When the 2017 MLB Draft gets underway starting on June 12th and the Atlanta Braves load up the farm system with more prospects to join a system already loaded with depth, there may be an issue. It's an issue that isn’t really discussed often, but it's certainly an issue that stunts player development in some cases.
The issue I’m referring to is playing time. That’s right, the Braves do not have adequate available playing time to give everyone in the system as is, and only plan to add more depth. That costs guys at bats, in-game defensive reps, innings pitched, forces guys to play other positions, and creates the possibility that they get released before they really get the long look most would hope to get.
What Can Be Done?
This one is fairly simple to answer: add a farm team. Since each team gets one team apiece in the four levels of full season ball(Low A through AAA), that would mean a rookie or short season team that would need to be the route the Braves would need to go if they considered this path.
Has this been done by other teams? Absolutely. After 2012, the Yankees added a second Gulf Coast League team to start with the 2013 season. Then after going out and spending a ton of money on their deep 2014 July 2nd class, the Yankees added an Appalachian League team in Pulaski for the 2015 season to compliment their existing team in the New York/Penn League.
According to the Baseball America article “Though an extra minor league affiliate carries with it the costs associated with running an additional franchise, it also affords the Yankees additional reserve roster spots (and disabled list spots) so that they can keep more players on minor league contracts than other organizations.”
Why Is Depth An Issue?
Having depth isn't ever a bad thing for a team to accumulate down on the farm, but if you aren't giving your prospects every opportunity to get a long look in the role that would be considered their best possible outcome. Think letting a guy who still has a chance to be a starting pitcher continue to start until he either proves he can not handle that role in the big leagues, or is preparing to immediately help the big club in a relief role.
You won’t see a ton of potential depth issues effect your top prospects. You are also unlikely to see them in the upper levels of the minors, though you can make the argument that it had an influence in Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka skipping High A and heading to AA to start this season- not that it wasn't also deserved and it has worked well, and maybe an argument that it has cost Michael Mader a shot to start this year.
The issues mostly start in Low A and the clearest issue is an overstock at catcher. It’s why you see a trio of legitimate catching prospects in Lucas Herbert, Tanner Murphy, and Brett Cumberland all missing some reps behind the plate and some important developmental at bats. It's going to continue at catcher when the Braves start playing in Danville and in the Gulf Coast League as William Contreras, Ricardo Rodriguez, and very likely Abrahan Gutierrez will fill out the lineups behind the plate.
That makes it very difficult for the Braves to use a higher pick on a catcher they may like and continue to give adequate playing time to all. No matter how you feel about the Braves drafting a catcher high this year, the choices of avoiding drafting the best available player or cutting into prospects playing time is far from ideal.
That’s just the catcher position. The Braves are also loaded up with infielders and pitchers. Not only do you have the guys currently on the farm, but the very deep and talented July 2nd class from last year will be joining the organization for games shortly and the 2017 draftees are coming right behind.
I haven't even gotten into the Braves having to release some prospects at the end of spring training. While these weren't high end prospects, there was some potential among them and others were drafted less than a year ago. It's not to say the team will regret releasing a Sander Boeldak, Brandon T. White, or Grayson Jones, but for a team who has a philosophy of accumulating talented prospects in quantity they are missing out on a chance to let some of these kids continue in their development since there is only so much playing time to go around:
Adding a farm system wouldn't help in 2017, but it could be very helpful for 2018 as the 2016 July 2nd signees start to all rise above the Dominican Summer League. It will cost the team some money as well, but it's the only way to afford more prospects adequate opportunity to showcase their talent and fill a system with more guys who have a chance to develop into useful big leaguers.