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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.

Acuña’s return could provide big impact to Braves lineup

The first place Atlanta Braves are embarking on a critical 10-game road trip. It’s easily the club’s most challenging stretch away from home and it may go a long way toward setting the tone for the second half.

After a disappointing home stand that saw Atlanta lose consecutive series at SunTrust Park for the first time this season, the Braves will be tested against a trio of playoff hopefuls. They’ll have to match firepower with the Cardinals, Yankees and Brewers.

That’s the bad news.

The good news? Ronald Acuña Jr. returns to the Atlanta lineup on Friday in St. Louis.

The rookie phenom has been absent for a month after suffering a mild sprain of the ACL in his left knee in a scary fall behind the first base bag at Fenway Park on May 27. Now he’ll have a chance to bring his considerable power potential to a run-producing spot in the Atlanta lineup.

Acuña took the minor leagues by storm as a 19-year-old in 2017, belting 21 home runs in 139 games across three levels and then adding seven more in 23 games in the Arizona Fall League. His power rated a 60 on the scout’s 20-80 scale. Along with an equal or better hit tool and top of the charts speed, Acuña can impact that game in a variety of ways.

Regardless of where he hits, Acuña makes this lineup better and gives the Braves a potential impact bat at a critical juncture in the schedule.

Freddie Freeman has been the club’s MVP. He may well be the National League MVP for that matter. Nick Markakis has been hot on his heels all season. But now Atlanta’s offense has a chance to get back to full strength as their schedule gets challenging.

Even though they lost back-to-back series to Baltimore and Cincinnati, this is not a team that is falling apart at the seams. There are pitching questions, but the Braves have typically scored enough runs to at least keep themselves in most games.

However, the lineup has taken a step back after a hot start.

The intriguing part about Acuña’s return is that he won’t simply be slotting back into his familiar No. 2 spot in the order. Instead, manager Brian Snitker plans to utilize Acuña’s power to complement the middle of the order.

“There were different circumstances when he was here before,” Snitker said this week. “We’ll just wait and see when he gets here, but right now just looking at it, I’d probably say that he’ll hit down more in the middle than up top because I kind of like what we got up there right now.”

Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies currently occupy the first two spots in the lineup, just as they were prior to Acuña’s initial arrival in late April.

Inciarte and Albies add an exhilarating dimension to the Atlanta offense that simply was not present in recent years. Their combination speed and instincts on the base paths has routinely caught other teams by surprise and left them scrambling to make a play.

“You put a lot of pressure on teams, and they know that,” said Snitker. “These guys are taking the extra base and coming out of the box looking for two… We’ve talked about since spring training our base running being a weapon.”

Want some proof? Inciarte and Albies combined to score 16 runs in the last six games.

With that duo’s production suddenly trending in the right direction, the Braves will get a chance to audition Acuña in the heart of the order. It’s a place that could use a little help at the moment.

For the first time all season, Freeman finds himself in a bit of a funk at the plate. He went 4-for-25 with 10 strikeouts during the recent home stand and is batting just .184 with one homer and 6 RBI in his last 12 games. This comes after Freeman hit safely in 26 of 27 games.

“As much as Nick (Markakis) and I want to be good, 162 games is not going to happen,” said Freeman.

“We’re all going to go through our little stretches of not doing what we want to do,” he added. “But when you’ve got guys like Charlie Culberson, Ozzie’s come back, Ender is starting to hit, Kurt (Suzuki) has been fantastic all year, Johan’s big hits, that’s how you win ballgames and how you get to the playoffs.

“You can’t count on the same guys every single day. That’s what good teams do, find ways to win. That’s what we’re doing right now.”

While Freeman is a candidate to break out at any time, he would certainly benefit from a little bit of table-setting from the top of the order. That’s something that’s been problematic this season.

Despite the good play of Inciarte and Albies lately, Braves lead-off men rank 29th in MLB with a .286 on-base percentage and their two-hitters have a composite .305 OBP which ranks 27th.

Simply put, Atlanta needs Inciarte and Albies to get hot and stay hot for a while.

“As the top of the lineup goes, you go, and that’s the case for us,” said Freeman. “Ender’s been fantastic the last couple of weeks. Obviously Ozzie’s last couple of games is what we’ve been used to. Hopefully, Nick and I can get going again and hopefully we can start scoring some more runs.”

Snitker has been forced to mix and match, moving his top two hitters around more than he anticipated when the season began. That’s been done to both counteract some struggles and create consistency in front of Freeman and Markakis.

But unlike years past, the Braves offense is not wholly dependent on Freeman’s bat to carry it.

Atlanta tops the NL in total bases and runs scored, ranks second in extra-base hits, third in on-base percentage and is next-to-last in strikeouts. All of those are positive trends and underscore the fact that it’s not just Freeman doing all the work.

This lineup has teeth.

“We still compete and put ourselves in positon to win games,” said Snitker. “It’s not just about (Freeman) and it hasn’t been all year. We’ve talked about that all year that everybody has contributed in their own way.”

Albies has been the most surprising of Atlanta’s starting nine. The switch-hitting second baseman has shattered offensive expectations and is in line to earn All-Star honors in his first full season in the majors.

