If you have been hiding under a rock over the last few days, you have “missed” the fact that the White Sox continued to sell off anything and everything of value and the resulting debates over whether the Braves or now the White Sox have the best farm systems in baseball. Between the obscene depth the Braves have in their farm system and the White Sox adding top 100 prospects seemingly at will to the top end of their system, there are lots of arguments to be had there....including those made by our own Matt Powers when he compared the two systems earlier today.
There are some fun and interesting lines that these debates have taken as well as the usual “shut up.....no YOU shut up” debates on social media that are less than enlightening. For what it is worth, all of us on the minor league side are in Florida on a scouting/rain delay watching trip and the initial consensus is that the White Sox have overtaken the Braves, but there are arguments around the Braves’ depth that have some validity. Feel free to get #madonline at us in the comments.
However, there is something that is important to realize in the context of this season that is lost on a lot of people: these comparisons don’t mean a thing because, for the most part aside from potentially trade away rental-type veterans, the Braves are done trading away assets and are at completely different stages of their rebuild from the White Sox. For the Braves, the die has been cast. They have made their bets based on how players have developed...and now we are about to see what these new assets are worth. The White Sox still have all of their new toys in a nice and shiny state and there hasn’t been enough time to see who will fall off and who will excel yet. Many thought that Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair had real chances to be parts of the Braves’ rotation for years and now they are struggling to even remain a part of the conversation.
Back in May, I wrote that this season was the last season of the rebuild. This was not an attempt to galvanize fans to expect a playoff team in 2018 nor did it ignore that the Braves now have a system in place that should consistently add talent to their farm system while also allow the big league club the flexibility, both financially and talent-wise, to make the moves that will inevitably need to be made for the Braves to make a push.
What that article was an acknowledgment of the reality that the Braves are committed to a completely different phase of their rebuild which remains true now. A team doesn’t aggressively promote Ronald Acuna (twice now), Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, Austin Riley, and others if the plan is to be competitive in 2020. The Braves want to be good and be good soon. Fortunately, the players in question have risen to the challenge up until now so the Braves looked primed for a big infusion of talent at the major league level starting during the 2018 season.
That infusion of talent will not just come from the minor leagues though...at least not directly. The Braves have been connected to many of the biggest names available at this trade deadline including Jose Quintana who it appears they were right there with the Cubs in the days leading up to the trade. As Coppy put it...
#Braves GM John Coppolella on the team's trade deadline approach: "We're playing in every game. But we're not the main player.''— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) July 17, 2017
The Braves have been connected to Sonny Gray, Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer, Jurickson Profar, and others. There are also teams interested in the rental-type players the Braves have including Jaime Garcia and Brandon Phillips in addition to the seemingly endless interest in Julio Teheran, although it remains unclear if the Braves will actually trade Teheran given the differences in perceived value that the Braves and his suitors may have. Matt Adams will be a popular name before the deadline and it remains to be seen how much the Braves are really willing to commit to playing Freddie Freeman at third base to keep Adams in the lineup if they don’t trade him.
The point here, though, is broader than who could potentially be a Brave after the trade deadline. It is clear that the recent success the Braves have had (especially when you consider that the vast majority of the offense and a big chunk of the pitching staff will be under contract next season) has the Braves looking forward to 2018 even if a playoff push in 2017 seems improbable.
What does all of this have to do with the farm system. Well, lets take a look at the Braves’ current top 30 prospects (or at least our version of the top 30) with asterisks next to all the players that are at Double-A or higher.
Yefri del Rosario
That is 13 players in Double-A or higher in the Braves’ top 30 including seven starting pitchers. When you factor all of them in addition to arms that are currently in the Braves’ rotation such as Mike Foltynewicz and Julio Teheran that seem likely to start the 2018 season there plus 2017 draft pick Kyle Wright who could move quickly through the system next year and it is clear that there are definitively more players than spots.
The situation isn’t any better on the offensive side. Albies sliding into Brandon Phillips spot on the roster is an easy enough promotion, but with the big league outfield seemingly set for a while given the contracts that those guys are playing under. That complicates the paths for Ronald Acuna and Dustin Peterson, although it seems hard to think that anyone is going to stop Acuna from getting called up if/when he is ready.
Freddie Freeman has a starting spot locked up in the infield (let us just assume that it will be primarily at first base). Dansby Swanson, Johan Camargo, Sean Rodriguez could be battling for playing time and that will be compounded if the Braves lock in on the third baseman they want over there either from their minor league options (Austin Riley, Travis Demeritte, possibly Carlos Franco) or via trade/free agency.
So what does all of this even mean? It means that with the Braves shifting gears and looking to compete sooner rather than later. Given that it isn’t feasible for the Braves to compete with the big market teams and their payroll to overpay for guys in free agency, that means the trade market with their wallet full of prospects is where they are going to do the bulk of their acquisitions. By this time next year, between promotions, attrition, and the trades that look like they will be coming (even if it doesn’t happen at the trade deadline), the Braves system will likely look much different than it does now.
That is the way the Braves have chosen and it could very easily be the correct one. We can’t keep all of these guys and prospect currency has incredible value right now. More importantly, in the context of what the Braves have done recently, it is pretty much the only course available to them. The die has been cast. We should know how successful the Braves’ rebuild was sooner than I think a lot of us thought.