The Atlanta Braves are what they are today based on the strength of their farm system over the past five years. It’s good, then to keep watch to help predict the next five.
We’ll get to the direct discussion of the Atlanta Braves minor league affiliates in a minute, but first up, I have a story about what we all need to keep in mind about all minor league teams.
A week ago, my local Rocket City Trash Pandas (Angels AA Affiliate in the old Southern League) got into a heckuva game against the Tennessee Smokies (Cubs).
The game went back and forth until being knotted at 6-all after 9 innings. Both teams plated runs in the 10th; neither scored again until the 13th.
In that 13th inning, the Smokies got their “ghost” runner tallied to take an 8-7 lead. In the bottom of the frame, though, the Pandas got to face… a catcher on the mound.
The result might have been predictable, though it came very quickly: Single, RBI Single, intentional walk, Grand Slam… everybody drive home safely as the Pandas win in grand walk-off fashion, 12-8.
I was asked, “why on earth would the Smokies put in a catcher to pitch the 13th? Especially with a lead and a chance to win?”
The answer isn’t especially satisfying to most for the simple reason that we — as fans — always want to see our teams win… especially when there’s a real chance to make that happen. Putting a position player on the mound is usually the sign of the ‘white flag’ waving.
But the minor leagues are not always about wins and losses. They are much more — and primarily — about player development.
In this game, the Smokies had already used six (real) pitchers. They may have been handicapped by two of them going 1 inning or less, but there’s a real possibility that this slate of hurlers was the limit that their coaching staff was willing to use on that day.
Don’t forget: the ghost-runner-on-2nd rule was started in the minors as a means of protecting a team against blowing out their pitching staff and messing with the health of pitchers — not only on the date of a long extra-inning affair, but potentially for days afterward.
So a 13 inning game was probably beyond the expectations and plans of the Smokies that day… and thus they determined “enough was enough”.
Would that decision have been made differently if the Smokies had been in their own home ballpark? Maybe… they didn’t have to directly answer to their fans that day. But this example illustrates vividly how much the minor leagues are so much more about the players and not necessarily the team results on the board.
Now let’s take a look at the Braves’ affiliates.