So what do we know about the success of the Braves’ rebuild so far?
Nothing. Well, not nothing. We know that the Hector Olivera trade was an unmitigated disaster. We know that the Braves weren’t really competitive in the year they moved into the new ballpark. We know that the decision four years ago to offer a long term deal to Freddie Freeman, but not to Jason Heyward, was brilliant. Freddie has turned into one of the top 3 or 4 hitters in baseball—and as much as I like Jason, he is not.
We also know that the Braves’ farm system is ranked as the best in baseball by most folks who rate such things. The idea is that, very soon, this wave of young talent will turn the Braves into perennial contenders for the division title and yield some October successes along the way.
Is that likely to happen? We don’t know. We do know that there is no such thing as a pitching prospect, and that prospects generally will break your heart. But some of them will likely turn into quality major leaguers, right? Even if TNSTASPP, surely 12-15 highly regarded pitching prospects will turn into at least 3-5 quality major league pitchers, right? That’s the bet that Coppy and the FO have made.
I’m no scout, and I have no way of knowing whether Acuna really is the second coming of Mike Trout (or even Andruw Jones), or whether Swanson and Albies will become Trammell and Whitaker, or whether some combination of Newcomb, Sims, Allard, Soroka, Wright, Fried, Weigel, Anderson, Wentz, and Wilson will become Glavine, Smoltz and Avery (and which of those will become Mike Stanton and Mark Wohlers).
I have been a Braves fan from the start, and I know their history. The team was terrible in the late 80’s (worse than the current Braves), but we all know what happened beginning in 1991. The franchise had a great run of prospects who panned out. Glavine, Smoltz, and Chipper became hall of famers; Andruw (HOF worthy himself), Avery, Lopez, Klesko, Blauser, Lemke, Stanton and Millwood all became quality big leaguers. Of course they filled in with established stars as needed—Pendleton, Maddux, McGriff, and later, Neagle, Grissom and Galarraga. The team was good to excellent for 15 years running. That’s the model the current FO has in mind. Scheuerholz and Cox masterminded it in Atlanta, and Hart led something very similar in Cleveland at the same time.
The problem is, I remember the late 70’s and early 80’s as well. The team was just as bad in the late 70’s as they were in the late 80’s. But there was hope. Kids like Dale Murphy and Glenn Hubbard were called up in the late 70’s and looked pretty good. Bob Horner was drafted #1 overall in 1978 and instantly became a starter and a star. By 1982, these kids (including also Rafael Ramirez and Bruce Benedict) combined with veterans Chris Chambliss and Claudell Washington to win the second division title in Braves history. Even better, the future looked secure. On the farm were can’t miss prospects Brad Komminsk, Gerald Perry, Brett Butler, and Brook Jacoby. The foundation was laid for a dynasty.
The Braves were in it to the end in 1983, but lost out to the Dodgers. 1984 was a disappointment. By 1985 the Braves were once again the worst team in the league.
What happened? Horner could not avoid injury, Komminsk (the most highly regarded of all the prospects) was a complete bust, Gerald Perry was never very good, and the two who did go on to long and productive careers, Butler and Jacoby, were given away for the shell of a pitcher that was Len Barker. Murph was great, but even he had a precipitous and early decline. And oh yes, they never did develop any quality pitchers.
So, what do we learn from this about the future of the Braves’ rebuild? Nothing. Sometimes prospects work out, and sometimes they don’t.
I’m not trying to rekindle the argument about whether the rebuild was necessary, or to relitigate each of the moves. I do insist that it will take patience, and probably 2-4 years of it, to know whether a significant number of this crop of prospects will pan out. Most of them are 20 and under, and most have two years or less pro experience. I for one am ready to see more of the kids. Markakis, Kemp, Phillips, and Dickey have all made some positive contributions, but they are not the future. Let’s see what we have in these prospects.