Though he hasn’t been immune to ups and downs, Albies is back on the upswing. He has 14 hits in his last 26 at-bats and posted five consecutive multi-hit contests. That boosted his average from .249 to .271 in a span five days.

He’s belted 17 homers and leads the NL with 45 extra-base hits, 26 doubles, 61 runs scored and 173 total bases. That’s quite a season for a 5-foot-8 middle infielder who began the season as the youngest player in the major leagues.

“He’s been doing it all year,” Markakis said of Albies. “Everybody is going to have their ups and downs, but he’s positive. Every day he comes in, he works and he’s constantly making adjustments.

“Once you play in the league a little bit, guys get a better understanding of what you’re up there trying to do. It’s all about making adjustments back. He slumped there for a little while. Everybody does, but he’s been tremendous for us all year and it seems like he’s getting back on track now.”

Markakis should know a little bit about that whole adjustment thing. He’s been around the league for 13 years now, but is on track to make his first All-Star game. Markakis is batting .326 and became the first NL player to reach the 100-hit plateau during the recent home stand.

All of this offense has given the Braves a chance to win. Putting Acuña back in the mix on a nightly basis could be just the thing to kickstart the order again.

Though the pitching is another discussion entirely, Atlanta’s unexpectedly prolific run-scoring is one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season.

“We walk into these doors every single day with the chance to win,” said Freeman. “Can’t say that the last few years and that’s the big difference.

“When you have 25 guys with confidence going into every single night, this is what happens. No matter what the score is, we still know we can come back and win games.”

That optimism is a shared quality and extends to the final out each night. It comes with what their manager describes as a “quiet confidence” in the dugout.

“We went from I used to come in and hope we won to expecting to now,” said Snitker. “You start a game and you expect to win, which is a big difference in what we used to do.

“We’re a better team… I think it’s shown that these guys will fight and grind and try and find a way to win if you give them the opportunity.”

Braves Mailbag: When will Atlanta start making trades?

The Braves Mailbag is a weekly feature. You can submit your questions to Grant McAuley on Twitter (@grantmcauley).

Let’s dive into this week’s installment, which takes a look at when the Braves could start making some trades as well as the status and ETA’s of several young players who could help out in the second half.

Seems like the Nationals got the jump on everybody to trade for a closer. With Kelvin Herrera gone, who will the Braves target to improve the bullpen?

— Keith (via email)

There’s no doubt about that. Washington got out in front of its bullpen problem by adding Herrera to the mix. Some view the three-player return for Kansas City as a bit on the light side, but time will tell in that regard. Herrera and Sean Doolittle will give the Nationals a formidable late-inning duo while allowing former closers Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler to work in other high-leverage situations. The fact that Washington filled a need well before the July trade deadline speaks directly to how seriously they view their situation in the NL East. Both the Braves and Phillies have turned up the heat and aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. Washington could ill-afford to simply stand pat and wait for regression to set in for division rivals. The real question will be what kind of deals Atlanta and Philadelphia will pursue in the coming weeks and months. Given limited payroll flexibility this season, I’d expect the Braves to assess their needs closer to the trade deadline. They need all the bang for their buck they can get. Additionally, Atlanta may have to shift gears if an injury affects the roster over the next month and a half. The Braves would certainly like to add a piece, perhaps more, to the bullpen. Despite Herrera being off the board, there will be clubs with attractive relief options to sell. The Padres and Orioles are both prime trading partners and have multiple pieces worth pursuing. Baltimore holds Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Darren O’Day and Mychal Givens, while San Diego may count Brad Hand, Craig Stammen, Kirby Yates and Adam Cimber among their trade chips.

How much does Austin Riley’s injury affect the Braves possible pursuit of a third baseman via trade this year?

— Chase (via Twitter)

The jury is still out on short term answers at third base for the Braves. Johan Camargo has shown flashes of the potential he demonstrated last season, but is still widely regarded as a versatile back-up who is most valuable when deployed as a super-utility player. That said, he has the keys at the hot corner for now. Atlanta did not seem to be sold on giving Riley an aggressively early big league promotion and now the sprained PCL he suffered in his right knee has tabled that possibility altogether. I still expect Riley to be a candidate for a September call-up, but until he gets back on the field and begins producing again there’s no reason to speculate any further. As for the trade targets, there are several names that should be available. Ultimately, we’re talking about rentals, so it all depends on the trade price tag. Mike Moustakas of the Royals probably makes the most sense and may provide the most impact. He’s a proven power-hitter with postseason experience. Sounds like a natural fit. He’s also making just $5.5 million (plus a $1 million buy-out of a mutual option). Toronto’s Josh Donaldson is obviously someone that GM Alex Anthopoulos could be interested in, but Donaldson has been plagued by injuries this season and that has to be factored into the equation as well. I do not expect the Braves to sell the farm for a short term arrangement with Baltimore’s Manny Machado. If Atlanta’s funds remain limited at the trade deadline, that deal just doesn’t seem feasible for a multitude of reasons.

