July 2018

Chasing Cooperstown: Baseball’s Biggest HOF Voting Oddities

Six players will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend. It’s a star-studded class headlined by Atlanta Braves great Chipper Jones. He and 600 home run club member Jim Thome both gained election in their first try.

For some in this class, however, the road to Cooperstown was a little bit more treacherous. Detroit Tigers standouts Alan Trammell and Jack Morris starred in the 1980s, a decade that has been hard-pressed to produce Hall of Famers. The former teammates will go in alongside Jones, Thome, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman, all of whom began their trek to baseball immortality in the 90s.

With that in mind, it’s a fine time to look back at some of the most peculiar and downright frustrating voting oddities in baseball history.

For a multitude of reasons, too many to list here in fact, there has never been a player to receive the full complement of votes. That’s right, no player has ever been listed on every ballot and garnered the now mythical 100 percent approval of his constituency. This dates all the way back to the inaugural class of 1936, when Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner became the first five men to receive what has since become baseball’s most prestigious honor from the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Jones was listed on 410 of the 422 ballots cast to earn election. That’s 97.2% of the vote, which is 10th best among 127 put in the hall by the writers.

This post could literally spawn thousands of words if not a book, but I’m going to attempt to keep it streamlined by pointing out just five of the oddities and inconsistencies that have highlighted the BBWAA’s annual hall of fame voting results. This includes the surprisingly low percentages of some household names as well as the number of years it took for other legends to gain entry. In some cases, it’s both. As one might imagine, this is by no means a complete list.

Joe DiMaggio | Class of 1955 (4th Year) | 88.84%

The “Yankee Clipper” leads off this list, and he has a fascinating story to tell. Joe DiMaggio retired following the 1951 season and was voted in as the headliner of a four-man class in 1955. DiMaggio was not subjected to the customary five-year waiting period prior to election, but instead a one-year hold which was put in place in 1946.

At that time, a player only needed to be retired for a single season before becoming eligible for Cooperstown. Prior to that, there was no waiting and no standardized ballot for that matter. This resulted in countless active players receiving votes as well as a handful of hall of famers likewise being named on ballots years after their induction.

The now familiar five-year waiting period was instituted in 1954, but DiMaggio and other retired players who’d already been voted upon were grandfathered in, hence he gained election early despite it taking four tries. When naming baseball’s icons of yesteryear, DiMaggio is routinely among the first five or 10 brought up. That makes it a bit of a head-scratcher that he was not a first ballot hall of famer. If you think the process isn’t perfect now, well, it’s come a long way.

What’s even weirder is that DiMaggio didn’t even receive 50% of the vote in his first year on the ballot. He checked in at 44.3% before doubling that total two years later to gain election on his third attempt.

One last piece of trivia: Joe DiMaggio was the last active player to garner a hall of fame vote. He received that odd distinction in 1945 while spending time away from the Yankees while serving in the armed forces. That constitutes DiMaggio’s first year on the ballot and makes his Hall of Fame wait all the more unique.

The Entire 1950 Ballot | No players inducted

Remember not too long ago when the BBWAA failed to elect anyone? Multiple players from that 2013 ballot should and will make it into the hall eventually.

That group will still pale in comparison to the failure of 1950.

Exactly how insane was it? One hundred men received at least one vote that year – and 48 of them were future hall of famers. Of course, some of those eventually made it courtesy of the veterans committee, but it’s still perplexing to see the likes of Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, Bill Terry, Paul Waner, Al Simmons and Hank Greenberg (among others) spending years and years on the ballot. Any of those men could headline a class, but instead languished for years while the electorate fumbled about sifting through the glut of players, deserving or otherwise.

Let’s look at two men in particular, both members of the 500 home run club from a time when that was extremely rare. Ott (3rd year) and Foxx (7th year) both gained election in 1951, but how either advanced beyond their first year on the ballot speaks to the backlog of candidates and general disorganization of the voting populous and process at that time. This was a running theme for decades early on.

Foxx was only the second player to hit 500 home runs (the first being Babe Ruth) and was the youngest man to reach that plateau (since surpassed by Alex Rodriguez). He finished his career second on the all-time home run list and first among right-handed hitters. Foxx held that distinction until Willie Mays hit homer No. 535 on August 17, 1966. With a 96.4 WAR compiled over a 20-year career, Foxx is tied with Eddie Mathews for 19th all-time among those enshrined. Making a retroactive case for Foxx is beside the point. He’s in. Hooray. Baseball’s evolution has shone a brighter and brighter light on statistical achievement through the use of advanced metrics and analytics, but even the most rudimentary analysis should have punched the ticket for Foxx in short order.

