Sometimes a team’s fan base and even the media covering that team can tend to overvalue or overrate its young talent. I mean it’s only natural to get attached to a kid with a good personality and a particular set of skills when you’re around him or just hear about him so often.
But in the case of the current bevy of talented youngsters in the Braves’ overhauled minor league system, it might be a case where many fans, perhaps numbed by a seemingly endless series of trades that brought back prospects over two rather painful rebuilding years, might not realize just how many high-grade prospects the Braves have accumulated. And how highly regarded many of them are throughout baseball.
I bring this up now because ESPN scouting expert Keith Law just released his annual team and individual prospect rankings, and let’s just say the guy so many Braves fans accused of dissing their team in the past certainly can’t be accused of that any longer.
Law didn’t just rate the Braves’ farm system as the best in the majors for the second consecutive year, ahead of the talent-rich Yankees system, he also rated a whopping nine Braves prospects among the top 81 on his list including seven in the first 59. That’s out of 30 teams, folks.
Atlanta’s deep contingent is led, of course, by shortstop Dansby Swanson, whom Law ranks as baseball’s No. 2 prospect behind only Red Sox rookie slugger Andrew Benintendi, and Braves second-base prospect Ozzie Albies, who comes in at No. 26.
Swanson, who’ll turn 23 on Feb. 11, was called to the majors on Aug. 16, two weeks after Benintendi. They both remain rookies – thus eligible for most prospect rankings and for Rookie of the Year awards – because Benitendi missed time with a sprained knee and finished with 105 at-bats, while Swanson had 129 at-bats, just one shy of the limit to retain rookie status.
I’ll give you the other seven Braves prospects ranked in Law’s Top 100 (actually, in his top 81) in just a moment, but first here’s what Law had to say about the Braves’ farm system:
“Atlanta has been hoarding prospects, especially pitching prospects, for two years now, and the result is a system that is primed to produce good young players just as the team moves into its new stadium.
“This torrent of arms has entered the organization from two avenues. General manager John Coppolella has been trading for young pitching at every opportunity, and scouting director Brian Bridges has crushed pitching in his two drafts at the helm. There are players in this system with viable cases to be in the global top 100 but struggle to crack Atlanta’s top 10. They just took Ian Anderson third overall in the draft and he couldn’t even crack their top five. Their high-A rotation in 2017 could include four first-round picks and a major international signing, only one of whom will be 21 on opening day. It’s as if someone told Coppolella the axiom that you can never have too much pitching, and he just said, “hold my beer.”
“They do have position players, primarily guys up the middle, including three high-end shortstop prospects, multiple center fielders, and the best prospect from last year’s July 2 class, Kevin Maitan, who might not stay at shortstop but has earned comparisons at the plate to a young Miguel Cabrera. They do lack power bats in the system, primarily at the upper levels, but there is just so much pitching here that it overwhelms that concern -- and if they just have a normal attrition rate among that pitching depth, they’ll have plenty of young arms left over to fill a major-league need via trade.
“Coppolella has stayed opportunistic this winter, adding prospects who had fallen out of favor with their organizations, including two of Seattle’s top six prospects. You can make an argument for the Yankees deserving the top slot; I won’t dispute that they have more position-player talent. My vote is for the deluge of arms and up-the-middle players heading for Atlanta, giving them the best farm system in baseball.”
Like I said, Law can no longer be accused of having an anti-Braves bent, at least not by anyone who’s read what he’s written about the organization for the past couple of offseasons during the rebuild.
Besides Dansby and 20-year-old Ozzie, who should begin a multi-year run as the Braves’ double-play combination once the latter reaches the majors at some point in 2017, here are the rest of the mostly very young Braves ranked in his Top 100: No. 32, LH Kolby Allard (age 19); No. 36, OF Ronald Acuna (age 19); No. 50, LH Max Fried (age 23); No. 52, RH Ian Anderson (age 18); No. 59, SS Kevin Maitan (turns 17 in February); No. 77, LH Luiz Gohara (age 20); No. 81, LH Sean Newcomb (age 23).
Just glance at that list again. That’s four teen-agers and a pair of 20-year-olds among the Braves’ nine prospects who are ranked among Law’s Top 100 in baseball, and Albies just turned 20 in January.
The future should be bright, Braves fans. I’ll predict a solid year in 2017, at least pushing, and then a playoff contender in 2018 and for the forseeable future after that.