Is Nick Markakis batting behind Freddie Freeman worth the lack of production from the leadoff spot? Why not just move Nick to the top and roll with Ronald Acuña Jr. at cleanup for a little bit?

— Zach (via Twitter)

I actually addressed this very subject last week in a deep dive into the Braves leadoff woes. There’s no way around it, Atlanta’s lead-off men have simply not provided even league average production this season. They’ve posted a meager .279 on-base percentage, the lowest in all of baseball. As I pointed out in that piece (linked here), I still don’t think it would be in Atlanta’s best interest to essentially unplug their clean-up hitter and move Markakis to the top of the order. The best case scenario is that either Ender Inciarte or Ozzie Albies gets on track and provides a steady lead-off option. If that does not happen, I’d explore using Dansby Swanson or even Johan Camargo at the top of the order before considering a move with Markakis. I just don’t think Brian Snitker wants to change the roles and mindsets of various hitters, not to mention risk altering the overall dynamics of the lineup. However, if Atlanta were to add another power-hitter via trade in the not-too-distant future, then giving Markakis a run at the top may not be out of the question.

After Kolby Allard, which minor leaguers do you think will make their MLB debut in 2018?

— Bill (via Twitter)

While I do expect Allard to make his debut at some point this summer, it’s really hard to tell who else could be on that list. Mike Soroka is already up and various other Braves starting pitching prospects already debuted in 2017. Other than Austin Riley, it’s hard to predict the next big time prospect who could reach Atlanta this year. Though I think Allard is an intriguing arm to watch for the remainder of the season, there’s currently not a clear place for him to pitch at the moment. The Braves have six viable arms contending for spots in the rotation and both Max Fried and Luiz Gohara at Triple-A alongside Allard. Still, to be just 20 years old and posting a 2.28 ERA through a dozen Triple-A starts is a sign that Allard is close.

I’ve been seeing a lot of Twitter chatter about Touki Toussaint coming up to join the pen in the second half of the season? Do you think we see him?

— Chad (via Twitter)

While I won’t rule it out altogether, Toussaint’s development as a starter seems to be the current priority. He’s putting together an excellent season at Double-A Mississippi, where he has posted a 3.41 ERA in 14 starts with 92 strikeouts across 74 innings. About a month ago, the Braves seemed open to the idea of utilizing some of their young starting pitching prospects in the bullpen. We’ve seen it sparingly, mostly with Luiz Gohara, Lucas Sims and Matt Wisler. Of course, all of those men already had previous big league time and starting experience. We’ve yet to see a true young stud starter be called up to help out exclusively in a relief role. With a great fastball-curveball combination, Toussaint might be the best equipped to turn himself into a middle or late-inning weapon. However, the Braves would be well served to prepare for that possibility by getting him accustomed to pitching in relief before simply throwing him out there for the first time in the big leagues. Toussaint should reach Triple-A in the second half and that could be the best time to start that process. If you see him working out of the bullpen in Gwinnett, then we’ll have some clarity on the club’s intentions. That is, if it happens at all.

Braves need more production from leadoff spot

The Atlanta Braves have surprisingly been one of baseball’s best offenses this season. However, their hot start has shown signs of slowing down. Outside of the occasional outburst, the Braves have found runs a bit harder to come by over the past six weeks.

Struggles at the top of the order are a big reason why.

Atlanta’s leadoff men have been among the least productive in baseball over the first two and a half months. Despite that, the Braves remain the National League’s most potent offense.

Braves leadoff hitters MLB ranks:

  • 19th –  40 runs
  • 19th – .245 AVG
  • 29th – .292 OBP
  • 24th – .673 OPS

Despite less than ideal production at the top of the order, Atlanta leads the National League with 322 runs scored through 65 games. There are only three clubs with a .500 or better record that have gotten fewer runs scored from the leadoff spot, Milwaukee (38 runs), San Francisco (35 runs) and Arizona (34 runs). All three of those clubs are in the middle to bottom half of MLB in runs scored this season. That trend is not surprising, and it’s what makes Atlanta’s ability to pile up runs all the more surprising.

The Braves’ issues began when All-Star center fielder Ender Inciarte got off to a slow start. That’s been the case in each of the prior two seasons, but he always seemed to find his way out of that early slump in relatively short order.

That has not been the case this season.

Inciarte is batting .240 with a .556 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and has scored just 16 runs in his 33 games in the leadoff spot. That is a far cry from the player who hit .305 and posted a .351 on-base percentage during a 200-hit season in 2017.

Brian Snitker’s early solution was to move the hot-hitting Ozzie Albies from second in the order to the lead-off spot. While Albies brought some power, it did not solve the problem of finding someone to get on base regularly in front of Freddie Freeman and the heart of the order.

Albies has batted .250 with a .795 OPS and 24 runs scored in 32 games at the top, but has posted just a .303 on-base percentage. Though the home runs and extra-base hits are always welcome, Atlanta’s top of the order hitters simply haven’t been setting the table consistently.

Those lead-off woes are compounded by the current lack of a regular second place hitter.

Four men have batted second for Atlanta this season and they’ve combined for a .299 OBP. That paltry number ranks 28th in the majors. With Ronald Acuña Jr. injured and Albies bumped up a spot, the Braves are searching for a more permanent answer there as well.

