August 13, 2017

Are the Braves Too Eager to Promote Prospects?

This season, the Braves have promoted second baseman Ozzie Albies (20) to the majors, outfielder Ronald Acuna (19) to Triple-A, third baseman Austin Riley (20) to Double-A, pitcher Mike Soroka (19) to Double-A and pitcher Kolby Allard (19) to Double-A.  Based on ages of these players, that seems like a lot of aggressive assignments for a single organization.  Is ownership putting pressure on the front office to put a contender on the field and soon?  Are John Coppolella and his team putting pressure on themselves to turn things around more quickly than they should?  Or is this just the natural course of player development for these players?

First of all, I’m sure all owners want their teams to win all the time.  Winning means more revenue.  So there is pressure from ownership on every team to win all the time.  But most owners these days realize that baseball franchises will go through ebbs and flows.  An organization will promote a lot of talented players, they won’t have the younger talent to replenish the system and often times the farm system will run dry.  It wasn’t that long ago the Braves had an impressive young core of players, like Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Kris Medlen.  A lot of these players came out of the Braves’ system and then the Braves had no reinforcements.  Most owners these days will either do something about a depleted system or they’ll realize that it’s part of the course of a baseball franchise to get a wave and talent to the big leagues then to have nothing.  Owners will usually leave it to baseball people to figure things out and be patient these days.  So I don’t think the Braves are getting pressured from Liberty Media any more than any other team; maybe less than other teams when you consider Liberty Media is a rather distant owner.

Second, John Coppolella knows he needs to win, at least eventually, to have a general manager’s job.  But what’s better than having a general manager’s job is to keep a general manager’s job.  Coppolella knew when he took over that he could have kept players like Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Craig Kimbrel and been better off in the short term.  But he also knew that a team needs a lot of talented players to contend and the Braves probably didn’t have enough, given that they had just come off a 79-83 season.  Coppy could have tried to squeeze every win he could out of the roster he inherited plus whatever acquisitions that were possible to help that team win a few more games.  But there was no guarantee that that team would be a contender, that he would be losing some players to free agency, that a lot of salaries would rise precipitously and that there were some assets he could cash in to build a better contender down the road.  As long as his bosses bought in, he knew that was the way to go.  I doubt his bosses are going to can Coppy before they see this rebuild through.  So, I don’t think Coppy has any reason to rush things.  His bosses knew what he was up against.

Aggressively promoting certain young players is the natural course of things for the Braves, and a wise way to go.  Many teams put too much emphasis on age and experience.  Teams have gotten wiser about this over the last 5 years or so.  If a player is ready, regardless of whether he has a ton of experience at a certain level of the minor leagues and regardless of his age, teams will promote him.  The ability to perform is what matters and spending more time at certain levels of the minors or reaching a certain age doesn’t magically cause a player to perform.  Of course there is a development aspect of getting players to the big leagues.  No player is a finished product as soon as he signs with a professional organization.  But there is a difference between developing a player’s skills and waiting until he reaches certain experience and age thresholds.

What about players who were seemingly promoted too quickly, like a Dansby Swanson?  Well, if his failures are because the Braves promoted him to the majors too soon, there is no way anyone could have known.  Sure, it seemed he might not have been ready to be a star but it seemed he was ready for the big leagues.  There are roster and service time rules teams should take into account but basically teams should promote players when they seem ready.  Is this risky?  Of course it is.  But so is relying on expensive veteran players who you hope to be good.  If a team is going to take risks, better to go with the cheap risks who come with the option to send them down to the minors if it’s not working out.

The Braves are ignoring experience and age and promoting players to the next level when those players seem ready.  Yes, they want to build a winner as soon as possible but they aren’t going to do that by a) taking risks on expensive veterans nor by b) waiting on all their prospect to reach their mid-to-late 20’s and to have loads of experience at each level of the minors.  A team’s front office can try to force a winner by aggressively spending money or by aggressively getting homegrown players to the big leagues. The latter is more efficient.



2 Responses to “Are the Braves Too Eager to Promote Prospects?”

  1. 1
    Dan Says:

    Good to hear your takes again Shaun!

  2. 2
    Shaun Says:

    Thank you, Dan.

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