The Braves show why building a farm system is a volume business

Lucas Sims in his big-league debut. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Here’s why you build a farm system. Here’s where every move you make, even the little ones, is designed to bring back something – a player, a draft pick, an international signing slot – that could someday become an on-field asset. Here’s why, even if your minor leaguers are rated baseball’s best, you keep adding to the stack. Because there’s no such thing as too much talent.

The Braves shipped the guy who’d been their No. 1 prospect – and who in June 2015 was the first player drafted – to Triple-A. For some franchises, this would be a major reversal. For this franchise, it opened a big-league slot for their No. 2 prospect. And, lest we forget, the man who made Dansby Swanson board the Gwinnett shuttle also is a product, albeit a much less heralded one, of these minor leagues.

This isn’t to suggest that Johan Camargo will, over the fullness of time, be a better player than Swanson. (Lest we forget, Swanson looked pretty spiffy in the bigs last August/September.) This isn’t to suggest that Ozzie Albies, the newly minted second baseman, won’t team with Swanson for the five or six years as the slick up-the-middle tandem we’d all envisioned. It’s still early days, as they say in England. But there’s a greater point here, and that point is:

Volume.

Not every prospect becomes a real player. Most don’t. The only inoculation against inherent uncertainty is having lots of prospects. “The more you have,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said Wednesday, “the better your odds.”

Which isn’t to say that the Braves don’t want the absolute best prospects they can find. Coppolella again: “We always prioritize quality over quantity. We are going to be a championship team because of quality.”

Anyone who happened to watch the Gwinnett Braves play Friday night in Syracuse couldn’t have helped but be struck by their first three hitters: Albies, the No. 19 prospect according to MLB Pipeline; Ronald Acuna, the No. 8, and Swanson, No. 4 in preseason. Given that this Braves’ rebuild in still in its third year, that’s impressive. But it’s also heartening that Camargo, who wasn’t ranked in the Braves’ top 30 in February, has become a big-league starter. Some surprises are nice surprises.

If we look back on the greatest run the Braves have known, we concede that big-name prospects played a major part in those 14 consecutive first-place finishes. But if we go back to the late ’80s, we wouldn’t have guessed that David Justice (Round 4, 1985) and Ron Gant (Round 4, 1983) and Mark Lemke (Round 22, 1983) and even John Smoltz (Round 22 by Detroit in 1985) would cut wider swaths than Derek Lilliquist (sixth overall pick, 1987) or Tyler Houston (second overall, 1989).

In 1990, Steve Avery was Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect. He was the third overall pick in 1988. He was MVP of the 1991 NLCS and, if you’d been forced to guess back then, seemed the member of Team Worst to First most apt to wind up in Cooperstown. He didn’t make it. But Smoltz, the 574th pick of his class, did. So did Tom Glavine, the 47th overall pick in 1984.

Next January, Chipper Jones will be the second 1-1 pick to make the Hall of Fame. What we forget is that the Braves had the 1-2 pick in 1991, the year after Chipper. They were ecstatic to snag Mike Kelly, who the Braves believed would be their center fielder of the future. Turned out their CF of the future was a 16-year-old from Curacao who signed in 1993. (Andruw Jones, for late tuners-in.)

Moral of our story: As much as we might try to project the career arc of prospects, we’re always going to be fooled. Somebody will be worse than expected, but somebody else could be better. It’s those somebody elses who make volume the only way to go. We mentioned the top three Gwinnett hitters from Friday night, but the G-Braves’ starting catcher (and No. 8 hitter) that night was Kade Scivicque. He arrived in the dump of a trade that sent Erick Aybar to Detroit. You get what you can where/when you can get it.

Regarding young pitchers, Braves president John Hart is fond of saying, “It takes 10 to get one.” The ratio for position players isn’t a whole lot better, but there’s no way to sustain a winning big-league club that doesn’t involve a thriving farm system. Five pertinent contemporary examples: Astros, Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees. Perennial example: Cardinals.

