Braves happy the kids now have experience

It's a new era of Braves' Baseball, and the young kids that exploded onto the scene are now very important pieces of the Braves' puzzle. BravesCenter's Bill Shanks has more.

There were many reasons 2005 was a historic season for the Atlanta Braves. Of course, winning a division title for the fourteenth straight year was one. But even more noteworthy was the change in programming in the Braves' clubhouse. Instead of any regular mature shows, you could occasionally find ‘Blues Clues' on in the players' lounge.

Well, okay, that may be stretching it a bit. But the presence of kids in their early 20s making their big league debuts was, without a doubt, the story of last season. There were eighteen rookies on the roster at some point last season, twelve of whom made their major league debuts in 2005. The presence of all the young players was different for a clubhouse known for its veteran, business-like approach.

"It makes it a little more interesting," said Braves' ace John Smoltz. "You never know what you're going to get. Cartoon Network one day. These guys provide a lot of laughs."

They also supplied a lot of talent. It all started with Ryan Langerhans, Pete Orr, and Wilson Betemit on the Opening Day Roster. Then Kyle Davies made a startling debut in Boston in May, followed by Brian McCann rescuing the Braves in June, and Jeff Francoeur shocking the world in July. If not for the ‘Baby Braves,' there is no way the team would have returned to the playoffs.

"Beyond belief," Smoltz said, when asked to describe the impact of the youngsters. "I don't think anyone realizes what they did. It was blended so well and picked up so well by certain veterans on this club. Whenever you see a rash of young guys coming through, you can never imagine they can contribute like they did. I think it's just a great boost of confidence for them to be able to feel like no matter what happens this year they have the capability to be a big part of this organization."

And that's the main fact that excites many in the Braves' organization. The experience those young kids got last year, first battling for a spot in the postseason, and then playing in the division series against Houston, was invaluable. They‘ll still be young this season, but they‘ll have experience not many kids can say they have as they enter their second year in the majors.

"They've knocked the newness off of being a big leaguer," Chipper Jones said. "They've come up and seen guys before and they know how they're going to get them out. I really look for more than a couple of our young guys to have some really big years. Obviously Francoeur, Ryan Langerhans and Kelly Johnson are prepared to take that next step. If they do that, we're going to have a very potent offense."

There are critics that will say these ‘Baby Braves' are due for a fall. The typical ‘second time around the league' argument is certain to come up this season, as many particularly expect McCann and Francoeur to struggle a bit. But Smoltz believes they'll handle the pressure just fine.

"Well one of the things is you don't want to take away their enthusiasm and excitement," Smoltz explained. "But at the same time you've got to allow them to know that when they get in a hole, it's not that deep of a hole that they can't get out. Sometimes in sports, when you don't experience those setbacks, and you keep having those good times, you need to realize what it's like to go through a bad time."

"All of them, in their way, experienced it in one way or another, and I think that's going to help for the future," Smoltz continued. "I don't think they've got personalities that will allow themselves to get too down, but instead stay focused during the year. We've got enough guys that will keep them in check, and not drive them crazy, from the standpoint of mechanics or this or that. I think they'll be fine."

The ‘sophomore jinx' talk will certainly pop up the first time Francoeur goes in a slump, or if one of the young pitchers hit's a wall. But Braves' Manager Bobby Cox says the development the kids got down on the farm should guard against any big letdown.

"Well our minor league system has really done a super job down there of developing," Cox said. "The nuts and bolts guys. It's hard work. There's nothing easy about it, but they're determined and focused and they come up real quick. The Scouting Department does a good job signing them. They've developed them very well down there."

"It's going to be a little frustrating for them in the early going because of last year's quick start and their ability to make an impact at such an early age," Smoltz said. "People are going to expect things way too fast. I just hope they're able to handle the lulls because there are going to be some. We just find a way to take over when they struggle a little bit. But they‘re good kids."

And, as we all know, there's more where those kids came from. We might not see twelve rookies make their debut in 2006, but the farm system should continue to supply the major league roster with any needed talent.

But 2005 will always be special.

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

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