As the Atlanta Braves talk trades with other teams over the next few days leading up to the Tuesday trade deadline, the issue of young pitchers will be much-discussed. Many fans and blogs, including this one, reacted negatively to the rumor that Randall Delgado was being shipped to Chicago for a rent-a-Dumpster pitcher. How could the Braves trade away such a promising young pitcher, and the one young starting pitcher with the best results among their main group of healthy young starters?
The answer in this case, and the answer quite often over the years for the Braves, is to look at what's coming next. The Braves system is adept at developing starting pitchers -- to be used by Atlanta in their rotation, or to be shipped to other teams in trades. The Braves used a few of these young starting pitchers last year in their rotation -- Delgado, Mike Minor, and Julio Teheran -- and traded a few of them away -- Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens, and J.J. Hoover.
Already there is more talent on the rise in the Atlanta system. While Minor and Delgado battle for a spot in the Atlanta rotation and Teheran works through his struggles at triple-A, the next wave of young Braves starters is moving up the ladder, getting closer to Atlanta.
The Braves announced today that they have promoted their 2011 first round draft pick to triple-A. Sean Gilmartin, in only his first full professional season, was already putting up impressive numbers at double-A. He's on a similar path to the one that catapulted Mike Minor up the minor league ladder and to the Majors two years ago. Though it's doubtful that Gilmartin will reach the Majors this year, he should be ready to contribute in the second half of next season.
Beyond Gilmartin, the next wave includes Zeke Spruill, a second-round pick in '08, David Hale, a second-round pick in '09, and J.R. Graham, a fourth-round pick last year. All three of those promising young pitchers are currently in the double-A Mississippi Braves rotation, and all of them represent good depth for the Braves system that could be used for trades -- similar to Oberholtzer and Clemens last year.
Below double-A at the Braves affiliate in Lynchburg are more promising arms for the starting rotation. Cody Martin is another draft pick from last year (7th round) who is moving quickly and successfully through the system. The surprising Gus Schlosser is leading the Braves organization in wins with 11. He is also from last year's draft class, selected in the 17th round. Aaron Northcraft already has a no-hitter to his name this season, and Dimasther Delgado is a highly thought of arm coming back from surgery last year.
Recent draft pick Alex Wood could follow a similar path to the one that Minor and Gilmartin have followed, and be ready as early as late next year. This year's first round draft pick Lucas Sims and top international arm Mauricio Cabrera are several years away, but they may have more promise than any arm in the system.
This turned into a bit of a listing of players at each level, which wasn't the original intent, but it shows you how the Braves have lined up the good arms in their system to replenish their Major League ranks or use in trades. There is a lot of depth in the Braves system at starting pitcher, but a guy like Randall Delgado is more valuable than any of these pitchers. Don't take this listing of players to mean that all of these guys will march right up the ladder and make a smooth transition to the Majors. Minor and Teheran are good examples of that. Oberholtzer and Clemens are currently sporting 6.00-plus ERAs for Houston's triple-A affiliate -- clearly traded at the right time by the Braves.
Even if the team parts with Delgado in a trade, there are more pitchers floating to the surface, but could any of them match what Delagdo gives the Braves? Not in my opinion. Trading Delgado for a one-year rental would be a huge mistake for Atlanta. If that's the price for Zack Greinke or Ryan Dempster, then no thanks. If that's the price for a pitcher like James Shields with another year of control, then maybe. As you can see there are plenty of other arms that could be used for trades, the fact that teams are asking for Delgado should give you a good idea of how good he is.
As with so many articles lately, this seems to have turned into a rant, but I wanted to get some points across -- hopefully I did. Delgado good. Depth, plenty, but far away it is. Trade for rental, bad. This ability of the Braves to develop pitchers to trade away for other needs, has a shelf life, and expending the system's talent on rent-a-players will deplete Atlanta's usable talent pool quickly and needlessly.
Frank Wren needs to find the right deal that returns a player in an area of need, who will give the team more than a few months of service time. As much as the Braves gave up for Mark Teixeira, and as bad as some people think that deal was, Atlanta traded from depth and got a player they could control for two shots at the post-season. I'd be fine with another deal like that, as long as the player in return is a true difference-maker who could wear a tomahawk across his chest through the end of next year -- we have the depth. Rental players are folly.