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Trading from Depth

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Before the season started, Baseball America came out with their top-10 prospect list for the Atlanta Braves. The top three spots on that list read:

  1. JarrodSaltalamacchi

  2. Elvis Andrus

  3. Matt Harrison

Those three prospects, the top three in the organization, plus two other pitching prospects were just sent packing to the Texas Rangers for Mark Teixeira - perhaps you've heard this trade mentioned recently. I think many people are asking themselves, "how could the team trade their top three prospects for one guy?" Heck, when the very same Rangers traded Alex Rodriguez - usually considered the best player in the game - all they got was Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias. Certainly Teixeira equals less of a return than A-Rod.

This unfortunately was not the case. Several factors contributed to the inflated price of the former Georgia Tech slugger. The biggest factor was probably the Braves' need for a hitter at the trade deadline, and the competition they faced for that hitter from other teams. Another factor was the fact that Teixeira was pretty much the only hitter who was put on the trade market. So to get him the Braves had to pay a heavy price. Of course the real price will not be known until these prospects, all of whom are still in the minors except for Saltalamacchia, make it to the majors a couple of years from now. And for several of these players who are only 18, it could be three or four years before they make their debut.

Where does that leave the Braves minor league development system? A system that has been instrumental in graduating key players like McCann, Francoeur, James, Johnson, and the Jones boys to the majors for more than a decade. I think the answer to that is actually in the trade itself. The Braves wouldn't have traded away their top three prospects if they didn't think their minor league depth could sustain the blow.

A quick look at just the Braves double-A level reveals that they had eight players make that level's All-Star team. One of those was Harrison, but three others have already made appearance in the majors this season. Another, Brandon Jones, has already made it to triple-A and may get called up when rosters expand in September. Below them, guys like Kris Medlen, Tommy Handon, and Deunte Heath are pitchers who are marching their way through the Braves system. And other players such as Kala Kaaihue, Dan Smith, Brent Lillibridge, and Jamie Richmond are finding success at each stop on their way to the majors.

Trading away the super-talented Andrus was made easier by the success of Yunel Escobar who graduated to the majors this year, as well Brent Lillibridge who is right on Escobar's heels at triple-A. The star debuts of 2007 draftees like Brandon Hicks and Travis Jones likely gave credence to the notion that we had more than enough depth at the shortstop position.

While three of the Braves first four draft picks in 2007 were high school players, the next eleven players they drafted were all collegiate players; that usually means a player is closer to the majors than one drafted right out of high school. This could mean the Braves system will get restocked faster than it has in previous years when the Braves took more high school talent in the draft. Another factor helping to restock the system is a change in the MLB draft rules which prevents teams from using draft-and-follow as a draft strategy. This was something the Braves had used very effectively in the past, but they are now forced to try and sign their draft picks the very same season. Combine the glut of leftover draft and follow players signed just before this year's draft with the extra signees from this year's draft and we have a lot more players coming into our system than normal.

The real story of the Mark Teixeira trade is not what we gave up, but what we have left. The truth behind the trade is that we could afford to give away our top three minor league talents and still have a full stable of major league caliber prospects waiting in the wings. Many of those prospects are in the lower levels, and while some may be as good as the guys we traded away, they simply haven't made a name for themselves yet. But in the coming year the strength of the Braves system to restock itself will once again be proven.