Locke one of many successful former Braves players

sports@macon.comJune 4, 2013 

It had to be weird for Jeff Locke on Tuesday night. There he was on the mound at Turner Field, something he probably dreamed about for years.

But it was in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform.

The Braves drafted Locke in the second round of the 2006 amateur draft out of New Hampshire. Seven years later, he’s a valued member of the Pirates in his first full big league season. Locke was 5-1 going into Tuesday’s game with a 2.25 ERA in his first 11 starts.

Locke was traded four years ago this week to Pittsburgh in the Nate McLouth trade. He was in High-A at the time in the Braves organization, and he was considered a decent prospect.

Obviously, he has turned out to be pretty decent. It’s early in his career, but, in these first two months, Locke has showed he belongs in a big league rotation.

Trading prospects is a necessary evil in baseball. That’s why teams build farm systems -- to provide talent to their own club and to develop players that might be targeted by other teams in trade talks.

The Braves have drafted very well for a long time, and the farm system is usually deep and full of talent. That has enabled the Braves to stay successful, for the most part, for more than two decades.

And when they need a player at a position that might be a weak link, as they did this past winter when they needed a slugger who could play the outfield, the Braves almost always have the talent available to make a trade.

A quick look around baseball finds 47 players that have played in the big leagues at some point this year that were with the Braves, either in the major leagues or the minors, at some point in their career. Eighteen of those players were drafted by the Braves, while seven were signed as either international free agents or undrafted players. The other 22 were acquired by a trade or signed from another team as a free agent.

Locke would be part of a pretty decent rotation of former Braves pitching prospects who are now doing well in the big leagues. Adam Wainwright, Scott Diamond, Tommy Hanson, Jason Marquis and Locke are a combined 25-12 this season.

Wainwright and Marquis were part of the price for J.D. Drew in the December 2003 trade between the Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals. Wainwright has become one of the best pitchers in the NL. He just signed a huge five-year, $97.5 million contract extension. And Marquis has had a mediocre career, but now at 34 he can boast of 118 career major league victories -- 104 since he left the Braves.

Matt Harrison would be in the group, but he’s on the disabled list right now. Harrison was 18-11 last year for the Texas Rangers. He went to Texas in the Mark Teixeira megadeal six years ago.

There are a couple of notable relievers who once wore the Braves uniform who are still productive. Matt Belisle, a top draft pick in 1998, is now in his 10th major league season. He’s with Colorado now and led the NL in appearances last season with 80. Plus, remember how big a prospect Bruce Chen was at one time? He was part of that great Macon Braves rotation in 1997. Chen has spent parts of 15 seasons in the major leagues and is now with Kansas City.

Belisle was used in a deal when the Braves needed a reliever and got Kent Mercker back in 2003, while Chen was traded 13 years ago to Philadelphia for Andy Ashby.

Pitchers have been used the most in trades, as other teams around baseball know the Braves know how to develop young arms. It’s the one thing every team seems to need and the one thing the Braves seem to do best.

While Martin Prado was the big name in the Justin Upton trade with Arizona last winter, the inclusion of right-hander Randall Delgado, who did well last year in Atlanta, and minor league pitcher Zeke Spruill helped get the deal done.

It’ll probably happen again this summer, as the Braves will undoubtedly look to improve the current roster, with perhaps a trade or two for a reliever. And you can bet in a few years we’ll be watching yet another young pitcher who dreamed of pitching in Atlanta but came back in a uniform other than the Braves.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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