Even after Maitan and Co. ride into the sunset, there is plenty to be thankful for in the Atlanta Braves farm system
On the morning of Wednesday, November 22, I awoke amidst the wreckage of a massive Atlanta Braves scandal. Perhaps you’ve heard about it.
It was one of the last things I had thought about before going to bed the night before, and one of the first things I thought of when I woke up.
As I poured my coffee, I stood in my kitchen and just thought. I thought about how many things had changed in the 52 days since the Braves last played a game. I pondered the baker’s dozen of international prospects who are now unemployed, those who already have an invisible stain on their record through no fault of their own. My thoughts then drifted to Alex Anthopoulos, who can now start to mold his team in the wake of this catastrophe.
I considered Liberty Media, and how quickly I would try to distance myself from this fiasco if I were them. Wishful thinking, perhaps.
I wondered how John Coppolella would explain this situation to his kids. How could he try to teach them, with a straight face, about honesty after this? Bending the rules at Monopoly is one thing, but this is real life. MLB generally reserves lifetime bans for the most egregious cheaters, the worst of the worst. Anytime someone gets mentioned in the same breath with Pete Rose, either 1) they just did something unabashedly immoral; or; 2) it’s Ichiro.
Congratulations, you’re now cellmates in baseball prison.
Even for an eternal optimist, the release of 13 international prospects was a gut punch. Who cares if the rumors about Kevin Maitan’s less-than-inspiring progression are true? Who cares if the Braves deserved this punishment (and they absolutely did)? As a counter to my usual happy-go-lucky, everything-is-gonna-be-alright attitude, I was struggling to find the positive.
Dejected, I clicked on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Braves prospects list for the first time in weeks. I was re-energized by what I found. “Oh yeah!” I exclaimed. “This system is still loaded!”
A quick glance the top four prospects – Ronald Acuna, Kolby Allard, Kyle Wright, and Mike Soroka – was like a natural amphetamine. Further down the list, I was emotionally buoyed by Luiz Gohara, Cristian Pache, Alex Jackson, and more. Hooray, my namesake Lucas Herbert is back in the Top 30! He will surely save the day.
This loss of prospects hurts, but, in keeping with the season, there is still plenty to be thankful for. Even without Maitan and the bevy of former Braves, this farm system is still leagues deeper than the Pacific.
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Scouts and evaluators have long praised this system’s depth, and applauded the great lengths Coppolella went to stock the cupboard. There are few organizations equipped to withstand this type of prospect hit. If this happened to the Royals, for instance, they would stay in the AL Central cellar for the better part of a decade. Marquee free agent departures and the dismantling of an already lackluster farm system in a tough division? Crippling.
Even though Coppy was a dirty rotten cheater, he set the team up for success.
By a quick count, there are 12 members of the aforementioned Top 30 which could see time for the Braves in 2018. Gohara, Max Fried, and A.J. Minter have already arrived; Acuña should join them very early in the season. Allard and Soroka could see time in the rotation this September, as could Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint. Austin Riley and Alex Jackson could be late season call-ups. The rebuild is ending. The future is still now.
Of the international players released, not one was slated to have an impact for at least three years. By general rules of attrition, there is still no guarantee any of them ever becomes a superstar – even Maitan. He is considered a generational talent, but then again, so was Brien Taylor. Things happen.
Maitan’s removal from the Braves system will also save fans years of hearing, “Acuña Maitana!” What a horrible phrase.
The loss of these prospects will cause an ebb in future prospect waves, but that’s OK. If there is even moderate success to be found for the waves ahead of them, some of these jettisoned prospects might have been blocked at the big league level anyway.
The international handcuffs will certainly put a kink in the Braves’ ability to maintain a Top-5 farm system, but the removal of only one draft pick (2018’s third rounder) will provide an opportunity for the restocking process to begin.
When Gerald Ford was inaugurated in the wake of Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, he uttered the now-famous phrase, “Our long national nightmare is now over.”
In the wake of Coppygate, Braves fans’ long nightmare is similarly ending. Much like Ford, Alex Anthopoulos stands as a figurehead who can unite a country – Braves Country – and begin the process of rebuilding lost trust.
If nothing else, look on the bright side. At least the wait is over.