Unless you work in baseball -- or have an awful lot of time on your hands -- it's not easy to know what to make of a team's farm system. There are so many players on so many levels that it's nigh-impossible to track, let alone assess, them all. That's why I lean heavily on analysts like the folks at Baseball America. Or Keith Law of ESPN Insider.
Because he works for ESPN, Law's opinions regarding minor-league baseball cut the biggest swath in the industry. That's why it was big news when he rated the Atlanta Braves' farm system No. 1 back in February. It's why it's encouraging news that he still considers it the best chain going. If anything, he seems to like it even more now.
The Braves themselves, it should be said, were tickled that Law and others were rating them No. 1 so early in their rebuild -- because they fully believed they're apt to hold that designation for a good long while. They had five of the top 80 picks in the June draft, and they were confident they'd fare well in the July international signing period.
In a post this week, Law takes note of both sets of acquisitions -- the high school pitchers accumulated in June, the signing of Kevin Maitwan, whom Law likens to Miguel Cabrera, earlier this month. He also writes:
"Their system has seen big comebacks from injury from Kolby Allard and Max Fried, and some modest progress from some of the system's lesser-known bats, including Ronald Acuna (before his injury) and Dustin Peterson. They still lack impact hitters, with their best position-player prospects primarily up-the-middle guys with defensive or positional value but without huge power potential, but there's so much pitching here that even with a typical attrition rate Atlanta should be able to move some of this surplus to acquire bats."
The lack-of-power thing continues to bother me , I must admit. But I also see the wisdom of stockpiling pitching, which has forever been the most desired commodity in the game. I continue to believe in this plan and its architects. That said ...
The 2016 big-league season has been worse than anybody imagined. The Braves just lost a series to the second-worst team in the National League and continue to hold the worst record in the majors. They remain on pace to lose 106 games, which would match the all-time Atlanta low of 1988.
Freddie Freeman, their one everyday player regarded as a fixture, has 17 home runs and 35 RBIs -- meaning he has driven in himself almost as often as he has driven in others. (Of the 49 MLB players with 17+ homers, Freeman is the only one with fewer than 40 RBIs.) Among players with 190 plate appearances, Erick Aybar and A.J. Pierzynski rank third- and seventh-worst according to FanGraphs' WAR, respectively .
Mallex Smith is hurt. Arodys Vizcaino is hurt. Williams Perez is hurt. Ender Inciarte was hurt and still hasn't gotten going. Hector Olivera is playing rehab games in the minors while waiting for his suspension for domestic abuse to be lifted. Aaron Blair, considered the pitcher most ready to make the jump to the majors, has yielded 20 earned runs, 33 hits and 13 walks in 22 2/3 innings since being demoted to Gwinnett. Apart from Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz, there's not much to watch.
But I will, I feel sure, get better. (Be hard to get worse, would it not?) Hang in there, folks.