Braves’ farm system draws praise from evaluators

Braves prospect Ronald Acuna warms up before the All-Star Futures Game at Marlins Park on July 9, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Braves prospect Ronald Acuna warms up before the All-Star Futures Game at Marlins Park on July 9, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

If one were to judge the Braves’ rebuild strictly by their accumulation of talent, it wouldn’t be erroneous to call it a resounding success.

The Braves own nine of ESPN Insider Keith Law's top 100 prospects (seven in the top 50). That confidence is echoed in Baseball America's midseason rankings, which also gave the Braves nine of the top 100.

While that has sparked debate about the best farm system in baseball, one thing is undeniable: The Braves have a treasure chest of assets, either to fill their major league roster internally or to acquire players for that purpose.

Braves manager Brian Snitker is among those impressed. Snitker, who’s spent 41 years with the franchise and has a heavy background in player development, said the system receives rave reviews across the league.

“I talk to the guys (minor league coaches),” Snitker said. “I talk to the managers. Call them, driving in or whatever. Curious to see what’s going on, touch base with them. And I’ll run into scouts on the road, like at some of the hotels a little bit, that I’ve known and managed against for years, had in our organization, or they’ll call me. … I know one guy, like, ‘first time I went in, prospected five starters.’ A guy who was in (Double-A) Mississippi earlier in the year. All five of (the starters) have a chance to be major leaguers.”

At the forefront of the Mississippi Braves’ rotation is the duo of Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka. Allard came in at No. 23 in Baseball America’s listings, while Soroka ranked 33rd. Of all the arms the Braves have amassed, those two have stood above the pack.

The Braves selected both in the first round of the 2015 draft, 14 picks apart. The left-handed Allard, 19, owns a 2.98 ERA across 18 starts. Soroka, 19, is even better, earning a 2.37 ERA over 17 starts.

Then there’s Luiz Gohara, another top 100 prospect anchoring the Mississippi rotation. And Max Fried, the main piece acquired when the Braves sent Justin Upton to San Diego in 2014.

Fried was No. 50 in Law’s offseason rankings, but unranked in July. He’s struggled to a 6.69 ERA over 76 2/3 innings, though the lefty remains the same intriguing lottery ticket he was when the Braves added him through the 2014 Justin Upton trade.

Gohara came in No. 39 for Law, a contrast from his 76th listing by Baseball America. Since he was promoted to Double-A, Gohard has a 2.90 ERA (nine starts). The Braves acquired him from Seattle last winter in the Mallex Smith trade.

But more dominant than any is 19-year-old outfielder Ronald Acuna, who’s risen from Single-A to Triple-A over the season and doesn’t appear to be slowing.

“I was asking a guy the other day, he was telling me about Acuna making the best play he’d seen all summer, and we talked about him,” Snitker said.

Acuna’s drawn comparisons with former Braves star Andruw Jones. He could be up as early as this summer, in which case he would debut at the same age Jones did.

“I’ve looked at his numbers, watched some video,” Braves first base coach and fellow Venezuelan Eddie Perez said. “I can’t wait to see him in the big leagues. I can’t wait to see him every day.”

With the rapid rise of Acuna and the pitchers, Ozzie Albies, the closest prospect to the majors, has almost become an afterthought. Albies, once a consensus top-10 talent, slipped to No. 25 and No. 32 in Baseball America’s and Law’s lists, respectively.

Albies has taken a step back in Gwinnett, but he’s still slashing .291/.334/.451. Depending on the team’s trade deadline activity, Albies could be promoted as early as August.

All that doesn’t even factor in pitchers Ian Anderson, who the Braves drafted third overall in 2016, or Kyle Wright, selected fifth in 2017. Despite already cracking the majors, Sean Newcomb is another notch on the Braves’ pitching prospect belt.

As fun as following the farm may be for fans, it’s just as thrilling for evaluators.

“They (scouts) all kind of like talking about watching our clubs play because of the talent level,” Snitker said. “And it’s fun for them to scout and see young, talented players. They enjoy going to games and seeing those guys instead of going, watching the game and talking to scouts, too, and saying ‘yeah I just saw a series and none of them can play.’

“They like going and watching the clubs that have talented players. It’s fun for a scout to write those guys up. They enjoy it. Like, ‘wow there’s a guy you’d like to have.’ Makes their job more fun watching nice young players play.”

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