Braves’ scouting success showing up on field

Atlanta Braves right fielder Michael Harris II warms up before a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies Thursday, June 2, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Braves right fielder Michael Harris II warms up before a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies Thursday, June 2, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER – Greg Walker, a roving hitting instructor for the Braves, put one industry truth in simple terms.

“Scouting is the lifeblood of an organization,” he recently said over the phone.

In baseball, scouting is crucial. It is joined by player development, and the two are important aspects of any organization.

The Braves’ amateur scouting successes have been on display early this season.

Recently, the club called up 21-year-old outfielder Michael Harris II, the organization’s top prospect who was drafted in the third round in 2019. The Braves have also relied on contributions from 23-year-old Spencer Strider (fourth round in 2020), 24-year-old Ian Anderson (first round in 2016) and 25-year-old Austin Riley (first round in 2015) and 26-year-old Kyle Wright (first round in 2017). And 23-year-old Bryce Elder (fifth round in 2020) also spent a month in the rotation.

Brian Bridges, the club’s former director of scouting, helped lead the club’s scouting operation until 2019. That’s when Dana Brown, the current vice president for scouting, took over and has helped the Braves make an impact in the scouting world.

“I would say it starts with Atlanta’s history of being dedicated to signing good, young players,” Brown said over the phone. “They’ve always been dedicated to it, so that kind of opens up a door for us to walk through. They’re supportive in us doing our jobs and they’re going to put together all the resources that they have to sign these players, so it’s exciting to know that, hey, you have the backing.”

There is a reason the Braves have won four consecutive division titles and a World Series. It is no fluke.

You need talent to put together a run like that. You can acquire talent in a few ways: Drafting it, trading for it and signing it. The Braves, however, have not blown away the competition with their payroll.

No, they’ve used homegrown talent. They have had success in the draft.

International signings Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies have played a huge role, but so have the draft picks.

“We knew when we started this rebuild years ago that it was going to be draft-driven,” Walker said. “Those high draft picks, you just can’t miss on them.”

Behind the scenes, Braves’ scouts work to identify players for the draft. The scouting department has worked as a team to ensure it correctly evaluates each high school and college athlete.

You can see their work reflected in the current on-field product.

“All those guys, they deserve a lot of credit for finding guys like that,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s a tough job, what they do. They do a great job at it. Nobody works any harder than a scout. That scouting department and what they do, Dana and his guys, I’ve gotten a chance to meet a lot of them and talk to them, and I have the utmost respect for that whole group because those guys, they’re probably the hardest-working group in an organization.”

Snitker also spent a ton of years in player development, which is also critical for success. Not only have the Braves drafted well, but they’ve developed players. Good organizations, Snitker said, have good scouting and player development.

A scout’s job isn’t easy. They deal with long hours and lots of travel. Misses are inevitable. Brown said he and his scouts take pride in their work, which he said includes over 250 nights in hotels per year.

That’s why the Braves’ scouting department of recent years deserves credit for its work.

“We’re dedicated to our craft, so we want to make an impact at the big-league level, and our way of doing it is to scout, sign and hopefully we develop the good ones that can make a difference at the big-league level,” Brown said.

Harris loves Atlanta sports

In a recent phone interview, Jake Higginbotham, one of Harris’ former Double-A teammates, provided this nugget that those in Atlanta may enjoy.

“He’s as big an Atlanta sports fan as everybody I’ve ever met from Atlanta,” Higginbotham said. “On top of being an Atlanta Brave, he’s a diehard Hawks fan, he loves the Falcons. Anything Atlanta, he takes pride in.”

Harris is an Atlanta-area kid from Stockbridge High. He’s the latest local kid to play for the hometown club.

He was the first Georgia-born player to make his MLB debut for the Braves since righty Lucas Sims in 2017, and the first Georgia-born hitter to debut for Atlanta since Dansby Swanson in 2016.

“It’s always neat when you get a hometown guy,” Snitker said. “We’ve had a bunch over the years, local guys. A kid that grew up watching the Braves as a fan and everything, it’s great for his family, everybody, all his teammates from high school and all that kind of stuff. Especially when you have the character of person that’s so great like it is with Michael.”

Braves looking long term with Acuña

Ronald Acuña, who sat out Wednesday’s game because of soreness, was in Thursday’s lineup as the designated hitter.

The Braves remain cautious with him. They’re evaluating him daily.

In April, Snitker said Acuña probably wouldn’t be a full-time outfielder until sometime in July. Before Thursday’s game, he said the club will even be careful with Acuña after that point.

“He’s going to be sore sometimes and we’re going to need to put him down,” Snitker said. “That’s OK. That’s all right. He’s doing a great job of being forthright with how he feels and not covering anything up, and he’s being very smart about everything that he’s doing.”

The Braves are in win-now mode. They cannot win now, however, without their best player.

They’re trying to keep him, and everyone else, healthy during a long season.

“Hopefully you’re taking care of them until the end and you’re in it,” Snitker said. “You don’t know. It’s about four more months that we have, all the games that we have left to play, keeping everybody upright.”