Unlike the Braves, the Cubs opted to build via bats. Or did they?

In today’s AJC, general manager John Coppolella is quoted as saying his Atlanta Braves will not be driven by need when the MLB draft begins Thursday night. This, I’ll concede, is what you’d expect him to say — even though the Braves have next to no power under contract at any level. “A recipe for disaster,” Coppolella calls drafting for need. Because, as he also says, “needs change.”

The Braves made it clear from the first that their rebuild would center on young pitching. That’s the way the Braves got good in the ’90s and stayed that way for 15 years. It is, however, worth noting that the best team in baseball — a team that underwent a similar rebuild and lost 101 games in 2012 — has risen on the strength of young bats.

Conventional wisdom holds that the Chicago Cubs drafted their hitters and bought/traded for their pitchers. Some of that is true. (Their entire rotation — Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks — started as some other team’s property.) Looking from afar, I’ve wondered: Was the Cubs’ Way better than the Braves’?

But then, as often happens, Baseball Prospectus educated me. In a conversation with BP’s Tim Britton, Jason McLeod — the Cubs’ VP of player development and amateur scouting — was asked about his team’s preference for drafting hitters. Turns out it wasn’t so much preference as happenstance.

Said McLeod: “We were picking No. 6 (overall in 2012) and we had two guys we were on really—Carlos Correa and Albert Almora. We were just shooting for upside there. Coming back with Kris Bryant, that was an easy one in ’13. We spent a lot of time with Brady Aiken that spring and obviously he went No. 1. Kyle (Schwarber) we thought was the best college hitter in that draft. And then last year we came back with Ian Happ. We did like some of the college pitching. Obviously Carson Fulmer we were fans of. Tyler Jay we were a fan of. Those guys went before us.”

Then: “It hasn’t been an aversion so much to picking a pitcher. It’s just the guys that we would consider were gone last year, and the other years we had a lot of position players higher on our board.”

Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant looks on during warm-ups prior to the first inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Monday, June 6, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Think the Cubs would take Erick Aybar for Kris Bryant? (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The shortstop Correa went to the Astros as the No. 1 pick in 2012. The Cubs took Amora, an outfielder who’s hitting .322 in Class AAA. Bryant went No. 2 overall in 2013 — behind pitcher Mark Appel, whom the Astros traded to Philadelphia in the Ken Giles deal and who has a 5.17 ERA in Class AAA. Aiken was taken No. 1 overall by the Astros (them again) in 2014 but famously did not sign. He was re-drafted No. 17 overall by Cleveland last year and is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

Schwarber is a big hitter who lacks a real position but made a splash for the Cubs last season. He’s out for the year after hurting his knee in the season’s first week and undergoing surgery. Jay and Fulmer are pitchers who went sixth and eighth overall, to the Twins and White Sox respectively, in last year’s draft. Both are in the minors. Happ, an infielder, was the No. 9 pick. He’s in Class A.

Among current Cubs regulars, the only homegrown bat drafted by this administration is Bryant, the third baseman. (Utility man Javier Baez was taken in Round 9 in 2011, which was before Theo Epstein’s crew took over.) Left fielder Jorge Soler was signed out of a Cuba as an amateur free agent in 2012. First baseman Anthony Rizzo was drafted by the Red Sox, sent to the Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez trade and, 13 months later, shipped to Chicago for Andrew Cashner. Shortstop Addison Russell came from the A’s in the Jeff Samardzija deal.

Catcher Miguel Montero came in a trade with the Diamondbacks for nobody you’ve heard of. Center fielder Dexter Fowler was drafted by the Rockies, traded to the Astros and sent to the Cubs for reliever Dan Straily, who’d arrived in the Samardzija deal, and infielder Luis Valbuena; Fowler re-signed with Chicago this spring as a free agent. Catcher David Ross, right fielder Jason Heyward and second baseman Ben Zobrist signed as free agents.

The point (I think) being: The draft is a wonderful tool — and, in the grand scheme, wonderfully cheap — but you cannot rely on just the draft. If you’re in rebuild mode, you have to try everything. You must make lots of moves, be they picks or trades or signings. The Cubs had enough money and resources to construct a superb rotation, although nobody in the world expected Arrieta, who had a 5.76 ERA over 3 1/2 seasons with the Orioles when he was traded to Chicago in 2013, to become what he has. Meaning: It also takes luck.

