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MLB Draft 2014: Reviewing Atlanta Braves' 2013 Draft

Jason Hursh headlines Atlanta's 2013 draft crop.

Tate Nations

Judging a draft less than one year since its completion is a fool's errand, so rather than ranking players from this class like Dan, Andrew, and Ian have done with their respective drafts, I'm simply going to give updates on the players in the order in which they were selected. I've seen six of the top ten picks play along with at least six of the later round picks, so I can provide some scouting and statistical notes on an abundance of players from this draft class. Think of this as a one-year progress report.

In terms of a discernible trend in this draft, well, there really wasn't one. Four of the first 10 selections were right-handed pitchers (to be expected), two of the first four picks were catchers (again, to be expected), and the rest was a mixed bag. They had a run on college/junior college arms from rounds 15-22 and paid a couple of players — Alec Grosser and Connor Oliver, most notably — over-slot bonuses past the 10th round. The Braves didn't sign anyone beyond the 27th round.

Jason Hursh, Right-handed pitcher, 1st round, 31st overall, Oklahoma State University (Stillwater, OK)

Hursh was chosen with the 31st overall pick in the 2013 draft as compensation for the Indians signing Michael Bourn in February of 2013. After having Tommy John Surgery in 2012 and missing his entire sophomore campaign, Hursh put up great numbers with Oklahoma State in his junior season and quelled any concerns about lingering effects from the surgery. After the draft, Hursh was sent to Rome and made nine solid appearances in the South Atlantic League, showcasing a somewhat polished arsenal with the ability to keep the ball on the ground with a 56.1 percent groundball rate. Following a developmental construct that they have employed over the past few seasons with respect to advanced college arms, the Braves sent Hursh straight to Double-A Mississippi to start the 2014 season, and the results have been as expected for the 22-year-old. While he's not missing a ton of bats, he's inducing weak contact on the ground (59.7 percent groundball rate) while improving upon and showcasing a developing command/control profile.

I've scouted Hursh on two different occasions, and in both looks he's been fairly consistent in terms of stuff. The fastball is incredibly heavy and sits in the plus range (92-94 mph) with the ability to touch higher on occasion. This is a barrel-missing pitch at the highest level and will induce plenty of weak contact as he continues to climb the ladder. He shows two distinct breaking pitches, with his slider sitting in the low-80s and his curveball ranging from 72-76 mph. In my most recent look (Spring Training), the curveball was the better pitch than the slider, as most of his sliders were thrown in the dirt, though he was able to generate a couple of whiffs with the pitch. I like the changeup better than either of the breaking balls, enough to throw a future above-average (55) grade on it. He shows good feel for the pitch and throws it to both lefties and righties alike. At its best, the low-80s offering displays funneling action to his arm side with generous vertical action. He throws from a three-quarters arm slot and displays a long arm action, which occasionally inhibits his ability to get on top of his breaking pitches when things get out of whack with his mechanics. Putting it all together, Hursh looks like a decent bet to become a strike-throwing, back-of-the-rotation starter who can miss barrels, induce weak contact, and limit walks. The fastball is currently a weapon, and continued development of the secondaries will be the focus going forward in 2014 and into 2015. If all goes according to plan, he could be ready as soon as the summer months of next season.

Victor Caratini, Catcher/Third Baseman, 2nd Round, 65th overall, Miami-Dade College (Miami, FL)

I was first made aware of Victor Caratini by esteemed colleague Bennett Hipp, who tweeted the now-infamous video of Caratini's plus-plus pimp job after it came to light that the Braves had invited him to a pre-draft workout last May. The Braves ended up nabbing the native Puerto Rican in the second round for $800,000 and sent him to Danville, where he assaulted Appalachian League pitching to the tune of a .290/.415/.430 line with a 39:49 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 246 plate appearances. He was sent to Rome this season, and while he's posted a high batting average thus far, his secondary skills, particularly his over-the-fence power, have failed to reach the surface.

The quote in the sidebar represents part of a summation I gave in a recent scouting report on Caratini at Baseball Prospectus. Inherent within this summation is a belief that Caratini's arm strength, though being billed as plus prior to the draft, is actually much weaker and would be somewhat of a liability behind the plate. The defensive fundamentals behind the plate are fine, but the arm is not a weapon at present and doesn't project to be down the road. The arm could play at the fringe-average level at third, but his natural defensive skills at the position are lacking. This concern pushes him into more of a utility role for me.* While this may sound like a drag, it's actually not—Caratini's hit tool projects to be above average at the major-league level, so he is certainly a nice piece to have around at the end of the day.

*This is just one evaluator's report, so take from it what you will.

