Nearly 30 years ago, the Atlanta Braves selected an 18-year-old New Englander in the second round of the 1984 MLB Amateur Draft. Tom Glavine, as his recent election to the Hall of Fame suggests, would not only go on to become one of the best left-handed starting pitchers in the history of the game, but would also be the first in a long list of great talents to travel through the Braves’ farm system over the past three decades. Since Glavine’s big-league debut in 1987, the franchise has made 17 trips to the playoffs, clinched 15 division titles, claimed five pennants and won the 1995 World Series. Organizationally manufactured players such as David Justice, Chipper Jones, Rafael Furcal, Brian McCann and Craig Kimbrel, to name just a few, have all been vital components to the Braves’ extended run of success. Though the 2014 season does not project to be one that will showcase a similar caliber of prospect, there are a few names that could become part of the conversation over the course of the summer in Atlanta.
David Hale - RHP
When it comes to pitching, the Braves' farm system features what many would consider an embarrassment of riches. Recent draft picks such as Lucas Sims, J.R. Graham and Jason Hursh are the organization’s current headliners. However, it's 26-year-old righty David Hale, ranked by MLB.com as the organization’s No. 20 prospect, who seems to own the arm most ready to endure the marathon that is the MLB season. After putting up a 3.22 ERA and 77 strikeouts while only allowing eight home runs over 114.2 innings at Triple-A Gwinnett in 2013, Hale was brought up to the bigs for a couple of starts in September. To say the Georgia native impressed the home crowd during his two outings would be putting it lightly, as he allowed just one run while punching out 14 over 11 innings of work. Hale will head into Spring Training looking to earn a role in the Braves bullpen, or possibly even the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
Tommy La Stella - 2B
Since the Braves selected him in the eighth round of the 2011 Amateur Draft, second baseman Tommy La Stella has been an on-base machine. Last season alone, through 81 games at the Double-A level, the former Coastal Carolina University standout put up a sensational .343/.422/.473 slash line. Though he does not bring much in the way of power, La Stella has put up a career .908 OPS and a very impressive 8.8 K% while showing solid form in the field. Presently ranked by MLB.com as the Braves’ 13th-best prospect, La Stella seems destined to become the double-play partner of Atlanta’s Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons at some point in the future. With his outlook for 2014 largely tied to the early-season performance of the much-maligned Dan Uggla, it is difficult to project exactly when La Stella will make his debut in the bigs. However, if he maintains his previous levels of production, the 25-year-old could force General Manager Frank Wren’s hand.
Christian Bethancourt is a well-known name around Atlanta. Even though he is just 22 years of age, the highly touted backstop has already turned in a half-dozen campaigns in the Braves’ system and has been one the franchise’s most heralded prospects over the last few years. The native of Panama routinely receives very high marks for his defense from MLB scouts, but is still developing in the batter's box. Bethancourt’s top-notch work behind the plate, combined with a .277 batting average, 12 homers and 11 stolen bases at Double-A, resulted in a September call-up last summer. As most are aware, the Braves already have 2013 breakout star Evan Gattis slated to begin the regular season as the starting catcher. The projected 25-man roster also includes a couple of capable veterans in Ryan Doumit and Gerald Laird that can man the position. However, if Bethancourt continues to make strides offensively, he could definitely find himself, at the very least, in a timeshare down the stretch though it seems more likely that he will not be a much of a factor for the Braves until 2015.
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