Braves offense by month:

  • March/April (27 games): 5.6 runs per game – .268 AVG
  • May (29 games): 4.5 runs per game – .259 AVG
  • June (9 games): 4.4 runs per game – .242 AVG

It’s been a tough season for the men at the top of the order. Inciarte faltered, and the move up hasn’t really benefited Albies all that much either. It’s not an indictment of either man, because one of the two most likely remains the best option going forward.

Though Atlanta is likely ride out the storm with Albies, who is mired in a 5-for-40 slump this month, there are some short-term fixes available should Snitker feel like tinkering with the order.

Dansby Swanson might just be the name to pencil in at the top for a while.

Though he was fighting through his own slump of sorts after coming off the disabled list last month, Swanson has swung the bat better of late. He is batting .286 with a .970 OPS over his last 12 games. He’s already bumped up to the two-hole and will be looked upon to help out regardless. Swanson certainly has some of the other tangible skills that a leadoff man typically possesses. He runs the bases well and handles the bat capably. The only knock would be his strikeout rate, which is sitting at career-worst 28.8%. In today’s more strikeout-friendly game, most teams are willing to sacrifice the punch-outs for any and all added punch that a hitter can bring to the lineup. So, Swanson could be worth a look.

Johan Camargo might be a guy to consider as well.

His case is a little more nuanced than Swanson’s, but the fact is Camargo is a different hitter than he was year ago. Camargo elevated his walk rate from a pitiful 4.7% in 2017 to a respectable 15.5% this year. Despite a 90-point drop in batting average, from .299 to .209, those walks have helped Camargo up his on-base percentage slightly. His .342 mark is serviceable and will probably see an uptick when his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) normalizes. It’s a subpar .219 now after sitting at .364 a year ago. Camargo has been the beneficiary of regular playing time at third base and does not appear to be in jeopardy of losing it. If he continues to put together good at bats and the hits begin falling, Camargo could be a useful hitter at or near the top of the order.

Nick Markakis has done the job before and could do it again.

Granted, moving Markakis from the middle to the top feels not only counterproductive, but also like a move that reeks of desperation were it to happen. His work in the cleanup spot has provided bona fide protection for Freddie Freeman. Whether one believes in that concept or not, Freeman certainly benefits from feeling that he has a productive hitter behind him who can share the load. Markakis and Freeman are tied for the NL lead with 85 hits this season. Both men have been at or near the top of the league leader board in batting average, doubles, runs scored, RBI and numerous other categories. Unlike utilizing Swanson or Camargo at the top, Snitker would have to weigh the possible negative effect messing with the middle of the order equation could yield. Again, it’s not a move I’d necessarily expect to be high on the current list of possibilities.

While Atlanta’s success has been refreshing and built largely on its offense, the bottom line is, someone needs to produce in that leadoff spot. And he needs to do it sooner than later.

Braves boast 6 players worthy of All-Star honors

The Atlanta Braves have been a first place club for much of the 2018 season. Though it’s easily Atlanta’s most talented roster in years, much of the success can be tracked to half a dozen players who are putting up career-best numbers.

While it’s no surprise to see Freddie Freeman putting on an MVP pace, he’s got quite the supporting cast this season.

With the All-Star game just over a month away, the Braves have six players who are making a case to earn a spot on the National League roster for the Midsummer Classic. Freeman has earned the honor before, but the over five deserving Braves players could be chosen to play in their first All-Star Game.

The Candidates:

Freddie Freeman

All-Star Stock: An MVP caliber season makes Freddie Freeman a shoo-in for his third All-Star appearance, but he may just earn his first starting assignment. Of course, that all comes down to the fan vote, but Freeman’s credentials are unmatched at first base. He sits atop the NL leaderboard in countless categories and may very well have the inside track on the MVP award were the season to end today.

All-Star Stats: Freeman leads all major league first basemen with a .338 batting average, 43 RBI, 39 runs scored, a .432 on-base percentage and .993 on-base plus slugging. That’s just a handful of over a dozen offensive stats that Freeman is at or near the top of the pack. One stat that really stands out is Freeman’s 3.0 wins above replacement, which is tops in the National League. Again, if the MVP votes were tallied today, Freeman should be the last man standing among NL position players.

Ozzie Albies

All-Star Stock: A torrid start thrust Ozzie Albies’ name into the national spotlight. He’s been leading the National League in extra-base hits and total bases all season, even though his home run rate has slowed. The switch-hitting second baseman will have to contend with the Reds’ Scooter Gennett for the starting job on the NL Squad. Gennett is in the midst of quite the encore to his 2017 breakout season. Albies should make the team, whether he wins the fan vote or is picked as a reserve. That’s quite an accomplishment for a player who opened the season as the youngest man in baseball.

All-Star Stats: Albies leads the NL with 35 extra-base hits and 135 total bases, both of which are eye-popping numbers for a slight of stature second baseman who was never projected to have much power in the minors. Instead, Albies has shattered that perception and swatted 14 home runs in his first 62 games. He leads all NL second basemen with 14 homers, 19 doubles and 51 runs scored. He’s second to Gennett with 70 hits and third among NL second sackers with a .503 slugging percentage. Add that all together and Albies has an undeniable case to head to Washington as an NL All-Star.