As for Ott, he holds similar marks to Foxx, if not better in some categories. “Master Melvin,” he of 511 homers (3rd all-time when he retired) and a tidy 107.8 WAR (14th among hall of fame hitters) should have never gone begging for one year, let alone three. Those were the times though, and it speaks even more to the imperfect system in place back in 1950.

Still, if you sit back and ask yourself what a sure fire hall of famer looks like statistically, it’s hard to imagine voters looking at Ott’s numbers and saying, “Next.”

Cy Young | Class of 1937 (2nd Year) | 76.12%

Widely regarded as the greatest pitcher of all-time on the strength of his talent, longevity, durability and countless records, this legend squeaked in as part of the hall’s second class.

It’s amazing, but not unheard of, that the voting could be so fractured at the very beginning of the process. Cy Young didn’t have to wait long, but the pitcher who boasts the career victories record (among countless others) atop a sterling resume and went on to have an annual award of excellence bearing his name shouldn’t have been waiting around at all.

Even more amazing, Young barely eclipsed the threshold en route to Cooperstown. He was listed on just 153 of the 201 ballots collected in 1937, yielding a 76.12% mark that ranks 109th of 114 hall of famers voted in by the BBWAA.

Shockingly low.

Lefty Grove | Class of 1947 (4th Year) | 76.40%

Like fellow southpaw Warren Spahn, Robert Moses “Lefty” Grove did not pitch regularly in the majors until his age 25 season. Despite that, Grove went on to win 300 games while establishing himself as perhaps the very best left-hander in the history of the game during a 17-year career. Sure, Spahn and Sandy Koufax came after and well-deserved praise is heaped their way, but Grove set a standard of excellence that was and is a cut above.

His rookie year stands as the lone losing campaign of his career, which is highlighted by nine ERA titles, seven strikeout crowns, four seasons leading the AL in victories, five times leading in winning percentage and capturing a MVP award to go with a pair of pitching triple crowns (one of those in 1930 while leading the league in saves).

Grove started 457 games and completed 298 of those (65 percent). Not only did he complete games, but he won them at a historical rate. His .680 winning percentage is 8th all-time, but the highest of any 300 game winner in baseball history. Put all of that together, and you get a member of the All-Century team.

Grove was clearly victimized by the general disorganization of the process of that time, but one has to wonder what a hall of fame pitcher looks like if not Lefty. It’s extremely jarring to look at the Cooperstown roster and see both Grove and Cy Young ranked behind both Rollie Fingers (81.16%) and Bruce Sutter (76.92%) in terms of voting percentage. Yes, different times and conditions. And closers are another debate for another day.

Rogers Hornsby | Class of 1942 (5th Year) | 78.11%

Make no mistake, Rogers Hornsby may be the greatest right-handed hitter in baseball history.

Retiring in 1937 with a .358 batting average that is still second only to Ty Cobb on the all-time list, Hornsby won two triple crowns and reeled off an amazing run from 1921-1925 in which he batted .402 for a five-year stretch. There’s never been a better slugging second baseman in the history of the game.

Of course, that whole bit about possibly being the greatest righty hitter has a lot to do with that. He may not have always been well-liked amongst contemporaries and teammates, but Hornsby has few peers when it comes to his batting exploits.

To look at his numbers is to thumb through countless accomplishments that will never be duplicated. Like the other players on this list, it just boggles the mind to see him wait several years for election, only then to squeak by just above the necessary cut-off.

McAuley: Q & A with Braves All-Star Mike Foltynewicz

ATLANTA — For the first time in four years, the Atlanta Braves are well-represented in the All-Star Game. Not only are they sending four representatives to Washington D.C. for the Midsummer classic, but they boast two starters and the league’s leading vote-getter. That’s quite a turnaround for a club coming off three consecutive 90-loss campaigns.

It seems the Braves have gone from rebuilding to recharging for what they hope will be a lengthy stay in the playoff hunt.

