This has been a weird season, guys. No seriously...for us at Talking Chop, this has been a bizarre season. We all had a pretty good idea that the Braves were going to be less than good this season which, coverage-wise, is a challenge for any news outlet or blog. In short, there are only so many ways to productively describe the shortcomings of Erick Aybar and the rest of the team (although we certainly tried). As a result, Garrett and myself made a concerted choice to really try and amp up the minor league coverage going into the season. Along the way, Gaurav and Matt joined the party as the minor league coverage went on.
We expected there to be elevated interest in the minor leagues given the team’s shortcomings but, to be blunt, expecting much of an uptick in interest in the Braves this year wasn’t something many of us were going to bet large sums of money on.
Man, we really should have.
Without getting into too much inside baseball as it were, the interest fans have had in the minor leagues has been beyond what any of us could have envisioned. From the opening weekend when Gaurav, Garrett, and myself were tweeting from Rome, fans were not only interested in the goings-on in a low-A minor league game...they wanted more. Asking around a bit, it wasn’t just here at Talking Chop....interest in the minor leagues was and is at all-time highs everywhere.
That there is this much interest in the minor league system speaks both to how truly devout Braves fans are as well as how good a job the Braves’ front office has done in stocking the minor leagues with not just players with talent, but players with enough talent and promise that fans can legitimately believe in. From numerous scouts and pundits having the Braves having one of, if not the, top farm systems in baseball to the prospects themselves performing game after game, fans have a group of young players to dream on and the technology and the coverage to really get into their development that wasn’t really around when guys like Francoeur, Chipper, or even Heyward (in some respects) were coming up.
That’s the fun part of this whole rebuild thing...but that’s hardly all of it.
Yes, we get to dream on all of these admittedly crazy talented players. We get to root for them, pick our favorites, watch them grow in to who they were meant to be, celebrate their successes, and mourn their failures. However, a tweet from JJ Cooper of Baseball America regarding just how good Rome’s rotation has been hits home.
9. This Braves LoA pitching staff is extremely deep Likely: 1 may become an ace. 1-2 may become solid SPs, 1-2 RPs, 1-2 will get hurt. /end— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) September 17, 2016
Now, it would be easy to get hung up on “Who could become aces?!” (any of them theoretically could be) or naming names (they are all good) or saying JJ just hates the Braves (he doesn’t). The overarching point is a sobering one for all of us who follow prospects: very, very few minor league prospects make it. Some will wilt against higher levels of competition as they progress, others will have flaws that they can never overcome, and others can and will get hurt in ways that completely derail their careers.
In the end, minor league baseball has elements of a tragedy involved. Of course, it is absolutely an accomplishment to play professional baseball and that is worth celebrating. However, as the Braves’ rebuild continues, it is relevant to say that of all the names we banter about as the leader(s) of the next wave of talent to hit Atlanta....it’s likely that we are all wrong about a lot of them.
To take the tragedy further, it is also very possible that some of these guys could make their names playing for other teams. Lets just take a quick look at a list of Braves prospects which is in no way complete or in order.
.....and so on and so on. It doesn’t take anything beyond basic math to see that even if ALL of the guys we consider prospects (again, they won’t) make it to the majors, there is absolutely not room for all of them on a roster. Given the nature of the rebuild, the surplus of prospects especially pitchers, and the timeline the Braves seem to be on to be competitive, this offseason could very well be the start of where all of this “prospect currency” starts getting used to acquire the players the Braves think they need.
Remember Kyle Wren and Victor Caratini? No? How about Nick Ahmed or Tommy La Stella? Those guys have been big leaguers of varying levels of success. Want more....how about Brandon Drury, Randall Delgado, Elvis Andrus...well, let’s not think to hard about the trade that sent Andrus out of town, because that one still stings.
I guess the point of all of this is to say that it is awesome that Braves fans have been so invested in the minor leagues this season. It has been an amazing ride this season, but lets not forget how volatile prospect values are, how hard it is to become a major league baseball player....let alone a star, and virtually every prospect hits snags or delays as they develop.
Most importantly, just because a player doesn’t make the major leagues doesn’t mean he is a failure. That player likely gave everything he could of his body, mind, and time over many years and ultimately fell just short in a game where inches make a huge difference and participants do things regularly that the human body were not meant. No, Braves fans, not all of these prospects are going to make it and not all of these players are going to be Atlanta Braves....but if this season is any indication, there is going to be a whole lot more fans following them and rooting for them along the way.