Carlos Salazar, Right-handed pitcher, 3rd round, 102nd overall, Kerman HS (Kerman, CA)

Salazar represents the first high-risk/high-reward type pick of the 2013 draft for the Braves. Billed as a raw, big-velocity arm with developing secondaries and no command, the California native was signed to an over-slot bonus ($625,000 bonus, $514,000 slot value) and sent to the Gulf Coast League in his professional debut. The then-18-year-old struggled between both the bullpen and the starting rotation, posting a 6.92 ERA in 13 innings of work, allowing 18 hits and only five walks, striking out 14. His peripherals looked decent beyond the ERA, leading to a much lower FIP (2.69), but a 13-inning sample from a kid who had just completed a long high-school season is less than satisfactory when it comes to dissecting his statistics. The Braves aggressively sent him to Rome to begin the 2014 season, and he has responded rather miserably thus far, posting a 9.62 ERA in 33.2 innings (9 starts), allowing 42 hits and accumulating an alarming 26:35 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks saw Salazar prior to the draft at a Perfect Game tournament in Jupiter, and his scout notes are in the sidebar. When I saw Salazar in April, not much had changed. Here's an abbreviated look that report, originally available at Baseball Prospectus ($):

[...] fastball ranged from 88 to 92 mph throughout outing with a little arm-side run; fastball control was well below average; missed in all directions with the pitch, mostly high and to the arm side; mid-70s breaking ball flashed above-average potential with sharp break; spiked the breaking ball multiple times and displayed well-below-average control of the pitch; changeup also flashed in the upper-70s with good arm-side fade and velocity separation; flashed more in warmups than in actual game; shows a three-pitch mix that would lend itself well to the rotation in theory, but he looked like a bullpen arm in this viewing; very young, but a long way to go in terms of the delivery and control of all his pitches.

At this point, Salazar is still a project in terms of harnessing both his delivery and his raw stuff, and while his results have been borderline disastrous, he's still incredibly young and has plenty of time on his side. Look for continued ups and downs throughout this season in the Sally League.

Tanner Murphy, Catcher, 4th round, 133rd overall, Malden HS (Malden, MO)

A native of Walden, Missouri, Murphy was taken by the Braves in the 4th round as a catcher, signing for a bonus that was $130,000 below the assigned slot value for the particular selection. He was sent to the Gulf Coast League for his professional debut, slashing .227/.313/.258 over 113 plate appearances, collecting a couple of doubles and posting a 12:34 walk-to-strikeout ratio. He remains in Orlando in extended spring training and will likely try his hand in the Appalachian League when Danville's season opens after the draft.

Most sources saw Murphy off the mound as an amateur player, so coming up with a consensus report remains a challenge. In spring training and at the Braves vs. Futures Game, Murphy displayed a thick catcher's frame with some mass in his midsection, leading me to note that he and the Braves will need to monitor further weight gain down the road. He displayed a fairly short, compact stroke at the plate that looked decent in theory, keeping his hands connected to his body during his load and showing a good swing plane. His approach left a bit to be desired in these looks, though this is to be expected from a 19-year-old who hasn't sniffed full-season ball to this point. Additionally, he ripped a line-drive single vs. Jordan Walden in the Braves vs. Futures game, showing off good raw bat speed in the process. We will learn more about Murphy as Danville opens its season at the end of next month.

Mikey Reynolds, Infielder, 5th round, 163rd overall, Texas A&M University (College Station, TX)

Reynolds was taken as a signability pick in the 5th round, signing for $140,000, which was less than half of the assigned slot value for that pick. Reynolds was taken as a senior from Texas A&M University and had been drafted twice previously — once by the Yankees in the 20th round of the 2012 draft and once by the Orioles in the 30th round of the 2011 draft out of a community college in Arizona. He hit the ground running in professional baseball, slashing .309/.402/.416 in Danville. He was sent to Rome to begin this season and struggled through the month of April, posting a .518 OPS through 71 plate appearances before being put on the disabled list at the end of the month.

The 23-year-old is not physically imposing — 5-foot-9, 170 pounds may be generous — and utilizes a slash-and-run approach at the plate. He has quick hands and hips and can sting liners to the gaps in order to utilize his average speed on the bases. As one might guess from his frame, power will never be part of his game. In the field, he is an aesthetically pleasing defender with the necessary actions to stay up the middle, though his arm will likely limit him to second base. Reynolds profiles as a good organizational piece to have around, as the likely second-base limitations put a ton of pressure on his bat. Regardless, he's a good piece to have around and, for what it's worth, displays good work ethic and leadership on the field.

