COMMENTARY | While the contenders are gearing up for the 2013 pennant race, many other teams are looking to the trade market to help stock their farm systems with prospects.
This strategy often takes years to pay off, many times with multiple "fire sales" being necessary. While the Atlanta Braves are firmly on the "contenders" side of the trade market, a glance at their minor-league prospects paints a worrying picture of the future, particularly when it comes to non-pitchers.
So while it certainly isn't time to panic, the Braves must start to address their farm deficiencies now, or face a situation in the not-too-distant future in which they are forced to trade viable players in order to build long-term.
Atlanta is known for its pitching depth, and has been for a while. The current farm system is no exception. Most lists of the Braves' top prospects are made up of anywhere from 70-80 percent pitchers, spread throughout the minor-league levels. There is no shortage of talented young arms waiting to move up through the ranks and with injuries to starters and relievers becoming seemingly more prevalent, they are a valuable commodity.
The issue facing the Braves isn't a quantity of top prospects, but rather that their most promising talents are almost exclusively pitchers. The field-position prospects that they do have are either old for their level, like 23-year-old Robby Heflinger, who just made it to AA Mississippi; not living up to their tools, in the case of Edward Salcedo; or blocked by young talent at the major-league level, like Christian Bethancourt at catcher, Ernesto Mejia at first base, and Jose Peraza at shortstop.
They lack the dynamic five-tool prospect that many teams, both good and bad, have in the minors. The recent injuries to the Atlanta outfield put a spotlight on this issue. When the Upton brothers and Jason Heyward went down, the Braves were forced to turn to a combination of Tyler Pastornicky and Joey Terdoslavich, both converted infielders, and Jose Constanza, an eight-year farmhand. There is no Yasiel Puig or Oscar Taveras to whom Atlanta could turn.
The Braves should make finding those kinds of dynamic hitters a priority in the next couple of drafts. It is not a dire situation; Atlanta has quality players under contract for the next few years. But if the Braves don't address the weaknesses that are in the minor leagues now, they may face a situation in a few years where they are looking to trade talent for prospects.
Fans want a team that reloads, not rebuilds.
Joe Thomas was raised and lives within shouting distance of Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves. He is the sports editor for The Sting, the student newspaper of Southern Polytechnic State University. You can find him on Twitter using the handle @jhqthomas.
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