Big changes could come to the minors as Endeavor, Silver Lake prepare to purchase numerous affiliates

Friday, December 3, 2021

-Clint Manry

In a detailed and interesting write-up by Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper on Friday, it has become known that Endeavor — a global sports and marketing company — is expected to announce the purchase of six or more minor league baseball teams.

The announcement could come as soon as next week, and it’s expected that, soon afterward, another six or more will be bought as well. According to Cooper, despite MLB having full power to approve or disapprove sales, Endeavor’s massive purchase is NOT expected to be an issue. In other words, this is very likely happening.

Endeavor Group Holdings is a publicly traded company that stretches across sports, entertainment and marketing. Silver Lake Partners (a private equity group) owns a significant portion of Endeaver, which includes a 50.1% stake in the UFC, a recent acquisition of Open Bet, as well as other entities including Professional Bull Riding (PBR) and Euroleague Basketball. In the third-quarter of 2021, Endeavor’s projections show roughly $5 billion in revenue, and according to BA’s report today, the purchase of numerous minor league teams will cost the company a “few hundred million dollars.” Silver Lake reportedly manages over $88 billion in assets, according to its website. 

Also, as a separate deal, Endeaver is expected to soon take over all marketing of the minor leagues for MLB.

This is huge news and could drastically impact minor league baseball and how we view it currently. The days of individual ownership groups running minor league affiliates could soon be over as under the present PDL (Professing Development License), there’s no limit on how many teams a single entity can own — only that no more nine teams in any one classification and no more than 24 teams total before the end of the 2022 season. For example, Mandalay Properties (a real estate agency) at one point owned five clubs. 

The general expectation is that, when all is said and done, Endeavor could own 30-40 of the 120 affiliated minor league teams, though obviously the process would take some time.

The good news is that minor league baseball, surprising to some, is still a profitable business. According to today’s BA article, franchise values are showing “solid resiliency”, even after the pandemic and MLB takeover. And given how well-funded a company like Endeaver is, such a massive amount of purchases should only help improve the industry. 

Details as to exactly which teams Endeaver plans to buy are not known yet, but the expectation is that most of them will be seen as cornerstone franchises that are affiliated with the biggest franchises in MLB, coming from both individually owned teams and clubs currently run by MLB. 

From what I’ve read, this is looked at as a positive development and one that, long-term, could dramatically help minor league baseball. With its ties to MLB already established, and the scale at which it’s able to operate, Endeavor could become an equal partner and finally make minor league baseball what so many of us feel it should already be. 

More details to come…

Notable excerpts from Monday’s Braves prospects chat at Baseball America

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

-Clint Manry

Following the site’s release of its latest Braves Top 10 prospect rankings on Monday, Baseball America provided even more insight into the organization’s farm system by holding a chat with Carlos Collazo. After reading through the Q&A, here are the excerpts that peaked my interest the most…

Joey Estes and “reliever risk”

The very first question asked during yesterday’s chat was regarding right-handed prospect Joey Estes, who I ranked 15th on my midseason list back in August. In his second pro season with the Braves, pitching the entire year as a 19-year-old, Estes killed it in 2021, logging 99 innings with Single-A Augusta and posting a 2.91 ERA to go with 11.5 strikeouts per nine. After struggling a bit in rookie ball in 2019, it appeared, at least to me, that Estes had found his groove and was on his way to becoming a top 10 prospect in the system. But Collazo thinks differently…

I can’t say he was seriously considered for the top 10. There were three names I really debated on for the No. 10 spot specifically (we’ll probably get into those names for future questions) but he was not among them. What holds him back from that range right now for me are proximity, reliever risk expressed by a number of external sources and a lack of legit wipeout stuff. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did continue to improve and his stuff continued to tick up in the future, but I would want to see him continue doing this at more advanced levels, and while the strike throwing is quite good, at times he showed a tendency to throw too many strikes. Getting ahead in the count and doing a better job with his finishing pitches will be something to watch for him moving forward. Still, what a year for him and he’s certainly trending up.”

