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Atlanta Braves super early 2018 MLB Draft Preview

The 2018 MLB Draft is 10 months out but things are beginning to take shape.

John Coppolella

The 2018 MLB Draft is roughly 10 months away and the 2017 season still has a month and a half remaining, but things are beginning to take shape.

For a few weeks the Braves have been sitting in a spot where a pick towards the back of the Top 10 seems likely, in the 7-9 range. It’s easy enough to see them finishing with a pick as high as 3rd overall or dropping as low as the 12th pick.

With college summer leagues, such as the Cape Cod League, and important high school showcases, such as the Perfect Game All American Classic, done for the year the players at the top are starting to separate themselves. The draft board is far from set as there is a lot of baseball to play, but we have a better idea than we did two months ago.

With the Braves very likely to select in the Top 12, I thought it would be a good chance to see how that part of the draft board sets up.

I see a Top 11 group of prospects that I think any Braves fan would be thrilled to land one of. That Top 11 includes a group of four guys who would be the four best talents in the draft- though the Braves aren’t quite in a position to land one of them right now.

The four top talents in the draft, in no particular order at the moment, are Georgia high school RHPs Kumar Rocker and Ethan Hankins, California high school shortstop Brice Turang, and University of Florida right hander Brady Singer. None of those guys is really far enough ahead of the group to be a heavy favorite for the top pick, but the group has separated themselves from the rest of the draft class.

The Top Four

Rocker is the son of a former football star(Tracy Rocker), and is built with the imposing frame of a defensive lineman or linebacker. His present stuff is simply dynamic, to the point it’s not hard to see him developing into a front line starter. Of course he doesn't have remaining projection, but that isn’t a big issue when a pitcher has his kind of present stuff.

Hankins is different in that he’s a lanky, projectable kid. His current stuff isn’t quite what Rocker’s is, but it's not hard to imagine it eventually surpassing Rocker's when you consider he isn't that far behind at present.

Turang is the all around shortstop who has been compared to a young Christian Yelich for his strong, well-rounded tool set with a high baseball IQ. This kid not only has Yelich-like tools, but he’s a lock to remain at shortstop, only increasing his value.

Singer is the oldest of the group as the only college player, but he’s been dominant(3.21 ERA and 9.2 K/9 this past season) in the SEC and has forever been on the radar. He was drafted highly(2nd round) out of high school by the Blue Jays, but after an issue with his physical he ended up going to school. That injury hasn’t surfaced at Florida, and with a strong junior season it’s not hard to see him going in the top few picks next June.

Remainder of Top 11

Will Banfield isn’t far away from that top tier, and the Georgia catcher is arguably the best all around prep catcher in the draft in a few years. Banfield brings a combination of defensive ability and ability to make an impact with the bat. He's also no stranger to handling premium pitching, as he has significant experience catching for Rocker and Hankins.

Joe Gray Jr. is the kid that will most remind people of Jordon Adell from the 2017 class as toolsy prep outfielders. Gray’s tools aren’t quite as loud as Adell, but the defense, throwing arm, speed, and combination of bat speed/power are big time tools for him. He will need to deal with the history of Mississippi prep bats failing as pros, but there is a lot to like about Gray.

Nick Madrigal is under-sized and isn’t likely to stick at shortstop, where he plays for Oregon State. However he should fit in well defensively at second base and is arguably the best pure hitter in the draft in a while. This kid has been comped to the likes of Jose Altuve, Dustin Pedroia, and Ozzie Albies because of his size and hitting ability. That’s not a bad list of guys to be compared to, and it’s a comparison I can mostly buy into minus the fact he doesn’t quite have the speed of Altuve and Albies- which makes him most like Pedroia from that group. But like those guys, he produces more power than you would expect from his frame because he’s just so good at squaring up the baseball.

Seth Beer is a guy many people like, and some may like a little more than they should. I don’t see him as being a candidate for the top pick because of defensive concerns, but this kid is going to be a potential middle of the order hitter. Not only has he posted huge numbers at Clemson, but he’s shown the ability to be an impact hitter with Team USA. The only reason I don’t have him in that first group is because he is probably a left fielder or first baseman and may even fit best as a designated hitter in the long term. Again, the bat plays anywhere you put him but the defensive concerns are also real.

Jarred Kelenic is a very promising outfielder from the state of Wisconsin- not where you would expect a top prep player to come from. However this kid is an all around talent. He’s an impressive hitter, able to hit for both average and power with his sweet swing. He also showed off his wheels and defense in the Perfect Game All American Classic with a spectacular catch on a ball that would have fallen in for a hit with almost anyone else in the outfield.

Slade Cecconi is one of the fastest risers over the summer, and the Florida right hander seems to really have some special stuff. He doesn’t have the track record of some of the other guys right now, but his stuff is front of the rotation good as his fastball and slider are both plus pitches.

The MVP of the Perfect Game All Star Classic was Arizona prep shortstop Nolan Gorman, who homered and then picked up a second RBI hit later in the game. Gorman probably isn’t a shortstop longterm, but should be a quality defender at third. His real value comes from the bat as he has consistently raked wherever he has gone, and he’s also consistently hit for power against top competition. Gorman is to me the best power hitting right side of the infield prep prospect in the draft since Brendan Rodgers in 2015.

Candidates for 12th

I don’t quite have a 12th guy I’m willing to rank with the others at the moment, but there are a bunch of names worth tracking. Georgia prep arms LHP Luke Bartnicki and RHP Cole Wilcox, Florida prep pitcher Carter Stewart and his eye-popping curve ball as seen below, Florida prep shortstop Nander De Sedas and powerful third baseman Triston Casas are the best of the prep class.

The best college players include powerful TCU first baseman Luken Baker, Kentucky outfielder Tristan Pompey(Dalton’s brother), and even power hitting Georgia Tech catcher Joey Bart. College lefties like USF’s Shane McClanahan and Mississippi State product Konnor Pilkington along with right hander Jackson Kowar- a teammate of Singer at Florida are possibilities. We also can’t forget Stanford’s Tristan Beck, who may have been a Top 10 pick in 2017 if not for an injury which cost him the entire season. If healthy, Beck is a candidate to be drafted highly in 2018, but the health will be a major factor with him.

None of these candidates for the 12th spot has done enough for me to put them with that Top 11 at the moment, but there is still time for them to emerge into that group just as there is time for someone not mentioned here to add themselves to the list- maybe University of Oregon right hander Matt Mercer, one of the breakout stars of the Cape Cod League this summer.

Overall while I don’t think the 2018 MLB Draft class has a true #1 guy that you would hope for, it is a very strong group and the Braves are likely to be sitting in a position to add yet another very talented prospect(or two) into their loaded farm system.

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