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Braves deep in evaluation of offseason needs

Club has 'a lot of work to do' but has more flexibility, young talent than last year

ATLANTA -- While the Braves would rather currently be soaking in the excitement of a postseason setting, the top front-office officials have remained busy evaluating talent that could enrich their bid for future October success.

Braves president of baseball operations John Hart and general manager John Coppolella gathered their coaching staff in Orlando last week to watch Instructional League games and discuss which players they would like to see on Atlanta's 2016 roster. Coppolella and some of his staff members have traveled west this week to catch some Arizona Fall League action.

Next week, the Braves top executives will reconvene in Orlando to further discuss their plans for the upcoming Hot Stove season. It should be a little quieter than last year, when the mission was to find future value in exchange for Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis.

"We feel we're going to be significantly better going into 2016 than we were going into 2015," Hart said. "We have a lot of work to do as we go through the winter. We don't know how it's all going to play out. When we go into our meetings, it's not like we're facing no dollars, no options and no flexibility. Also with some of the deals we'll be making, we won't be trying to move away from bad contracts. That in itself will put us more in the open field running."

When Hart and Coppolella began their massive reconstruction process last year, they had limited financial flexibility and a weak Minor League system -- a pair of issues that significantly threatened the club's goal to produce a strong and stable product by the time SunTrust Park opens in 2017. The Braves significantly strengthened their farm system by moving Gattis to a more suitable American League environment and by trading Heyward and Upton before they were eligible to exit via free agency this winter.

Along with gathering prospects and Draft picks in these deals, the Braves also rid themselves of the contracts of Melvin Upton Jr. and Chris Johnson. Unfortunately, moving the $46.4 million owed to Upton to the Padres' payroll came at the expense of losing closer Craig Kimbrel. But it gave the Braves financial flexibility that will be best appreciated beginning in 2017, along with assets who provided both immediate value (Cameron Maybin and Jace Peterson) and promise for the future (Matt Wisler and Austin Riley).

The Braves used the 41st overall pick in the Draft -- acquired in the April trade that sent Upton Jr. and Kimbrel to the Padres -- to select Riley, who hit 12 homers and compiled a .933 OPS in the first 60 games of his professional career this summer.

As Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and his coaches got their first glimpse of Riley in the Instructional League last week, they gained a better understanding of why Hart has said the 18-year-old prospect might soon be their top prospect.

"I think we all feel we are in a much better position at this time this year than we were at this time last year," Hart said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for
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