The Braves are not the best team in their division, and their best bet for a playoff berth in 2010 is to steal the Wild Card from the NL West runner-up. But their future is so bright that you need sunglasses to look directly at it, and given the core they have to build around, they may be preparing for another long run of division titles.
Most organizations would kill to have one of Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, Tommy Hanson, or Yunel Escobar. The Braves, of course, have all four, and the talent doesn’t end there. Jair Jurrjens isn’t as good as his ERA would suggest, but he’s still a quality young arm. Even the young-ish role players, such as Martin Prado and Melky Cabrera, can play. And, of course, there’s still the old guard hanging around providing value for the next few years – Chipper Jones, Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Troy Glaus, and Billy Wagner still have something left in the tank.
The result is a roster that is a blend of premium young talent and enough of a supporting cast to play winning baseball right now. The team can hit, the rotation is deep, and they don’t have a single obvious hole on the roster. The only real question is whether the kids can develop fast enough to still make a run at a World Series before the veterans decline beyond the point of usefulness.
As Eno covered over on ESPN yesterday, expectations for Heyward’s value in 2010 have to be somewhat muted. Very few players are above average at age 20, even the phenoms. By the time he comes into his own, and top prospects such as Julio Teheren, Freddie Freeman, and Arodys Vizcaino arrive in Atlanta, the sun will likely be setting on the careers of Jones, Hudson, Lowe, and Wagner. Not every team is able to handle the transition well, as there is a natural pull to go for it all while the guys you have can still produce, but the Braves have enough depth of prospects that they may be able to have their cake and eat it too – making sure the big league team can win while still breaking in the best of the young players from the farm.
Put simply, the Braves are a player development machine, and with the pipeline of talent they’ve established, they should be good for a long time. It might not result in October baseball this year, but if you’re an Atlanta fan, there is a lot to be excited about.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.