I know. Being an Atlanta Braves fan these days is like leaving the porch light on for Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz. A World Series seems as far away as free college.
Where have you gone, Sid Bream?
But while hope springs eternal for some teams in Florida and Arizona and gloom rings probable for Atlanta, it appears the Braves know what they’re doing relative to Zany Baseball Economics 101. Within one year and a flurry of trades, Atlanta has zoomed from No. 29 in Baseball America’s ranking of minor league talent to No. 3.
Or take it from the happiest person in the Braves’ camp, Dave Trembley, Atlanta’s Director of Player Development.
“You have to have a real surplus of good pitchers, because guys are going to get hurt, you’re going to trade guys, attrition,” Trembley said by phone from Lake Buena Vista, Fla. “But I can say right now without trying to spin it, the Braves have some players that are going to play in the big leagues and be very good players for a long time.”
Sure, it’s still frustrating to see recently departed Braves Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, Shelby Miller, Alex Wood, Brian McCann, Andrelton Simmons and Evan Gattis report to camp with other teams.
It’s still hard to accept the Braves’ regional following within a “non-major” market argument requiring a Kansas City-like frugalness fix. Traffic is so much worse in Atlanta.
But “all in” is better than half-hearted. Once the Braves started to tear down an average major league roster to rebuild a rotten farm system, a max-effort approach was the way to go.
It’s OK to feel sorry for leftover first baseman Freddie Freeman, and to wonder what the Braves might be able to add to their stockpile in a Freeman-for-prospects swap.
“The nucleus of our farm system is pretty well set and with the next draft, it really will be fortified,” said Trembley, former manager of the Baltimore Orioles (2007-2010) and Charleston Rainbows (1991-92). “But I would never say (General Manager) John Coppolella and (President of Baseball Operations) John Hart have closed the door on future deals. I think they will always be willing to listen.”
Warning: While the ETA for meaningful September games is advertised as 2017 when SunTrust Park opens in suburban Smyrna, it might take a little longer.
The Braves, 67-95 in 2015, will probably lose 90-100 games again in 2016.
But few teams have a brighter future on paper.
The Braves have seven players on Baseball America’s fresh list of top 100 prospects. Five — shortstop Dansby Swanson, outfielder Hector Olivera and pitchers Sean Newcomb, Aaron Blair and Touki Toussaint — were acquired in trades over the last year. Pitcher Kolby Allard was Atlanta’s 2015 first-round draft pick and the holdover is 19-year-old infielder Ozzie Albies.
Swanson, an Atlanta area native and former Vanderbilt star, was the top overall pick in the 2015 Major League draft. He came with Blair in a December trade that sent 25-year-old big league pitcher Shelby Miller to Arizona.
Trembley compares the “energetic” Albies to All-Star second basemen Jimmy Rollins and Jose Altuve.
“In Swanson and Albies, we have our double-play combination for a long time,” Trembley said. “We’re just not sure which one will end up at shortstop and which one will end up at second.”
Olivera, a 30-year-old Cuban who received a $28 million signing bonus from the Dodgers last year before coming over in the Alex Wood deal, will move from the infield. He worked with Braves outfield instructor Bo Porter in Puerto Rico this winter. Olivera has a more compact swing, thanks to hitting coach (and former Charleston Rainbow) Kevin Seitzer.
Pitching depth includes 6-4 lefty Max Fried, a 2012 Padres first-round pick who spent the 2015 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
“He reminds you of a young Cole Hamels,” Trembley said.
Trembley, 64, spent three decades as a professional manager and coach. He was as well known for detailed scouting reports on players from other organizations as for effectively instructing guys on his own team.
But if you don’t trust Trembley, trust the former general manager who was architect of Atlanta’s 14 consecutive division titles.
“When all the Braves’ people met in Atlanta over a year ago, we knew we had to turn this farm system around, and we had to do it in a hurry,” Trembley said. “John Schuerholz came in and reminded us, ‘The lifeblood of the Braves all those years was player development and scouting.’ We’re back to that.”
Hope springs, if not eternal.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff