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Reevaluating the Atlanta Braves’ Development of Positional Players

The Atlanta Braves have made their proverbial living over the past two decades on identifying and developing pitching prospects. They have excelled in this category, while other teams looked on in admiration. There is no “Moneyball” formula or revolutionizing way of doing this. More than anything, it takes quality scouting and the upper parts of the organization to trust what they are hearing from the scouts.

While the Braves have enjoyed success from drafting and developing pitching prospects, they have taken a lot of criticism for not having as much success with position players. A couple months ago, Keith Law <a href="” target=”_blank”>ranked the Braves’ farm system as 16th and said “It’s telling that the major question on every position-player prospect in their top 10 is whether he’ll hit.”

While there is some truth to the criticisms that Law and others have voiced about the Braves’ farm system, the reality of the Braves’ team is that they have been quite successful at identifying and developing quality positional prospects.

The true test is the impact that prospects have on the big league team. Prospects are nothing more than a mythical creature, in my opinion, until they make it to the majors and prove they belong. Realistically, how many “can’t miss prospects” actually pan out as everyday major league players? Not many.

The Braves have drafted and developed five of their starting position players at the start of 2012. Chipper Jones was selected with the first pick in the 1990 draft. He made his debut in 1993 and has been the starting third baseman for the Braves since 1995. He is in his final year with the Braves and will retire and ride off into the Hall of Fame sunset.

Brian McCann was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2002 draft. He made his debut in 2005 with the Braves. He has been an All Star every season since that first year. He has one final season on his contract.

Martin Prado was signed by the Braves as an amateur free agent in 2001. He made his debut with the Braves in 2006 as a reserve infielder. He won the second base job over Kelly Johnson halfway through 2009. He moved to left field in 2011 to make room for Dan Uggla. He was an All Star in 2010.

Jason Heyward was taken in the first round of the 2007 draft. He rose quickly through the minor leagues and finished 2nd in the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year. He started in the All Star game that year as well. He ran into struggles in his 2nd season. He is off to a good start this year as he tries to rebuild his confidence and the form that created so much buzz in 2010 and earlier.

Freddie Freeman was taken in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft, the same year as Heyward. He rose through the Braves’ farm system quickly and enjoyed success at each level. He had a great first season last year and finished 2nd to fellow teammate Craig Kimbrel in the Rookie of the Year ballot. He has hit his way into the heart of the Braves’ batting order and figures to be there for a while.

The Braves did not draft Tyler Pastornicky. They acquired him in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010 as they shipped Yunel Escobar to the Blue Jays. He spent one full season in the Braves’ farm system and part of another. Pastornicky won the starting shortstop job this year. The Braves have not expected much out of him from an offensive standpoint. He has shown signs of potential, though he is still very young and continuing to develop.

Each one of these players were either drafted or acquired via trade by the Braves while they were still considered “prospects.” They have one of the best offensive third basemen and catchers in the game. They have two very promising players in Heyward and Freeman. They have one of the most versatile players in Prado. Pastornicky gives them depth at a position that the Braves have been stock-piling prospects.

In all, the Braves have acquired six of their starting eight players through identifying and developing them. This is pretty impressive. It also shows that the Braves are not as bad as they are said to be in terms of positional player development. In all, four of the six players have made the All Star team for the Braves. I predict Freeman will make it five out of six this year.

This is a luxury and a necessity for the Braves. They have to continue to develop prospects to make an impact on their team. They have collected third base, catching and shortstop prospects to fill upcoming needs in the future. The hope is to find someone to replace Chipper Jones, possibly Brian McCann and give them a solid SS since the departure of Escobar.

It would be nice to have depth at each position, but this is a difficult thing to accomplish. The Braves have shown great ability to trade prospects to fill other needs and add depth.

Overall, when you have players making significant contributions for the big league team from the development of your farm system, it seems like you would be considered successful at this. Whatever system the Braves have utilized over the past 20+ years has worked from a pitching standpoint and also a positional standpoint.