Braves: The turnaround of the organization’s farm system has been impressive

Mike Soroka Top-100 rank is just the beginning

For at least the last four seasons, the Braves’ minor league system has featured some of the best talent in baseball as well as several top-5 prospect classes. The organization has drafted well and developed even better — two must-haves for a mid-market franchise usually hesitant to hand out the big contract. And the results have been visible, as the team rose from its ugly rebuild and back to its winning ways in 2018 with prospects like Ronald Acuna Jr and Ozzie Albies — then in 2019… Mike Soroka and Max Fried.

The system has flowed beautifully, even with a new GM in November of 2017, when the Braves hired Alex Anthopoulos, who could’ve easily screwed all of this up. But thankfully, he didn’t, deciding rather to hold on to his upper-level talent while only signing short-term free-agent deals, teaching Braves’ fans exactly what it takes to maintain a self-sustained organization with an infinite amount of flexibility. It’s almost as if Anthopoulos was built for the Braves.

At first glance, this organization looks destined for the long game, especially now that the future of the franchise doesn’t merely feel like it rests solely on the shoulders of the team’s now-acclaimed veteran — 30-year-old Freddie Freeman. Other stars have been born, and there are more currently in the making; however, it’s easy to overlook just how successful this organization has become at drafting, signing, and developing talent. As we’ve seen before… not every hyped-up young player morphs into the next franchise superstar. And with prospects, for every single success story… there are multiple ones that fail, though in the last fours years those failures have rarely come for the Braves, as the organization has dealt with far less flops or busts than at the start of the 2010s.

So let’s look back at the prospects that have flopped for the Braves, starting with the 2011 prospect class (the first year MLB Pipeline started forming team rankings) and ending with the 2016 class (roughly the last Braves’ class that isn’t made up mostly of current prospects). Granted, there are still several potential busts from the 2017 class to the current one, but it’s interesting to see just how much better the organization has gotten with its talent over the years.

I’ve also included each player’s career WAR total (via Baseball Reference), though as you can see… some never made it to the majors.

2011 — Julio… and not much else

  • #3. Randall Delgado, RHP (2.3 WAR) 
  • #4. Christian Bethancourt, C/OF/P (-0.9 WAR)
  • #5. Carlos Perez, LHP (0.0 WAR)
  • #6. Edward Salcedo, 3B/OF (0.0 WAR)
  • #7. Matt Lipka, OF (0.0 WAR)
  • #8. Tyler Pastornicky, SS (-1.8 WAR)
  • #10. Zeke Spruill, RHP (-0.4 WAR)

Class takeaway: This was the year the then 20-year-old — and then Braves’ no. 1 prospect — Teheran eventually made his MLB debut for the Braves, winding up with five total appearances in the majors during that first cup of coffee, before spending the next ten seasons in Atlanta as the team’s annual Opening Day starter. The problem was that other than Teheran, the team’s prospect class was filled with busts (at least within the top-10). The only other prospects from the 2011 class to do much in the majors during their careers were reliever Arodys Vizcaino (no. 2) and shortstop Andrelton Simmons (no. 10). Shortstop Tyler Pastornicky did eventually post a 76-game season for the Braves in 2012, though he would play his final big league game just two seasons later.

Biggest bust: To be the 35th overall pick by the Braves in the 2010 draft, as well as land on several Braves’ top-10 lists, outfielder Matt Lipka had an incredibly underwhelming pro career. In fact, he never made it. Lipka, now 27-years-old, has still yet to reach The Show, having played ten seasons in the minors, sporting a career .249 AVG and 31 total home runs. He’s now playing in the Yankees’ organization, where he hit .262 with four homers in 89 games across Double-A and Triple-A in 2019.

2012 — Is Sims the next Julio…??

  • #3. Lucas Sims, RHP (-0.2 WAR)
  • #4. Sean Gilmartin, LHP (1.3 WAR)
  • #5. J.R. Graham, RHP (-0.4 WAR)
  • #6. Joe Terdoslavich, 1B/OF (-0.3 WAR)
  • #8. Edward Salcedo, 3B (0.0 WAR)
  • #10. Todd Cunningham, OF (0.0 WAR)

Class takeaway: Just one year after Teheran made his MLB debut, the Braves drafted righty Lucas Sims in the 1st round (21st overall) out of high school, hoping to replenish a rather thin farm system. Unfortunately, after 5 1/2 years in the minors, Sims never developed into the top-of-the-rotation starter the Braves had hoped for. During the 2017 season, Sims made ten starts in the majors but pitched to a poor 5.62 ERA. He was traded to the Reds the next season in the deal that brought Adam Duvall to Atlanta. Other than lefty Alex Wood (no. 7), the entire top-10 of the 2012 class flopped.

Biggest bust: Sims would be a natural choice here, given that he was a first-rounder, but I’m going to go with Joe Terdoslavich, a 6th-round selection and one who was projected to be an everyday slugger for the Braves as a prospect. And if you look at what he did as a young minor leaguer, the projections seemed fair. As a 22-year-old in High-A, Terdoslavich posted a .867 OPS and slugged 20 home runs with 82 RBI in 131 games during the 2011 season. Two years later, with the Braves’ Triple-A club, Terdoslavich was even better with a .926 OPS and 18 homers in 85 games, before making his debut. He never could carry that success to the majors, though. In 92 big league games across three seasons, Terdoslavich has a career .620 OPS and just one home run. To me, that’s quite a bust. He was with the Mets during Spring Training this year.

2013 — The year of the failed pitcher

  • #4. Jason Hursh, RHP (-0.2 WAR)
  • #5. Mauricio Cabrera, RHP (0.8 WAR)
  • #6. Cody Martin, RHP (-0.7 WAR)
  • #9. Aaron Northcraft, RHP (0.0 WAR)

Class takeaway: Save for Sims, no player within the top-10 of the Braves’ prospect class from 2013 has even played in the majors in the last two seasons. Sims being the no. 1 Braves’ prospect that season should tell you all you need to know.

