It’s easy to watch the Braves struggle and believe the time is now to bring the kids up to play. Why wait – get them up now instead of the veterans and, to paraphrase a great line in ‘The Bad News in Breaking Training,’ “Let them play!”
Well, it’s not that easy. The time when a prospect gets called up involves many factors. Can they handle success and failure? For position players, can they handle big league pitching? And for pitchers, do they have three pitches that can get people out? Are the stats there to support a promotion?
There are two pitchers in Triple-A Gwinnett who will likely come up soon to join Atlanta’s rotation. Mike Foltynewicz is battling back from blood clots late last season. He must get his strength back and work on his pitches, but the Braves hope he can be an option for them in a month or so.
Aaron Blair was part of the price from Arizona in the Shelby Miller trade. He made 12 starts last season in Triple-A Reno, and Blair pitched six solid innings last weekend in his first start for Gwinnett. The Braves believe Blair is not far away at all, so he could also be an option in a month or so.
What about the position players? Monday, we saw Mallex Smith make his big league debut. The Braves needed Smith with the injury to Ender Inciarte, so Smith might go back down to Gwinnett in two weeks. But Smith has a chance to give everyone a glimpse of what he could do as a starter with his audition.
Inciarte is only 25 and under control to Atlanta through 2020. That’s when Hector Olivera’s contract runs out, as well. And Nick Markakis is under contract through 2018. So the Braves would have to make room for Smith with a trade if he’s to be a starter in the next year or two.
Are there others who could help? Well, much attention in spring training went to Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies. Both play shortstop and second base. They’ll be play exclusively at shortstop now, and the Braves will decide later which one switches to second when the need is there.
Swanson is 22 years old, while Albies is 19. The Braves sent Swanson, last year’s top overall draft pick, to High-A Carolina to start the season, while Albies skipped Carolina and is in Double-A Mississippi. Both are hitting over .300 in the first week of the season.
Since Swanson played at Vanderbilt, he may not be too far away. The Braves believe Albies is taking the Rafael Furcal route to the big leagues. Furcal had one full season in the minor leagues, after two years in the short-season rookie leagues, before he made his big league debut in Atlanta. Furcal didn’t take long to develop.
Here’s the key. These players do not need to be rushed. This year’s Braves’ team is not going to win the World Series, or the NL East or the wildcard. The Braves will be lucky if they finish better than last year’s 67-95 record considering this dismal start.
Let the prospects develop and show us when they are ready. The Braves have always been good at determining when a kid is ready to make that final jump. But they do not need to be up quickly to salvage this season. It won’t help. This is a rebuilding process that will take a while, and a handful of prospects are not going to immediately change the fate of this team.
Like Swanson, Bob Horner was the first overall pick in the 1978 draft. Horner didn’t play one game in the minors and went right to Atlanta. Swanson is getting at least a little seasoning, but if at midseason he’s proved he can handle the minor leagues, the Braves will then start the conversation. It just shouldn’t go on now, not yet.
It’s tempting to bring the kids up and ‘Let them play,’ but it’s not going to save the 2016 Braves. Let them finish developing before graduating, and then hopefully they can be fixtures in Atlanta for years to come.
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 email@example.com.