As noted in Monday’s AJC, Keith Law of ESPN rates the Atlanta Braves’ farm system as the sixth-best. That represents a substantial jump from last winter, when the same Law ranked the Braves’ chain 22nd. Writes Law:
(The Braves) were a bottom-5 system when the offseason started, but six trades later, they’ve built up a stash of prospects that makes up for five years of execrable drafts and very little production from their Latin American efforts. Ten of their top 12 prospects have appeared on at least one of my past three top-100 rankings, including six this year.
In the grand scheme, this would seem to be a good thing. The Braves had gotten thin — we can all agree on this, even those among us who aren’t sure the major-league team needed a tear-down — in the minors. This offseason’s flurry of trades have addressed that. Six of Law’s top 10 Braves prospects were acquired post-Wren.
The trouble with farm systems is that, by definition, they deal in the unknown. (If these were demonstrably great players, they’d be in the majors already.) As Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus has noted, even those chains rated the best of a particular year haven’t necessarily yielded boffo down-the-road results. Miller studied the Brewers (best in 2004), the Angels (best in 2005) and the Diamondbacks (best in 2006) and found:
Each year we do this, we get a surer sense of what a club with the best farm system in baseball can expect: Around 100 wins above replacement, most of it at sub-market prices, peaking three to seven years after the rankings come out, but some remnants of that value lasting into the next decade … But we also have a surer sense of what that club can’t expect: A dynasty, a run of dominance, or even a single World Series appearance.
And those, we underscore, were the chains ranked No. 1. The Braves are No. 6. Or are they?
Again we turn to Baseball Prospectus. (I know I’ve become a bit of a shill for the publication, but I learn something every time I click on the site.) Mark Anderson, Jeff Moore and the BP Prospect Staff rank the refurbished Braves’ system 19th and include only two Braves farmhands — Lucas Sims at No. 54 and Jose Peraza at No. 92 — in their top 101. (Here we note that Sims and Peraza were acquired under Wren.)
So you’re asking: What about Tyrell Jenkins, acquired from St. Louis in the Jason Heyward trade? What of Max Fried, who came from San Diego in the Justin Upton deal? Or Mike Foltynewicz and Rio Ruiz, imported from Houston for Evan Gattis? All of these made Law’s top 100. Why aren’t they in BP’s top 101?
Baseball Prospectus offers this rationale:
Perhaps no system in baseball is more reliant on potential, but there is significant distance between current and future skill throughout the top 10 … If talent trumps all, the Braves are now positioned strongly to move up this list.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t read that as an indictment. What you want in your minor-leaguers is potential. (Not much point in acquiring guys who top out in Class AA, is there?) At least in the minor leagues, the Braves are betting on talent, which is the only way to bet. There’s no guarantee that all or even most of these prospects will make it, and there’s no assurance the major-league Braves will win big even if most do, but still: The approach is sound.