Will an odd Braves trade make for a draft windfall?

Starting pitcher Kumar Rocker (80) of Vanderbilt reacts to being pulled from the game against Mississippi State by head coach Tim Corbin in the top of the fifth inning during game three of the College World Series Championship at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha on June 30, 2021 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images/TNS)

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Starting pitcher Kumar Rocker (80) of Vanderbilt reacts to being pulled from the game against Mississippi State by head coach Tim Corbin in the top of the fifth inning during game three of the College World Series Championship at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha on June 30, 2021 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Conventional wisdom holds that MLB teams can’t trade draft picks. We were just reminded that they can, sometimes. There are such things as competitive-balance picks. They’re awarded to small-market teams that don’t win or spend much. They’re exercised between Rounds 1 and 2 and then 2 and 3. They can be traded, though they seldom are.

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The Braves, reigning World Series champs, made a trade Monday that, when you read it, didn’t make much sense. They sent three minor-leaguers – including Drew Waters, ranked MLB’s 32nd-best prospect by Baseball America last year – to Kansas City for the 35th pick in this draft. (Also in the package: pitcher Andrew Hoffmann and infielder CJ Alexander.)

Coupled with the Braves’ Round 1 selection – No. 20 overall – that gives the organization that just won it all two worthwhile picks. Not incidentally, it increases their slot money from $8 million to $10M, which ranks 10th-highest in this draft, which commences Sunday.

A baseball team, to borrow from the great Lowell George, has two trains running. There’s the big-league team, which is what most of us see, and there’s the minor-league system. The hope is that those trains someday intersect, that minor-leaguers become major-leaguers.

In their rebuild around pitching, the Braves accumulated enough assets to stock what was the consensus choice, two years running, as baseball’s best farm system. The bulk of those players have graduated, as they say in the industry, and are proud owners of World Series rings. Think Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna and Austin Riley. Think Max Fried, Ian Anderson, AJ Minter and Kyle Wright.

Both ESPN and MLB rated the Braves’ system the sport’s 27th-best this spring. In March, the Braves traded two Round 1 picks made by the current administration – catcher Shea Langeliers and pitcher Ryan Cusick – plus Cristian Pache and Joey Estes to Oakland for Matt Olson. As it stands, MLB Pipeline has no Braves among its top 100 prospects.

That can happen when the big-league club is in contention every year. You’re drafting lower. Prospects become currency. The Braves of Alex Anthopoulos traded Kolby Allard, the first player chosen under John Coppolella, to Texas in 2019 for reliever Chris Martin. The next day, they sent Joey Wentz, taken 40th in 2016, to Detroit for Shane Greene. For a time, Allard and Wentz were regarded as major parts of the Braves’ future. Under new management, they were dispensable.

The Braves might have overpaid for Olson, but they had to have a first baseman – given that it appeared Freddie Freeman was headed elsewhere. That backup catcher William Contreras has become an All-Star DH has eased the loss of Langeliers. That Michael Harris has stamped himself as the center fielder of today and tomorrow made Waters superfluous.

The big-league Braves believe they’re positioned to win for a long time, which takes precedence over all else. It does not, however, mean the farms can fall fallow. You can’t pretend there won’t be a 2027 season. As many splendid players as the big-league Braves have, they’ll all need replacing.

Until we see what the Braves do with the 20th and 35th picks, we can’t know what’s on their corporate mind. It could be they saw a chance to start restocking in earnest. It also could be that they’re thinking of spending the 20th pick for more immediate help and letting the 35th start the organizational redo.

Kumar Rocker is from Watkinsville. He’s the son of former Auburn defensive lineman Tracy Rocker, now an NFL assistant coach. The younger Rocker, who helped Vanderbilt win the 2021 College World Series, was drafted No. 10 overall by the Mets last year.

Dismayed by medical reports, the Mets didn’t sign him. He’s again draft-eligible. He has been pitching for the Tri-Valley Cats, an independent minor-league club. His agent is Scott Boras, who said his client is A-OK.

If Rocker is available at No. 20 overall, would the Braves take him? (MLB doesn’t allow trading up in Round 1.) Might they view him as another big arm for the Braves’ bullpen come October? He’s 22, so it’s not as if they’d be taking a high school pitcher. If he’s gone, do they go to Plan B and take a high school pitcher?

We know Anthopoulos to be a deft deadline dealer, acquiring half a bullpen in 2019 and a whole new outfield last year. We’ll to see if there was more to the Waters deal than giving a stalled minor-leaguer a fresh start and banking $2M in return.