It is safe to say that, at least for the moment, the Braves do not look fondly back at the Frank Wren years. To be completely fair, calling his tenure as general manager a failure or a disaster is not fair. The Braves made the playoffs in multiple seasons under his watch and did make some good trades including Michael Bourn's first stint with the Braves as well as trading for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson for basically spare parts. However, the cumulative effects of the failures of the signings of Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami, Dan Uggla, and Melvin (BJ) Upton in addition to discord in the front office over day-to-day management and the handling of the farm system was too much to ignore when the Braves dismissed Wren at the end of the 2014 season. One of the more interesting things that the Braves have continued to harp back to is how decimated the Braves farm system was upon Wren's exit, which is certainly true. For those of us who follow (and write about) the minor leagues, following the system during the 2013 and 2014 seasons was not exactly a way to build confidence in the future of the club.
That being said, how much was the state of the farm system really Wren and co.'s fault? The anecdotal evidence is significant, but it is worth going back and looking at the drafts that Wren oversaw (starting in 2008 as he was made general manager at the end of the 2007 season) and seeing who was drafted, what happened, and, as a fun exercise, using the benefit of hindsight to see who Wren should have drafted instead. We will be focusing on first round picks as going through every pick of each draft is..well...more work than I am willing to do. That being said, notable picks that could/should have been made will be noted in some instances. Let us know in the comments if I missed any notable picks, as I'm sure I did.
First Round Pick - Brett Devall (40th overall)
Should Have Picked - Wade Miley (went 43rd overall)
Other Notable Picks/Notes - There were a few close calls for some great picks in this draft. Brandon Crawford (117th) and Dee Gordon (127th) went just before the Braves picked at 130 (they picked Braeden Schlehuber there). This draft also marked a trend with the Wren years as the Braves would lose first round picks due to free agent signings. The Braves lost their first round pick this year to bring back Tom Glavine after his stint with the Mets and did not pick until the 40th pick in the draft. There was good news though, as Craig Kimbrel (3rd round, 96th overall) joined the Braves organization in this draft. Sadly, that was about the end of the good news as lots of players didn't sign and many of the prospects that ended up showing promise from the draft (Zeke Spruill, Brett Oberholtzer) were traded away.
First Round Pick - Mike Minor (7th Overall)
Should Have Picked - AJ Pollock (17th overall) or Mike Trout (25th overall)
Other Notable Picks/Notes - Minor was highly regarded coming out of Vanderbilt, so its probably not completely fair to hindsight this one too much. His injury issues were unfortunate and given the talent in this draft its hurts more. Trout is the easy hindsight pick here, but a lot of teams passed on him so Pollock may be a more realistic "pick". The Braves lost their second round pick (since their first round pick was protected) to sign Derek Lowe (ugh), so that prevented them from drafting Nolan Arenado or Jason Kipnis. The Braves took David Hale in the 3rd round when they could have had Wil Myers or Ben Paulsen. It gets worse for the Braves as, instead of Robby Hefflinger in the 7th round, they could have picked Dallas Keuchel who went 13 picks later. Kyle Rose was the pick for the Braves in the 8th round for the Braves, but probably regret not taking Paul Goldschmidt who went 246th overall, just 8 picks later.
First Round Pick - Matt Lipka (35th overall)
Should Have Picked - Noah Syndergaard (who went 38th overall)
Other Notable Picks/Notes - Yet another first round pick was lost as the Braves signed Billy Wagner so they would not pick until the comp rounds again. Lipka was a very athletic player who had a chance at being a good player, but injuries robbed him of some of his skills. Even at his best though, it would be hard to top getting to see Thor in a Braves uniform. Picking Andrelton Simmons was a strong pick here as he would go on to be an All-World defensive shortstop. Chasen Shreve was nice in the 11th round, although one thinks that Joc Pederson would have been an upgrade although he would have had to be an overslot signing to get him at all. The Braves also picked Evan Gattis in this draft which was a net positive for the organization, but sadly narrowly missed out on another defensive master as Kevin Kiermaier was picked 3 picks before the Braves had a chance to nab him.
