Much has changed since November 2017, when MLB punished the Braves for a series of illegal activities in the international market. Since that offseason, the Braves are two-time division champs and boast one of the brightest outlooks in the majors.
Even so, it was a humiliating turn of events for the franchise. General manager John Copollela was banned for life. International scouting director Gordon Blakely was suspended a year. President John Hart stepped down.
Alex Anthopoulos assumed control of the team and has remade the organization over the past two years. The team’s string of success has certainly helped distance it from that controversy.
The Braves’ full punishment included the loss of 13 prospects, a third-round draft pick and heavy spending limitations in future international signing periods. They aren’t out of the woods yet, since the effects will soon be felt as the Braves continue promoting their top-flight prospects without replenishing the system via the international market.
The sanctions have resulted in an extra emphasis on the domestic draft. The Braves won’t be strengthening their farm by trading away major leaguers while contending. Anthopoulos has had to proceed with caution, knowing that a “splashy” move would further dent the future of the system.
Baseball America currently rates the Braves’ system the fourth best in the majors, but warns: “The fall is coming. Two years from now, the Braves will likely rank among the bottom third in terms of farm system talent. By then, Atlanta will have graduated a steady stream of productive big leaguers, however, stretching back to Ozzie Albies’ 2017 arrival.”
MLB’s punishment hammered the bottom of the team’s system. The Braves lost nine players from their 2015-16 international signing class, and three from their 2017 group. Their agreement with infielder Ji-Hwan Bae was voided. They also were barred from signing infielder Robert Puason, then 14 years old, after MLB determined the sides reached an illegal agreement.
What became of these prospects? Let’s look:
Infielder Ji-Hwan Bae: Bae, who was introduced at Truist Park several months before the hammer came down, is the Pirates’ No. 7 prospect, per Baseball America. Pittsburgh signed him four months after he was freed of his previous commitment. The speedy shortstop could wind up a productive top-of-the-order hitter.
However, Bae was found guilty of assaulting his former girlfriend in October 2018, tracing to an incident at the end of 2017. Despite the conviction, the Pirates retained him.
Pitcher Juan Contreras: Contreras landed with the Angels in February 2018. He allowed 14 runs (12 earned) across seven innings in the Arizona League after not pitching the previous season.
Catcher Abrahan Gutierrez: Gutierrez is the Phillies’ No. 26 prospect, with Baseball America noting he could develop into a backup-level catcher. He struggled at the plate in low Single-A and doesn’t project to be anything more than an average defender, but 2019 was his first full professional season.
In his first full season, Maitan didn’t find his footing. He hit .214/.278/.323 across 123 games with the A-level Burlington Bees. His conditioning has long been a concern, though the Angels feel he’s improving as a defender at third base.
The 20-year-old still has plenty of time to find his groove, but that loss doesn’t look nearly as harmful as it did at the time. He doesn’t rank in the Angels’ top 30.
Outfielder Brandol Mezquita:The only prospect who re-signed with the Braves, Mezquita has hit .226/.349/.307 over the past two seasons in Rookie League.
Outfielder Juan Carlos Negret: The Royals inked Negret in December 2017. The Cuban outfielder didn’t show much of a bat in A-ball last year and has stolen only 10 bases in the past two seasons and swiping 23 bags during his final season in the Braves system. He didn’t place among the Royals’ best 30.
Infielder Yenci Pena: He found a home with the Rangers, but Pena isn’t listed among their prized prospects. He hit .244/.352/.374 with three homers and 19 RBIs across 30 games in the Arizona League last season.
Infielder Robert Puason: The Braves never had Puason; they were ruled ineligible to sign him after MLB determined foul play. MLB found the Braves had an agreement with Puason’s agent that compensated six of his other prospects with inflated bonuses in exchange for a commitment from Puason to sign when he was eligible during the 2019-20 period.
Puason is by far the highest regarded player of this group. He was the No. 2 prospect in the latest international cycle, earning over $5 million from the A’s. He’s already their No. 6 prospect, despite not yet playing a game with the organization.
Infielder Angel Rojas: The 19-year-old Rojas is a Yankees farmhand. In 2019, he hit .241/.298/.343 across 41 games in the Gulf Coast League.
Pitcher Yefri del Rosario:Del Rosario signed with the Royals the same week as Negret. He’s the organization’s No. 20 prospect despite missing the 2019 season with a nerve issue in his arm. In 2018, he had a 3.19 ERA over 15 starts in Low-A, striking out 72 and walking 29.
Infielder Yunior Severino: The Twins signed Severino, who’s gained little traction in the minors thus far. The 20-year-old hit .240/.287/.370 in 28 games last season. After six games in the Gulf Coast League, he spent most of the season in Single-A Cedar Rapids.
Infielder Livan Soto: Soto, 19, is yet another relinquished prospect who landed with the Angels. He ranks 23rd on their top 30, earning praise for his patience at the plate. As Baseball America noted, he has almost as many walks (84) as strikeouts (94) in his three seasons. He’s also considered a quality defender, so perhaps Soto can eventually become a utilityman in the bigs.
Outfielder Antonio SucreSucre, 20, last played in 2017. He hasn’t signed since he was declared a free agent.
Pitcher Guillermo Zuniga: Now a member of the Dodgers organization, Zuniga pitched in 33 games last season across two A-levels. He had a 4.08 ERA with 81 strikeouts against 31 walks in 68-1/3 innings. He didn’t make Baseball America’s top 30 Dodgers prospects.
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