The Atlanta Braves were very active in 2015, beginning in January with the trade of Evan Gattis and culminating with the trades of Andrelton Simmons and Shelby Miller this offseason. The Braves have gone the route of fully rebuilding from the ground up as they attempt to replenish a farm system that has become increasingly barren in recent years. High-end prospects like Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb, and first-round draft pick Kolby Allard were added to the minor league ranks in 2015, but there is work left to do in 2016 before the team can truly turn its aim from rebuilding to contending. The team has stated publicly that they hope to compete in 2017 when they move to a new stadium in nearby Cobb County, but this may be a bit too ambitious considering the expected arrival dates of most of their top prospects. Instead of racing to assemble a competitive team for 2017, the team’s direction in 2016 could again be to maximize the amount of talent they have for the future while keeping future contractual obligations to a minimum. So with that in mind, a Braves 2016 wish list could look something like this:
Further Development of Top Prospects
With all the additions the Braves have made to their farm system, many evaluators have touted it as one of the top five in baseball. However, prospects are an unknown commodity, making it difficult to pin a major league team’s hopes on them in spite of their potential. This is why the Braves have to be hoping, above all else, that their prospects fulfill the promise they have shown to this point. The organization has gone to great lengths in the process of rebuilding to add talent, but if players like Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb, Ozhaino Albies, and others continue their ascension through the minor leagues, the Braves could be much closer to contention this time next year. Braves fans will certainly want to tune in for minor league updates this season, as they may help to ease some of the pain that the major league team could inflict as currently constructed.
The Braves hold the third overall pick in June’s amateur draft, and with it the organization hopes to add yet another impact player to an already bountiful farm system. One issue with this year’s draft, however, is that scouts have not yet identified a surefire number one overall pick. In the past players like Bryce Harper, Justin Upton, and Joe Mauer really separated themselves from the pack. At the moment there are several players in contention for the number one selection, but if the Braves draft history is any indication, they have their eye on Jason Groome, a prep left-handed pitcher with enormous upside. Standing 6-foot-6, Groome features a mid to upper 90’s fastball and two promising secondary pitches. He is also said to have an advanced feel for pitching for his age, and still has room to add strength to his frame as he gets older. Sounds like a player that any team would covet, right? The Braves have long favored high school players over college in the first round, and Groome would certainly seem to fit the bill. As of now it seems likely that Groome will be taken early, perhaps first overall, but if he’s available with the third pick it is hard to see the Braves letting him get away.
The top player in this year’s amateur international free agent pool, Kevin Maitan, a 15-year-old shortstop from Venezuela, has drawn comparisons to fellow countryman Miguel Cabrera. At Maitan’s age, these may be lofty expectations, but with advanced feel both at the plate and in the field, it is easy to see why scouts have been raving about the young phenom. Kiley McDaniel, now a member of the Braves front office, evaluated Maitan last year for FanGraphs. His breakdown can be found here. McDaniel notes that Maitan could receive a signing bonus in excess of $3 million, a considerable investment for a 15-year-old, but one the Braves may be prepared to make as they have indicated that they could be willing to exceed their international bonus pool during this year’s signing period. It was also reported by ESPN’s Keith Law that Maitan has a “handshake agreement” in place with the Braves already. If the Braves do indeed sign Maitan in July he could immediately become a top 3 prospect in their system, despite his age. Such a signing would almost guarantee the Braves to exceed their bonus pool, at which point the team could be enticed to continue spending due to the current structure of the international spending rules. In summation, Maitan and other international players could be in play for the Braves this July, so stay tuned for updates as the signing period approaches.
The 2016 Atlanta Braves wish list, like all teams, begins with a World Series ring. However, tempering expectations and understanding the direction of the team is important when determining what kind of goals a team might set for this year. Over the past 14 months, the Braves have made great strides in improving the team’s future outlook. Developing their prospects, continuing to draft well, and adding top international talent like Maitan can only benefit the team as it prepares for its next phase on the road to success.