Nick Markakis

All-Star Stock: Nick Markakis would certainly qualify as an unlikely All-Star inclusion if we’d run a poll back in spring training, but he’s quietly putting together his best offensive season to date. Markakis has been at or near the top of the league in hitting, while providing steady run production in the heart of the Atlanta lineup. Even his defense has taken a step up this season. A trip to the All-Star game would be his first in a 13-year career.

All-Star Stats: Affixed in the cleanup spot of the Atlanta order, Markakis has been the most productive right fielder in the National League. You’d expect Bryce Harper, but you get Nick Markakis. He’s been top five in the league in hitting and is currently pacing the NL with 81 hits, just one ahead of Freeman. Additionally, Markakis leads all NL right fielders with a .328 AVG, .392 OBP, .890 OPS, 18 doubles, 42 RBI, 39 runs scored and a 2.1 WAR – which is seventh best in the league. Any way you slice it, Markakis has been the best all-around player at his position and that merits a trip to the All-Star game.

Sean Newcomb

All-Star Stock: Every staff needs a number one starter and Sean Newcomb has been that for the Braves. While the club hoped his big strikeout stuff would eventually help him mature into a successful major league starter, Newcomb has exceeded all expectations over the first two months. He has utilized a changeup to round out an arsenal that already featured one of the best curveballs in the game. The Braves rotation may have entered the spring with a few questions to answer, but Newcomb’s name no longer appears on that list.

All-Star Stats: Newcomb has compiled a 7-1 record to go along with a 2.49 ERA which ranks ninth in the NL. He’s striking out nearly a better per inning and has lowered both his walk and hit rates from his rookie season. Opponents are batting just .201 against Newcomb, the fourth best mark in the league. Additionally, he is the second hardest pitcher in the NL to hit a home run against, allowing just 0.39 HR per 9 innings pitched. Newcomb has surrendered just three home runs through 12 starts, which is tied for the fewest among all qualified starters in baseball. He enters the weekend with a 42 inning homerless streak.

Mike Foltynewicz

All-Star Stock: Speaking of big strikeout stuff, Mike Foltynewicz has been trying to put it all together since 2015. That’s when he made his Atlanta debut as a hard-throwing but unproven prospect. In the three seasons that have followed, Foltynewicz has seen his fair share of ups and downs, but that all seems to have led him to a breakout season in 2018.

All-Star Stats: His complete game shut-out against the Nationals on June 1 seemed to be a turning point in the general perception of what Foltynewicz is and can be going forward. That dominant performance included a career-high 11 strikeouts. His 2.31 ERA and 88 strikeouts are both fifth best in the NL heading into the second week in June. Foltynewicz is averaging 10.7 K/9 IP, which is likewise the fifth best mark by any National League starter. Opponents are hitting just .204 against him, which is sixth in the NL. One more encouraging stat is home run rate, which he’s cut in half from a year ago. The scary thing is, Foltynewicz just now seems to be fully tapping into his potential, so the best could be yet to come.

Dan Winkler

All-Star Stock: A longshot for this midseason honor, Dan Winkler has been Atlanta’s most effective reliever. An amazing story of perseverance, he’s piling up strikeouts and leaving opponents to shake their heads. Winkler has been one of the best relievers in the National League but may fall short in this quest due to the fact he’s not a closer and those roster spots are at a premium. Regardless of his potential All-Star status, the rest of the league has taken notice.

All-Star Stats: Just how good has Dan Winkler been? I’m glad you asked. Among NL relievers with at least 20 innings pitched, Winkler’s 1.07 ERA ranks fifth and his 1.30 fielding independent pitching (FIP) is second. He’s one of just three NL relievers with at least 25 innings pitched who has yet to allow a home run. Winkler’s 12.63 K/9 IP rank 10th in the league. Add it all up and Winkler has compiled a 1.0 WAR to this point. That is the fifth best in the National League. He may not have the saves and the glory that comes with closing games, but Winkler has been a big reason for Atlanta’s success over the first few months.

Braves select Carter Stewart with first round pick

The Atlanta Braves got their portion of the 2018 Major League Baseball Draft started by selecting Florida high school right-hander Carter Stewart.

Stewart, 18, is a 6-foot-6 hurler out of Eau Gallie High School. He was committed to Mississippi State, but will instead begin his pro career with Atlanta.

He has power pitcher’s arsenal, boasting a fastball that climb into the high-90s and features a classic 12-6 curve ball that has been missing bats with great regularity in his high school career.

Now he joins perhaps the most talented collection of arms in baseball and an organization that has been known for its outstanding pitching over the years.

His journey truly began on draft night in Secaucus, New Jersey.

“For about a week or so now, I’ve felt like the Braves were definitely a high possibility,” said Stewart. “Whenever they called my name it was definitely a surreal feeling. It was really exciting.”

