Wren said the organization’s commitment to growing its talent in the farm system hasn’t changed since Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz turned the annual draft into their own private clinic two decades ago. Jones remembers playing in Class AAA alongside seven others who’d become regular starters in Atlanta.
“I think a lot of organizations have looked at them and liked the way they’ve run their operation on the major league level, as well as the minor league level,” said Nationals Manager Davey Johnson.
Several players on the current Braves roster similarly grew up together. Five of Monday’s starters, including Jones, Heyward and McCann, were drafted into the organization. It creates a clubhouse camaraderie that’s difficult to replicate. This year’s squad, for example, was desperate for a win last month when Jones encouraged his teammates to yank up their pant legs and take the field with knee-high socks. It worked, they won the game and have adopted the dress code every Monday since, including Monday in Washington.
Heyward, the Braves’ first-round pick in 2007, is only 23 years old but says the clubhouse rapport is impossible to miss. He likens it to family.
“They look at the makeup of players, not just their talent. . . . The Braves always seem to pay attention to the makeup of everyone,” said Heyward, who hit his 21st homer of the season Monday.
While the Braves will inevitably welcome new faces into the clubhouse next year, they need not look far this week to see the successes of the Atlanta model. The Nationals have a deep starting staff — “It feels like they’re all number one starters,” said Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman — and they have a strong nucleus to build around.
Jones likes what he sees in the Washington clubhouse. He’s appeared in the postseason 11 times in a 19-year career, and says he thinks the Nationals will be a force for years to come.
“It’s a good pattern to model yourself after,” he said. “I think we set the standard back in the early ’90s, how to build up a minor league system and live and feed off that for 10 or 12 years.”
James Wagner contributed to this report.