Biggest bust: The early reports coming out of Oklahoma State were exciting, so the Braves took righty, Jason Hursh, in the 1st round in 2013. Hursh had just fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and missed his entire 2012 collegiate season, but according to scouts in the industry, his mechanics were even better than pre-surgery, and his velocity hadn’t seemed to be impacted by the layoff. Hursh was a 3-pitch pitcher with excellent control and projected as no. 3 or 4 starter in the majors, but his pro career took a very different path. In fact, after almost 60 minor league starts, Hursh never made a start in the majors and has been used strictly as a reliever with the Braves, tallying 11 appearances and an 8.25 ERA in his big league career. He was even demoted to Double-A Mississippi in 2019… as a 27-year-old.

2014 — The monumental flop

  • #6. Rio Ruiz, 3B (-0.3 WAR)
  • #8. Braxton Davidson (0.0 WAR)

Class takeaway: Led by infielder Jose Peraza (now quite successful with the Reds) and righty Mike Foltynewicz, the 2014 class seems to have been the turning point for the Braves (the class also included Max Fried and Ozzie Albies). A lot of faith had remained for Sims, as he was within the team’s top-5, but a few excellent signings in the international market, plus a few beneficial trades and draft picks, were starting to boost the talent level found in the Braves’ farm system. Still, compared to recent prospect classes, there was plenty of work left to be done.

Biggest bust: Hands down the biggest bust has to be OF/1B Braxton Davidson — the Braves’ first-round pick (32nd overall) in 2014. The hype on Davidson was overblown, though it took many of us several years to discover we were all wrong. A 50-grade hitter, 50-grade power, and a surprisingly solid arm made many compare Davidson to Anthony Rizzo leading up to the ’14 Draft, especially considering those grades were projected to increase tremendously as he developed into his 6-foot-3 frame. However, in 5 minor league seasons, Davidson has hit just .213 and struck out in 41.5% of his at-bats. This may be one of the Braves’ biggest flops yet.

2015 — The year of the failed pitcher (pt. 2)

  • #4. Aaron Blair, RHP (-2.0 WAR)
  • #5. Touki Toussaint, RHP (-0.3 WAR)
  • #7. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP (-0.4 WAR)
  • #8. Manny Banuelos, LHP (-0.6 WAR)

Class takeaway: It was the year the Braves acquired Dansby Swanson and drafted Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka, as well as traded for Sean Newcomb (plus Albies started surging on the farm), but don’t let all of those key core players distract from the fact that the Braves had — in hindsight — missed on several pitchers. Aaron Blair came over from the Diamondbacks in the winter of 2015, having posted a strong season in Arizona’s farm system, but the former 1st-round pick quickly fizzled out once with the Braves. Overall, the 2015 class features a lot of players that are crucial contributors now, though the top-end of the group really could’ve turned out better.

Biggest bust: It may still be too early to say, but Touki Toussaint has not pitched like a 1st-round pick (16th overall). His 5.62 ERA with the Braves in 2019 pushes his career big league ERA to 4.97, thanks to his consistent struggles with control. Touki, who turns 24 in June, had a reliable Spring Training this year, allowing just two hits and two runs in 8.2 innings, but I don’t see him becoming a starter anytime soon… which makes his draft pick hurt. Good thing it wasn’t the Braves’ pick.

2016 — The year the class begins to form

  • #6. Kevin Maitan, SS (0.0 WAR)
  • #9. Travis Demeritte, 2B (-1.2 WAR)

Class takeaway: Now, we’re beginning to get into the main contributors to the Braves’ current crop of talent. The 2016 class was highlighted by Swanson, Albies, Newcomb, Allard (now with the Rangers), and Ian Anderson as the organization’s nos. 1-5 prospects. However, no. 6, Kevin Maitan, was one of 13 prospects removed from the Braves’ farm system as part of the team’s punishment regarding Coppy-Gate. Maitan, now in the Angels’ system, is still just 20-years-old so it’s way too early to say much for him.

Biggest bust: The Braves traded Travis Demeritte during the 2019 season as part of the deal that also sent top-tier pitching prospect Joey Wentz to the Tigers in exchange for reliever Shane Greene. Demeritte was a 1st-round pick by the Rangers back in 2013, and the Braves didn’t give up much when they sent Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarez to Texas in 2016 to acquire him, so him busting doesn’t hurt as bad as many of the others listed here. Demeritte, now 25, never developed enough contact, though he had some excellent power while in the minors. After hitting .222 and .231 in 2018 and 2017, respectively, in Double-A Mississippi, Demeritte posted a .286 AVG with 20 home runs in 96 games before being moved to Detroit. Who knows, maybe he turns out to be something with the Tigers.

The 2016 class is where we start to see most of today’s talent. In 2017, you could list Luiz Gohara as a bust, given he has only totaled 49 major league innings since making his debut in 2017 (he was invited to the Angels’ spring camp this year), but even with him, the bust isn’t very significant, considering the Braves gave up just Mallex Smith and Shae Simmons for the right-hander.

As alluded to above, it’s still too early to determine any busts from the Braves’ current class. Guys like Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson could very well turn out to be non-contributors, but even that seems like a premature assessment, given Wright had such a strong Spring Training this year and the fact that Wilson could evolve into something more as a reliever. Each new season will bring more clarity when it comes to who the next busts will be, but regardless I believe it’s safe to say that this organization has taken massive steps in improving its farm system, which for a mid-market team like the Braves, is the perfect way to maintain its current contention window.

 

 

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