Central to that success is the evolution of hard-throwing right-hander Mike Foltynewicz. He turned his sometimes mercurial manner into a more confident mound presence this season. Armed with a high-90s fastball and increasingly deadly slider, Foltynewicz tapped into his substantial physical talents to begin producing tangible results every fifth day this season.

Foltynewicz was named to his first All-Star team and took some time to chat with me about that and more.

Grant McAuley: It’s been quite a season for you thus far. As we reach the midway point, you got some good news. You were named a National League All-Star for the first time in your career. I’d imagine this is a pretty gratifying thing, a pretty exciting thing. How’d it feel?

Mike Foltynewicz: “It’s very, very exciting. I kind of got more nervous than anything just knowing how cool it is to be named an All-Star. Going there and doing all the festivities and all that, I’m just nervous to go there and meet all the guys and have fun this week. It’s definitely an honor. It’s not your goal at the beginning of the year to be an All-Star; it’s just being consistent and trying to get wins for your team. If it all falls in your lap to be an All-Star, then it means you’re doing your job. I’m just very humbled being part of the Braves’ All-Stars, knowing their great history of All-Stars. It’s just humbling and I’m still speechless about it. I’m just ready to go there, get it all over with and rejoin the team again and get back on this streak we’ve been on.”

GM: A little bit of a teammate kind of feel to this experience for you, because you’re not going alone. You get to go with three of your teammates. I think that goes with what you’re talking about with going out there every day trying to win baseball games. Not surprising to see Freddie Freeman in the mix for something like this, but three first timers, yourself, Ozzie Albies and Nick Markakis. That’s a pretty special group in general…

MF: “Yeah, I’ve been telling the other guys I’m not striking out everybody. This is definitely a team gig for myself to get in the All-Star game. These guys are making plays and helping me out offensively. With Kakes, Freddie and Ozzie, that’s the main core that are All-Stars and have been carrying us this whole way through the first half. Especially Freddie and Kakes, the way they’ve been bashing the ball. Ozzie’s getting on and hitting home runs, too. Those guys all deserve it. They’ve been leading us for the first half and I’m glad they’re on my side. I’m just glad I can go out there every fifth day and help them win a ballgame. But it’s fun as all hell to watch them those four days in between.”

GM: You mentioned it’s not necessarily the goal to make an All-Star team, but the goal is to go out and win. As you reflected last winter, you had a really good run going in the first half and then some struggles the last couple of months of the season. I’m sure you wanted to right the ship before you had to go home, but you had a little time to think about it between then and spring training. What’s changed in your game or evolved in your game since say, last September to the time you took the ball in April?

MF: “I think just slowing things down. I think in the past I’d just get too fast up on the mound, even when I get in trouble and I’m worried about other things than getting guys out at the plate. I think this year I’m really focused on pitch-by-pitch and throwing every pitch with execution. I’m focused on where is this pitch going to go instead of just trying to throw as hard as I can and just hoping for the best. Now my command and control of my fastball have gotten a lot better and I think just slowing things down I’ve seen a couple of jams I’ve been in this year and been able to get out of them and put the team in a good situation to win. The last few starts haven’t been the way I wanted, but more than not I’ve been pretty consistent in bearing down and getting guys out. Stopping the bleeding as I liked to say last year, I’ve done that a lot this year. I’m really happy with that. I’ve changed my windup a little bit and not going back as much and trying to keep my head on the same plane as the catcher and driving through. I think that’s a good thing we’re doing, just staying in the stretch like a lot of the pitchers are going to this year. It’s making me stay towards Flow (Tyler Flowers) or Kurt (Suzuki) and driving right through rather that flaring off. You may have seen in the past that I’d get a little wild on the first base side. So, it’s helping me a lot with my off-speed as well. It’s giving me the confidence to throw them whenever I need to, behind in the count or ahead in the count.”

GM: Command, control, pace, mechanics, all of those things are certainly big components in being a successful pitcher no matter what your role is. How about the preparation? Walk me through what it is that you do in between starts and then of course day of as you get ready to face an opposing lineup.

MF: “Day of, we just see who is in the lineup that day and I get with Flow and Chuck (Hernandez) and go over to get a good game plan going, see how we’re going to attack them. I’ll get stretched out an hour or two before the game and then just kind of relax and get mentally prepared. I try not to get too hyped or get too low, just try to find that medium to go out there and try to compete. It’s five years to get that routine down and all that, but when you find it, it’s a good time. Day after I just take a break, do a little light toss. Day 2 I’m a bullpen guy, so if I need to work on something, we try to figure it out whatever needs to be. Then third and fourth day are just kind of getting ready for your start again. Last year was a good test for me, the first full year to kind of figure out over 162 games. You know, it’s a lot of starts. It’s a big grind with little injuries and a little soreness here and there and you just kind of have to grind through. Knowing what it takes now, it’s fun to go out there just knowing what to do to prepare for 162.”

