Back in October, longtime Yankees scout Gordon Blakely -- the scout who signed Robinson Cano -- left the organization to take a job with the Atlanta Braves as a special assistant to their general manager. Understandably, the move didn't receive much press. Front office personnel bounce from team to team all the time. Plus, the Yankees were facing a few more pressing personnel decisions at the time, following the firings of hitting coach Kevin Long and first base coach Mick Kelleher.
But a funny thing started happening when Blakely took his talents to Atlanta: The Braves began hoarding former Yankees prospects. Over the course of the winter, Manny Banuelos, Zoilo Almonte, Corban Joseph, Francisco Rondon, Jairo Heredia, and Eury Perez have all wound up in the Braves organization in one way or another. Veteran arms Chien-Ming Wang and Jose Veras are also in camp this spring as non-roster invitees.
To be clear, none of these players are anything special. Wang and Veras are about as washed up as they come, and none of the prospects are anything close to elite. In fact, most of them are barely even prospects at all. Other than Banuelos, nary a one even sniffed a Top 100 list this year, and some are dangerously close to falling out of organized baseball altogether. Each of these failed prospects had some sort of prospect pedigree, but they're all at least two or three years removed from the days when their values were highest.
Banuelos is easily the most talented of the bunch. Baseball America deemed the lefty to be Yankees' 29th best prospect in baseball in 2011, and ranked him among the Yankees' Top 15 prospects every year from 2008-2013. However, most of that prospect luster has since worn off after he missed the better part of two years with elbow injuries.
The next most intriguing player is probably either Zoilo Almonte or Eury Perez, who are both fourth outfielders at best. (Perez only spent a handful of games in the Yankees' organization, so he's just barely a former Yankee.) The rest of the crew has done very little to suggest that they'll ever have a meaningful major league impact.
We've seen this type of thing happen before. When Jim Bowden left the Reds for the Nationals, he traded for just about every former Reds player he could get his hands on: Adam Dunn, Wily Mo Pena, Felipe Lopez, Ryan Wagner, Austin Kearns and the list goes on. There's also the case of Jed Hoyer, who bounced from the Red Sox to the Padres to the Cubs, and brought Anthony Rizzo with him every step of the way. Rizzo certainly went through some rough patches, but ultimately turned into one of the best hitters in the game. Coincidence? It's hard to say for sure, but it takes some cajones to trade Andrew Cashner -- whose stuff was lights out -- for a first baseman coming off of a 59 wRC+ season. Hoyer clearly never lost faith in his guy.
Of course, this all could be nothing more than nepotism. Maybe Blakely doesn't actually know anything unique, but is instead simply putting in a good word for these players because he's familiar with them. Even so, being familiar with them means that he's watched them play more than most; more importantly, he's had access to more scouting reports and coaches' opinions than possibly anyone else on the planet. If one of these players did have some redeeming quality -- such as a tremendous work ethic or an uncanny ability to make adjustments -- Blakely would know about it.
Other than Banuelos, who seems like a good bet to carve out a role as a back end starter or power lefty reliever, none of these Yankees-turned-Braves are likely to amount to much. They're basically nondescript, minor league fodder -- the type of guys who are likely to be filling out some Indy Ball team's roster come 2017. But there's always the chance that one or two of them could turn into useful role players. Maybe Perez will improve his plate discipline enough to be a passable hitter. Maybe Rondon will learn enough command to be a usable bullpen piece. Maybe Joseph or Heredia will take a step forward now that they're healthy for the first time in years. By no means do these outcomes represent the most likely scenarios, or even a likely one, but stranger things have happened. And Gordon Blakely -- a man who theoretically knows these players better than most -- seems to think these players have a little bit of upside left.