This year's All-Star Game ballot is, in part, a tribute to the men and women who run the Atlanta Braves. That's because the Braves' Minor League system produced 14 of the players on this year's ballot, more than any other Major League franchise.
That's one more than the Twins (13), two more than the Cardinals (12) and three more than the Rockies, Red Sox, Brewers and Angels (11 apiece). Ten of the 14 Atlanta players are with other organizations, but that's part of the deal, too.
(Pitchers aren't on the All-Star ballot, so this evaluation measures only position players. Because of that, it can't tell the whole story of which organization is doing the best job, but it offers insight into the ones that have done a bunch of good work.)
One of the easiest ways to evaluate a franchise is to see how it's doing in terms of finding good players and getting them to the Major Leagues. In the end, everything else a franchise does is a distant second.
"We are proud of the job our scouts and player-development staffs have done, which allows us to promote our own players," Braves general manager Frank Wren wrote in an email.
Player development has been a hallmark of the Braves since Bobby Cox took over the baseball operation in 1986. He turned it over to John Schuerholz in 1990 to devote himself to managing the club, and together, they led the Braves to a record 14 consecutive postseason appearances.
Schuerholz, who retired as general manager and became team president in 2007, turned the job over to Wren, his longtime assistant. Cox retired after the 2010 season, and Wren hired a Cox man, Fredi Gonzalez, to take over in the dugout.
Not much has changed. Atlanta's baseball operation is first-rate from top to bottom. Even as Chipper Jones joined Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux in retirement, the Braves continued to win and are poised to make the playoffs for a second successive season.
No team can win without a productive Minor League system. That is, no club -- not the Yankees nor the Red Sox, and certainly not the Rays, Royals or Pirates -- can win without producing a steady flow of young, affordable talent.
Those players can keep talent coming to the Major League team, or they can be used in trades to fill holes. Either way, they contribute to winning. For the Braves, those 14 players are an indication of good work at every level of the organization.
First, there are the scouts who find the players and recommend that their bosses draft them. And then there are the managers, coaches, trainers, etc., who teach the players how to play, train, eat and conduct themselves.
By the time a player puts on a Major League uniform, a dozen or more people may have had a hand in getting him there. People at every level of the organization can look at certain players and know they played a role.
That's why the smart teams honor their scouts and Minor League personnel every year with dinners, gifts and public recognition to let fans know of the good work being done largely out of public view.
This year, the 14 current and former members of the Braves organization on the All-Star ballot offer insight into how the franchise has operated. All four current Braves on the ballot -- catcher Brian McCann, first baseman Freddie Freeman, shortstop Andrelton Simmons and outfielder Jason Heyward -- were high choices in the First-Year Player Draft. Heyward and Freeman were first- and second-round picks in 2007. McCann was a second-round pick in '02, Simmons a second-round pick in '10.
Where did the others go? Shortstop Elvis Andrus and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia were in the package of players traded to the Rangers in 2007 for first baseman Mark Teixeira.
Schuerholz also put pitchers Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz in that deal. He knew he had paid a high price, but he believed Teixeira might push the Braves over the top. That deal didn't get Atlanta to the playoffs, but it was the kind that a general manager makes when he's going for it.
Similarly, catcher Tyler Flowers (for Javier Vazquez), outfielder/third baseman Martin Prado (Justin Upton) and outfielder Gregor Blanco (Kyle Farnsworth) were dealt in trades that brought the Braves, among others, veterans.
As for the others on the list, some, like outfielder Garrett Jones, didn't prove themselves until after the Braves had let them go.
Finally, injured Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal is also on the All-Star ballot. He had a great run with the Braves, signing in 1996 and playing six seasons in the Major Leagues. He made an All-Star team and was part of five playoff teams. Furcal signed with the Dodgers after the 2005 season.
There are many reasons the Braves have had so much success the past 20 seasons. Cox and Schuerholz will someday be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Likewise, so will Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz and Chipper.
And with Simmons and Kris Medlen and Freeman and others, the Braves seem likely to keep going. One glance at the past offers an explanation why the present is so much fun.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U