When you start to think about the benefits of having depth in your organization, it's almost mind-boggling. Yes, there are a few obvious things to consider, such as the ability for the team to make a major trade at any time. But it hit me tonight a few other things that will help the Braves from having so much talent at the top of the organization.
Let's go ahead and say that a major trade, such as the one two winters ago when Atlanta traded three players for Tim Hudson, is inevitable. It might happen this spring, or this summer, or even next winter. There are just too many players even now here at Disney competing for spots in the rotation, in the bullpen, and in left field. One of the questions heard repeatedly over the first week of full camp was, "Where in the world are all of these guys going to play?"
The Braves are just loaded, pure and simple. There is depth in the rotation, with John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, John Thomson, Horacio Ramirez, and Jorge Sosa slated to start there. But then you have three pitchers, Kyle Davies, Chuck James, and Anthony Lerew, arguably ready for a chance as a starter. The bullpen has questions about the quality, but the quantity is definitely there, especially with those leftover three starters also battling for a spot in the bullpen until a rotation spot opens up.
There's depth at first base, with Adam LaRoche the starter, and Scott Thorman scheduled for Richmond. Plus, you have the hot topic of spring training popping into the equation: Will the Braves eventually move Jarrod Saltalamacchia to first base? There's depth at shortstop, with Wilson Betemit, Yunel Escobar, and Elvis Andrus behind Edgar Renteria. And then there's left field, where Ryan Langerhans and Kelly Johnson might be too similar to be on the same roster.
However, the pitching is where the numbers are outright staggering. Again, there are questions that have to be answered during March, but the options are plentiful. How many teams can say their rotation is practically eight deep? And, I know, with all the injuries from last season, we shouldn't just trade everyone off, and the depth could be very important. But it also does a few other things as well.
First off, being so top heavy with pitching on the organizational depth chart, it will allow the pitchers at the lower levels to develop. If the Braves have to make a trade, chances are it's going to come from the excess in Triple-A, or even at the big league level. Therefore, the pitchers in Double-A and below will be able to develop more completely, creating the possibility that the top level depth might continue for a few years, even if a few major trades are made.
For instance, let's say the Braves have to trade either Davies, James, or Lerew this summer to improve the big league club. That would mean that the top pitching prospects at the lower levels can continue to develop, and therefore in two years could be in the same position as those current top three pitching prospects. There would be no reason to rush a Jake Stevens or a Matt Harrison, or a James Parr. The pitchers in Rome, for example, like Jairo Cuevas, and Asher Demme, and Beau Jones, and Jeff Lyman can take the normal time to develop, since the numbers above them will keep them from having to jump a level prematurely.
And guess what? This June in the Amateur Draft, you can almost bet that the Braves are going to spend some of their extra picks on pitchers. I mean, they usually do anyway, and with extra picks, it's almost a certainty that pitching will be a priority.
Things can change in a hurry, though. John Smoltz is probably two years away from retiring. John Thomson is a free agent at the end of this season. And there is no guarantee that Mike Hampton is going to come back from Tommy John surgery 100%. So that depth could come into play real quickly once again. But for now, as we are looking at the depth chart, it certainly does seem that the good numbers at the top of the organizational depth chart could lead to only a brighter future for the long-term pitching prospects for the Atlanta Braves.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. You can email Bill at email@example.com.
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