UPDATE: Reynolds was suspended for 50 games today after testing positive for the stimulant methylphenidate, also known as Ritalin.

Steve Janas, Right-handed pitcher, 6th round, 193rd overall, Kennesaw State University (Kennesaw, GA)

The Braves popped Janas in the sixth round for $210,000 out of their backyard in Kennesaw, GA. After having Tommy John surgery during his sophomore campaign at KSU, Janas came back to have an impressive junior campaign for the Owls, posting a 1.14 ERA and 55:14 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 13 starts (78.2 innings). He quickly signed with the Braves and struggled in less than five innings in the Appalachian League.

As opposed to their previous pick in this draft, Janas is very tall and lanky and has plenty of projection in the body. I haven't personally seen Janas in person, so I'll defer to a report from TC's Dan Simpson immediately following the draft.

Janas's best asset is his plus command - he only walked 14 men in 78.2 innings his junior year - which allows him to compete without elite velocity. His fastball sits in the high 80s with plenty of sink and movement, and he also throws a curve and a changeup, both of which could end up being major-league average. As of now, given his velocity and command, his ceiling is that of a back-end major league starter. But this pick is also about projection. Given that he's recovering from Tommy John surgery, and given that his frame lends itself to projection, the Braves believe that there's a very real chance that he could add velocity down the line.

Janas is currently in extended spring training and will likely get a repeat attempt at the Appalachian League once their season begins. He has an outside chance of making it to Rome toward the end of the season if all goes according to plan in Danville.

Ian Stiffler, Right-handed pitcher, 7th round, 223rd overall, Somerset HS (Somerset, PA)

Stiffler was the second prep pitcher taken by the Braves in the 2013 draft, signing for $210,000 (roughly $46,000 above slot) in order to lure him away from Virginia Commonwealth University. The right-hander made eight appearances in the Gulf Coast League upon signing, posting a 4.91 ERA and a 13:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 14.2 innings of work.

Prep Baseball Report gives a solid review of Stiffler, citing projectability in terms of the body and the stuff. Gene Kerns, the same scout who signed Brandon Beachy, was Stiffler's signing scout, according to this article from Eric Single. Having not seen Stiffler, I cannot attest to his raw stuff. In that same article, however, Tony Demacio cites above-average command of a fastball, curveball, and changeup. The 19-year-old is currently in extended spring training and will likely start in Danville this season.

Kyle Wren, Outfielder, 8th round, 253rd overall, Georgia Tech (Atlanta, GA)

After being selected in the 30th round by the Cincinnati Reds two years ago, Wren was popped in the 8th round in 2013 and hit the ground running in professional ball, slashing .335/.391/.472 between Danville, Rome, and a brief stint in Lynchburg. He also stole 35 bags (83 percent success rate) in 53 games. He was bumped up to High-A Lynchburg to begin this season and hasn't shown quite the extra-base hit ability he showed in his debut, though he's still hitting and getting on base at a decent clip (.280/.357/.304). To put it more bluntly, of his 45 hits, 42 of them have been singles. He's stolen 19 bases thus far and has been successful 73 percent of the time.

Prior to last year's draft, I scouted Wren and wrote him up at Capitol Avenue Club (RIP). Here's a snippet from the report:

[...] Wren’s carrying tool is his plus-plus speed. On a jailbreak, Wren made it to first base in 3.65 seconds. At the plate, Wren is a pesky hitter with a short, line-drive oriented swing. His swing can become bottom-hand dominant, causing him to lose barrel control and forcing the majority of his best contact to the pull-side. Wren’s a small dude — he’s listed at 5’10", 172 pounds — and lacks any sort of power projection. In the outfield, Wren uses his blinding speed to cover tons of ground. Besides power, Wren’s arm is his weakest tool. In fielding practice, Wren’s throws had visible arc and routinely two-hopped the catcher on weak bounces. Ultimately, he reminds me of Sam Fuld, not on a direct tools level, but in the ultimate role that he could occupy at the major league level. Guys like Wren are my ultimate scouting blind spot; he’s a personal favorite.

Not much has changed scouting-wise since this pre-draft viewing. I had him at 3.78 seconds on a jailbreak later in 2013, which is still mighty fast. He's still seeing some inconsistency in his swing mechanics due to the aforementioned bottom-hand dominance, as it's causing some loop on the backside of his swing and resulting in a sloppy path to the ball and non-optimal contact. While he was mainly a left fielder at Georgia Tech, the Braves have decided to move him to center field in order to take advantage of his wheels. His arm's always going to be below-average, but he could be an asset in the field given his range and first-step quickness. Ultimately, Wren's ceiling hasn't changed from when I saw him at Georgia Tech — a solid 4th or 5th outfielder (that's where the Sam Fuld comparison comes from) who can impact games with his speed and defense.

