Braves have 'waves' of young talent en route
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Not far from the daily parades of beloved characters through the Magic Kingdom, a man sat in an uncovered golf cart watching a parade of 20-somethings late Sunday morning. It was the present and the future of the Braves that passed by Frank Wren, making a comfortable Central Florida morning even more pleasant for the general manager -- or grand marshal -- of the Braves.
Wren ran off some names, and it was clear he had spoken them -- in the same sequence -- more than once or twice: "Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino," he said. Then he repeated their surnames "Teheran, Delgado, Vizcaino," though not quite so smoothly as you might say "Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz" or "Hansen, Lowe, Jurrjens." And then he labeled them. "That's the next wave," he said. "We have two or three of the top pitching prospects in the game coming."
Waves are good things for most folks. Political candidates like to use them when handshakes and baby kissing aren't practical. College football crowds execute them quite well -- baseball crowds shouldn't try. Those with leathered skin, Beach Boys songs on their iPod playlists and sand in their shorts have a special fondness for waves. And general managers of big league franchises covet waves as Chip and Dale covet acorns. Waves in this game are the equivalent of coming attractions.
Wren said "Teheran, Delgado, Vizcaino" again as if their names are his mantra. He smiled. Each is in camp, only Delgado is on the 40-player roster.
The general manager believes he has a few waves coming. "It's good to have multiple waves," he said. "That's the plan, to have wave upon wave. You don't want a tsunami. You just want a lot of waves."
The overall objective, of course, is to create a tsunami effect on the other teams in the National League as the Braves did even before their worst-to-first ascent in 1991 and through 2005. Sweep over them. The five most recent seasons have brought only modest success for the Braves, but now, according to Wren, they have reloaded.
The arrival of the next wave probably will begin late this summer, most likely with 20-year-old Teheran, who is right-handed like Delgado and Vizcaino. Teheran has added some weight and thereby ended the unfair comparisons to Pedro Martinez as a prospect. Delgado and Vizcaino are 21 and 20 years old. They may be a year behind Teheran.
Wren continued his metaphor: After the next wave, comes "the one after that." It is filled with position players selected in the First-Year Player Draft in June. "We thought we had a waveless period coming," Wren said. "It was a calm part of the ocean we wanted to stir up."
At first blush -- and it is rather early for a meaningful assessment -- the 2010 Draft appears to be the Braves' best since the '00 process that imported Adam Wainwright, Adam LaRoche, Kelly Johnson and Blaine Boyer, each of whom now has big league experience. The Braves clearly had a plan last summer. They concentrated on players with college experience and focused on the middle-of-the-field personnel.
Four of the five players Wren included in "the one after that" wave were up-the-middle guys -- two shortstops, a second baseman and a center fielder.
Wren served as a lieutenant to former general manager John Schuerholz who was a pup of former Orioles GM Frank Cashen. It was Cashen who popularized the theory of selecting middle infielders and center fielders, letting them develop and then shifting the lesser ones to the corners or positions that needed to be filled. Bobby Grich, a shortstop by trade, became the Orioles' second baseman that way, not because he couldn't handle shortstop, but because incumbent Mark Belanger handled the position better than almost anyone else until Ozzie Smith arrived.
Wren named names: Switch-hitting center fielder Todd Cunningham, 21, out of Alabama; Matt Lipka, an 18-year-old shortstop, the only high school talent among the five; a 6-5, 22-year-old third baseman from Pitt named Joe Leonard, son of former Giants outfielder Mark Leonard; Phil Gosselin, a 22-year-old second baseman who played at Virginia and 21-year-old shortstop Andrelton Simmons from Curacao. The Braves like prospecting in Curacao -- see Jair Jurrjens and Andruw Jones.
None of the five has been invited to camp.
Then, Wren took it a step farther. The Braves have three Latin players coming. They may constitute a clear blue wave on a white beach. Elmer Reyes is a 20-year-old second baseman, Edward Salcedo a 19-year-old shortstop, and Christian Bethancourt, a 19-year-old catcher and the only one of the three invited to camp.
"His skills are there already," Wren says. "He's got the best arm I've seen on a young catcher since Pudge."
Incumbent catcher Brian McCann has seen Bethancourt, he has seen the future. McCann turned 27 Sunday. He hasn't reached middle age yet, not even for a catcher. The Braves hold him in high regard. But not even Phil Niekro or Julio Franco played forever. And the next wave is on the horizon.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.