Braves scouting director Brian Bridges and company were pleased to add another high-end arm to the stable, which has grown by leaps and bounds over the past three years. Bridges believes the addition of Stewart continues Atlanta’s dedication to rebuilding the franchise on pitching and defense.

“To me, he definitely has the best curveball in the draft,” said Bridges. “He came along as far as development-wise from August and the East Coast Showcase. The curveball was always there, but the fastball was 88-92, so the average of the fastball was on the rise as the kid really did some filling out, maturity-wise with his body.”

Stewart is a somewhat rare pitcher who relies on the old-fashioned curveball over the slider.  He said that is by design and a choice made for all the right reasons.

“I thought it was a better pitch,” Stewart said of the curve. “I threw a slider when I was younger, and I just thought that the curveball broke more and was more comfortable to throw. It worked really well, and I just stuck with it.”

A power pitcher with a dynamic breaking ball, Stewart has patterned himself after one of the best in this generation. When asked what pitcher has influenced his style, he had a quick and easy answer.

“I like to model myself after Justin Verlander a little bit, with his intensity and his ability to pitch,” said Stewart. “I’ve watched him for a long time and I feel like that’s one guy I can definitely model myself after.”

Even before this pick, the Braves boast one of the deepest groups of pitching prospects in the majors and have leaned heavily on pitching with their first round selections in recent years.

This marks the fourth consecutive year that Atlanta has gone pitching first in the draft. Vanderbilt righty Kyle Wright was the No. 5 overall pick in 2017, but that was a pick that followed two years of high school arms.

Atlanta selected righty Ian Anderson with the No. 3 overall pick in 2016 and supplemented him with fellow prep arms Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller. Those three men came just one year after the Braves took lefty Kolby Allard at No. 14 and righty Mike Soroka at No. 28 in 2015.

The Braves hope that Stewart will slot into that group as he begins his trek to the majors.

“He’s probably right in the middle of those guys,” said Bridges. “You know, it’s kind of hard to tell. We’ve been fortunate as an organization and scouting department to select Braves-type pitchers, Braves-type players, Braves-type kids.”

“We feel he fits right into that spectrum at some point. He definitely as an out-pitch, but they’re all different in their own way. Kolby had the plus-curveball, Soroka is Soroka and Ian had the good curveball. So, we feel like this is a power pitcher and we’ve added another one to the group we already have.”

Redrafting this millennium’s Braves’ first round picks

The June draft is a rite of passage in Major League Baseball. It literally ushers in the next wave of talent, with many destined to become the future stars of the game. But for many others, their careers will be just a blip on the radar, a flash in the pan or any of a number of other sporting clichés.

When it comes to the draft, every single club can ask itself, “What if?”

What if they’d selected this player? What if they’d taken that player? It’s a game that executives and fans alike can find themselves caught up in, though ultimately it’s an exercise in futility.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to revisit the recent draft history of the Atlanta Braves and ask ourselves, “What if?”

Let’s throw out the 90s and set aside the last three years of the rebuilding process. What I’m proposing is a redrafting the first round from 2000-2014. It’s a 15-year window that saw the Braves’ streak of division titles come to an end, the sale of the team and the inevitable changing of the guard.

That same 15-year period has seen the rise and fall of stars, many of whom were first-round picks in the annual amateur draft. Still others will be second-guessed as their stars never took their rightful place. When it comes to the draft, even the best work is guesswork and subject to change due to the volitility of the MLB draft and the minor league journey that follows.

So, let’s get in our virtual time-traveling Delorean, scroll through the hundreds of players drafted in the last 15 years and revisit baseball drafts past.

Here are the rules:

  • I’ll give the Braves’ selection from each year and a brief synopsis.
  • Then I’ll reveal the player the club should have taken in hindsight.
  • Any player who was off the board in a given year is not available for the hindsight pick.
  • I limited the picks to the first 10 rounds. Anything beyond that was truly a shot in the dark.
  • Keep in mind, this is done completely for fun and can apply to any of the 30 clubs.

With that said, let’s redraft Atlanta’s first 15 picks of the millennium.

2000

Selected No. 29 – Adam Wainwright, RHP (Glynn Academy HS – Brunswick, GA)

I’m going to say they got this one right, they just didn’t keep him, but Atlanta had back-to-back picks in 2000 and was not so fortunate with the one that followed.

Selected No. 30 – Scott Thorman, 3B (Cambridge HS – Ontario, Canada)

Like many of the picks you’ll find getting the redraft treatment, Thorman failed to mature into a power-hitting corner infielder. He eventually moved to first base where he lost his job to Mark Teixeira.

Hindsight Selection – Grady Sizemore, OF (Cascade HS – Everett, WA)

Sizemore was taken by the Expos in the third round and later traded to the Indians for Bartolo Colon. He became an All-Star center fielder for Cleveland until injuries ultimately derailed his career before he could really get going. Sizemore was a dynamic talent and perfect blend of power, speed and defense.

2001

Selected No. 24 – Macay McBride, LHP (Screven County HS – Sylvania, GA)

A lefty who saw brief time in the majors from 2005-2007, McBride was nothing more than a situational lefty, and not a particularly effective one.

