The greatest strength of the Braves' farm system isn't necessarily the high-end talent, but the depth that runs from Gwinnett to the summer league clubs. Baseball America's editors recently opined that they will do a list of the Braves' top-50 prospects this winter instead of the customary top-30 list to properly examine the system. That is quite a reflection of the work John Coppolella has done the last 20 months.
The Braves can only roster 25 players at a time. They won't all be rookies, nor will they all be home-grown prospects. At some point in the rebuild Coppolella will have to decide which players to sell and which players to hold on to.
Could that time be now?
Saturday's news cycle revolved around the White Sox and ace Chris Sale. He was unhappy with the throwback jerseys the team was going to wear, so he cut them up. This, of course, only added fuel to the Chris Sale Trade Rumors Fire that has the league in a frenzy.
The Braves, reportedly, are one of the teams interested in getting Sale. He wouldn't come cheap; the reported asking price is 'five top prospects.' While I don't think that would happen, Chicago will surely get a massive haul for their ace should they move him. Atlanta is one of the few teams with the talent to make a deal happen, and David O'Brien of the AJC says the team has long been interested in Sale. Take that for what it's worth.
Take a look around the Braves' farm system at the moment.
You have Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, two top-20 talents. Behind them comes Sean Newcomb, a frustrating prospect with stuff that few lefties in baseball even come close to having.
We are seeing the 2015 Draft haul start to progress through the minors. The early returns on the players taken in the first two rounds – Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Austin Riley, Lucas Herbert, – are promising. The club loaded up in 2016, too, landing Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller.
Then there's the 2017 Draft, where the Braves are just about guaranteed to get a top-five selection, if not No. 1 overall. The club holds a four-game lead over the Twins for the league's worst record. They're five ahead of the Reds and Rays. Those teams could push Atlanta for the worst overall record should they be sellers at the deadline, but regardless of pick, the Braves will load up on talent once again.
And while it's foolish to bank on teenagers turning into something, the Braves blew the bank on international free agents, signing a handful of talented prospects headlined by Kevin Maitan. More depth, more talent.
The Braves want to be competitive in 2017. I don't blame them, and for as bad as this year's team is, they could flirt with respectability with a handful of win-now moves. The process would be sped up exponentially if Coppolella decides to dig into the farm system and land a Chris Sale-type player — a controllable, talented player who can help the team win beyond 2016 and 2017.
I'm not saying the playoffs are realistic, but we won't be in this nightmare a year from now. The team won't become good overnight, but it wouldn't surprise me if the front office swung a blockbuster trade in the next few months. The talent is there, and at some point the Braves will have to start deciding who to keep and who to trade. That decision could certainly be made this winter, if not sooner.