Braves Find Plenty Of Production From Farm System In Recent Years

CHICAGO–Their offseason acquisitions of the Upton brothers notwithstanding, the Braves don’t make a lot of flashy moves and they don’t throw a lot of money around.

In the past four years, only the Rays have won more games and spent less cash. Atlanta has 360 victories (tied for fifth in MLB) with a major league payroll of $383 million (15th).

callis250132When draft bonuses were unrestricted in the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Braves ranked 28th with a total of $22 million from 2007-11. They’ve been thrifty on the international market as well, with only third baseman Edward Salcedo ($1.6 million) getting first-round money.

These are not Ted Turner’s Braves.

Yet they succeed thanks to a productive farm system. No player-development pipeline has been more bountiful in the last three years.

Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters already have earned all-star recognition, with Kimbrel setting a major league record for relievers by averaging 16.7 strikeouts per nine innings last season. Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons have All-Star Games in their future as well, as could Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor.

Andrelton Simmons

Andrelton Simmons (Photo by Bill Setliff)

Atlanta’s system has provided valuable trade fodder too. Randall Delgado and minor leaguers Nick Ahmed and Zeke Spruill fleshed out the Braves’ trade package for Justin Upton in January. Arodys Vizcaino procured Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm from the Cubs last July.

So while the system currently is at an ebb stage, ranking 26th in our current talent rankings (SEE PAGE 16), that’s nowhere near a true indication of Atlanta’s ability to develop talent. Which is why we annually complement that list with our what-have-you-done-for-me-lately rankings in this space.

What follows is a ranking of organizations based on the talent passing through their systems since the end of the 2009 season. In addition to prospects who graduated to the majors or were used in trades, also included in a team’s ranking are players lost via waivers or the Rule 5 draft.

A club gets credit only for players who spent time in its system (so no Jesus Montero for the Mariners). Anyone who was traded by one team and reached the big leagues with another counts for both (such as Anthony Rizzo with the Red Sox, Padres and Cubs).

How The Rest Stack Up

2. NATIONALS. The best back-to-back No. 1 overall picks in draft history, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, already have made their presence felt in Washington with a 2012 division title. Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos and Drew Storen chipped in as well. So did Gio Gonzalez, who led the majors with 21 wins after the Nats gave up Tom Milone, Daniel Norris, Brad Peacock and since-reacquired A.J. Cole to get him. Washington surrendered another quality prospect this offseason, trading Alex Meyer for Denard Span.

3. REDS. Speaking of division titles, Aroldis Chapman, Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier contributed mightily to one last year. So did Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger, via a deal for Mat Latos. Cincinnati should get more out of Devin Mesoraco in future years and spun Didi Gregorius off in a three-team trade for Shin-Soo Choo.

4. BLUE JAYS. The Jays see-sawed down our organization rankings and up this list when it parted with five significant prospects (Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, Adeiny Hechavarria) in offseason blockbusters that brought in R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. On the homefront, they’ve introduced J.P. Arencibia, Kyle Drabek, Anthony Gose and Brett Lawrie in Toronto.

5. ROYALS. Of its record nine Top 100 Prospects in 2011, Kansas City has graduated three (Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy) and swapped three (Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery) for James Shields and Wade Davis. The Royals also have developed a passel of relievers, most notably Kelvin Herrera and Aaron Crow, and a possible all-star catcher in Salvador Perez.

6. GIANTS. San Francisco has the biggest negative disparity between its current system (No. 28) and its recent past. That past includes two World Series championships in the last three years, fueled by Buster Posey with help from Brandon Belt, Madison Bumgarner and Brandon Crawford. But trading Zack Wheeler for a couple of months of Carlos Beltran was a regrettable mistake.

7. DIAMONDBACKS. One of just two organizations in the top 10 of both rankings, Arizona has incorporated Paul Goldschmidt, Daniel Hudson and Wade Miley into its own roster and been aggressive on the trade market. The Snakes gave up Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook for Trevor Cahill, and Trevor Bauer for Gregorius.

8. CARDINALS. St. Louis tops our organization talent ratings and has the best combined rankings on the two lists. Allen Craig, David Freese, Jaime Garcia, Jon Jay and Lance Lynn all played roles in the 2011 World Series title and are headed for solid careers.

9. BREWERS. Though Milwaukee has a half-dozen notable big leaguers, only John Axford and Jonathan Lucroy remain with the club. The Brewers traded Lawrie for Shawn Marcum and dealt Alcides Escobar, Odorizzi and Lorenzo Cain for Zack Greinke—and Marcum and Greinke are gone too.

10. ANGELS. Though Los Angeles has the game’s worst farm system, it’s hard to argue with Mike Trout. Mark Trumbo has 61 homers in two seasons as a regular, while Jean Segura, Tyler Skaggs and Jordan Walden helped bring Greinke, Tommy Hanson and Dan Haren in trades.