GM: Your success and your All-Star resume are all part of a bigger thing here, because this team has really I think surprised and opened a lot of eyes this year. Maybe it’s a year ahead of schedule, but what has the general feeling been like for the 25 guys in this clubhouse as April turned to May, then May to June and you guys find yourself at the top of the standings?

MF: “Yeah, it’s fun and relaxed at the same time. Over the years, Freddie, myself and a couple other guys going through that rebuilding stage and like you said, may have been a year away, but we just started off hot as can be and we haven’t looked back. We knew how good we could be. When we started Spring Training, that was our goal. I mean, if it wasn’t, why are we sitting here today? It’s to get to the playoffs and get to the World Series. We believed it right when we had that first meeting, especially with the veteran guys that we have and the mix of younger dudes that were going to come up. They showed up ready to play and they’re fun as all hell to watch. That’s why we’re so good today. The veterans mixed with the young guys are all coming together. We’re all having a lot of fun. We kind of felt it at the end of last year and especially when we got Snit and we started winning and we just had fun. We carried that into this year and what we can do. We got the pieces in the offseason, a couple of dudes mixed in here and now we’re just having a ball. The first half might have been unexpected for most, but we’re just happy we’re playing like we know we could and like we’re capable of coming out of spring.”

GM: We’ll close it down on the All-Star Game, Brian Snitker said you’re all gassed up and ready to go for the National League squad. What do you expect from this trip to Washington as you mingle with the best in baseball?

MF: “Oh, man, I don’t know. I’m more nervous than anything just to go out there and meet all the guys and hang out with them. But yeah, that’d be something else to get in the game. I just don’t want to go out there and starting walking people. Hopefully, it’s just like the NBA All-Star game. They’re out there swinging and we’re out there just having a fun game like you’re in the back yard. It’s going to be something else, just the nerves kind of like your debut. I can remember that. I went out to go throw my warmup pitches and I think I threw the first one 48 feet and straight into the ground. Hopefully this won’t go worse. But yeah, I’m just excited and words can’t describe what’s going to happen or how I’m feeling. I’m ready to get there and just have fun, hang out with my family and friends and then get back to what we started here in the first half.”

McAuley: Q&A with Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos

ATLANTA – As the first half of the season gives way to the All-Star Break, the Atlanta Braves find themselves in the middle of a pennant race for the first time since 2014. Business will pick up quickly in the second half, which brings with it the non-waiver trade deadline at the end of the month.

The Braves are sending four players to the All-Star Game this season. First baseman Freddie Freeman makes his third appearance, while Nick Markakis, Ozzie Albies and Mike Foltynewicz all earned the honor for the first time. It caps a first half in which Atlanta has been in first place for 63 days. That position in the standings was a foreign concept for the club since the second half of the 2014 season.

With that success, the Braves are now looking for ways to strengthen their bid in the National League East race and find a way to use its considerable prospect capital to both enhance the big league roster and broker deals that may provide some missing pieces. Brian Snitker’s team has some definite needs, particularly on the pitching staff.

The man charged with making those roster decisions is Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos and he was nice enough to sit down with me and discuss that and more.

Grant McAuley: Let’s start with the All-Star game in general; I think it’s kind of indicative of what your club has been able to do this year. You have four players heading to Washington to represent this team. How excited does that make you about where this franchise is and what you guys have accomplished thus far this year?

Alex Anthopoulos: ”It’s obviously really exciting. It’s a reflection of the way the team’s played. When you have a good, competitive, contending team, you’re going to have more All-Stars. I think the most exciting thing that jumped out to me was the number of votes. It shows the passion of the fanbase, how broad the fanbase is. To have the leading vote-getter in a guy like Freddie Freeman speaks volumes. Obviously, Nick right behind him and everybody else. It’s an exciting time to be a Braves fan. I think everything is pointing in the right direction and certainly thrilled that I’m getting to be a part of this.”

