ATLANTA — Many of the spring training stars for the Braves may be players not expected to open the season in Atlanta.
Expectations are low for the Braves in 2016 as they head to Florida for spring training, leaving hope focused on a farm system which has been strengthened by a flurry of trades. The biggest name of the new prospects is shortstop Dansby Swanson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft.
Swanson, starting center fielder Ender Inciarte and right-hander Aaron Blair were acquired in the offseason trade that sent right-hander Shelby Miller to Arizona. Blair, a first-round pick in 2013, will compete for a rotation spot this spring. Inciarte is expected to be the leadoff hitter.
The bounty from the Miller trade helped make the Braves' farm system one of the most respected in baseball. Baseball America has the Braves' organizational talented rated No. 3. ESPN's Keith Law has the Braves' farm system rated No. 1 — a dramatic jump from the bottom five only two years ago.
Law, whose background includes time spent in the Toronto Blue Jays' front office, said the Braves "did what they had to do" by trading Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Andrelton Simmons and Miller, among others, the last two years.
"They tore everything down," Law said Tuesday. "They tore apart a big-league club that was good but clearly not going to be good enough."
Braves pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Kissimmee, Florida, on Friday for their first workout on Saturday. Other players report next week.
Swanson hasn't played above Class A, but the former Vanderbilt standout already is projected to be the Braves' starter by 2017, when the team will move into its new SunTrust Park. It helps that Swanson is a local kid from Marietta High School.
"You couldn't ask for a better organization to be in, especially growing up 30 minutes from here," Swanson said at a recent appearance at Turner Field. "I'm just excited to be here and bring what I watched as a kid to this organization."
General manager John Coppolella looked for pitching help in every trade.
"That's the plan, basically, is to build around pitching and to build with home-grown players and to try to avoid signing free agents unless they can finish off your team," Coppolella said.
The Braves also emphasized pitching when building the team that won 14 straight division titles, beginning in 1991, and the 1995 World Series title.
"Atlanta has stockpiled so much pitching it is hard for me to imagine them ever being in a situation where they're short of pitching down the road," Law said. "In fact, it seems to me they will have so much excess pitching that when they're in a position where they need to go acquire a bat, they will have the arms that they're able to do so."
One of the key new position players is Hector Olivera, acquired from the Dodgers last year in a three-team trade. Olivera, 30, hit only .253 in 24 games with Atlanta last year. His move from third base to left field will be closely watched this spring.
Baseball America includes Swanson, Olivera, Blair, left-hander Sean Newcomb, shortstop Ozzie Albies and left-hander Kolby Allard in its list of top 100 prospects. Allard was the team's first-round pick last year.
Newcomb, shortstop Erick Aybar and another pitching prospect, Chris Ellis, were obtained from the Angels for Simmons.