11. CUBS. Chicago still has a lot of holes to fill, but they have found three-quarters of an infield in Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro. Desperate for pitching, they sacrificed Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee in a deal for Matt Garza.

12. INDIANS. Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley continue the Indians’ recent tradition of finding most of their best players through trades, though they also have a couple of homegrown regulars in Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Trading Drew Pomeranz and Alex White for Ubaldo Jimenez didn’t work out as hoped.

13. RED SOX. Will Middlebrooks and Felix Doubront claimed regular roles in Boston in 2012, two rare bright spots in a dismal season. Parting with Rizzo and Casey Kelly for Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey were two moves that went awry.

14. RAYS. Matt Moore has Cy Young Award potential, and Jeremy Hellickson and Desmond Jennings are two more reasons Tampa Bay remains in contention on a shoestring budget. The Rays also have come up with several useful role players, including Alex Cobb, Wade Davis, John Jaso and Justin Ruggiano.

15. MARINERS. Dustin Ackley has yet to live up to his billing as the No. 2 overall pick in 2010, but give him time, and Michael Saunders and Kyle Seager took positive steps forward last season. Michael Pineda and Jose Campos, dealt for Montero a year ago, could be stars if they stay healthy.

16. PHILLIES. Philadelphia has traded away all of its best recent talents—d’Arnaud, Drabek, Gose, Jonathan Singleton, Vance Worley and Jarred Cosart—to acquire Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence and Ben Revere. The Phillies still hope that Domonic Brown can fulfill his promise.

17. DODGERS. Los Angeles also has jettisoned several youngsters, most significantly Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster while also adding $261 million in salary commitments by taking on Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. The Dodgers have managed to hold onto Dee Gordon and Kenley Jansen.

18. YANKEES. Yet another club that has focused on veterans at the expense of youth, New York has traded Montero (for Pineda and Campos), Austin Jackson (for Curtis Granderson) and Vizcaino (for Javier Vazquez). The Yankees did retain Ivan Nova and David Phelps.

19. WHITE SOX. Chicago stole Chris Sale with the 13th pick in the 2010 draft and is starting to see its $10 million investment in Dayan Viciedo pay off. Addison Reed, Jose Quintana, Nate Jones and Hector Santiago bolstered the White Sox pitching staff last year, though they’d like to reverse their trade of Hudson for Edwin Jackson.

20. MARLINS. Giancarlo Stanton is the last star standing in Miami. Logan Morrison is the Marlins’ next-best hitter, while Steve Cishek is their closer.

21. METS. Though New York’s rebuilding project is far from complete, it does have three building blocks in Ike Davis, Matt Harvey and Jonathon Niese.

22. PIRATES. Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte and Neil Walker mean that Andrew McCutchen doesn’t have to carry Pittsburgh’s lineup by himself.

23. ORIOLES. Manny Machado looks like a superstar after making a smooth transition to the majors as a 20-year-old. Beyond him, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton and Jake Arrieta haven’t met expectations.

24. ROCKIES. One of three organizations to fall in the final 10 on both lists, Colorado has produced more quantity than most teams at the end of this one. Drew Pomeranz and Wilin Rosario are the highlights, with Rex Brothers, Jhoulys Chacin, Chris Nelson and Josh Rutledge the best of a group of complementary players.

25. TIGERS. Though Detroit ranks in the bottom third of both rankings, it has come up with an all-star catcher in Alex Avila. Drew Smyly and Andy Dirks made strong contributions to last year’s American League pennant winners.

26. PADRES. San Diego imported two promising position players in Grandal and Rizzo, but dealt the latter for Andrew Cashner.

27. RANGERS. Texas has the largest positive disparity between the two lists, ranking third in terms of present minor league talent. The best players to pass through the Rangers system while the big league club has made three straight playoff appearances are Neftali Feliz, who’s coming back from Tommy John surgery, and Justin Smoak, who has floundered since getting traded for Cliff Lee.

28. TWINS. Minnesota has fallen on hard times and dealt its two recent player-development successes—Ramos (for Matt Capps) and Ben Revere (for Worley and Trevor May)—for some much-needed pitching.

29. ASTROS. Jose Altuve defied doubters and made the All-Star Game in his first full big league season, but baseball’s worst team hasn’t come up with any other definite regulars despite holding open auditions.

30. ATHLETICS. Oakland had the worst combination of rankings (No. 25 in terms of current talent), and this one may seem counterintuitive given the A’s success in 2012. But they don’t get credit for Yoenis Cespedes, Parker, Milone or Cook, and they may not have a solid regular unless A.J. Griffin is for real.