When the Braves went all in on their rebuild after the 2014 season they had a farm system that was the most depleted it had been in recent memory. It just so happens 2014 was the highest payroll in team history as well. Long gone were the days of the homegrown Braves, a reputation the franchise had prided itself on for years. The organization tried to be something they were not and let the farm system go while paying for big names. Regardless, the front office saw the writing on the wall and instead of dwelling in mediocrity for another couple of years they decided to blow it up. Almost every established big leaguer was dealt over the next couple of years as the Braves worked towards a new goal, rebuild the farm system.
From the very beginning priority number one of the rebuild was loading up on pitching. This was clear from the first move when the Braves shipped hometown favorite Jason Heyward to St. Louis for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins, then came Fried, Foltynewicz, Toussaint, Newcomb, and on and on. In the midst of it all, the Braves were racking up draft picks and highly drafted prospects. Soon the hesitant fan could see the direction of the organization and, with the exception of the dealings of some fan favorites, they seemed to be on board.
In the midst of all of this excitement one name sort of got lost in the shuffle. The Braves made Lucas Sims the 21st overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft. The young and talented kid out of Brookwood High School just north of Atlanta had a big right arm with a mid-90’s fastball and a highly rated curveball. He impressed so much in rookie ball that he came into the 2013 season ranked by most as a top 5 prospect within the organization. He would make the jump to single A full season in Rome that year where he came out of the bullpen for his first ten appearances before moving into the starting rotation for the rest of the season. If anyone had concerns about the 19 year old’s high ranking after a few appearances in rookie ball the year before, he put those worries to rest in Rome. He would finish 2013 with a 12-4 record and a 2.62 ERA. Sims was the talk of the farm system heading into 2014. He was ranked by many as the number one prospect in the organization prior to that season and was ranked in MLB’s top 100. He would spend the year at high A Lynchburg where he would have an up and down season despite tossing seven no hit innings on June 26 in a combined no hitter with teammate Alex Wilson. That performance gave hope to many fans that were nervous about their top prospect’s shaky year.
By 2015 the Braves were in full rebuild mode. Sims’ rollercoaster of a season in 2014 combined with the addition of a ton of young arms had Lucas sliding in the prospect rankings. He was barely hanging on to a spot in the top 10 and was assigned once again to high A, this time with the Carolina Mudcats. He did not impress in his first handful of starts there but the Braves were ready to move him up to Mississippi and see how the former first rounder would fair against some tougher competition. That was until May 12th when the Mudcats team bus was involved in an accident that landed a handful of players, including Sims, on the DL. Instead of continuing on his path to the bigs, Sims saw himself out of action for a month and a half before ending up all the way back where he started in rookie ball, at least for a couple of starts. A few innings in the Gulf Coast League, then a few starts back in Carolina and Sims finally made his AA debut on July 21, 2015. His first half in AA was rough, but he settled down as the season went on and ended pretty well at 4-2 with a 3.21 ERA, 59 strikeouts, and 29 walks in nine starts.
Despite a few setbacks with injury and some command issues, Sims was progressing pretty close to the timeframe the club was hoping for. However, 2016 had rolled around and Sims had fallen out of the top 10 prospects completely. A lot of this had to do with all of the arms the Braves were adding around him throughout the system, but some of it had to do with “prospect fatigue” too. The Braves had plans to develop Sims slowly and as the farm got more crowded, he didn’t stand out to the casual fan as much anymore. People were so intrigued with the new pieces. One thing I have always heard and read about Lucas Sims is that he is a competitor. He made it very clear at the beginning of 2016 that he was ready to compete. After three impressive starts in Mississippi, albeit with some control issues, he was called up to AAA Gwinnett. The 22 year old did not perform well with the G-Braves and after going 2-6 with a 7.56 ERA in 11 games he was sent back to Mississippi to finish the season.
My hopes are that Sims will stay healthy, get a little bit better harness on the command of the curveball, continue to develop the changeup, and start the season in Gwinnett. Coming into the 2017 season Sims has fallen out of the top 20 in most people’s Braves prospect rankings, but I can assure you this guy is the real deal when he is on and controlling all three pitches. While his career has seen a lot of adversity it is important to remember this was the plan all along, they wanted to develop him slowly. There are even more hurdles for him now than ever, but Sims has been praised on his resiliency and while fans may be looking past him now (huge mistake), the organization knows what kind of competitor Sims is. If I was a betting man I would say we will be seeing Sims come out of the bullpen in SunTrust Park at some point in 2017.
Sims Overall Minor League Numbers:
Stats and Photo Courtesy of: milb.com