Compiling Draft Report Cards and starting work on Team Top 30 Prospect lists meant that Ask BA took a week off, but we’re back this week with the promise to be back again next week with another Ask BA. If you have questions for Ask BA, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and please include your name and hometown.
Are some organizations chronically underrated? Every year the Braves seem to consistently develop quality major league talent, yet a lot of those contributors are not highly rated in prospect rankings or overall organization rankings. Pitching is the main area I’ve noticed this (Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Alex Wood, Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan), but Evan Gattis and Andrelton Simmons have also exceeded expectations. I think of the Braves (and Cardinals) as consistently being underrated whereas other teams (Royals, Rays, Red Sox) seem to be highly rated every year yet develop (fewer) major leaguers. In essence, I have learned to trust Frank Wren, John Coppolella, and the rest of the front office as always making the right decisions.
Ultimately my question is does BA consider the ability of an organization to select and develop talent, and if not, should it?
The Braves have built a consistent winner again, at least during the regular season. They have made the playoffs in three of the past four years and have won at least 89 games in each of the past four seasons. They have done it with a mid-range payroll while surviving some poor decisions when it comes to paying veterans—large contracts for B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla come to mind.
So how have the Braves stayed competitive? Drafting franchise cornerstones Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward in the first two rounds of the 2007 draft didn’t hurt. But the Braves have also done an excellent job of finding hidden or under-appreciated talent and then developing that talent into productive big leaguers.
Righthander Brandon Beachy was signed as a nondrafted free agent; the Braves found him through some excellent scouting by Gene Kearns. Gattis was a 23rd-round pick with an unconventional path to pro ball.
Lefthander Alex Wood, a 2012 second-round pick, was passed over by many teams because of concerns about his delivery. The Braves focused on his power stuff and the fact that Wood throws strikes despite an unconventional delivery. They were rewarded with 77 solid innings this year and expect him to be part of their 2014 rotation as well.
The Braves scout junior colleges as extensively and better than anyone. Righthander Kris Medlen, as well as Kimbrel and Simmons, are all juco products, as was Venters (who missed this season due to injury) and Tommy Hanson, who was a productive starter and then traded for Jordan Walden.
Walden was part of another Braves’ staple—building a solid bullpen, via pro scouting and shrewd coaching. Venters and lefthander Eric O’Flaherty were joined by Kimbrel and Cristhian Martinez (claimed off waivers from the Marlins) in 2011 and 2012. When Venters and O’Flaherty were lost to injury in 2013, the Braves simply replaced them with Anthony Varvaro (claimed off waivers from the Mariners), David Carpenter (claimed off waivers from the Red Sox) and Ayala (picked up this year in a minor trade with the Orioles).
Time after time the Braves have managed to build quality bullpens at very little expense. Add in the value that comes from having young, inexpensive starting pitchers (Minor, Medlen, Beachy, Julio Teheran and Wood) and the Braves have managed to stay successful despite the challenges of a limited payroll.
On the bigger question of whether teams get “extra credit” for their development success, it does play at least a small factor in how we rank players. In our discussions, organizations that have demonstrated consistent success in developing pitchers (the Rays and Cardinals are two that come to mind) lead to some expectation that their next wave of pitchers are also more likely to fix some of their remaining flaws before they reach the big leagues. It’s not a significant factor in our rankings, but it gets mentioned whenever we’re lining up Top 100 Prospect lists and our other rankings.