Two years ago, the Atlanta Braves had only one player on the Baseball America top 100. It was Jose Peraza, who was traded later that summer to the Los Angeles Dodgers in one of the main trades that has helped rebuilt Atlanta’s minor league system.
That was it. Not one Braves pitching prospect cracked the top 100 in 2015. Lucas Sims was Atlanta’s top pitching prospect then, but he’s not even in the Braves’ top 15 in most lists now.
The difference in Atlanta’s farm system compared to two years ago is like night and day. The front office made the decision the core group at the big league level didn’t work, so the franchise traded those player away for a chance at future success.
The Braves didn’t have a choice. Failed drafts and missed international prospects made the farm system a mess. So, trades and then better drafts had to fix what was broken.
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And now, the Braves are back at the top. Keith Law of ESPN rated Atlanta’s farm system as the best in baseball. The top 100 lists of others prove the Braves are loaded with talent.
The Braves had six prospects on the MLB.com top 100, while there were eight on the Baseball America list. Law listed nine different Atlanta prospects on his top 100, while John Sickels of Minor League Ball.com had an incredible 10 Braves prospects out of his top 100.
That’s an amazing turnaround in two quick years. You could say the Braves are loaded with potential talent.
The pitching is at the forefront of the process. Six different pitchers made the top four lists, led by Kolby Allard. He was Atlanta’s top pick in 2015. Ian Anderson, the Braves’ No. 1 pick last year, is on all four lists. Mike Soroka, Sean Newcomb, Max Fried and Luiz Gohara are the other four.
All Braves minor league pitching prospects wear red jerseys at spring training, and there will be more talented pitchers there this year than there have been in years. The competition should be tremendous, which will only help in the development of the pitchers.
Think about what Alabama does in football with linemen. The Crimson Tide never stop recruiting players for the lines of scrimmage. And it’s understandable that when a freshman lineman arrives in Tuscaloosa, he’s likely a bit overwhelmed at the competition.
That’s what has made Alabama special. We’ve heard for years how great the Tide’s practices are, and considering how many five-star linemen are on campus, who should be surprised. It pushes those prospects to get better, since they know they’ll be passed over by someone just as good or better than they are if they don’t show their talent.
The same theory will be in place in Florida this spring with the Braves. The pitchers are going to look to their right and to their left and know someone else will be pushing for their spot, and if they slip, they’ll be passed in a quick second.
That competition will be good for Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair, two former top pitching prospects who the Braves traded for. They’ve been a bit of a disappointment so far, and they’re likely headed back to Triple-A to begin the season. But they will be used as an example. You better do well, or someone will take your job.
If Wisler and Blair don’t rebound this season, they’ll be passed by someone else.
The young pitchers, like Anderson, who are coming into their first spring training will likely be humbled a bit. They’ll think they’re good, but then they’ll see how many good ones are around them and will understand how well they must do to break through.
The competition is tremendous, and it’s one reason the Braves are on the upswing. Not all prospects will make it. Some will get hurt. Some will get traded. And some will fizzle out. The test of having other talented players around them will be their first hurdle.
Atlanta’s roster is better, but the talent on the farm may be the story. The Braves are in the best shape they’ve been in for years, and they’ve come a long way in two quick years.
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.