Stop me if you’ve heard it before: the Braves are hoarding high-upside prospects.
Arodys Vizcaino. Tyrell Jenkins. Daniel Winkler. Aaron Kurcz. Max Fried. Mallex Smith. Dustin Peterson. Manny Banuelos. Ricardo Sanchez. Mike Foltynewicz. Rio Ruiz. Andrew Thurman. Jose Briceno. Jordan Paroubeck. Matt Wisler. Touki Toussaint.
Vizcaino, who is set to make his debut for the Atlanta squad upon coming off the suspended list early this month, was the first addition of the offseason to the Braves’ Top 30 Prospects list, and he was soon joined by a stunning amount of young talent. While it took moving some of the big league club’s marquee pieces, this well-documented facelift has revitalized what had become a weak minor league pipeline.
Fear not, Braves fans; the future is bright. Blinding, even.
This is not to say the Braves’ farm system was completely devoid of talent when Frank Wren was at the helm. Despite the team’s impressive offseason imports, multi-positional wunderkind Jose Peraza is still able to claim the title of the team’s top prospect. Rome’s diminutive SS Ozhaino Albies has emerged as an Altuve-esque hitter, and former top draft picks RHP Lucas Sims and OF Braxton Davidson still dot the Top 10. When supplemented by this impressive wave of new talent, however, these incumbent Braves are facing a much better situation than they were a few short months ago.
Fotlynewicz has graduated from the list after accumulating major league service time, despite his current residence in Gwinnett. The same could be said for catcher Christian Bethancourt, who was on the list to begin the season; both of them will likely find themselves back at Turner Field this season. Wisler is firmly slotted into Atlanta’s rotation, and has shown positive growth even in his first three starts. Banuelos is now in the fray, and Vizcaino is not far behind. As more of these prospects graduate to the major league level, they are no longer leaving a trail of mediocrity in their wake. From Gwinnett all the way down through rookie ball, this organization is stocked from top to bottom. To put in perspective just how deep the talent runs, the team’s #29 prospect, Carolina RHP Steve Janas, has a 0.49 ERA. That decimal is in the right place.
While Banuelos was named as the sole All-Star for the AAA Gwinnett squad, another of their current players — Mallex Smith, who was promoted on June 24 — was one of four AA Mississippi Braves to make the Southern League All-Star Game (along with Tyrell Jenkins, Jorge Reyes, and Chris O’Dowd, who was ineligible to play due to a PED suspension). The High-A affiliate Carolina Mudcats were represented in their own ASG by SS Johan Camargo and OF Dustin Peterson. Meanwhile, the Class A Rome Braves sent five — five! — players to their ASG in OF Joseph Daris, 3B Jordan Edgerton, LHP Kyle Kinman, and RHP Caleb Beech, in addition to the aforementioned Albies (who also made the roster for the Futures Game). Over these four levels of the organization, that makes 12 All-Stars.
With Banuelos now entrenched in Atlanta’s pitching staff, will the other 11 ascend to the Majors? Not likely. It’s not even likely that half will, considering six of them are not among the team’s Top 30 (which is pretty stunning fact itself). But as the old saying goes, there is safety in numbers. And the numbers are in Atlanta’s favor.
While Braves appear to be leaning towards pitching over hitting, it is important to remember that pitching is leverage. By stockpiling high-upside arms throughout all levels of the minors, the Braves could easily attach some of their homegrown or newly-acquired talent to a package which would bring them back a Major League-ready bat. Don’t go buying your Max Povse or Garrett Fulenchek jerseys yet; with this incarnation of the Braves’ front office, the only thing to know is that you never know.
So what of the future? June’s Amateur Draft netted a bevy of young talent as well, including first-round pitchers Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka.
Updated prospect lists will be released after the draft signing period is closed, and you can bet they will be on it. New international signees Derian Cruz and Cristian Pache could also find themselves in consideration, and, with rumors swirling that the Braves intend to go all in for the 2016 international signing period, their presence in the international market is sure to grow substantially. Andrelton Simmons and Ozhaino Albies grew up in Curacao watching Andruw Jones in a Braves’ uniform; in 10 years, the Braves may have prospects saying they grew up watching Simmons & Albies.
The retooling of the Braves was not limited to the roster, as one-third of the full-time amateur scouting department turned over. Former Braves scout Roy Clark was brought back into the mix as a special assistant to the General Manager. Gordon Blakeley was brought over from the Yankees. Cross-checker Brian Bridges became the full-time scouting director, and one of his first orders of business was to sign Greg Morhardt, the scout who discovered Mike Trout. Tom Battista, who signed Freddie Freeman and Kris Medlen, also came back on board. So when looking towards the future, the organization looked to the past — to re-establish the Braves Way.
Can they work their magic again? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, the light at the end of tunnel for the Braves has not only grown brighter, but considerably deeper as well.