Since dumping general manager Frank Wren as soon as they were eliminated from the playoffs last September, the Atlanta Braves began rebuilding the organization on three levels:
Reshaping the offensive approach, replenishing the farm system, and rebuilding the scouting department.
"Sustainability" was the key word from John Hart, the new vice president for baseball operations.
Until now, nearly all of the attention has been focused on the first two aspects. But this week serves as a reminder that, for long term success, that third element may be the most important of all.
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Among Hart's priorities during the offseason was adding high-level draft picks. As a result, the Braves held five of the first 75 picks. But what good are draft choices if you don't have smart scouts to make sure they're used wisely?
So some of their most critical offseason moves had to do with hiring -- and, in some cases, rehiring -- better scouts.
Those first five picks from Monday, if they all sign, will be the core of the future. Unlike in football, where the college players were stars, most of the baseball draft picks are relatively anonymous. Only the hard-core draft followers would recognize their names.
Kolby Allard, left-handed pitcher
Michael Soroka, right-handed pitcher
Austin Riley, third baseman
Lucas Herbert, catcher
A.J. Minter, left-handed pitcher
The Braves followed that by selecting pitchers with their first eight picks Tuesday:
Anthony Guardado, Josh Graham, Ryan Clark, Matt Withrow, Patrick Weigel, Ryan Lawlor, Taylor Lewis and Stephen Moore.
Right now, they're just names to most of us. To the scouts, they're the lifeblood of an organization. Now that drafts in sports have become big TV shows, the analysts like to use "comps" as a way of helping fans visualize what the player might become. This is grossly unfair. Just because a kid is six feet tall, left-handed and has a fastball that tops out around 89 or 90 mph doesn't mean he's the next Tom Glavine.
They won't all make it, and even in the best of drafts, only one or two will be stars. But to understand the value of solid role players, all one has to do is watch the last couple of weeks of Braves games. With a few capable relievers, the Braves might be in first place right now.
Scouts play a huge role in trades and the big league roster makeup. If the GM is going to give up an All-Star like Craig Kimbrel, he better be able to trust his scouts that Cameron Maybin can be an every-day center fielder and Matt Wisler will develop into a front-line starting pitcher.
But the draft, as well as stocking the minor leagues with overlooked free agents, is where the scouts earn their living. There's a reason the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants have become models of consistency in the National League. Their
scouts are better.
Before the Cardinals and Giants, though, that team was the Braves -- 14 consecutive division titles and five National League pennants in eight years. Sure, having four future Hall of Fame players -- John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Chipper Jones -- helped a lot. But their scouting department also kept finding diamonds under rocks. They found catcher Greg Olson in an independent minor league. Olson later told them about pitcher Kerry Ligtenberg. David Justice was a basketball player who had recently started playing baseball when they drafted him in the fourth round. Brandon Beachy was a small college third baseman whom they saw as a pitcher with promise.
We don't know how these players will turn out. We do know that if the Braves are going to rely on rebuilding through the farm system, it all starts with the reliability of the scouts.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.