Dylan Manwaring, Third Baseman, 9th round, 283rd overall, Horseheads HS (Horseheads, NY)

The Braves dipped into the northeast to pop Manwaring in the ninth round, persuading him to forego his commitment to Wake Forest and sign just slightly under the recommended slot amount. Manwaring struggled mightily in the Gulf Coast League upon signing, slashing .131/.238/.140 with only one extra-base hit and a 15:37 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 123 plate appearances.

I've only seen Manwaring take batting practice in spring training, and my notes line up with the Perfect Game report in the sidebar. Manwaring has a long, loopy stroke at present with a swing that comes off plane due to a slight uppercut through the zone, finishing high and extended. He pulls off mightily with his head and relies too much on his upper body (read: his shoulders) to try to muscle balls and generate power. There's definitely power potential in the swing and the frame, but getting the hit tool to a point where it will allow the power potential to play is a major project at this point. He has legitimate arm strength and was a decent prospect as a pitcher during his amateur days, so if all else fails at the plate, he will be tested in the center of the diamond.

Ian Hagenmiller, Third Baseman, 10th round, 313th overall, Palm Beach Central HS (Wellington, FL)

The Braves rounded out their top ten picks with Ian Hagenmiller, a third baseman from Wellington, FL. He signed for $200,000, or roughly $62,000 above slot, to forego his commitment at Palm Beach State, playing in 41 games for the GCL Braves. In 148 plate appearances, Hagenmiller slashed .226/.304/.278 with five doubles a triple, and a 13:49 walk-to-strikeout ratio. He committed 13 errors in 102 chances at 3rd base, and it's worth noting that Hagenmiller was taking reps at first base during the spring.

Hagenmiller and Manwaring, the 9th-round selection, are similar in that they were both drafted as third basemen with strong arms and power potential, though there are questions about the utility of each player's hit tool. As the Perfect Game notes suggest, Hagenmiller has a long swing with a big bat wrap up top, though the bat speed does help compensate a bit for the extra length. He will be yet another interesting player to watch when short-season ball commences and will most likely be part of what should be a fascinating Danville roster.

Additional Notes on Later Picks

Since I haven't been able to see every top-ten selection from this class, here are a few notes on five more players who were selected in rounds 11-27.

Alec Grosser, who was featured as my breakout candidate earlier in the year, garnered some love in the prospect world this offseason, with Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks ranking him as a potential riser in the system ($). The 19-year-old has plenty of upside and will be one of the more intriguing names to follow once the short-season leagues begin play.

Joseph Odom, the Braves' 13th round pick out of Huntingdon College (Division III represent!), has struggled in his aggressive promotion to the Carolina League this season, slashing ..210/.329/.290 thus far. The 22-year-old has a large catcher's frame with power potential, though his long swing will inhibit him from getting to his power on a consistent basis. He has decent arm strength, popping in the mid-2.1s between innings, though his throws display an abundant amount of tail.

An 18th-round senior sign out of Cal State Bakersfield, Chuck Buchanan has put up good numbers thus far in Rome, posting a 3.23 ERA with a 28:16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30.2 innings of work. The big lefty throws across his body and has feel for three pitches from a three-quarters slot, including an 88-91 mph fastball and a quality changeup that features good velocity separation and arm-side run. The curveball is show-me/get-me-over offering and can get too loopy/slurvy, but the overall profile suggests a decent organizational arm that should have some success in the lower levels.

A recipient of an over-slot bonus in the 23rd round out of a junior college in Florida, Connor Oliver is currently tearing up the Sally League, sporting a 14-game hitting streak earlier this month. The 20-year-old Maryland native is boasting a .301/.340/.462 triple slash with four doubles, four triples, and a home run under his belt thus far in Rome. Oliver has good foot speed and covers plenty of ground in center field. At the plate, he has a busy load with loose hands from the left side and makes good contact with a very linear stroke, looking to put his impressive speed to use. Keep an eye on him.

Tyler Brosius, a former backup quarterback at NC State who was drafted in the 21st round out of Walters State Community College, has been up and down out of Rome's bullpen, posting a 4.71 ERA and 20:19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 28.2 innings of work. He has a tall, broad-shouldered frame and pitches downhill well from a three-quarters (or a tick above) arm slot. His fastball sits 88-91 mph, touching 92 mph, with an 11/5 breaking ball that sits 79-81 mph. The breaking ball is inconsistent at present and can get a little slurvy, but with some tightening, the pitch could be an average offering in time, though I have it graded as a 45 future pitch.

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