Bill Shanks

Rome’s title brings hope for Braves

Interim Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker will have plenty to work with during the offseason in terms of a farm system should he be retained.
Interim Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker will have plenty to work with during the offseason in terms of a farm system should he be retained. AP

The Atlanta Braves lost their game Friday night 7-2 to the Washington Nationals at Turner Field. That was not the biggest story for the organization. Not by far.

I know, football is here. The Braves are finishing an awful season, so no one should care. But something happened Friday that you should care about, should know about.

The Rome Braves — you know, that team that used to be in Macon before the city foolishly let it move away in 2002 — won the South Atlantic League championship. Yes, we could have watched a talented team of young prospects all summer, but instead folks in Floyd County enjoyed great baseball.

Development is the most important part of a farm system, but winning goes hand-in-hand with that. You want young players to learn how to win, to know how important it is to put a championship ring on their finger. You want prospects to know that while their goal is to get better every day, being part of a team means they need to win baseball games, to win championships.

Three of Atlanta’s top four farm teams not only made the playoffs, but made it to the championship series. Triple-A Gwinnett and Double-A Mississippi lost in the final round, but it was still a great accomplishment for three farm teams to make it that far.

If you asked a Braves’ official which team they preferred to win the title, they would have said Rome. That’s where the most true prospects have played this season. It’s a young team full of players who might make an impact in Atlanta in a few years.

The pitching has been the story. All five starting pitchers are legit starting pitching prospects. Four of those five made starts in Rome’s seven playoffs games. Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, Max Fried and Touki Toussaint had eye-popping numbers: eight runs (only four earned runs) allowed 34 hits allowed in 49 1/3 innings, eight walks, 50 strikeouts and an earned run average of 0.73.

All four pitchers went at least six innings in each start, and in five games they went seven or more innings. That’s important considering that is now rarely done in Atlanta. The big league team’s rotation has been a revolving door this summer, as injuries and ineffectiveness has made it a mess.

Of the 14 games played by Atlanta this month, not one starting pitcher has gone longer than six innings. And the starters have pitched six innings only four times.

Fried closed the series Friday with an unbelievable performance. He allowed just one run on four hits in seven innings, with three walks and 13 strikeouts. In Fried’s last five games of the season, he struck out 50 batters in 31 1/3 innings.

The Braves got Fried from San Diego in the Justin Upton trade, and he has become their top pitching prospect. Fried was the seventh overall pick in the draft in 2012, but Tommy John elbow surgery is the only reason he was available in the trade to Atlanta.

Fried has bounced back and is now once again being compared to Cole Hamels. A lefty who throws 97 mph will be compared to a lot of special pitchers. Fried might be a year away from making it to Atlanta.

Austin Riley might be Atlanta’s future third baseman. The 19-year-old hit .271 this season with 20 home runs and 80 RBI. And while Ronald Acuna missed most of the season with an injury, the Braves believe he could be a five-tool prospect.

Of the 28 players on the Rome roster, 15 were selected in the past two drafts, while four were acquired in trades. For those players, who have been brought in during the rebuilding process, to be at the forefront of a winning team in Low-A is huge for the Braves.

So while Atlanta’s miserable season is coming to an end in two weeks, progress has been made in this rebuilding process. Rome’s championship shows help is on the way.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 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 thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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