President Schuerholz optimistic about young talent, excited about new ballpark
By Richard Justice
CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- The Atlanta Braves are in a good place. That's the one thing everyone in the organization can say for sure now. There's more work to be done, but there's an inner confidence about what has already been done and even more about what's ahead.
"It took courage to do something like this," Braves president John Schuerholz said Wednesday morning at MLB's quarterly Owners Meetings. "When you've won as much as we have and when you're expected to win, this has been a new experience."
This first phase of the reconstruction of the Braves has happened perhaps more quickly than even Schuerholz thought possible. And this spring will offer the first real glimpse of all the young talent that has been acquired.
"Our pipeline is about as full now with prospective Major League talent as it's ever been," Schuerholz said. "Now they have to matriculate and find their way to the Major Leagues and prove that our judgements were right. That's what it's always about. To get from where we were to where we are now, we feel very good."
As for a timetable when the Braves will be competing for a championship again, that's changing, too.
"Some in our group would say mid-2016," Schuerholz said. "Some would say early 2017. I'd be happy with either one of those."
And all that young talent is symbolic of other changes.
The Braves are on track to move into SunTrust Park, a 41,500-seat ballpark under construction in Cobb County, on Opening Day 2017. Likewise, Schuerholz is shopping hard for a new Spring Training home for the club in Florida.
On Monday, Schuerholz spent a few hours in an office building overlooking SunTrust Park and marveled at the progress. His vision is of a ballpark that's also a destination spot combining baseball, restaurants and shopping.
"A lot of forward-thinking people have done remarkable work," Schuerholz said. "This is a cozy ballpark -- a Pittsburgh kind of park. But it's so much more. It's where you'll bring the family and spend an evening or an entire day."
This period of change for the Braves' baseball operations began 18 months ago, when Schuerholz did a tough-love assessment of his organization and came to the conclusion that the time had come to essentially start over.
"I didn't need much convincing, and neither did [Braves chairman] Terry [McGuirk]," Schuerholz said. "There was only one way to fix this, and that's the way we're doing it -- go all in. We went down to the bare steel. In order to do that, we have to offload some very talented players, expensive players, but very talented and beloved in the community. Those were the tough decisions that had to be made. We took our criticism, and we still do. If we were going to do it right, that was the only way to do it."
Schuerholz put a veteran baseball man, John Hart, in charge and promoted a bright young talent evaluator, John Coppolella, who now has the title of general manager. To trade some of the franchise's biggest stars -- Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Evan Gattis, Justin Upton, etc. -- has been painful on one level.
But in these 18 months, the club has been remade. Shortstop Dansby Swanson, acquired from the D-backs in a deal for pitcher Shelby Miller, may be the cornerstone of these new Braves, but there's talent up and down the organization: pitchers Sean Newcomb and Aaron Blair, shortstop Ozhaino Albies and a long list of others.
"Hart and Coppolella have done remarkable work," Schuerholz said. "I've named them Batman and Robin. Coppy is intrepid. I mean, this guy is unbelievable. He's not big on sleep. He just wants to do his job and do it well. I think the organization is strong again.
"When our fans begin reading about how good these players are, they'll be excited. When Spring Training begins, they'll read the reports about these talented players and the hopefulness and the future that exists for all of us. I'm excited to see a lot of them. They're talented, and many of them are going to play in the big leagues. They're going to be our future."
Beyond the new players and the new ballpark, Schuerholz senses a spirt within the organization.
"There's optimism, spirit, belief," Schuerholz said. "Everybody's on the same page. Everybody's pulling in the same direction. Everybody has a positive wind in their sails again. They feel great about where the organization is going and how it's been dealt with so far."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.