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TOP 10 PROSPECTS
|1. Dansby Swanson, ss|
|2. Ozzie Albies, 2b/ss|
|3. Kolby Allard, lhp|
|4. Mike Soroka, rhp|
|5. Ian Anderson, rhp|
|6. Ronald Acuna, of|
|7. Kevin Maitan, ss|
|8. Sean Newcomb, lhp|
|9. Patrick Weigel, rhp|
|10. Max Fried, lhp|
At first glance, a 93-loss season would not seem to be cause for celebration.
Yet the air of optimism in the Braves front office and the sense of progress for the organization go far beyond the imminent christening of a new ballpark in suburban Cobb County in 2017.
The 2016 campaign started on a sluggish note in Atlanta, and manager Fredi Gonzalez was fired after the Braves opened the slate with a major league-worst 9-28 record. Noticeable improvements did not happen immediately after Triple-A skipper Brian Snitker was promoted to interim manager on May 17, though baby steps led to bigger strides.
Atlanta finished strong by winning 20 of its final 30 contests, beginning Aug. 30, which was 13 days after shortstop Dansby Swanson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, made his major league debut.
Atlanta's solid finish not only earned Snitker a one-year contract with a club option for 2018 to remain in the dugout, it also coincided with a campaign that culminated with a winning atmosphere in the minor leagues. Four of the Braves' five affiliates reached postseason play, with Class A Rome emerging with the South Atlantic League title and BA Team of the Year honors. Triple-A Gwinnett advanced to the Governors' Cup Finals in the International League.
Such success is a testament to the talent the Braves have stockpiled under their two-year rebuilding project under the direction of president of baseball operations John Hart and general manager John Coppolella. The organization has emerged from a dire situation in which the system lacked any appreciable talent and depth to one overflowing with prospects, particularly starting pitchers.
A pair of 2015 deals with both the Padres and Diamondbacks jump-started the process—and resulted in the acquisitions of, among others, Swanson, lefthander Max Fried and righthander Touki Toussaint—and relieved Atlanta of some veteran contracts, while a handful of other trades contributed to building a nucleus from which to work.
While trades account for one-third of the Braves' Top 30 Prospects, the impressive depth in the organization has been accumulated by using the formula incorporated by GM Bobby Cox and scouting director Paul Snyder in the 1980s and maintained under GM John Schuerholz in the 1990s and 2000s.
Scouting director Brian Bridges has focused heavily on high school pitchers early in both of his draft classes, leading off with lefthander Kolby Allard in 2015 and righthander Ian Anderson in 2016, and rolled the dice on a couple of others thanks to a plethora of picks.
Perhaps the boldest moves made by the new regime came in 2016 when the Braves doled out five of the six largest signing bonuses in franchise history while investing more than $22 million between the draft and the international market. After inking Dominican outfielder Cristian Pache and Dominican shortstop Derian Cruz in 2015, the Braves acquired several international bonus slots for 2016 and far exceeded their assigned budget to sign Venezuelan shortstop Kevin Maitan, the top international prospect of the decade, as well as five other international players ranked among the top 41.
Few teams in recent times have been more committed to a complete overhaul than the Braves have executed since late 2014. The overall mold is still forming, but the pieces are on the verge of arriving in a fast and furious manner.
1. Dansby Swanson, ss |
Born: Feb. 11, 1994. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Vanderbilt, 2015 (1st round). Signed by: Nate Birtwell (Diamondbacks).
|Based on 20-80 scouting scale—where 50 represents major league average—and future projection rather than present tools.|
Background: Winning has become synonymous with Swanson since he was a dual-sport athlete at Marietta High in suburban Atlanta. He was part of two state championships in basketball and was a member of the East Cobb Yankees, which won the 2012 Perfect Game national championship. After opting to attend Vanderbilt despite being drafted by the Rockies in the 38th round in 2012, Swanson overcame a broken foot and a shoulder injury as a freshman to lead the Commodores to the program's first College World Series national championship as a sophomore in 2014, when he earned CWS Most Outstanding Player honors. He moved from second base to shortstop as a junior and helped guide Vandy back to the CWS Finals in 2015. That month the Diamondbacks made him the first overall pick in the draft. Hit in the face by a pitch during a simulated game, Swanson bounced back in time to be part of short-season Hillsboro's Northwest League championship in his pro debut. Three months later, Arizona sent Swanson, outfielder Ender Inciarte and righthander Aaron Blair to the Braves for righthander Shelby Miller and low Class A lefthander Gabe Speier. He proceeded to tear up the high Class A Carolina League for a month in 2016, before moving on to the Double-A Southern League, where he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the circuit. He made his major league debut as Atlanta's starting shortstop on Aug. 17, stroking two hits in four at-bats against the Twins.
Scouting Report: Braves scouting director Brian Bridges got to know Swanson well during the latter's high school career and loved everything the shortstop brought to the table at a young age. Rated by SL managers as the league's best defensive shortstop, Swanson has outstanding quickness with exceptional range, soft and steady hands, and above-average arm strength with excellent accuracy on his throws. He uses his intelligence and superior feel for the game to anticipate plays, which helped him lead all minor league shortstops with an average of 3.27 assists per game in 2016. His cerebral approach is also noticeable on offense, where he uses his above-average speed to take the extra base. An ideal No. 2 hitter, Swanson makes hard and consistent contact with his advanced approach at the plate. His patience and feel for the strike zone allow him to work counts and pile up walks. He also is capable of executing the hit-and-run and driving the ball to all fields, and he should have at least average power once he gains more experience at the game's top level. The biggest question scouts have is how much his power will play to go along with a fairly high strikeout rate going back to his Vanderbilt days.
The Future: Swanson looked the part as Atlanta's long-term answer at shortstop over the final seven weeks of the 2016 campaign. While he may not put up the kind of numbers to garner perennial MVP consideration, his steady and consistent performance on the field and his overall makeup and personality off it, while playing his home games in the county where he was born, make Swanson a natural fit for a rebuilding organization. He's positioned to be a face for the franchise as its starting shortstop for years to come.