I have to say, it’s pretty surprising that Collazo believes Estes is at risk at becoming a reliever. I know the kid is still super young, and I’m sure the Braves will take their time with him, but regardless of where he ranks within the organization’s prospect list, it’s too early to already be giving up on him as a starter. Perhaps once Estes starts putting up big numbers in High-A or Double-A he’ll solidify his place among the great prospect pitchers.

Brandol Mezquita and Kadon Morton

It’s good to know that Collazo is also excited about both Mezquita and Morton – two young Braves that have now mastered the rookie levels. Both were drawing attention in instructs back in 2020, and with the FCL team this past season each of them showcased their skills again. These are two 20-year-olds with some pop in their bat and speed on the base paths, and they could really become household names in 2022 as they make their full-season debuts in the minors.  

Braves farm rank

Baseball America ranked the Braves minor league system at 14th following the most-recent trade deadline, and Collazo believes that ranking has maybe fallen a bit…

“The Braves are certainly trending down in the organization rankings, but for all the right reasons! A number of their highly-regarded prospects just powered the Braves to a World Series championship and that is certainly the goal. However, you can see the impact of those graduations (and to a lesser degree the impact of the international sanctions) on the quality of the system. The depth that Atlanta had previously isn’t quite there, although I will say a number of lower-level players did have strong seasons this year and the Braves continue to make savvy late-round draft picks.”

I agree that the system isn’t what it once was, and of course the ultimate goal is for the major league team to win a championship (which they obviously did in 2021). But I also believe national sites are overlooking a lot of the lower-level talent that’s coming up through this Braves system. Guys like infielders Luke Waddell and Vaughn Grissom, as well as Victor Vodnik and Indigo Diaz. Plus, I think the Braves have one of the better fringy-type prospects in the league, headlined by former prospects and up-and-comers like outfielders Trey Harris and Justin Dean, and pitcher Darius Vines. I guess, more than anything, I feel as if this version of the Braves farm is much deeper than before. That may not mean it’s as great, but I definitely don’t believe it’s just an average system compared to the rest of the sport.

On the cusp of cracking the top 10

Collazo listed Grissom and Freddy Tarnok as just-outside-the-top-ten prospects, and said he even had the latter player ranked tenth before swapping him with Jesse Franklin V at the last minute…

“If this list was strictly based on my own opinion I might go with Tarnok—I really like his stuff and think his ceiling as a player is quite high. He’s got a power fastball, has improved his curveball and has a real four-pitch mix. For Grissom, you could make a case that he had the best offensive season of any of the team’s hitting prospects. He puts the barrel on the ball an awful lot, but I would like to see how he performs against upper-level pitching before I get too carried away. He also will need to tap into more power in the future to get to an everyday sort of role, considering his defensive limitation. If he were a better athlete or had a clear everyday defensive position or just was able to get to his power a bit more freely now I think I would be more excited about him. However, it would not be surprising at all for that in-game power to be one of the last steps for him in his development. We’ve seen that enough that it shouldn’t be surprising when it happens now.”

Is Michael Harris the next RAJ?

This was an excellent question, and I believe Collazo answered it perfectly. A lot of Braves fans are unfairly comparing Harris to Acuna, so I’ll just provide you the entire excerpt from Collazo…

“We’ve talked a bit about some of the guys towards the back of the top 10 but how about the top player on the list?? Thanks, Brian, for asking this one so we can get into Harris a bit. I would not compare the two players. I don’t think they’re very similar at all outside of the fact that both can claim to be Braves top prospects and outfielders. Acuña’s toolset across the board was better. He had three 70 grade tools on his card after all and when he was 20 years old (the same age Harris was this year in High-A) he was in the majors getting MVP votes and earning the Rookie of the Year Award. I think Harris is a really good prospect. I think it’s a disservice to him to compare him to Acuña, who is one of the elite players in the game. I have a 60/High grade on Harris in these rankings, which is great! That’s an occasional All-Star sort of player and it would be a massive win for the Braves to get him to that level after drafting him in the third round (when many teams preferred him as a pitcher). Still, Acuña is quite obviously a franchise player and that’s an entirely different sort of phylum we’re talking about. It shouldn’t be a knock on Harris to say he’s not that.”

