A little more than 25 years ago, Stan Kasten and Bobby Cox, the president and general manager of the Braves at the time, made a commitment to build up the Atlanta farm system. The success of that effort led to a historic run and then subsequent seasons of talented rosters.
But the Braves have hit a wall when it comes to the talent currently in the farm system. It’s just not as good as it has been in the past.
Granted, the Braves have graduated a large number of players from the farm system to the majors in the past few years. Half the players in the starting lineup came from the system in the past five years, while three of the starting pitchers joined the team in the last year.
Atlanta has 12 players on the current roster considered homegrown, either drafted by the team or originally signed as an international or non-drafted free agent. By comparison to teams in their own division, the Washington Nationals have 14 homegrown players, the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies both have 13, and the Miami Marlins have 10.
Baseball America, the premiere minor league publication, recently ranked Atlanta’s current farm system as the 26th best (or fifth-worst) in baseball. That’s the lowest ranking for the Braves this century. They were ranked in the top 10 in 10 of those 15 years, but since being ranked 2nd in 2011 the Braves dropped to 15th in 2012, then 21st in 2013 and then the low ranking this year.
It has been a long time since the Braves’ farm system has been this mediocre.
Lucas Sims, Atlanta’s first-round pick in 2012 from Snellville, is considered the top prospect. However, he’s not as highly rated as Julio Teheran, who was the top prospect three years in a row before taking a rotation spot last year. Sims is a right-handed starting pitcher currently in High-A Lynchburg, but he’s at least two years away and is projected as a potential middle-of-the-rotation starter.
The Braves have some other nice pitching prospects, like Jason Hursh, J.R. Graham and Williams Perez in Double-A Mississippi and Mauricio Cabrera in Lynchburg. There are several relief pitching prospects with decent potential, like Shae Simmons and James Hoyt.
Christian Bethancourt is rated as the top position player prospect. He’s a catcher in Triple-A Gwinnett with great defensive skills but suspect offense. If Evan Gattis struggles, Bethancourt could be another option.
Perhaps the position player with the best potential is second baseman Jose Peraza, who turns 20 years old later this month. Peraza hit .288 and stole 64 bases last year in Rome. He played shortstop there, but the Braves have Andrelton Simmons locked up for many years to come. So Peraza is now playing second base in Lynchburg and could be the heir apparent to Dan Uggla in Atlanta.
Gwinnett’s Tommy LaStella can hit, but his defense at second has some questioning whether he can beat Peraza to Atlanta. Depth at first base and third base in the minor leagues is simply not very good.
The Braves really don’t have a minor league outfielder considered a potential starter. There are several who might make the majors as a reserve outfielder, like Matt Lipka and Kyle Wren. The problem with that is when Jason Heyward and Justin Upton are eligible for free agency after next season, the Braves might not have an in-house replacement ready.
The other issue with a depleted farm system is an inability to have sufficient talent available to make trades to acquire other players. If your organization is not fully stocked with players that other teams covet, it’s more difficult to get players you might need to fill holes your farm system can’t handle.
This might be another reason why the Braves locked up core young players like Teheran, Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman and Simmons to long-term deals. Until they have better drafts to build up the farm system, they have to hold onto the talent they have right now.
The Braves are good now, but when the farm system falls like this, you wonder if it can continue. Better drafting is needed to help sustain the long-term success every teams wants, particularly if you’re heading into a new stadium in a few years.
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