All roads lead to Rome, and in the case of one Atlanta Braves minor-league affiliate, a team of the year award.
Baseball America named the Rome Braves its 2016 Minor League Team of the Year after the youngest South Atlantic League team in a decade rode a dominant rotation to the league title. The award typically goes to the team with the best combination of team success and high-end prospect talent.
“We’re honored to receive this award from Baseball America as it recognizes the hard work of many people,” says Rome Braves general manger Michael Dunn.
The season wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Braves. In late June, Rome was 27-42, heading into All-Star break having lost five of six games. Lefthander Kolby Allard, one of the four former first-round picks in the Rome rotation and the organization's No. 4 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, started slow. A brief demotion lit a fire under him, and once he got going the rest of the young pitching core, which featured four of the franchise's top 12 prospects during the postseason, followed suit.
“It’s not often the youngest team in the league wins the league, but in Rome’s case, the youngest team in the Sally League in over a decade ended up as the league’s best,” writes JJ Cooper for Baseball America. “It was extremely impressive how Rome’s young players caught up to the league in an up-and-down first half of the season, then surged ahead of everyone else in the second half.”
In addition to Allard, Rome received top-tier production from right-hander Touki Toussaint (Diamondbacks’ first- round pick in 2014), right-hander Mike Soroka (Braves’ first-round pick in 2015) and left-hander Max Fried (Padres’ first-round pick in 2012) down the stretch.
“A minor league team with two or three top pitching prospects in a rotation is notable,” Cooper wrote. “Rome had six legitimate starting pitching prospects in its rotation. That could make this a team that is remembered for years to come.”
On offense, Rome was led by power-hitting third baseman Austin Riley, second baseman Luke Dykstra and outfielders Ronald Acuna and Ray-Patrick Didder.
This marks the first time an Atlanta Braves farm team has received the honor since Baseball America started giving out the award in 1993.