On Mike Soroka’s day to pitch — as it is tonight in San Francisco — the Braves lineup takes on its most pronounced boy-band properties.
Sometimes we just take this youth and its premature success for granted. It doesn’t always work this way, folks. Green bananas don’t make the best pudding. Saplings don’t provide much usable shade in the summer. Rookies don’t always own the mound.
It’s really phenomenal when you look at, say, the lineup that shutout St. Louis last Wednesday. With the 21-year-old Soroka on the mound then, the Braves started four players 22-years-old or younger — the other three being Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley. The 2015 draft was represented by Soroka, Riley and Arizona’s overall first pick that year, Dansby Swanson.
Heaping credit upon the youngsters is easy. Who doesn’t want to see the kids thrive? Who doesn’t share in the joy and energy they bring to the proceedings?
Finding a target for organizational credit is bit more difficult. A couple purges will do that.
Current GM Alex Anthopoulos, hired after all this talent was acquired, is more the beneficiary than the architect right now. His work is still incubating. Yeah, he’s young and he’s sharp, but, still, one of his most significant contributions to the Braves has been to not mess up what he inherited.
So, who gets the attaboys? Here’s one of those rare occasions when I feel like handing out kudos, only there’s nobody in the Braves offices to take them.
That 2015 draft — which also produced starter Kolby Allard and A.J. Minter — was the first overseen by John Coppolella, along with John Hart. That draft was by any measure one that will shape the Braves for years to come, even as Coppolella’s name fades into forced obscurity.
For good and ill, Coppolella’s prints are all over the great Braves rebuild. He, of course, was forced out and then banned from baseball in 2017 for working around the rules for international signings and then refusing to fess up. The penalties suffered by the Braves will drastically shorten their international reach for a couple years to come.
There is a lot sad and even tragic about Coppolella’s rise and fall. That there have been multiple triumphs the last season-and-a-quarter in which he can’t share is but one of those misfortunes.
Who’s going to celebrate the disgraced GM when his players break through so vividly? No one, that’s who. Coppolella forfeited all right for history to treat him kindly.
When Anthopoulos arrived, he, like many in his position, would look to bring in his own people around him. By the start of this year, a couple other fellows who were so instrumental in the Braves youth movement — director of scouting Brian Bridges and his senior adviser, Roy Clark — were shown the door. Severed were he last institutional links to the young players now providing all this lift for the Braves.
These players are so young and their careers are so new. Yet they already have outlasted the people responsible for getting them here.
So, just enjoy the benefits, and let all credit for importing them evaporate into the ether.
Coming up very soon Anthopoulos will have his next chance to influence this team. The amateur draft is June 3-5, and the Braves have two of the top 21 picks — one of them a supplemental pick for failing to sign last season’s top choice.
We’re witnessing now just how important those dates are, even if the people who shape the picks and chart the course of a franchise can come and go and be conveniently forgotten.
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