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When franchise icon Freddie Freeman left the Atlanta Braves in free agency after the 2021 World Series, the team was left with more than just a new first baseman; they also received compensation in the 2022 MLB draft. That pick turned into a commodity from Braves country in Auburn relief pitcher Blake Burkhalter.

Project report card

Burkhalter was one of the nation’s most impressive relief pitchers in 2022, putting up a stellar outfield in a mostly closer role for the Auburn Tigers. in 46 1:3: In the inning, Burkhalter struck out 71 batters while walking just seven. His biggest weakness was the nine home runs allowed. He put up a decent showing with his numbers, with a mid-to-high 90s fastball and a dominant cutter that made him one of the top relief prospects in the draft. Still, taking him 76th overall was considered a bit of a reach, and that was due to the confidence Dana Brown and his staff had in Burkhalter’s potential.

What we saw in 2022

Burkhalter has all the makings of a pure relief prospect. He’s undersized at 6’0”, never started in his college career and mostly works a mix of both pitches. The Braves, however, have not been afraid to pick up tranquilizer weapons, believing they can start developing them, defying conventional wisdom. So far, that philosophy has produced rookie star Spencer Strider, and the Braves believe Burkhalter could follow a similar path in his pro career. In his very short campaign in professional baseball, Burkhalter made one of his three appearances as a starter and was quite dominant with three perfect innings and six strikeouts. However, the single-start sample and A-ball lineups, especially late in the year, are of lower quality than many of the lineups he faced in the SEC.

Outlook for 2023

Burkhalter will be one of the earlier points of intrigue in the Braves system simply because of the unique approach the organization is taking with his development. It’s rare to see a team move a longtime reliever into a starting role, but the Braves believe he can thrive in that spot. Stretching Burkhalter’s hand in starting workloads will mean the efficiency of his pure stuff, so looking at his velocity throughout the season will be important to understand how his stuff plays out over longer periods of time. More importantly, he’s in command right now and needs to locate his pitches more effectively to avoid the home run problems that plagued him in 2022.


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