-up that saw tremendous improvement over the course of the season and rates as an average pitch, which should be good enough to keep right-handers guessing.
Gohara can occasionally battle his command, and AAA batters in particular were more apt to wait Gohara out during these times, which saw a spike in both his walk rate and his home run rate. Gohara’s 123.2 IP this season exceeds his previous professional innings total by 54 innings, so don’t be surprised if Gohara’s outings are somewhat limited during this initial promotion to the major leagues.
Finally, Gohara has battled conditioning issues in his early minor league career, and looks bigger than than his 210 pound listed weight by around 40 pounds. This is not necessarily a concern as Gohara moves well around and off the mound and certainly has the frame to accommodate the weight, but it’s something for the club to keep an eye on as Gohara moves into his second decade.
Braves fans have seen the start of the next wave of pitching prospects matriculate to the majors with Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims, Max Fried, and A.J. Minter leading the vanguard. Gohara’s potential ceiling is the highest of any of them, a potential true front-line starting pitcher on a playoff-contending club, and the floor of a high-leverage fireman out of the bullpen. Gohara would have needed to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason in order to protect him from the Rule V draft, and it makes sense for the Braves to go ahead and add him now and give him a chance to work into the team’s 2018 plans.