GM: The All-Star Game, the voting and the Braves’ representation is indicative of what kind of success this team has had in the first half. We’ve talked since the Winter Meetings, through spring training and the early portion of the season, but now you get to one of those big markers where the first half is done. This is a club that’s been in first place. How surprised are you with what this team has accomplished?

AA: “We didn’t know what to expect. So, I don’t think I would have said that this season we would be in first place or a game behind or what not going into the break. That’s been a little bit of a surprise. But at the same time, the element that maybe was expected was that we knew this was a talented club and there were a lot of players that if they perform to their ability or expectations, they’ve been high draft picks and highly touted prospects, they all had the ability to be good and have breakout seasons and a lot of these guys have. So, players haven’t come out of nowhere to do what they’re doing. We just didn’t know when it would all come together. It’s been great to see. It’s a credit to them, first and foremost, and obviously it’s a credit to Snit and the staff for being able to work with these guys and beyond that the scouting and development.”

GM: Your first baseman is an MVP candidate, but the guy playing to his immediate right maybe not so much expected to be the source of power in the lineup. What have you seen out of Ozzie Albies and how incredible has it been to see what he’s produced in this first half?

AA: “He’s been great. I think power-wise we thought he could be a 20 home run guy, just not 20 home runs at the break, but 20 home runs over the course of a season. We definitely thought that was in there and he was capable of that. Defensively, I think has been the biggest change from last year to this year. Just our defensive production at that position if you look at where we ranked as a team then to where we are now. Not only does Ozzie have great range and hands and we’ve seen that, but the arm strength is something that’s very underrated at second base. Most guys that start at shortstop and the arm strength may not be there, you slide them over to the right side and second base is a spot. But when you can have a second baseman with the arm strength that he has, especially with the way we shift and move guys around and so on, and he can play deeper as a result, that’s been huge for us. The base running as well. Everyone will look at the power numbers, but the base running, the speed, this is a bright instinctive kid. And the defense, that’s been the most exciting part of his game beyond the obvious offensive power.”

GM: Really since we sat down at the Winter Meetings the very first time and you said there are some things we can certainly improve on in-house, defense was high-up on your list. I’ve been watching what Ron Washington has done as an infield instructor, but also how committed these infielders are. Come out to SunTrust Park just about any afternoon and you’ll see two, three, four, maybe more guys  doing early infield work with Ron and then everything to prepare for the game. It seems to be that there’s the commitment and also planning and execution that’s really turned this infield defense into one of the best in the National League…

AA: “Yeah, it has. Wash, I didn’t know him, I knew of him. Obviously, a lot of people spoke highly of him, but being able to be around him day in and day out and see him work, he’s an impact coach. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around, and I’ve been around some good infield guys. He’s right there with them. He gets the respect of the players. He’s outstanding and I think a lot of credit goes to him. A lot of credit certainly goes to the players. I think we’ve done some things analytically with our positioning that’s certainly helped as well. I think Dansby is the one that really jumps out. If you look at where he’s come from last year to the current year. Wash was right there when I took this job and I asked him about the infielders. I remember when I got to Dansby, the defensive numbers were not good. I mean, they were right there towards the bottom, and he didn’t bat an eye. He was convinced Dansby was going to be much better in 2018. He was very confident, and he stuck with it. Dansby has been an outstanding defensive shortstop for us. His range has been outstanding. His hands have been outstanding. Even analytically as well, he’s right up there with one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. It’s a credit to him for the work that he’s put in and a credit to Wash. Obviously, he’s tireless with spending time with these guys. And also credit to the two of them from a positioning standpoint, they’ve been very receptive to some of the information that our group has been able to provide.”

GM: Braves offense was probably on that list of pleasant surprises early on for this club. Big April, big May and a little tougher going in June and July. Where do you see this offense’s trajectory at the halfway mark and heading into the second half? What do you think they might need to get themselves kick-started and get back to where they were?