First Round Pick - Sean Gilmartin (28th overall)
Should Have Picked - Joe Panik (went 29th overall) or Blake Snell (went 52nd overall)
Other Notable Picks/Notes - The Braves had a real first round pick in this draft, but probably wish they had picked Joe Panik who went one pick later or 2015 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Blake Snell who went in the comps round 52nd overall. Nick Ahmed was a good pick in the second round and is playing a good shortstop for the DBacks, although his bat was and continues to be in question. The Braves almost got a shot at Mookie Betts, but he was snatched up four picks before the Braves picked at 176. Matt Wisler was another near miss in the 7th round (better late than never), but the Braves did forgo Ken Giles in favor of Cody Martin in the 7th. Tommy LaStella was picked in the 8th round by the Braves, and the Cubs probably still hope that that pans out.
First Round Pick - Lucas Sims (21st overall)
Should Have Picked - Good pick, although Jose Berrios was picked at 32
Other Notable Picks/Notes - Sims has turned in to a very legitimate pitching prospect for the Braves, although the lure of top 20 prospect in all of baseball Jose Berrios is hard to argue with. Alex Wood was picked in the 2nd round and he quickly became a member of the Braves rotation before being traded to the Dodgers. There are some notable holdovers from this draft including Connor Lien and Bryan De La Rosa. The Braves picked Josh Elander in the 6th round, but probably would have preferred Jake Lamb who went four picks later and turned in to a top 100 prospect and now plays for the Diamondbacks. Beyond that, very few players drafted in 2012 are even in the organization anymore.
First Round Pick - Jason Hursh (31st overall)
Should Have Picked - Aaron Judge (32nd overall)
Other Notable Picks/Notes - Hursh is hanging on as a relief pitching prospect and could see time in the majors if he can put together some results in AAA, while Aaron Judge is a top 20 prospect in all of baseball and seems destined to be the next new power hitter for the Yankees...sigh. Whats worse is that the Braves lost another first round pick, but this time to sign BJ Upton which makes that deal sting even more than it already did. Victor Caratini was picked i the second round and was pretty highly regarded, but was traded to the Cubs for James Russell and the remains of Emilio Bonifacio. The Braves did pick Steve Janas as well and, if he can regain some consistency, will certainly feature among the Braves top 25 prospects. Matt Marksberry was a late gem in this draft, as he was picked in the 15th round and has already seen time with the big club. Kyle Wren was picked in the 8th round of this draft as well and while he has shown promise, was shipped out basically as soon as his dad, Frank, was fired by the Braves.
First Round Pick - Braxton Davidson (32nd overall)
Should Have Picked - Maybe AJ Reed or Jack Flaherty...but still early
Other Notable Picks/Notes - Braxton used a crazy power display on the high school showcase circuit to get picked in the first comp round and while he has struggled at times, he could very easily be a good pick. Its hard to ignore Jack Flaherty (among the top prospects in the Cardinals system) or AJ Reed (who hit 34 homers in the minors last season), but given Braxton's age he could still turn in to a great investment. The Braves yet again did not have a first round pick when they signed Ervin Santana. Garrett Fulenchek was the second round pick and was very raw coming out. The new front office thought he was far enough away and raw enough to trade him for international bonus pool money; whether that ends up being correct remains to be seen. Max Povse, Luke Dykstra, Kyle Kinman, and several others still remain in the system from this draft and have a chance to be contributers. Its still probably too early to use hindsight as many of these guys have yet to have the time to show what they will be capable of.
The MLB Draft is an extremely difficult and unforgiving thing with the failure rate being exceptionally high. That being said, one of better ways to maintain a decent farm system is to, at the very least, pick guys that can play baseball in the first round. While much of this is tongue in cheek as picking one player over another with the benefit of hindsight, one thing that is painfully obvious is that Wren valued such picks very little. In four of the six drafts during his tenure, he did not have a first round pick due to free agent signings (several of which did not exactly work out) in addition to the second round pick the Braves missed out on as well. Having not gone through and seeing exactly where the Braves would have picked had they not forfeited those first round picks, its hard to say who could have also been in the fold...but at the very least it helps us understand why the farm system was so barren and why the Braves felt the need to make a change.