One of my absolute favorite times of the year is MLB draft season. Sure, some of it is because I want some different names to put in recaps and some more talent to fall in love with...that goes without saying. However, the biggest reasons I enjoy it is the mystery and postulating behind it all. Those who follow such things (myself included) go through countless iterations and mock drafts of our own in our brains, trying to “play GM” and see if there is a way to break the system or get the best guy in the draft or to end up with multiple 1st round caliber guys without multiple 1st round picks. It is a fun exercise and comparing it to what actually happens in the draft is half the fun.
That said, I must admit that pegging this Braves front office and scouting department in the draft is basically impossible. They have proven to be really good at extracting extra value in unique ways and having unconventional or even “reach” picks turn out well. In that spirit, before we continue to take deeper dives into who we think the Braves will take and who we want the Braves to take, here is a quick look at who the Braves have taken in the last few years.
1st Round - Braxton Davidson, OF
2nd Round - Garrett Fulenchek, RHP
3rd Round - Max Povse, RHP
4th Round - Chad Sobotka, RHP
5th Round - Chris Diaz, LHP
This was the last draft under the Frank Wren regime and in hindsight, it looks REALLY rough. In fairness, the Braves did not have a high pick in the first round (#32 overall) and Braxton was considered to have some of the best raw power in the prep class that year. Unfortunately, Braxton has proven that while he can occasionally get a hold of one and make us dream on him again, his approach at the plate has led to a TON of strikeouts, and fair bit of walks which has kept his OBP in the respectable to good range, and not much else even as he repeats at high-A this season. Garrett Fulenchek has yet to play above short-season ball, has about as many walks in his career as he does innings pitched (79 walks in 80.2 innings pitched), and was traded to the Rays to get more international signing bonus monies.
Max Povse was a very interesting pitching prospect with a very live arm that made it to AA last season. He was traded to Seattle to help bring Alex Jackson into the Braves’ fold this past offseason. Chad Sobotka continues to toil in the Braves’ system as a reliever with limited success due to inconsistency in throwing strikes and missing some time due to injuries and Chris Diaz, after a really strong debut in full season ball, suffered what was rumored to be a shoulder injury and has not pitched since 2014.
There were some other guys who were drafted in 2014 that either remain with the organization or continue to play elsewhere, although none have been particularly high profile guys. Such players include Keith Curcio, Luke Dykstra, Brad Roney, Caleb Dirks, Brandon Barker, Jacob Webb, Wigberto Nevarez, and Sal Giardina.
1st Round - Kolby Allard, LHP
1st Round - Mike Soroka, RHP
Comp Round A - Austin Riley, 3B
2nd Round - Lucas Herbert, C
Comp Round B - AJ Minter, LHP
In contrast, the 2015 draft could easily become one of the best draft classes in Braves history if not the best. Kolby Allard’s stock in this draft fell a bit after he missed some extended time due to a back injury and the Braves snatched him up as they saw him as a high ceiling arm with one of the best breaking balls in the class. He is now dominating AA as a 19 year old and is comfortably in the top 50 prospects in all of baseball on most prospect lists at this point. Mike Soroka joins him as a teenager in AA and comfortably in the top 100 prospects in all of baseball after he was drafted as a Canadian prep pitcher that most had not necessarily projected as a first-rounder at the time of the draft.
Austin Riley was drafted as a position prospect despite most pegging him as a having the most potential on mound and while he has his flaws (swing and miss issues, questionable as to whether he can stick at 3rd, etc.), he has tantalizing raw power and has made strides at the plate as well as in the field each season. Lucas Herbert had an awful first season of pro ball after his rookie ball season was cut short by a knee injury and this season has been rough at times as well. There have been glimpses of offensive development however and he may be the most gifted defensive catcher in the system. AJ Minter, after his stock falling in the draft due to Tommy John surgery, lit the world on fire as a relief prospect that ascending the minors quickly last season, but has yet to pitch much at all this season as inflammation in his surgically repaired elbow and then a groin injury likely holding him out of action until the end of May at the earliest.
Those are just the first few picks and do not include players that have outperformed their draft position such as Patrick Weigel (7th rounder who is now in the rotation at Triple-A Gwinnett) and Jonathan Morales (25th rounder who may be the best overall catching prospect in the system. Other players of note who continue to play in the Braves’ system include Matt Withrow, Evan Phillips, Sean McLaughlin, Chase Johnson-Mullins, and Matt Custred. Anthony Guardado is still the great unknown from this draft as he has pitched very little as a pro over the last two seasons due to injury and will likely begin his 2017 season in short-season ball yet again.
1st Round - Ian Anderson, RHP
Comp Round A - Joey Wentz, LHP
2nd Round - Kyle Muller, LHP
Comp Round B - Brett Cumberland, C
3rd Round - Drew Harrington, LHP
This draft was fascinating in that the Braves eschewed some of the more consensus choices at #3 overall and went with Ian Anderson both because they loved him and also because they could save money in signing him which allowed them to draft sign Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller. Ian has rewarded the Braves’ faith as he has pitched well in rookie ball as well as in his first season in Rome with some control issues being the biggest concern thus far. That has not kept most pundits from putting Anderson firmly on top 100 prospect lists and he could climb a bit by midseason. Joey Wentz did have a dip in velocity which was a bit concerning after the draft, but he was controlling his pitches and performing well (if a bit unlucky due to a Rome infield defense that at times could best be described as an adventure). He will miss at least one start due to taking a line drive off his leg, but there shouldn’t be any lingering effects.
Kyle Muller was supposed to be the third part of a trio of first round caliber pitchers added to the system and he very well could be given his imposing frame, being a lefty, and a track record of success in high school. However, as of right now he lags a little bit behind as he works through some mechanical changes in extended spring. He will likely start the 2017 season in Danville, but could join Anderson and Wentz in Rome soon after that if things go well. Brett Cumberland has had a weird season thus far in Rome where a lot of his value at the plate has been derived from his ability to draw walks and from his body being a magnet for baseballs. There is real concern that he will be able to stick behind the plate, but if he can start hitting close to what he was doing in college, his bat could play in an outfield corner or possibly first base. Drew Harrington has been arguably the high-A Fire Frogs most consistent pitchers and could see AA by the end of the season. The Braves were likely hopeful that he could move quickly through the minors after drafting him out of one of the better college teams in the country in Louisville and he is rewarding that faith so far.
Other notable picks that are worth mentioning include Bryse Wilson (4th round) who has probably been Rome’s best pitcher to start the season (and with a rotation that includes Anderson and Wentz, that is saying something). Tyler Neslony (9th round) has been hitting well this year, although his ability to play defense is debatable at this point. Corbin Clouse (27th round) is a really interesting relief prospect drafted out of a small college with a live arm and dominated batters for Rome in 2016 and seems to be on track again at high-A after a rough start. The Braves also drafted outfielder Jared James (34th round) and made the jump all the way to AA to begin this season after a strong performance at the plate in his debut in the organization and a strong spring.