AA: “I think overall, we’ve been a good offensive team. I like the fact that we put the ball in play and can run the bases well. We’ve had our slumps and our moments. That’s certainly been apparent. Johan Camargo at times has been great then he’s gotten a little bit cold. But on the aggregate, you look at the numbers and they’ve been good for him. Obviously, Nick has had a tremendous year in right field, as good as year has he’s had in a long time. Ender’s not having the year he’s had the last two, but we know it’s in there and he’s capable of doing that. And then Dansby’s shown flashes, but for the most part he’s held his own and he’s been solid the entire year. Obviously, a guy like Ronald Acuña is still getting his feet wet. He’ll flash some moments where he can take over a game and there are other times where he’ll get opposed and the swing and miss will be more apparent. You know, I think we still have some upside and some room to grow. Like you said, Freddie’s an MVP candidate every time he steps into the box and every year. Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers have done a solid job behind the plate. We’ve been a pretty solid offensive club. I think if everyone continues to play to their upside then we’re going to continue to be fine and we can come back to be the club we were early on in the year.”

GM: On the mound, the pitching staff at times has been a bit of a mixed bag. You had some bullpen struggles early, now the starters have had a little bit of a wavering time as far as getting deeper into the game. I know the trade deadline is coming up. I’m sure that you’re doing all of your due diligence to look around the league and see what deals and possibilities that might be out there with clubs that may have something offer. How do you size up the pitching staff the way that they look right now and with what you might look to add in the coming weeks?

AA: “I think for the most part we’ve been up there in starters’ ERA. We’ve been very good. We had that rough trip where we didn’t get good starts and as a result the wins weren’t there. But in terms of ability and what these guys are capable of doing, we have a lot of belief and confidence in these guys. I think a lot has been written and said and made of our starters not going deep, but I think if people look at where we rank relative to other teams in the NL, we’re in the middle of the pack in terms of our innings pitched by our starters. And if you look at our innings pitched by our relievers, we’re maybe a tick on the high side but definitely not at the top. I think sometimes you always have a heightened awareness of what’s going on internally, but for the most part we’ve done a good job in the rotation and done a good job in the bullpen with our innings. Of course, we can get better. But with young guys there’s going to be moments where they hit a rough patch. Even guys who are established like Julio Teheran have had rough outings and then bounced back and had great starts. That’s going to happen over the course of the year. You know, we weren’t going to have the number one starters’ ERA probably the entire year. Certainly not going to necessarily have the best offense the entire year. For the most part we still have a chance with the bullpen as well to be at the top of a lot of those areas.

GM: This club has shown you a lot in the first half and one of the big things a general manager or any club can do from a front office standpoint as you get into the race is to find ways to bring in those reinforcements. Where does the club stand right now sizing that up and creating a shopping list if you will?

AA: “We’re pretty active right now. We’re not close on anything. I feel like we’ve touched base with every seller. We’re not necessarily on the phone with buyers. I mean, we might check in if we think a buyer has depth or a contending team has some depth and there’s a big league for big league deal. That’s rare, but we’ve still checked in on those areas. I know a lot has been made about getting some bullpen help and potentially adding to the rotation. We’ve looked at it as what good players are out there to make our team better. Likewise, as much as there’s no one area that we’re going to look to on the position player side, if there’s a player out there that we think can be an upgrade for us, whether that’s at the starting spot or even improving our bench, we’ve explored that as well. We’ve pretty much been on top of all of it, starters, relievers, position players both bench and starters. These are times in a year and a window where teams are engaged and GM’s are engaged, so you need to just take advantage of this as a chance to acquire players and to access players that teams may not engage in at other times. So, we’re active. We’re not close. We certainly have the players to get things done. We just haven’t found deals that we thought made sense for us. Right now, in our minds, for what we’d have to give up it’d be too expensive in our minds, without being able to get into details about what those deals are.

GM: Wrapping it up with this, because that kind of touches on my last question. You want to improve this year’s team and you want to maximize when you have an opportunity to contend, but this has been a club that’s been in that transitional rebuild phase. It may be a little bit ahead of schedule according to how some people size it up, but how has this year’s success affected your long term plan as you look to take those young assets in the minor league system and integrate them into what’s happened already here on the big league side?