Hindsight Selection – David Wright, 3B (Hickory HS – Chesapeake, VA)

Wright was taken by the Mets No. 38 overall in the first round. It worked out well for New York. Though his career has been derailed by a back injury in his 30s, Wright became the Mets marquee player for more than a decade.

2002

Selected No. 23 – Jeff Francoeur, OF (Parkview HS – Lilburn, GA)

No Braves fan will forget the torrid start to Francoeur’s career, nor the fall from grace that led to a trade to the Mets some four years later.

Hindsight Selection – Joey Votto, C (Richview Collegiate Institute – Toronto, ON)

A high school catcher who has become one of the most selective hitters of this generation, Votto was selected by the Reds in the second round (No. 44 overall). Honorable mention to Jon Lester, who went to the Red Sox at No. 57 and Atlanta’s own Brian McCann, who was selected in the second round (No. 64) as well.

2003

Selected No.  35 – Luis Atilano, RHP (Gabriela Mistral HS – San Juan, Puerto Rico)

Though he would eventually reach the majors in 2010 and make 16 starts for the Nationals, Luis Atilano was traded away in 2006 for pinch-hitter Daryle Ward. Atilano never pitched in the big leagues again after that one stint in Washington and has been playing in the Puerto Rican league since 2012.

Hindsight Selection – Adam Jones, SS (Samuel F. B. Morse HS – San Diego, CA)

Jones was taken 37th overall by the Mariners and later traded to the Orioles where he blossomed into a star center fielder and a big reason for Baltimore’s best years over the last decade.

2004

Selected No.  71 (2nd round) – Eric Campbell, 3B (Gibson Southern HS – Fort Branch, IN)

Atlanta did not make a first round selection but had the final pick in the second round. They used it on Campbell, who stalled out in Double-A and never made it to the majors.

Hindsight Selection – Ben Zobrist, 2B (Dallas Baptist University – Dallas, TX)

Plenty of clubs missed on Zobrist. He was selected in the sixth round, 184th overall. He’s gone to a standout career as a versatile pieces of some very good clubs. The Astros may have drafted him, but they traded him away to Tampa Bay, where he became a two-time All-Star.

2005

Selected No.  27 – Joey Devine, RHP (North Carolina State University – Raleigh, NC)

While Devine would have a limited amount of big league success, arm injuries ultimately cut his career short. Rushed to the majors, Devine’s time in Atlanta was forever tainted by giving up grand slams in each of his first two major league outings. He also surrendered a game-winning homer to Chris Burke in the 18th inning of Game 5 of the 2005 NLDS.

Hindsight Selection – Brett Gardner, OF (College of Charleston – Charleston, SC)

A speedy outfielder who’s spent a decade in pinstripes, Gardner was selected by the Yankees in the third round, 109th overall. Gardner has been a fixture in the New York outfield while the cast around him has continually changed.

2006

Selected No. 24 – Cody Johnson, OF (A. Crawford Mosley HS – Lynn Haven, FL)

There are plenty of bad picks to go around, but the selection of Cody Johnson is among the worst. A raw power prospect, his strikeout totals were a deterrent to consistent success and he was out of the organization some four years after being selected by Atlanta.

Hindsight Selection – Chris Archer, RHP (Clayton HS – Clayton, NC)

How different Atlanta’s current situation could be if it was Archer who’d been taken as a high school pitcher in that 2006 draft. Cleveland spent a fifth round pick on Archer, but he was traded to the Cubs not two full seasons into his minor league career. Archer was dealt to Tampa Bay in 2011 and has enjoyed some fine seasons as the No. 1 starter for the Rays

2007

Selected No.  33 – Jon Gilmore, 3B (Iowa City HS – Iowa City, IA)

Forgive me for burying the lead here, but 2007 was a mixed bag in the first round. The Braves stayed close to home when they drafted the talented Heyward at No. 14. He grew up just south of Atlanta and was a solid first round selection. Heyward had his moments with the Braves but was ultimately traded away before he reached free agency. Though he found a big pay day in Chicago, Heyward has never truly become the star player that so many thought he was destined to be. I’m actually going to give this selection a pass.

Hindsight Selection – Josh Donaldson, C (Auburn University – Auburn, AL)

Though the Heyward pick can be debated, the pick that can’t for Atlanta was taking third baseman Jon Gilmore at No. 33. Not only did the Reds immediately follow that pick by taking Todd Frazier, but it only gets worse from there. Josh Donaldson slipped to the supplemental picks where he was selected by the Cubs at No. 48 overall. Two trades and one major position switch later, Donaldson became an MVP-caliber slugger with Toronto. You know, the kind of third baseman any club would love to have. Gilmore

2008

Selected No.  40 – Brett DeVall, LHP (Niceville HS – Niceville, FL)

Atlanta surrendered the No. 18 pick in the draft to the Mets as compensation for re-signing Tom Glavine, who’d bolted for New York after the 2002 season. Thus, the Braves waited out 22 more picks and went with a high school lefty in DeVall, who was beset by injuries and out of the organization by 2010.

