As a Braves’ fan, have you ever been curious to see just how good or bad the team has been over the years at developing homegrown talent?… or what about the impact the organization has felt from previous trades or free-agent departures that at the time you thought would be detrimental to the organization’s future?
Well, I certainly have. And it just so happens that ESPN Staff Writer Bradford Doolittle has too, and fortunately he did all the hard work to answer those questions this past Friday, even compiling a power ranking, listing all 30 teams in the majors.
Doolittle’s analysis is incredibly interesting, and there are so many different ways to interpret the data presented in his write-up. But for me, the best part about his piece is that it provides some very valuable evidence in regards to how the Braves have been constructing its rosters over the last 15 or so seasons.
So what Doolittle has done is brilliant. He has taken every current active player in the majors and moved them back to the organization in which they originally entered professional baseball (including prospects). In this exercise, any active player the Braves drafted is now back on the team, although, conversely, any player the Braves have traded for or signed via free agency also goes back to their original team.
But that’s not all. Doolittle then ranked all of those “original” teams, handing out a power rating for each organization based on aspects such as hitting, fielding, starting rotation, and bullpen. Crazy, right?
This week let’s look at Doolittle’s results as they pertain to the Braves. To keep this from being a novel, I’ll release these posts in three parts (lineup, starting rotation and bullpen, with the Braves’ power rating and rankings included in the final post).
We’ll start with the Braves’ lineup…
(To include more players, Doolittle uses the DH in his NL lineups.)
- Ronald Acuna Jr., OF
- Ozzie Albies, 2B
- Freddie Freeman, 1B
- Austin Riley, DH
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Elvis Andrus, 3B
- Andrelton Simmons, SS
- Tyler Flowers, C
- Nick Ahmed, LF
There’s a lot to unpack here, but first, I should probably remind you that these are only active players, so Brian McCann would be in place of Tyler Flowers if he hadn’t retired after the 2019 season. Either way, this lineup shows both how successful the Braves have been at developing their drafted/signed players AND holding on to them. Of the nine players listed in the team’s “original” lineup, five of them are currently on the Braves’ roster heading into the 2020 season (though Flowers played for the White Sox for seven years before coming back to the Braves’ organization).
Guys like Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons may hurt a bit (especially the latter), but thanks to the organization’s consistency when it comes to finding elite talent (ahem… Cristian Pache and Drew Waters), the outfield looks to soon be covered by in-house players. And when it comes to the Simmons’ trade, there are still many that aren’t happy about that deal between the Braves and Angels back in 2015… and understandably so. The Braves gave up Simmons in exchange for pitchers Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis, catcher Jose Briceno, and shortstop Erick Aybar — with only Newcomb amounting to much of anything. So far, Simmons has been worth 14.8 WAR with the Angels (including 10.4 combined in just 2017-18 combined), while the Braves have received just 3.4 WAR from Newcomb and nothing from the other three players (who are no longer on the team).
Ahmed was another one of those guys that never made it to the majors before being traded by the Braves. The former second-round pick (2011) was included in the Justin Upton deal in the winter of 2013 when Atlanta sent Ahmed, recently-retired Martin Prado, pitchers Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill, and infielder Brandon Drury to the Diamondbacks in exchange for the then-25-year-old Upton.
Ahmed has developed into a rather decent big league player since then, posting 2.4-WAR last year with the D’Backs (.254 AVG / 92 wRC+ / 19 HR), and has been with Arizona ever since.
Meanwhile, Upton was a great bat while with the Braves, playing with the team in 2013 and 2014, totaling a combined 4.2 WAR. His best year was arguably his last, when Upton slugged 29 home runs, knocked in 102 runs, and slashed .270/.342/.491 (133 wRC+) in ’14, good for 3.7 WAR (though if not for terrible defense he could’ve been a 5-WAR player that season). Upton is now with the Angel’s, where he has been since midway through the 2017 season, after playing for the Padres and Tigers.
As you can tell, left field hasn’t been a position of strength for the Braves (in terms of developed talent), but they’ve certainly had several successful stopgaps over the years.
Given that Dansby Swanson was acquired via trade with the Diamondbacks, Andrus makes this list at shortstop, as he was another player that was signed and developed by the Braves, but never debuted with the team (topped out at the High-A level). The Braves moved on from Andrus in 2007, trading him and four other minor leaguers for first baseman Mark Teixeira and lefty pitcher Ron Mahay from the Rangers. Three of those five prospects (including Andrus) went on to help the Rangers to a pennant a few years later, as Andrus, starting pitcher Matt Harrison and reliever Neftali Feliz wound up becoming key big league contributors. In fact, Feliz won the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2010, after leading the AL in games-finished (59) and converting 40 saves as a 22-year-old.
Perhaps the Braves should’ve held on to Andrus, given he turned into such a great player. In 11 seasons, Andrus has accumulated 28.4 WAR and maintained a .275 AVG, not to mention elite defense at shortstop, including an average Def WAR of 8.85 during his career. Teixeira was a great player, but the Braves never really benefited much from him, given he was gone after just 157 total games combined over two seasons (2007-08). He wound up with the Yankees in 2009 and, of course, went on to hit 206 more home runs over the next eight seasons, before retiring in 2016.
Swanson still has a ways to go, but it would’ve been nice to have Andrus during all of those years when the Braves were running out guys like Tyler Pastornicky at shortstop. Plus, the Braves missed on Teixeira, giving up three solid prospects (five total) for only a season worth of production from a player that went on to play a huge role in New York.
Overall, the Braves have made some unfortunate mistakes with their lineup over the years, moving on from a few players that perhaps they should’ve held on to. However, I’m more than happy with the core the organization has developed. That so much talent is still on the team is a testament to having several GMs rightfully prioritize player development.
Next, we’ll look at the starting rotation.
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