The Braves have had a pair of very interesting drafts with the two years that the current front office has been in place, but what do they really tell us about the plan the Braves draft plan?
Kolby Allard was the top pick. Without a doubt he was the best available player, regardless of position and price. Allard would have been in the mix for the Top 5 overall had he not had an injury his senior year of high school.
The Allard pick was followed by cold weather prep arm Mike Soroka, two way Mississippi prep star Austin Riley(who more teams preferred as a pitcher, but the Braves liked his bat), California prep catcher Lucas Herbert, and the very high upside but injured SEC lefty AJ Minter. The first day of the 2015 draft was very heavy on upside and prep players, and the front office proved yet again that they aren't afraid to take a chance on a guy with an injury(Allard and Minter).
The second day was a little more quiet than the first. The top pick was California prep arm Anthony Guardado, an upside pitcher who had helium that spring because of his relative lack of baseball experience(he was a football quarterback). Oregon reliever Josh Graham followed, a converted catcher. Then the Braves went with a series of guys who had some upside(specifically Patrick Weigel, Taylor Lewis, and Matt Withrow), but were all college guys without significant bonus demands. The Lewis pick and the Stephen Moore pick really helped save on the bonus pool. Not a bad strategy to go with a bunch of hard throwing, relatively inexpensive arms and hoping one or two can surprise. It's important to remember that because of the first day’s prep talent there just wasn't much room in the bonus pool to go in with a different strategy.
Day three was an absolute home run. These guys in rounds 11-40 are considered to be later round picks and even though you do see some get good sized bonuses(usually the 11th rounder), finding talent in these rounds is a little tougher.
The Braves went heavy on JUCO talent and relievers, finding Grayson Jones, Chase Johnson-Mullins, Justin Ellison, and Jonathan Morales in this mix. There were also a bunch of non-JUCO arms the Braves had some success with, led by Trevor Belicek, Evan Phillips, and prep arm Jaret Hellinger. There were a few prep picks sprinkled in, signing a Bradley Keller, Gilbert Suarez, and Hellinger, and taking chances on higher priced guys in case one of the top guys fell through and there was some money left to play with- the Terry Godwin, DJ Neal, Liam Scafariello types.
Throughout the draft the Braves showed an emphasis on arms, both upside arms and hard throwing relievers, JUCO talent, and catching. While you will remember Herbert and Morales, Trey Keegan was a 14th rounder and Collin Yelich a 29th rounder, and this isn't even mentioning the unsigned Chase Smartt in the 35th round.
The top pick was Ian Anderson as you already know. There was some controversy as some saw him as a guy used to save on the bonus pool, but the Braves really believed he was the best player available- not a stretch considering most had him as a Top 10 talent and he had cold weather and illness working against him in his senior year, costing scouts some looks at him. He's another cold weather high upside arm, and while he did come at a bit of a savings I don't believe that's why he was taken. I believe the team did really have him as the best player available, and that means they took the best player available in each of the two drafts rather than just taking the best available pitcher.
The rest of day one was heavily discussed on here as well. The cost savings from the Anderson pick helped allow the Braves to take very high upside prep arms in Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller. All of these arms has one thing in common with each other and the picks of Allard and Soroka the year before- they're prep arms filled with upside. It is interesting to note that these arms for the most part weren't the guy with the biggest stuff or most projectability, but all guys with good stuff, a good feel for pitching, and at least decent command. These kids are all pitchers rather than some of the guys drafted early who are still more of a thrower.
The day was finished off by taking Cal catcher Brett Cumberland. It shouldn’t be surprising that catching is once again a priority for the front office after the 2015 draft, though obviously Cumberland has the biggest questions to answer in regards to his future defensive home being behind the plate. He’s different than what we saw in the 2015 draft as a big college bat, showing the front office isn't opposed to guys like that.
