Guerry Clegg commentary: Homegrown Braves have record of being most valuable

June 8, 2013 

For all of their expensive mistakes -- from Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami to Dan Uggla and now B.J. Upton -- the Atlanta Braves have consistently excelled in one critical area: player development.

Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Evan Gattis, Jason Heyward, Jordan Schafer are key position players drafted or signed and developed in the farm system. Almost the entire pitching staff was developed from within. Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm and Jordan Walden were acquired by trade. Eric O'Flaherty was claimed off waivers from Seattle.

That all begins with scouting and the amateur draft. To understand the Braves' philosophy, just look at this year's draft, specifically their first seven picks.

• Pitcher Jason Hursh

• Catcher Victor Caratini

• Pitcher Carlos Salazar

• Catcher Tanner Murphy

• Shortstop Mikey Reynolds

• Pitcher Stephen Janas

• Pitcher Ian Stiffler

We don't know how these players will develop. No one knows. The late Frank Matthews, who was Bobby Howard's predecessor at Columbus High and a bird dog big league scout, used to say that pitchers threw the hardest they would ever throw before their 20th birthday. Those who learn how to pitch will be the ones who make it in the majors.

Likewise, the hitters who can adjust to wooden bats will and can make adjustments to the pitchers who learn their vulnerabilities will make it over the kid who can hit a fastball 500 feet with an aluminum bat.

But it's no accident that the Braves drafted five pitchers, two catchers and a shortstop among their top eight picks. Not only have they long lived by an old saying in baseball that you can never have too much pitching, they've extended that to catchers and shortstops.

The most valuable commodities in baseball. While a team obviously can play only one catcher and one shortstop, having a surplus of those players is a valuable trade asset.

Throughout the franchise's barren years of the '70s and '80s, the Braves lacked pitching, catching and shortstops. Since Bobby Cox began rebuilding the organization, the Braves arguably have developed more pitching than any organization in baseball.

In recent years, they've stocked their farm system with catchers and shortstops. McCann, Jarod Saltalamacchia and now Gattis at catcher, with Christian Bethancourt a phone call away from the big leagues. Rafael Furcal, Yunel Escobar, Elvis Andruss and now Simmons are among three of the most talented shortstops to come along in the last 10 years.

Granted, dealing Andruss, Saltalamacchia and pitchers Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz to the Rangers for Mark Teixiera was an ill-advised trade. But that's a different matter. Not to be overlooked is the fact that the Braves had the depth within their farm system to make such a move. As good as those players were as prospects, the Braves had others either coming up behind them (Medlen, Jonny Venters, Tommy Hanson) or already ahead of them (Escobar, McCann).

The prospects keep coming. Of the Braves' top 20 prospects going into this season, there were 12 pitchers, one catcher and two shortstops (Edward Salcedo and Jose Peraza). Among those pitchers was Alex Wood, drafted out of Georgia just a year ago. While many teams were concerned about Wood's unorthodox delivery, the Braves selected him in the second round. Now Wood is already in the Braves bullpen showing that he belongs in the big leagues.

Two of the minor leaguers -- Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury -- the Braves included in the trade for Justin Upton were drafted as shortstops.

All of this leads to another point: Given their success drafting and developing players, it's time that the organization rethink their spending habits. Lowe and Kawakami were expensive stop-gaps until this current group of young arms could be ready. They were not worth anything near the millions the club spent on them. Kawakami wound up being one of the highest paid players in minor league history. Lowe wound up pitching for the Cleveland Indians while drawing a paycheck from the Braves.

Now the Braves are on the hook for more than $153 million owed Uggla, B.J. Upton and Justin Upton. All that for two players (Uggla and B.J. Upton) hitting below .200 all season and another who has been hitting just over .200 since late April.

It proves that you don't always get what you pay for.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. Write to him at

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