Atlanta Braves scout Jim Fregosi died Friday after suffering multiple strokes on a baseball cruise last weekend. Fregosi was a longtime big league shortstop and a four-time manager, but for the past 13 years he has been one of the top scouts in Atlanta’s front office.
Fregosi’s main job was to watch potential trade targets for the Braves. When the general manager, first John Schuerholz and later Frank Wren, would identify a trade option, they would send Fregosi to watch the player and give his experienced opinion.
Fregosi was also very good at something that is often overlooked in baseball -- self-evaluation. We always think about scouting as an old guy with a big cigar sitting in the stands with a radar gun watching players, whether it’s a high school or college kid for the draft or a different team’s player.
But the analysis a team makes on its own talent, both in the major leagues and in the minor leagues, is crucial to making good decisions on player development and roster construction.
Teams have to know what they have in their own organization before they know what they need to go out and get from somewhere else. It’s really that simple.
The Braves have a pretty decent track record in this department. But they haven’t always been perfect; no organization is.
For example, someone in the front office missed on Adam Wainwright. The story goes that he was thought of as a bottom-of-the-rotation starting pitcher after he finished Double-A in 2003. With that evaluation, the Braves didn’t mind putting him in a deal for a starting right fielder named J.D. Drew.
Well, that trade obviously didn’t work out too well. Drew played only one year for Atlanta before bolting for more money in Los Angeles. Wainwright was a bit better than a No. 4 or 5 starter. He’s now one of the best pitchers in baseball.
But there are more examples of how the Braves hung on to players who they believed in instead of putting them in trades. Did you know that back in the late-1980s the Boston Red Sox dangled future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs at then-general manager Bobby Cox? Their only request was that Cox put a young left-hander who was originally from the Boston area named Tom Glavine in the trade.
Cox refused. He believed in Glavine, even when Glavine went 7-17 in his first full big league season. That was a pretty good call.
The Braves have more pressing and immediate self-evaluations to make that will be crucial for the next decade. They made their first big call when they invested in first baseman Freddie Freeman. He’ll be around for the next eight years to try and justify that decision.
Then Friday the Braves made a commitment to right-hander Julio Teheran, who was 14-8 in his first full season as a starter last year. Teheran just turned 23, so he’ll be a young pitcher who could be at the top of the rotation for the next six or seven years. If last year was any indication of what he’ll do as a big league starter, it looks like a very smart move by the Braves.
The third player the Braves want to lock up is shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who is already considered the best defensive player in baseball. Simmons is 24 years old, and to have a young player that good up the middle is always important. He’s so good defensively that anything you get from Simmons at the plate is a plus, and his 17 home runs last year showed he can do more than just catch the ball.
These are the players believe will make up Atlanta’s core for the next six or seven years. They’re banking on it, really. But it’s always a gamble.
The Braves have other tough calls to make. Do they lock up starting pitchers Kris Medlen and/or Mike Minor? They ended the Craig Kimbrel debate with a four-year contract for their closer Sunday morning. Then there’s Jason Heyward, who will prove this year if he’ll be affordable or if he’ll fall out of Atlanta’s price range.
Fregosi would be happy with what Atlanta has done thus far, and these self-scouting decisions will help determine how good the Braves will be moving forward.
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