Hindsight Selection – Charlie Blackmon, OF (Georgia Institute of Technology – Atlanta, GA)

Blackmon was right in Atlanta’s backyard at Georgia Tech, but lasted until the 72nd-overall pick, late in the second round. Blackmon has evolved into one of the better outfielders in the National League with the Rockies. Atlanta was able to recoup in 2008 and grab Craig Kimbrel in the third round.

2009

Selected No.  7 – Mike Minor, LHP (Vanderbilt University – Nashville, TN)

The Braves drafted a Mike in the first round of the 2009 draft. Unfortunately, it was not the right one. Minor was a polished college arm who made it to the majors quickly and became a contributor in the Atlanta rotation. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury robbed him and the Braves of the chance to see Minor find consistent success for a prolonged period of time.

Hindsight Selection – Mike Trout, OF (Millville Senior HS – Millville, NJ)

To be fair, 21 teams passed on Mike Trout. The Nationals and Diamondbacks passed not once, but twice. Even the Angels selected Randal Grichuk with the 24th selections before tabbing Trout with pick No. 25. Reliving the first round of the 2009 draft is an annual exercise, and the Angels always end up looking like quite a few million bucks for getting Trout in the latter stages.

2010

Selected No. 35 – Matt Lipka, SS (McKinney HS – McKinney, TX)

Another pick that has been scrutinized in recent years, Lipka offered a speed dynamic that Atlanta very much coveted but little else. He did not stick at short, moved to the outfield and ultimately failed to develop as a hitter. Lipka elected free agency after 2016 and has played for two other organizations. The Braves didn’t exactly manage their first round assets too well in 2010.

Hindsight Selection – J.T. Realmuto, SS (Carl Albert HS – Midwest City, OK)

What if I told you the Braves had an outside chance at drafting both Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto? It was one of a myriad of possibilities. Atlanta sacrificed the No. 20 pick to Boston as compensation for signing free agent Billy Wagner. That precluded the team from taking Yelich, who went No. 23 to Miami. Realmuto, a shortstop who’d move to catcher, went much later. The Marlins nabbed him in the third round (104th overall). In the wake of the Marlins’ latest teardown, it’s even more fascinating to think what Yelich and Realmuto would look like in a Braves uniform.

2011

Selected No.  28 – Sean Gilmartin, LHP (Florida State University – Tallahassee, FL)

The Braves took another college arm, hoping Gilmartin could reach the big leagues expeditiously and contribute to the rotation. Of course, that did not happen. Gilmartin stalled out in Triple-A and was a Rule 5 pick by the Twins in the winter of 2013. He’s pitched in three organizations since and reached the big leagues as a reliever with the Mets.

Hindsight Selection – Mookie Betts, SS (John Overton HS – Brentwood, TN)

Considering Betts lasted until Boston’s fifth-round selection (172nd overall), many clubs missed time and again on adding one of the game’s true young superstars. Betts moved to the outfield and has become one of the best all-around talents in baseball. That’s some serious fifth round value for the Red Sox.

2012

Selected No.  21 – Lucas Sims, RHP (Brookwood HS – Snellville, GA)

Sims reached the majors last season, but has yet to carve out a fulltime spot in the rotation or the bullpen. He has a good fastball, but has not be able to find the consistency

Hindsight Selection – Marcus Stroman, RHP (Duke University – Durham, NC)

Toronto took Stroman immediately after the Braves selected Sims. The college righty joined the big league rotation in 2014 and has been Toronto’s most reliable pitcher over the past few seasons. Though he’s hit some rough sledding in 2018, Stroman was an excellent draft choice by the Jays.

2013

Selected No.  31 – Jason Hursh, RHP (Oklahoma State University – Stillwater, OK)

This may well be the pick that inspired this entire retrospective. Jason Hursh was another college arm, which the Braves dabbled in quite a few times with their early picks during the Frank Wren administration. Hursh, while still on the 40-man roster as of this writing, transitioned to reliever and has yet to find any major league success to speak of.

Hindsight Selection – Aaron Judge, OF (California State University Fresno – Fresno, CA)

There’s no way around the hindsight that’s built into the Hursh pick when you consider who the Yankees selected immediately afterward. New York took slugging outfielder Aaron Judge with the 32nd overall pick in the draft. College bats have never been Atlanta’s preference, so there’s virtually no chance that Judge was on Atlanta’s short list, but the fact that he’s gone on to post MVP level production as one of the biggest sluggers both literally and figuratively in the game makes Judge the one that got away.

2014

Selected No. 32 – Braxton Davidson, OF (T. C. Roberson HS – Asheville, NC)

The Braves were hoping they’d found a selective prep hitter who’d grow into some power as he developed in the minor leagues. Unfortunately, Davidson’s development has stalled as he spends a third season in High-A and his strikeout rate continues to climb. Davidson’s days in the organization appear numbered if he’s unable to turn things around soon.

Hindsight Selection – Rhys Hoskins, 1B (California State University Sacramento – Sacramento, CA)

The majority of the 2014 draft class is still in the minor leagues, but Hoskins exploded onto the scene with a historic home run barrage for the Phillies last season. He was a fifth round selection (142nd overall), but advanced through the minors quickly to become a force in the Philadelphia lineup.