The word “process” is used a lot in sports these days. Nick Saban uses it a lot in Tuscaloosa. The Philadelphia 76ers have thrown the word around in the NBA. Sometimes it just fits, and with the Atlanta Braves, it could not be more appropriate for what’s happening right now.
We are in season three of the Braves’ process, the rebuilding process. This year, at the midway point, is so very interesting. The Braves are flirting with a winning record, giving some fans dreams of the playoffs. Yet the long-term process remains the most important part of what’s going on.
The Braves need to trade all their veterans for younger talent. They don’t need to panic and think that a big trade for a big pitcher would make them contenders this summer. They need to simply trust the process they started — something that is going even better than expected.
On Wednesday night, the Braves promoted Ronald Acuna, a 19-year-old outfielder who is drawing comparisons to Andruw Jones, to Triple-A. It’s a legit comparison, as Acuna is mirroring the story line of Jones from 21 years ago when Jones sailed through the minors at such an early age.
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Acuna promptly had three hits in his first three at-bats with the Gwinnett Braves. He had an opposite field home run in his second at-bat, and that caused Twitter to explode. Braves fans started immediately wondering when Acuna would be in Atlanta.
Acuna wasn’t the only highlight Thursday. A.J. Minter, Atlanta’s best relief prospect since Craig Kimbrel, pitched another scoreless inning for Gwinnett that night. Minter will be in Atlanta soon, especially if Jim Johnson is traded.
Also on Thursday night, top pitching prospect Mike Soroka pitched seven scoreless innings for Double-A Mississippi. Soroka is one of the two 19-year-olds the Braves pushed to Double-A to start the season. Soroka has a 2.37 ERA in his 18 starts this season, and he’s knocking on the door of the big leagues.
Finally, Touki Toussaint, a heralded right-hander in High-A Florida, pitched seven strong innings giving up only one run on six hits, with 10 strikeouts. It was Toussaint’s best performance of the season. Scouts love Toussaint’s potential, even if he is a few years away.
The Braves are at one of those crossroads of the process. It might have started June 10, when Sean Newcomb made his big-league debut and replaced old Bartolo Colon in the rotation. It was like that changing of the guard signaled something was changing, as the Braves were getting younger and better.
There has been the ascension of Johan Camargo in the past month. Not many knew who Camargo was before he started getting more at-bats. Manager Brian Snitker loves getting Camargo in the lineup.
Could Camargo make Ozzie Albies, one of the other prospects, expendable? Maybe. Or maybe the Braves will trade Camargo to be able to keep Albies, who would likely be asked for in any major trade talk.
Sean Rodriguez may be back next week. The veteran has missed the season with a shoulder injury from a car accident in January. With Rodriguez and possibly Camargo on the bench, a weakness early on may become a huge strength for the Braves.
Albies is almost ready. Acuna could be ready right behind Albies. These kids are the future, and Albies is 20 years old while Acuna is a year younger.
Then, just think if the Braves trade a few of these veterans. Chances are they’re going to get more young talent, and they’ll replace the traded veterans with younger players who might provide an immediate upgrade.
Don’t worry if the Braves make those trades. They’re going to be fine. They may be even better, and they’re not bad now. The kids are only going to excite the fan base, as Newcomb did when he came up.
The process is going well, thank you very much. In fact, the talent is bubbling up. The Braves are loaded with talent, loaded with options. This second part of the season, both on and off the field, will be a critical time for the process. Chances are it’s just going to make the Braves even better.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at email@example.com.