Later in the chat, Collazo goes on to say that Jason Heyward is a more accurate comp for Harris (at least profile-wise), though that the former was much more passive as a hitter in the minors. He also goes on to list some things that Harris could work on to become better at the plate…

“Harris showed a tendency to expand the zone and hit pitches that weren’t necessarily ‘good pitches to hit’ because his plate coverage and barrel skills are just that good. I would like to see him be more selective at the next level and look for balls to drive and he showed enough adjustments later in the year that I think that’s certainly in his wheelhouse if he’s making a concerted effort to do that. I’ll be curious to see his walk rates in Double-A/Triple-A.”

Don’t worry about Pache, Waters or Shewmake

Even though their regression varied a bit, the trio of Pache, Drew Waters and Braden Shewmake struggled at different times during the 2021 season. Pache hit pretty well with Triple-A Gwinnett (.265 AVG / 100 wRC+), but with Atlanta he put together a dreadful -8 wRC+ in 22 games before getting hurt and later demoted. Waters, perhaps the best performer of the three, declined a bit contact-wise (.240 AVG) but still managed 11 homers, 28 stolen bases and a 94 wRC+ overall in 103 Triple-A games. And then Shewmake. Wow. He started off 2021 with such a horrid stretch in Double-A that I thought he might get moved down to Rome. However, luckily, the shortstop recovered, and though his numbers weren’t great, his .228 AVG, 12 homers and 84 wRC+ was way better than I could’ve ever imagined considering how bad he was hitting during the first-half of the campaign.

Collazo says there’s nothing to worry about, though…

“Additionally, I think the lost 2020 season is still looming in the background for a great many players throughout the minors and it’s almost impossible to know how much those lost at-bats slowed down development for hitters—particularly those with flaws that can only improve in big ways by logging ABs. Not everyone is Ronald Acuña or Jason Heyward. Sometimes it takes a bit longer. I’d still be patient and trust the Braves PD system. They’ve been quite good IMO.”

There was a lot more included in the chat, like velo questions regarding Jared Shuster, details on Spencer Schwellenbach, and even some insight on a guy many Braves fans aren’t even aware of in Alan Rangel. So I highly recommend checking it out. But the above excerpts were most interesting to me. As usual… lots of good content at Baseball America.

Monday, November 15, 2021 – Daily Notes: Baseball America releases Braves Top 10 prospects for 2022 season, along with a projected starting lineup for 2025

-Clint Manry

I’m in the middle of my offseason prospect review series, but I just had to take a moment to check out Baseball America’s latest Braves list – a top 10 ranking published on Monday.

Boy have the times changed. Not only is outfielder Cristian Pache no longer the top prospect in the organization, but he drops all the way to third, behind both Michael Harris II and Shea Langeliers…

  1. Michael Harris II, OF
  2. Shea Langeliers, C
  3. Cristian Pache, OF
  4. Kyle Muller, LHP
  5. Spencer Strider, RHP
  6. Drew Waters, OF
  7. Braden Shewmake, SS
  8. Bryce Elder, RHP
  9. Ryan Cusick, RHP
  10. Jesse Franklin V, OF

That’s one helluva top 10, and honestly, save for Harris at no. 1, I could probably get on board with the entire list (I think, if not Pache, than Muller should be the top dog).

Speaking of Harris: though I’m not completely sold on him carrying the title as top prospect, he most certainly lived up to the pre-season hype from this past spring. At just 20-years-old, he slapped 26 doubles and totaled 27 stolen bases in 101 games with Rome, all while sporting a strong .294/.362/.436 slash-line (good for a 114 wRC+). Also, his 25.9% line drive rate was the fifth-highest mark in all of High-A, which is pretty good indication that he was absolutely locked in at the plate. Similar numbers in Double-A in 2022… and yeah, I’ll be ready to call him the best prospect in the Braves system.

