The remade Braves have become a place to be

The day after the Braves’ season ended with a 1-0 victory over Detroit and Justin Verlander, president John Hart told a few of us media types that his club would be playing in a different free-agent market this fall. The view of the Braves within the industry, Hart suggested, has changed.

He pointed to the rapidly restocked farm system, widely considered baseball’s best. He pointed to SunTrust Park, which figures to open deeper and wider revenue streams. (He did not point to himself, though he probably should have.) Not long ago, it was possible to wonder if the Braves had the brains and brass to execute a massive restoration. That question has been answered: Darn right they do.

Something you no longer hear/read in baseball circles: “The Braves don’t know what they’re doing.” Instead you get this, from Jeffrey Paternostro of Baseball Prospectus in his state-of-the-system capsule: “This organization is flooded with potential above-average arms up-and-down the system and has a ready-to-contribute up-the-middle combo near the top. It’s almost an embarrassment of riches.

From BP’s David Lee in his breakdown of the team’s 10 best under-25 players: “The Braves are really good at developing talent … Not all prospects pan out. That’s OK. You could add an additional five spots to this list and the talent level wouldn’t decrease by the end of it. In addition to their development knowledge, they’re pretty smart at scouting.”

Lee’s summation: “The Braves are on the right track.

Let’s go further. The Braves haven’t just remade their farm system; they’ve remade their organization. The 2014 promotion of Brian Bridges to scouting director and the return of famed scout Roy Clark was just the beginning. Only last week, the club announced that it had hired Dom Chiti as senior director of pitching and Dave Wallace as roving pitching instructor.

The two left the Orioles — Chiti was Buck Showalter’s bullpen coach; Wallace had just stepped down as pitching coach — to return to the Braves. This might have seemed a minor move, but within baseball it was another in a series of events underscoring a greater truth: This reborn organization has again become a destination for baseball people. It’s a place, maybe The Place, to be.

(There was also a practical side. The Braves were unhappy with the development of their prized young arms. That’s the reason pitching coach Roger McDowell was jettisoned: Too many young pitchers had hit a wall under his tutelage. Chiti, on the other hand, is known in this organization as the Julio Whisperer — he helped right Julio Teheran a few years ago when the prospect’s path had stalled.)

We really shouldn’t be surprised that a job with the Braves has become a plum career move. Hart is among the most successful nurturers in the sport’s history. A list of bigwigs who apprenticed under him in Cleveland and Texas:

Indians president Chris Antonetti; Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro; Rangers general manager Jon Daniels; Padres GM A.J. Preller; Pirates GM Neal Huntington; Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins; Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen; Dodgers vice president and former Diamondbacks/Padres GM Josh Byrnes; former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd; former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, and former Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta, now chief of strategy for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.

The latest to have been mentored by Hart is the current Braves GM, of whom Hart said last month: “The most valuable asset I’ve been fortunate to have is John Coppolella, with his work ethic and creativity.” Among baseball insiders, Coppolella has gone from a being a curiosity — was he ready for the job? — to a source of wonder. Given all the lopsided deals he has authored these past two years, why does anyone trade with him anymore?

The Braves suffered a talent drain — on and off the field — under Frank Wren. Too many high draft picks were spent on prospects with low ceilings. As an inevitable consequence, the farm system went fallow. Wren’s abrasive nature drove off some employees who’d grown accustomed to the more collegial management of John Schuerholz. Wren’s major-league product actually was pretty good; most everything beneath was not.

In the two years under Hart/Coppolella, the major-league product has lost 95 and 93 games, but the losing was by design. (As noted the other day, the Cubs took a similar path to their drought-breaking World Series title.) The Braves made a plan. They’re executing the plan. There’s no guarantee it will yield a championship here, but this organization is clever and driven.

In sum, it’s the sort of organization to which clever and driven people gravitate. Coppolella is great with ideas. Hart is great with people. As the man from Baseball Prospectus said: The Braves are on the right track.

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