This Braves’ regime has made an incredibly bright start. There’s serious talent at every minor-league level, which wasn’t the case in October 2014. Swanson goes down, but Albies comes up. Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair fizzle, but Sean Newcomb and now Lucas Sims get the call and acquit themselves nicely. The more you have, the better your odds. The Braves’ odds of getting good very soon keep growing shorter.

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27 comments
vaebam
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Starksy
Starksy

Perhaps you can tell from the tone of these responses that your readers have grown weary of Braves cheerleaders and "how about our farm system!" people.

TideDawg
TideDawg

If you can't buy into what the Braves are doing, well.......you need a better understanding of how to build a team when you started with practically nothing. The Braves have 4 or 5 prize rookies on the team now that have earned the right to get a shot at the Bigs. If only 2 make it, all they have to do is bring up 4 or 5 more and maybe 2 or 3 of those will make it. It's a process that can only be followed if they have abundant talent in the minors. In the Sept. call up there will be 4 or 5 rookies that will stick and the others only will need more seasoning. It does puzzle me that the young pitchers(Sims & Newcomb) walk too many rather than going after the hitter. The hitters are working the young pitchers rather than the pitchers working the hitters. Too many homeruns when the young guys are ahead in the count.....that shouldn't happen. If they're ahead in the count hitters know exactly what the pitcher will throw and they know it will probably be in the strike zone. You've heard the announcers say he needs to pitch more inside. Why? Because the part of the bat from the trademark to the end of the handle doesn't make solid contact, plus it's the smallest part of the bat and hitters like to extend. IF a hitter can pull his hands in and get the barrel on the ball...he just beat you on that pitch. More power to him, it doesn't happen often. Pitchers go to their favorite pitch when behind.....hitters ahead in the count look for it.

#41
#41

Great! Just great! We have volume in the farm system! That's real exciting Mark. Braves fans: Our team's a joke, but we have volume.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

After reading more comments about the Braves lack of any moves at the deadline , and Mark Bradley's defense of it"Braves make no moves at deadline and that's just fine". And now this column about stockpiling prospects in the minors, it has become apparent to me that Coppy needs to move on to another position. Coppy seems to be satisfied with having one of the best farm systems in baseball. But your job description is not director of the Braves farm system, Coppy is GM of the Atlanta Braves. Coppy seems to be content to have the MLB team lose around 90 games again this year,and maybe next year too.He gives lip service about putting a competitive team on the field , but does nothing to advance his team , the Atlanta Braves. Maybe MLB gives a trophy for the best minor league system in baseball, but I don't think this is the award should be the goal for Coppy and Hart . The goal should be winning as many MLB games as you can. Coppy seems almost relieved that the Braves have fallen out of any chance of making the playoffs. He can now sit back and wait....and wait .... for those prospects 

DrTruth
DrTruth

Mark, this is really beneath you.  I'm personally disappointed and embarrassed for you.  You have your head so far up The Johns' exhaust ports that you have no inkling of journalistic objectivity left in you when writing about the Braves.  It's like you're on the Braves payroll and writing their media propaganda instead of covering sports for the AJC.


This piece is about Hart & Coppy building a farm system when a "depleted" one existed when they arrived:


"This Braves’ regime has made an incredibly bright start. There’s serious talent at every minor-league level, which wasn’t the case in October 2014. "


But then you use Lucas Sims, Johan Camargo, Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna as "proof" to support your argument that Hart & Coppy have built a farm system that is now starting to pay off and "The Braves’ odds of getting good very soon keep growing shorter."


Don't claim ignorance because I know that you know these guys are all products of Frank Wren's farm system, signed under his tenure:


Lucas Sims - 2012

Johan Camargo - 2010

Ozzie Albies - 2013

Ronald Acuna -2014


Did you bother to mention that above? No.  Was that an intentional omission on your part.  Probably, but only you know for sure.  In fact, you don't just omit key facts like this, but you directly give Hart & Coppy credit for Albies & Acuna when discussing their Syracuse game:


"Given that this Braves’ rebuild in still in its third year, that’s impressive."


