Braves better get it right with prospects

The Braves better get it right then they select players in the amateur draft Thursday. They better get it right when they sign international prospects later this summer. They better have gotten it right in last year's draft, the first under the Two Johns (Coppolella and Hart), and in the many veteran-for-prospects trades they’ve made over the past 18 months.

That’s because the only way the Braves are going to be a contending team is for a good percentage of those prospects to develop into good (and relatively cheap) major leaguers. Coppolella told The AJC’s Mark Bradley that he envisions “wave after wave” of prospects eventually playing at Cobb Taxpayer Stadium. That’s the right way in the big picture, but the Braves still have to get the micro stuff right.

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Here is another reminder that, even among top-rated prospects, more wash out than make it :

Blogger Matt Perez analyzed the major league success rate of Baseball America’s top 100 prospects from 1990-2006. Perez, who expanded on earlier work by Victor Wang and Scott McKinney, used Wins Above Replacement to measure “success” and grouped prospects in broad categories as “bust” or “success.”

Perez’s conclusion: “Three out of every four pitching prospects fail, and two out of every three hitting prospects fail. About 70 percent of all prospects fail.”

The Braves have accumulated so many prospects that they’ve increased their chances of success, but they still have to pick the right players and develop them into the foundation of a good major league club. Otherwise they just can’t compete with the big-money clubs who will out-spend the Braves (and their own mistakes) on the market.

That reality hit home when, as the Braves were in Los Angeles, the Dodgers announced that they designated Carl Crawford for assignment and were eating the remaining $35 million on his deal.  Days earlier the Dodgers DFA’d Alex Guerrero and will eat $13 million. They still owe another DFA, Mike Morse, $8.5 million. Matt Kemp, now with the Padres, still has about $14 million coming to him from the Dodgers.

The dead-money Dodgers also gave Hector Olivera a $28 million signing bonus in early 2015 and, before he ever played for their big-league club, traded him to the Braves months later for a pretty good young lefty (Alex Wood), an older reliever (Jim Johnson) and a touted prospect (Jose Peraza). Only Wood remains with the Dodgers.

The Braves, by contrast, had to swallow hard to eat contracts for Nick Swisher ($15 million) and Michael Bourn ($14 million) this season (and those salaries were more than offset by the Indians in the Chris Johnson trade). The Braves kept around Dan Uggla long after he became the worst everyday player in the majors before finally eating $18 million-plus. They have no choice but to try to get something out of Olivera when he returns from suspension because they will still owe him about $30 million.

Look at the MLB dead-money rankings, and you’ll see there are teams in certain markets that are willing to eat bad contracts and keep spending. The Braves will never be among those teams, even as they open their “major real-estate business” in Cobb. After all, this is the organization that traded away Juan Uribe and Chris Johnson in what amounted to a salary dump when the team still was competitive last July.

The Braves also rank highly in the amount of dead money “received” from other teams this year, meaning salary still being paid to Braves players by other teams. That’s a result of the Two Johns clearing the decks by dumping more salary than they take on. But that also means the Braves aren’t getting a lot of production from the players they took on in those salary dumps, and that's a big factor in the historically bad season in progress.

Eventually, the Braves need good players. The best way for them to do that is grown them on the farm. They have plenty of pitchers and some skilled position players down there but not a lot of power . On that subject, Coppolella tells Bradley: “We could go out and sign a power bat this offseason.”

They could, but they won’t. If starting pitching ranks No. 1 among overvalued asset, power bats are 1A. The Braves can’t afford to overpay for anything, so they’d better right about a lot of these prospects.

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.