The second day was led by a surprising pick of Louisville’s Drew Harrington in the third round. Harrington was a solid pick and came at the right price, but he's more of an advanced back end starter than an upside arm. Of course the Braves followed that up by taking North Carolina prep arm Bryse Wilson- a kid with a huge fastball that most saw as a reliever longterm...but not the Braves as reports of an improved arsenal have been heard. Following the Wilson pick, the Braves took signable college arm Jeremy Walker and then used their picks in rounds 6-10 to focus on bargain picks in five college seniors who had distinguished college careers.
The third day was very similar to the third day of 2015. After the 11th round pick of upside Georgia arm Matt Rowland, the Braves loaded up on JUCO players, small school players, and relievers. This is what helped land them guys like Corbin Clouse, Devan Watts, Jared James, and Brandon WhiteX2. Just like 2015 there were some upside guys sprinkled in, taking a chance on former UNC pitcher Zach Rice, potential filled Nick Shumpert, and prep player Gabe Howell- not to mention the nearly signed Josh Anthony.
Will the Braves trade for another pick? They'll absolutely try and John Coppolella has already admitted that much, but it is the first year under the new CBA and it remains to be seen what effect that has on the draft.
Can we expect a pick to manipulate the bonus pool? It has been done in the past two years to a certain extent, but it's less likely this year at least at the top. Not that it's impossible, but the Braves currently are behind eight teams in their bonus pool size, and are a good $2-$4 million behind half of those teams. Those teams(Cincy, Minnesota, Tampa, and the Padres) also all pick ahead of the Braves second pick. Passing on a premium talent to get that guy through those teams and their bonus pools is a bigger risk this year.
Can we expect another pitcher despite having unbelievable pitching depth and still need some bats? I don't think this matters to the front office. They've basically said that the draft is where to get your pitching and you can get your bats through trades and the international free agent market. I don't believe that the front office would hesitate to take a bat if they believed an Austin Beck or Jeren Kendall was the best available player, though they very well may end up with another high upside arm.
My expectations for this draft are that you'll see the best available player taken at 5. I don't think they use the pick to play with the bonus pool with the odds working against them. Heading into the spring I would have thought that would mean pitcher for sure, as this is a draft strong in pitching, but now I'm less sure on bat/arm.
This is a year where you currently have a consensus #1 in Hunter Greene at the moment, but after that there is quite a bit of question. The picks in the 2-10 range will be strong for sure, but there isn't really a consensus on how those players should come off the board.
Guys like Vanderbilt’s Kyle Wright just haven't been able to get right this year. After a pair of solid starts where he looked to turn things around, Wright got blasted by Kentucky last Saturday- after he was moved off the Friday start. A safer but lower upside guy like Brendan McKay of Louisville going in the Top 4 would drop someone down to the Braves at five. Then you have the fast rising prep outfielder Austin Beck putting himself into the mix for a Top 5(I plan to cover him more in the future. I’m still looking for more 2017 film). That could push a Royce Lewis down to five, a guy I wouldn't have expected to be there at the start of the spring.
Rounds 2-10 should be a mix of prep arms, with a bat or two, then a bunch of signabilty picks. While the Braves don't have the same bonus pool flexibility as they did in the previous two years, they still have some money to work with if they go after a guy near slot value in the first round. Regardless of who they see as the best available player at pick 5, the arms will continue to be stockpiled on the second day of the draft.
Then day three is a day which should be filled with under the radar guys. You’ll see JUCOs, small college kids, maybe an injured arm, and some signable prep players. This strategy has worked well for the Braves in the first two years of this front office as Trevor Belicek already brought in a return in a trade to Baltimore and prospects like Jonathan Morales, Jared James, and Corbin Clouse among others have gone from unheard of late round picks to guys that are considered real prospects. The Braves have been as good as anyone in the past two years with those late rounds.
If you have any questions/requests about the draft or any specific players, feel free to leave them in the comments as we’ll start to talk more about guys the Braves are focusing on in the coming weeks.