The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
The Baby Braves Are Showing Signs of Maturity

A couple of years ago there were the “Baby Bombers” of New York, aptly named when the Yankees roster became populated with young prospects that came up through their system or were acquired in trades.  It was part of a makeover of an aging team that wasn’t living up to the Yankee tradition of championship seasons.  Indeed, the Yankees’ fortune changed such that they are now considered one of the best clubs in all of baseball.

We now have the “Baby Braves” of Atlanta, who embarked on a similar, but even more dramatic, turnover of its roster several years ago and now appear to be coming of age.  Atlanta currently leads the NL East Division, led by a young core of players who have caught the attention of the baseball world.

If this Braves story has a familiar ring to it, just four years ago we were talking about another core of young, home-grown players on the Braves roster that projected to put them a long-term position of competitiveness.

That group included Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, and Julio Teheran, all of whom had been granted contract extensions even though they collectively had only 12 full seasons under their belts at the time.  For the Braves’ management, these extensions were about the certainty of annual payroll and averting expensive free-agent bidding wars in the future.

In addition to these players, the Braves roster consisted of other young players that included B. J. Upton, Evan Gattis, Brandon Beachy, Alex Wood, and Christian Bethancourt.  Overall, the Braves seemed to be pretty set for the next few years.

However, the 2014 Braves wound up in second place in their division, but failed to have a winning record and finished 17 games back of the Washington Nationals.  This came after having won the division the year before.

John Hart was brought on as general manager after that season, and he rapidly dismantled the team his predecessor, Frank Wren, had assembled.  Hart ultimately dealt away all of the players except Freeman and Teheran, in exchange for a lot of pitching prospects and high draft picks.  The Braves organization also became very focused on the international player recruiting process.

The Braves’ strategy became one of-building a competitive team to coincide with the opening their new stadium in 2017.  The organization acknowledged they were going to get worse before they got better.  And they did just that.  They won only 67 games in 2015 and 68 in 2016.

Well, the new stadium opened as planned, but the team was only four games better (25 games out of first place) than the previous year.  But one could start to see some of the prospects and younger players emerging.

It appears the strategy employed by the organization a few years ago is producing dividends.  The Braves have a slim lead in the division this year.  The offense has been sparked by 20-year-old outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and 21-year-old second baseman Ozzie Albies, the two youngest position players in baseball, backed by veterans Freddie Freeman (still only 28 years old) and Nick Markakis.

Albies, only 5-foot-6 and 165 pounds, is in the mold of the Houston Astros’ mighty mite Jose Altuve—he packs a lot of punch in a small body type.  As of Saturday, Albies led the National League in home runs and total bases.  Since Acuna Jr. was promoted to the big leagues on April 25, the Braves have won 13 of 15 games on the road.  Their teammates are awed by the two youngsters’ ability and confidence.  They are being compared to the former youth combo of Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker, when they played together as 20 and 21-year-olds for the Detroit Tigers in 1978.

Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson are two other young players making an impact with the Braves.  Swanson, the overall No. draft pick in 2015, struggled a bit with his hitting in his first full season last year, but now seems to have made the appropriate adjustments.  A 2017 all-star selection, Inciarte is an all-around player, as he is one of the better center fielders in baseball and currently leads the National League in stolen bases.

Julio Teheran (still only 27 years old) leads the starting rotation.  He’s been a workhorse on the staff, with 30 or more starts, since 2013.  He’s joined by relative newcomers Sean Newcomb, Mike Foltynewicz, and 20-year-old Mike Soroka.  Veteran pitcher Brandon McCarthy has been outstanding since coming over from the Dodgers last year.

The relief staff of mid-20s pitchers has been pretty impressive, too.  Arodys Vizcaino has stepped up as the closer, while Shane Carle and A.J. Minter have ERAs under 1.00.

There are still question marks about whether the Braves are having a breakout season this year or are just be another middle-of-the-pack team.  The Washington Nationals were expected to be the runaway winner of the division again, but it looks like they will have some stiff competition from the upstart Braves and possibly the Phillies and Mets, too.  We’ll have to wait and see if the Braves have truly come of age.

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