We are now less than a week away from those few words all baseball fans crave, particularly with the cold weather still occasionally beating us down.
Pitchers and catchers report this Friday.
There seems to be tempered enthusiasm for Braves fans. They are excited baseball season is almost here, but after a 67-win season in 2015 they’re not quite certain what Atlanta’s season will bring.
Remember, this is year two of the Braves’ rebuilding project. They are not ready yet to do a worst-to-first miracle season, as the Atlanta team did in 1991. It’s more realistic to expect gradual improvement and to believe enough moves have been made to simply make the team better this season, while still building for the future.
The future is exactly what is important to a rebuilding team. The Braves hit rock bottom last season, and chances are they will be better this season. But while watching the games this year, you still have to keep one eye on what the front office is doing to make the future even better.
John Hart and John Coppolella took over the front office a little over 15 months ago. One of the goals early on was to get the farm system back on track. They had to be thrilled this week when Keith Law, ESPN’s minor league writer, ranked the Braves as having the most talent of any farm system in baseball.
Law said in a podcast that, “It wasn’t even close.” You might disagree with Law, but he does know the talent that each team has in its system. So for someone with Law’s credentials to rank Atlanta number one shows you how far the Braves have come in such a short time.
Baseball America ranked the Braves third, behind the Dodgers and Astros. That’s still not bad considering BA had Atlanta’s system ranked next-to-last a year ago.
Nine different Braves prospects were ranked in the four Top 100 prospect lists that came out this week. Law had seven Braves prospects in his Top 100 list, with five in the Top 50. The top three were all acquired this offseason – shortstop Dansby Swanson and pitchers Sean Newcomb and Aaron Blair.
That’s pretty good – to trade for three players who became your top three prospects. Fans were not happy when Andrelton Simmons was sent to the Angels, but maybe Newcomb will be a vital member of Atlanta’s rotation soon. Plus, when the Braves were actually able to acquire Simmons’ future replacement in Swanson, and got Blair thrown in as well, it rounded out a very productive offseason.
Swanson was ranked as the 8th best prospect by MLB.com, 10th by Scout.com, 13th by ESPN and 17th by Baseball America. Swanson is likely a year away, but the Cobb County resident should be ready to open the Braves’ new stadium in his own backyard in 2017 in a major league uniform.
The Braves should have a highly-ranked system for a while. They have the number three pick in this June’s draft, and that should be a player who you’d think would be an immediate top prospect. Plus, the team is set to sign the top international free agent in July. Kevin Maitan is being compared to Miguel Cabrera, and he should be near the top of Atlanta’s prospect list the day he signs this summer.
So there is plenty to be excited about if you are a Braves’ fan. You might have to be patient, but Atlanta’s future is very bright.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.