This is simply a disgusting display of overt butt-kissing and a misleading twisting of facts to justify your 3-yr unyielding cheerleading for the Hart/Coppy Regime.  You're better than this.  At least you used to be.  What happened to your journalistic integrity?  


Perhaps it's time you retire.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

Volume of prospects to guarantee Braves future success, Really? The farm full of prospects could have been used to acquire Chris Sale before the 2017 season and he would have been under team control until after the 2019 season ($ 39 million over 3 years) . The red sox gave up prospects currently #1 Yoan Moncada .282 BA  12 HR 36 RBI at AAA  currently batting .105 with 1HR and 6 RBI with the White Sox. #3 Mike Kopech currently 7-7 in AA with a 3.25 ERA, # 20 Alex Basabe  .218 BA 5 HR 30 RBI at high A. and unranked Prospect Victor Diaz 0-1 14.25 ERA at high A. So Hart and Coppy could have dealt the Braves #1 Swanson, # 3 Allard , # 20 Dustin Peterson and heck give them Aaron Blair or any other Braves prospect between 20 -30 instead of an unranked prospect. It would have been at a high cost at the time , but you never know how prospects will turn out at the MLB level. And for this price the Braves would have Sale at the top of their rotation until the end of the 2019 season.And they would still have #1 Acuna, #2 Albies #4 Wright #5 Soroka, #6 Maitan #7 anderson #8 Gohara etc etc on the farm. But Coppy chose to give up on Sale and sign Big Sexy Bartolo for $12.5 million ,500K more than Sales 2017 salary.

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Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

Hey Mark,

according to John Hart Braves Guru of the Re-Build it takes 10 pitching prospects to get 1 good MLB pitcher. Then why the reluctance to trade any of these 10 to 1 longshots for an established MLB pitcher. If you trade 3 of these 10 to 1 prospects for a MLB #1 or #2 starter , does this not improve the odds to 3 to 1 instead of 10 to 1.

sea8491
sea8491

Mr. Bradley, only one outing but sims was impressive.  Camargo is impressive and all the more reason to bring up many youngsters immediately to determine what the Braves have.  Bring Allard, Sorka, Acuna and others to Atlanta now.  Just think if the Braves had owners that cared about winning, another wards, signing one or two high quality free agents.  The rebuild would be much shorter


DrTruth
DrTruth

"Matt Wisler and Aaron Boone fizzle..."  Any relation to Daniel Boone?

thebrandguytim
thebrandguytim

Still waiting for a column from you that criticizes the Braves lack of making a move from the trade deadline. But since you're in the tank for the Braves, you can't be objective, so I'm not holding my breath!!

khd713
khd713

@thebrandguytim Well you never said which move the Braves should have made. Was it the Matt Adams for Mike Trout deal? Phillips for Judge? Teheran for Scherzer? Seriously, what move was it that the Braves should have made that they didn't?

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@khd713 @thebrandguytim How about this move,

Allard#3, Muller#13 and Dustin Peterson #16 to the A's for Sonny Gray. Before you say the Yankees gave up a better package #4 ,#8 and #12 realize the Yanks #4 and #12 both have had major surgery this year.

khd713
khd713

@Buschleaguer @khd713 @thebrandguytim Who says they didn't make that offer? The point is, the original poster has no idea what the Braves did or did not attempt to do, so unless he has that information it's pretty stupid to suggest they should be criticized. 

DrTruth
DrTruth

@khd713  Can't you read?  He's saying they should be criticized FOR THE LACK OF MAKING A MOVE at the trade deadline.  


That's a RESULTS-BASED criticism, not a PROCESS-BASED criticism.


Of course they deserve criticism for doing NOTHING after Coppy has run around for 3 years saying, "We're trying to get better every day.  We want to win NOW!"  And then he sits on the "best farm system in baseball" instead of getting in the mix and getting proven pitching help for next season when it's clearly available and absolutely needed.