AA: “Sure, I mean this is where the job gets challenging. Everyone’s very well aware of what’s gone on here and the pain that this organization has gone through to accumulate a lot of young talent. I’ve said it many times, there’s a lot of credit that goes around for the work that’s been done. We’re not looking to throw that away. At the same time, every year is a valuable, precious, important year and you can’t lose sight of the fact of what’s going on in front of you. Guys having good seasons. Guys having healthy seasons. You can’t count on that. As much as you want sustainable model and contend every year, you just don’t know what’s going to happen from year to year with injuries and performance. So, we very much have our eye on 2018. We want to take advantage of our position in the standings, take advantage of some of the big seasons our players are having. I’d say for the most part right now, rental players and players that are scheduled to be free agents at the end of the year, they’re most available and rightfully so. That’s where it gets a little complicated to have to trade multiple young assets for players that could walk out the door two months for now. We’ll be much more willing to do that on players we have beyond 2018. At some point there’ll be a sweet spot and it likely comes the last week before the end of the month, where the prices start to come in line a little bit more. That’s why you’re not seeing a ton of trades. But, look, at any time, one phone call, one text, things could start to move. The one thing I can say is we will definitely continue to work it and continue to find opportunities to make this club better one way or the other. We owe it to the players. We owe it to the fan base. We owe it to the organization.”

Braves Prospect Profile: Touki Toussaint

The Atlanta Braves’ pitching prospects are routinely the center of attention when it comes time to talk about what’s down on the farm. There always seems to be another blue chipper on the horizon. Or in Atlanta’s case, several of those premium arms waiting in the wings.

Meet Touiki Toussaint. He’s the “Next Big Thing” right now.

Toussaint, 22, made his Triple-A debut for the Gwinnett Stripers on Thursday night at Coolray Field and it’s safe to say he lived up to the recent billing.

The hard-throwing righty did all the things that made him successful over 16 starts with Mississippi. He fought through a shaky first inning, established his fastball and then used it to set up both his curveball and changeup to great effect.

“I felt good,” said Toussaint. “Didn’t have my best fastball command early, but I tried to settle in and give the team the best chance to win. After the first inning, I felt all the adrenaline wash away. Honestly, after I got through that first I was like, ‘I’m good; let’s go to work.’”

And go to work he did.

Toussaint fired 6-2/3 innings of one-run ball. He allowed just five hits, walked three and struck out five to earn the victory in his first start with Gwinnett.

The pitch that has put Toussaint on a different path this year has been his changeup. Like most Braves farmhands, developing that off-speed offering is one of the main points of emphasis in the minor league system. His ability to refine that pitch helps his mid-90s fastball play up and makes his curveball that much more effective.

“I have been working on it and I keep developing it, and see where it’s taking me,” Toussaint said of his changeup.

Where it’s already taken him this season is on a joyride through the Southern League, where he topped the circuit with 107 strikeouts in 86 innings for Double-A Mississippi.

Over his final five starts there, Toussaint posted a 1.17 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 30-2/3 innings of work. He fanned a season-high 11 batters in his final Double-A outing, punching his ticket to the International League.

When it comes to a general scouting report, suffice it to say Toussaint has electric stuff. His fastball was 92-94 mph throughout most of the night on Thursday and touched 97 mph. The curveball was thrown less frequently thanks to how effective his changeup was. It was clear that Toussaint is confident in throwing his change in any count. Additionally, throwing the curve less may actually make it more devastating from a sequencing standpoint.

This is a pitcher who did not take the mound regularly until the age of 16. Toussaint is an outstanding athlete who grew up playing soccer in Haiti and was considered a raw prospect when he was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the 16th pick in the 2014 draft. Atlanta took on the contract of an injured Bronson Arroyo in order to broker the 2015 trade that brought Toussaint to the system.

It appears to be one of the most astute moves of the Braves rebuild.

Since adjusting his motion and dropping his release point in 2016, Toussaint has enjoyed success at three levels with those improved mechanics over the past three seasons. Turning himself into a true three-pitch starter has unlocked his potential this year.

Despite putting together a career-best season so far, Toussaint has done an excellent job of maintaining his focus start to start, rather than getting wrapped up in the numbers.

“My year’s been alright,” he said. “Just trying to stay consistent as possible and keep on going.”

Atlanta has toyed with the concept of asking some of their talented young starters to help out in an area of need this season. Of course, that need would be in the bullpen. That’s a place that Toussaint may be uniquely qualified to lend a hand, or an arm in this case.

While most starting pitching prospects typically stick to that role as they crack the big leagues, it was not an uncommon practice across baseball not that long ago to see some of those highly touted arms break in as relievers. In recent years, Chris Sale and David Price both took that route before moving back into rotation and enjoying extended success.

Toussaint certainly has the stuff and the arsenal to make an impact out of the bullpen. Depending on how Atlanta’s pursuit of trade targets goes in the coming weeks, the team could call on Toussaint sooner than later.