BA also provided a look at what the Braves 2025 starting lineup could look like (in a perfect world where no prospect is ever traded), and let me tell ya, it looks awesome.

Catcher: Shea Langeliers (27)
First Base: Freddie Freeman (35)
Second Base: Ozzie Albies (28)
Third Base: Austin Riley (28)
Shortstop: Dansby Swanson (31)
Left Field: Michael Harris (24)
Center Field: Cristian Pache (26)
Right FieldRonald Acuna Jr. (27)
Designated HitterDrew Waters (26)

No. 1 Starter: Max Fried (31)
No. 2 Starter: Mike Soroka (26)
No. 3 Starter: Ian Anderson (27)
No. 4 Starter: Kyle Muller (27)
No. 5 Starter: Huascar Ynoa (27)
Closer: Spencer Strider (26)

I don’t know about Waters being the DH, but other than that, Freddie Freeman leading the charge as a 35-year-old sure looks nice. And what’s crazy, the starting rotation above is still a young group, even with Max Fried, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa all several years into their big league careers. Oh, and Spencer Strider as the closer needs to happen ASAP. That could be one of the best pitching groups in decades.

Anyways… cool stuff.

Spencer Strider makes Baseball America’s hottest prospects list; set to earn Double-A promotion

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

-Clint Manry

Anytime you’re part of a list that features the likes of super-prospect Wander Franco… you’re doing something right. On Monday, pitcher Spencer Strider was not only included on such a list, but he finished higher as Baseball America ranked the right-hander as the fifth-hottest prospect from the past week. Franco came in at no. 18 (though I’m sure he doesn’t mind his spot on the list given he’s set to make his much-anticipated MLB debut with the Rays this week).

If you recall, Strider was one of three pitchers the Braves drafted last year, with his call coming in the fourth round at pick no. 126 overall. And the 22-year-old Clemson product has enjoyed about as great of a pro debut as a player could ask for as he continues to absolutely dominate opposing batters.

Strider’s first assignment was with Single-A Augusta, but just four starts in it was clear he wasn’t being challenged. The 6-foot, 195-pound righty tallied 32 strikeouts in just his first 15 ⅓ innings during that four-outing span, a K rate of 18.8 strikeouts per nine, to go with a ridiculous 0.59 ERA. By the time the calander flipped to June, a promotion to High-A Rome was initiated. 

Moving up a level in the minors is usually met with some adversity, but for Strider… such a thing has yet to come. In his first 14 ⅔ innings with the R-Braves, opposing batters have managed just a .170 AVG; and once again Strider is racking up the punch outs, recording a career-high 12 strikeouts in his most-recent outing last Friday versus one of the better teams in the league, the Bowling Green Hot Rods. His ERA sits at 2.45 in High-A.

Now there’s talk that Strider is once again up for promotion, as Talking Chop‘s Eric Cole reported on Monday (in the tweet above). As Cole states, moving up two levels is quite the feat for a first-year player, especially considering it’s still June. Hell, at this point, the Braves are just simply trying to find Strider a worthy adversary.

The increased excitement regarding Strider comes on the same day that prospect Kyle Muller put together a respectable first-career-start for Atlanta, an outing in which the big lefty allowed just a single hit in four innings against New York (Mets) on Monday, featuring not only an efficient attack of the zone but also plenty of swing-and-miss with his slider. While Strider obviously still has a ways to go before he starts receiving big league looks like Muller, yesterday was still a nice representation of what this Braves system still has to offer pitching-wise. Indeed, from top to bottom there’s a ton of talent in this organization.

It will be interesting to see how Strider reacts to the upgrade in competition this week when he makes his first start for Mississippi, possibly on Thursday. For hitters and pitchers alike, it always seems as if the transition to the Double-A level is always the hardest. Although if Strider’s performance so far this season is any indication, I don’t believe there will be much of a learning curve for him. Mark your calendar for Thursday, folks.