Bronx Bombers and Southern Smokers

By Paul Harvey and Marc Nolan – Last Word On Baseball

The Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees have been two of the more consistent clubs in Major League Baseball since the mid-90s. Unfortunately, the last few seasons tell a different story. The Braves last won the National League East in 2013, but the success was short lived. A disastrous 2014 offensive performance led management to begin a full-blown rebuild of the organization.

The Yankees last won the American League East in 2012. Since, they’ve attempted to compete for the past few years until scuffling out of the gates to begin the 2016 season. What is remarkable is that the Yankees still managed to compete in 2016 after trading away their aging and pricey talent to acquire young prospects. Despite being in contention for a Wild Card for much of September, it does appear that the Yankees will once again miss the postseason. The difference, however, is that their farm system is equipped to turn things around quickly.

Both the Braves and the Yankees have traded away stars and utilized draft picks and international signings to build formidable farm systems. What is intriguing is that each team chose a different aspect of the game to focus on. The strength of New York’s farm system is built on offensive talent, while Atlanta went the route of acquiring young pitching.

Bronx Bombers and Southern Smokers

Bronx Bombers (By Marc Nolan)

The New York Yankees are a model of consistency. They’ve won, or at least competed for, division titles year after year for almost 25 seasons. This year should have been different. With an aging core of veterans, the team was expected to fall flat in the standings, and they did. That is, until the trade deadline. The Yankees, while still competing year after year, managed to build a wonderful prospect pool. They were primed to turn a corner and begin a youth movement at the big league level with top-100 prospects littered throughout their system.

So the Yankees did what they hadn’t done often before. They sold off their aging talent and arms to bring in the young, controllable bats they needed, and the victories started rolling in. All of a sudden, they were back in a pennant race, and it was thanks to the young bats. A lot of teams in recent years have emphasized the arms race. This is the idea of focusing on trying to shut teams down with explosive power throughout a rotation. In recent years, we have seen a moderate amount of success with this approach: the Washington NationalsNew York Mets, and Cleveland Indians have all attempted it, with varying results. Is a trend visible? Young arms are unpredictable. With the prominence of elbow and shoulder injuries, these young rotations have shown the potential for greatness, but have never produced a consistent winner.

The Yankees went the opposite direction. They decided to build with bats, such as Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, Jorge Mateo, Clint Frazier, Tyler Austin, and Blake Rutherford. All are position players, all rank as top-100 prospects, and all possess the ability to become future All-Stars with diverse skill sets in what could become very dynamic lineup. Of course, there is always risk with any prospect, but this approach has been clearly superior for developing winners in recent times. With the obvious success of teams like the Boston Red Sox, Kansas City Royals, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, and Chicago Cubs, it is clear that offense is the reliable way to build a contender. The New York Yankees are well on their way to being back on the championship track.

Southern Smokers (By Paul Harvey)

It would be fair to call the Atlanta Braves an inconsistent franchise prior to the 1990s. Sure, there were two World Series championships, albeit 40 years apart. There were even big name Hall of Fame players, like Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Warren Spahn. Winning, however, was not an annual event. The Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, yet they won just two division titles prior to 1991. That all changed with the crop of pitching that Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz acquired. Atlanta began a string of 14-straight division titles in 1991 on the arms of pitchers like Steve Avery, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux. Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz made up the “Big Three” and pitched together from 1993-2002, capturing three National League pennants and one World Series title.

The Braves have won just one division title and two Wild Card berths since 2005. Atlanta looked set to compete for years to come after capturing the division in 2013 but it was not meant to be. A terrible 2014 season illuminated a team full of bloated salaries with under performing players and a weak farm system. The two seasons since 2014 have been a full rebuild of the organization from the ground up. Just two players, Julio Teheran and Freddie Freeman, remain from the 2013 team. Atlanta decided to rebuild using what it knows best: top-notch pitching.

There are currently 18 pitchers in the top-30 Atlanta Braves prospects, and that number may grow before the rebuild is complete. Five of the top eight prospects are pitchers, four of which were drafted in the past two seasons. There are the phenomenal southpaws: Sean Newcomb, Kolby Allard, Joey Wentz, Max Fried, Ricardo Sanchez, and Kyle Muller. Then there’s the talented right-handers: Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Max Povse, and Patrick Weigel.

The Braves will still need their talented position players to pan out. Just as much will be expected from Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, and Dustin Peterson in order for the Braves to compete, but there is no denying Atlanta’s main course of action. The name of the game is pitching. You either pay heavily for it on the open market, or you draft arms and grow them on the farm. Sure, a some not pan out, but that is why Atlanta is stacking the deck as much as possible in its favor. It worked for the Braves before and it will work again.

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