Homer Bradley's response was: "The Braves make no deal at the deadline-and that's just fine."  Well no, it isn't just fine.

DrTruth
DrTruth

Lucas Sims had a decent first outing.  Sims was drafted and signed by Frank Wren in 2012. 


Johan Camargo has been a pleasant surprise. Camargo was signed in 2010 under Frank Wren.


Ozzie  Albies was also signed in 2013 by Frank Wren. 


And don't forget the often praised Ronald Acuna, signed by Frank Wren in 2014.


Not too shabby for what Hart & Coppy still refer to as a "depleted farm system" when they got here, huh?

Wrecker
Wrecker

@DrTruth  The players you listed are pretty much the only MLB-worthy players Wren signed.  The entire purpose of this article was to point out that quantity is important.  Wren left the cupboard mostly bare.

DrTruth
DrTruth

@Wrecker  The purpose of the article is to give credit to Hart & Coppy for "building a farm system", but DECEPTIVELY gives them credit for players that are now hitting the major league that they never signed.  


Your comment is designed to further deceive readers into believing the list I gave "are pretty much the only MLB-worthy players Wren signed."


Your statement is a complete joke.

colt07
colt07

@DrTruth @Wrecker Dr Truth you are exactly correct. This rebuild by Hart and Coppy will take approx. 15 years! They are known for trading Wood, Simmons and then acquiring Olivera and Bethancort. Bradley is the biggest homer there is outside the Braves broadcast booth!


Last night Hart sounded like a politican not a baseball executive. I remember Hart saying Olivera was going to be the foundation for the Braves rebuild.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@colt07 @DrTruth @Wrecker Braves originally signed Bethancourt ,after he washed out he was traded to San Diego.Hart is just a company man ,he loves everybody on the roster, I am not sure about your projection of 15 years on the rebuild, but the insistence on keeping all of these pitching prospects(suspects) and not dealing for established starting pitchers is certainly going to delay the process. Hart and Coppy could have put together a better package of prospects than the Red sox dealt to the White sox for Chris Sale. but Coppy was satisfied signing Free agent Bartolo Colon for $12.5 million , now at the trade deadline he sits it out and the yankees get Sonny Gray for 3 prospects(two who are still recovering from major surgery. So Hart and Coppy still have all of their prized prospects and the Braves will be lucky not to fall into the NL East cellar by the end of the season, they are only 9 games ahead of the Phillies.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@Wrecker @DrTruth When Wren was fired, these players were in the Braves cupboard as you say:

Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Ervin Santana, Alex Wood, Christian Bethancourt, Evan Gattis, Julio Teheran,Chris Johnson,Jordan Walden,Mike Minor,Chasen Shreve,Tommy LaStella, Phil Gosselin, and of course the two fan favorites B.J. "call me Melvin" Upton and Dan "No Sluggla" uggla.

DrTruth
DrTruth

@Buschleaguer  Impressive!  Your list is more extensive than those I could remember.  I'd even forgotten how Coppy flushed away the #1 prospect (Jose Peraza) of Wren's farm system along with Alex Wood in that disastrous Hector Olivera deal.  In fact, nearly everyone on your list has been traded away by Hart & Coppy or allowed to walk.  They could be the basis for Bradley's next blog:  How to destroy a farm system.


Interestingly, I found a post-mortem of Wren's tenure if you're into that kind of thing.  It's surprisingly detailed by transaction and kept my interest:  https://www.talkingchop.com/2014/9/26/6848977/frank-wrens-tenure-in-atlanta-a-deep-dive 

DrTruth
DrTruth

@colt07  Correct!  Hart said the same thing about Swanson (but let me be clear that I certainly haven't given up on him yet).  He said the same thing about Matt Kemp and I turn on the TV and find Matt Adams in LF.  He says the same thing about every draft pick.


Hart is a legend in his own mind and he has a PhD in BS.  The time is getting closer for Hart & Coppy prospects to produce at the major league level.  It disturbs me that Bradley is so in the tank that he's now giving them credit for Wren's prospects...