Strengthening their farm system was a top priority for the Braves in a rebuilding project they began two years ago, and further proof they’ve succeeded in that area just arrived in the form of a prestigious award for the Rome Braves.
The low Single-A affiliate was named by Baseball America as its Minor League Team of the Year, the first time a Braves farm team has won the annual award since BA created it in 1993.
“The Rome Braves and their success, in many ways, are a microcosm of the commitment we as an organization made to building around young, upside, impact talent,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said. “We are so proud of what the players and staff at Rome accomplished, and so excited for what the future holds for them and our entire organization.”
Making the honor even more impressive: Rome’s roster was the youngest in all of full-season minor league baseball in 2016 and the youngest in the South Atlantic League in more than a decade, according to Baseball America.
After limping to the All-Star break with a 27-42 record, the Rome Braves went 43-27 in the second half, after standout center-field prospect Ronald Acuna got healthy and power-hitting third-base prospect Austin Riley got hot. But it was a terrific pitching staff that was the biggest key for the South Atlantic League champions.
Rome had seven players on Baseball America’s top 20 prospects list including five starting pitchers: left-handers Kolby Allard (No. 4) and Max Fried (No. 6) and right-handers Mike Soroka (No. 7), PatrickWeigel (No. 10) and Touki Toussaint (No. 15).
Acuna and Riley came in at 12th and 13th on the list, respectively.
Baseball America managing editor J.J. Cooper wrote that years from now the 2016 Rome squad “might be remembered as one of the better minor league teams of the early 21st century. The rotation featured prospects in all six spots; that’s because it had too many prospects to settle for a five-man rotation.”
Braves infield prospect Dylan Moore, traded from the Rangers in late August, said during the recent Arizona Fall League that the talent level in the Braves’ minor league system had him and others in it fired up about the future.
“It’ll be exciting to see in the next few years what we can do as an organization; I’m excited to be a part of it,” said Moore, who was particularly impressed with Rome’s pitchers after facing them frequently in 2016 when he played 101 games for the Rangers’ Hickory affiliate in the South Atlantic League.
“Facing those guys, like Weigel and them — very good,” Moore said, then repeated: “Very good. It is exciting.”