The Braves have gotten the make-many-moves part right; their transaction rate has been dizzying. They’ve also built the top-ranked farm system around those young pitchers. What they haven’t yet found are bats. What we can’t yet know is if they’ll be lucky.

Super fun reading:

A day to remember in a motley Braves’ season.

The Braves used nine pitchers in 13 innings. Still lost.

Why the Braves buying a draft pick is kind of a big deal.

What, if anything, can the Braves still make of this season?

The Braves are 3-3 under Snitker. They’ll take that.

Now hear this: The Braves’ plan has not failed.

So how are the Phillies 24-17 and the Braves 10-30?

A fascinating podcast sheds light on the Braves’ John Coppolella.

The Braves can now pick a manager who fits.

The Braves fire Fredi Gonzalez, and it had to happen.

The Braves stink. Their young pitchers do not.

Reader Comments 0

10 comments
slydawg
slydawg

Liberty Media will soon sell the team. They are making the asset more attractive by shrinking the payroll, but providing a new venue that has the potential to stay sold out for the long haul. The Braves are a regional attraction, since there are no a lot of major league baseballs within a close distance, except Houston, Tampa, or Miami.

SouthernHope5
SouthernHope5

I'm so tired of apologists (not you M. Bradley, others) saying that there's no need to be upset about this season because this was *planned* and 'expected."


Nobody -- and i mean NOBODY -- works to build a team that is on pace to lose more games than any team in modern history.  Do you realize how hard it is to hold a record like this in baseball? This is a flop on the scale of grand flopness. There is no plan behind a team that is on the cusp of being the single worst team in the history of baseball.


And what really kills me is that Liberty Media is whistling their way to the bank.... 

58Supersports
58Supersports

Thanks Mark! I hope Braves take Lewis OF from Mercer with 3rd pick if he is still there...or the kid from Tenn. OF, C.


Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

The Braves are rated 29th out of 30 teams in revenue generated by their local Cable Broadcasting rights. Only the Oakland A's contract is close to being as bad. But the topper for the Braves is their rights agreement with Fox Sports South does not expire until 2032. Thanks Terry for putting the Braves behind the financial 8 ball.

E983
E983

I agree with you to a point Mark but we no longer have Ted Turner as an owner. The Cubs, Red Sox and Dodgers (teams with money) can play the FA market and carry large payrolls. Liberty? Let's just say they are playing the small market game. Oh well. Look at Kansas City, a small market team, that took the World Series in 2015. It took Dayton Moore 7 years before he got the Royals to the playoffs. They did spend some money this past offseason on players and let go of some prospects last year before the trade deadline to boost the pitching staff (Cueto) and bats (Zobrist).

The Braves can get to the playoffs by 2018 only if they make a few deals, including signing a couple of free agents, to boost the lineup. If Liberty doesn't get into the free agent market then it's going to be a lot of nights with a lot of empty seats in Cobb County a few years after 2019.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@Edgar The Atlanta small market excuse it a load of Cr#p. When you take in the metro areas Atlanta is a top ten population center in the US. Several Fortune 500 corporations call Atlanta home.And the Braves are more of a regional draw in the entire south. The real reason Liberty and the front office cry small market is because the main Idiot In Charge Terry McGuirk undersold their local cable rights by around a Billion dollars ,that's right a Billion not a million.

Kenny Powers
Kenny Powers

The Braves way is take whatever pitcher is available........I will bet you that they take a pitcher #3.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

So Mark , what you are saying is it will take 2 or 3 more years before anyone knows whether Hart/Coppy's way of collecting young pitchers is right or wrong. Also,  I do not see the Braves ownership spending hundreds of millions on free agent pitchers or hitters ( Cubs Way) so the Braves way will be slower by developing pitching prospects ,and possibly trading them for bats.

So if you believe Coppy (will not draft for needs) ,look for Hart/ Coppy to draft the best available high school pitcher with their top picks and maybe a high school or college position player in the later rounds.It appears that there is no pressure being put on the Braves front office to win right away , after all the team is a real estate investment for Liberty Media, so Hart/Coppy can ignore the angst of the fans and the criticism of the media and take their time (2018 ,2019...... to put a contender on the field in Cobb.