The transformation of the Atlanta Braves has been severe and quick. In one offseason, the faces of the organization have dramatically changed.
So has the talent level.
ESPN’s Keith Law, a respected minor league analyst, had the Braves with the sixth-best farm system in baseball a few weeks ago. Law said back in October that the Braves had the fifth-worst farm system in the game.
From 26th to sixth? Now that is a makeover not seen very often.
That happened without a draft, which is what usually infuses more talent into a farm system. Just imagine what will happen this summer once 25 new players are drafted and brought into the organization.
The trades made by new de facto general manager John Hart and his assistant John Copplella have made the difference. And they have made pitching a priority to get the Braves back on track.
Of the 10 trades made by Atlanta’s new front office so far, all but one included at least one pitcher coming back to the Braves. Eleven new pitchers were brought in through trades, with numerous more brought in as free agents.
The first major move was when Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden were traded to the St. Lous Cardinals. Shelby Miller was the centerpiece for the Braves. He’ll instantly join the rotation, and many believe the 24-year-old is ready to establish himself as one of the best young starting pitchers in the game.
But there was another pitcher in the trade. Tyrell Jenkins is 22 years old and likely will be in Double-A this season. Jenkins is impressive. He’s a tall athletic young pitcher with a good delivery, and the ball seems to jump out of his hand. Jenkins could be ready some time next season.
So for a player who was going to leave as a free agent after next season anyway and a setup man, the Braves got a starting pitcher who can be in the rotation for four years and a legitimate prospect who is arguably better than any pitching prospect the Braves had in the farm system.
In the Justin Upton trade with San Diego, the Braves got Max Fried, who will miss this season as he recovers from Tommy John elbow surgery. Fried was a high draft pick a few years ago, and there is no way the Braves would have gotten Fried if he had not been hurt. But the Braves still believe his upside is very high, much higher than any prospect they had in the system last year.
For two relievers, David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve, the Braves got Manny Banuelos. Four years ago, Banuelos was the talk of spring training with the New York Yankees as a 20-year-old lefty prospect. Banuelos’ time frame was slowed down because of elbow surgery two years ago, but he is healthy now, and the Braves believe he is ready to recover his prospect status. Coaches were raving last week about how his easy throwing motion, coupled with a mid-90s fastball, could make him very interesting this season.
Banuelos might start out in Triple-A, as the Braves first build his innings pitched. But don’t be shocked if Banuelos makes starts in Atlanta later this summer.
Then there’s the trade the Braves made with Houston, sending Evan Gattis to the Astros. We all know Gattis needed to be in the AL. His defense was always shaky, and there’s no way Gattis can be a long-term catcher. So for a player who some even question whether he will still be in the game in a couple of seasons, the Braves got two pitchers and their future third baseman.
Mike Foltynewicz throws gas. The Braves think he can be a high-end starting pitcher, but if he struggles with his command, the player most call “Folty” could, at worst, be a very good reliever. Foltynewicz might be the fifth starter this year.
The Braves also got Andrew Thurman, an impressive young pitcher who could be ready to blossom this season in High Single-A. He was a college pitcher, so Thurman could come quickly. The right-hander has a mid-90s fastball and a very good changeup.
Then there’s Rio Ruiz, a 20-year-old third baseman who will be in Double-A this season. Ruiz has a nice left-handed swing, and the Braves believe he could be ready in 2017.
These are the players who make this retooling interesting. There’s no telling what the record will be for the major league Braves this season, but keep your eye on everything else going on in the organization. The early returns are tremendously positive, and the end results could be, as well.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.