The first year of the rebuild was unkind to the Braves, as they finished 2015 with a 67-95 record.
The good news about rebuilding is that it yields high draft picks, allowing teams to restock their prospect cupboard. These high picks, in tandem with the ability to spread out the allotted bonus pools, can inject a massive amount of talent into a farm system over three short days.
Due to some creative trading by exiled former GM John Coppolella, the Braves had 5 of the top 76 picks in this draft; accordingly, they also had the highest bonus pool ($15,516,300). They had been connected to multiple high-profile picks leading up the the draft, including Mercer outfielder Kyle Lewis and New Jersey prep lefty Jason Groome. The strategy the Braves employed in this draft allowed them to select six of the prospects that currently sit in their top 30.
Over the first five rounds, the Braves focused almost strictly on pitchers. Here’s a look at how Rounds 1-5 played out
Ian Anderson, RHP, Shenendehowa HS (NY)
Round: 1, Overall Pick: 3
Current MLB Pipeline Rank: Braves: #5, MLB: #47
For the first pick in the draft, the Braves opted for a cold weather arm in New York’s Ian Anderson. He was chosen not only for his projectable frame and advanced pitchability, but also for his signing bonus - he signed for $4M, which was $2.5M under slot value. This allowed the Braves to secure Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller with later picks.
Anderson, who just turned 20, has three plus pitches with his fastball, curveball, and changeup, and his control is far better than his current walk rates indicate. He is a member of the High-A Florida Fire Frogs, where his career-high strikeout rate is currently over 11 per 9 innings. Over his Braves career, he has a 2.99 ERA / 3.02 FIP in 159 ⅔ innings. During this time, he has accumulated 175 strikeouts and has only allowed two home runs.
According to MLB Pipeline, Anderson is currently ranked 5th in the Braves’ loaded farm system, and 47th overall. He has the ceiling of a frontline starter, and with the wide swath of pitching talent in the organization, the Braves can afford to let him develop at a natural pace instead of rushing him.
Joey Wentz , LHP, Shawnee Mission East HS (KS)Round: Competitive Balance A, Overall Pick: 40
Current MLB Pipeline Rank: Braves: #10
After gaming the slot bonus system with the Anderson pick, the Braves had some money to play with for their next pick. They used this flexibility to nab Kansas prep southpaw Joey Wentz for just over $1.5M above slot value. Wentz was initially a two-way player whose home runs were the stuff of urban lore, but the Braves saw his future on the mound. Like Anderson, he also sports the fastball-curveball-changeup mix, and his mechanics are easily repeatable. Primarily known a command pitcher who will attack the zone with ease, he has struggled a bit with command over his past few starts but has the ultimate ceiling of a 2-3 starter.
In 2017, he went 8-3 with a 2.60 ERA / 2.68 FIP, and was named the South Atlantic League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher. Wentz is currently Anderson’s rotation mate in Florida. He is still Atlanta’s 10th ranked prospect, and the fourth highest-regarded lefty in a system that is loaded with them.
Kyle Muller, LHP, Jesuit College Prep (TX)
Round: 2, Overall Pick: 44
Current MLB Pipeline Rank: Braves: #12
Even with Wentz signing for nearly double his slot value, the Braves were able to offer another overslot bonus to their 44th pick, lefty pitcher Kyle Muller. Muller, already a mountain of a man when he was drafted at 18, rocks the same three-pitch mix as his fellow draftees and has touched 97 mph with his fastball from the left side.
Of the Big Three, Muller has had the slowest development track. After battling mechanical inconsistencies, he spent 2017 in extended Spring Training and eventually made his way to Danville. After six strong starts at Rome to start 2018, he was bumped up to Florida to join his draft mates. He is still a project, and has a ways to go with his control, but he is currently Atlanta’s #12 ranked prospect.
Brett Cumberland, C, University of California
Round: Competitive Balance B, 76th overall
Current MLB Pipeline Rank: Braves: #23
The switch-hitting catcher was an on-base machine his sophomore year at California, so the Braves took him with the 76th pick. He was another overslot signing, taking home $1.5M (slot value: $838,900).
His 2017 season had some very Jekyll and Hyde moments where his consistency waned, but he caught fire in May and posted an .963 OPS before his June promotion to Florida. He opened 2018 with the Fire Frogs, and even with his slow start, he could be a candidate for a mid-season promotion. Cumberland’s long-term position is still in question, but he was drafted more for his offensive potential than what he can do with the glove. A move out from behind the plate could be in his future.
Drew Harrington, LHP, Louisville
Round: 3, 80th overall
Current MLB Pipeline Rank: Braves: unranked
A college arm out of Louisville, Harrington was arguably the most advanced pitcher the Braves took in the 2016 draft, but he has scuffled since an injury derailed his 2017 season with Florida. Despite being drafted as a starter out of Louisville, Harrington has shifted mostly to a relief role, and moved down to the Rome staff after a few appearances in 2018. He is currently buried as a prospect, and needs to harness his command if he wants to ascend the organizational ladder.
Bryse Wilson, RHP, Orange HS (NC)
Round: 4, 109th overall
Current MLB Pipeline Rank: Braves: #13
Bryse Wilson was a two-sport athlete coming into the draft, and he signed for $1.2M -- over double his slot value ($546,800). Some scouts knocked Wilson’s mechanics, saying he would likely wind up as a reliever long-term. Not only has Wilson stayed as a starter, but he is now the fastest-rising pitching prospect in the system. In his first year, he went 10-7 with a 2.50 ERA on his way to Rome’s 2017 Pitcher of the Year award. After putting up a ridiculous 0.34 ERA over 5 starts in Florida, he was jumped to Mississippi as a 20 year old. At his current trajectory, he could ride his devastating arsenal and bulldog mentality to a September 2019 cameo.
Thomas Burrows, LHP, University of Alabama*
Round: 4, 117th overall
Current MLB Pipeline Rank: Braves: #26
Burrows makes the list on a technicality. The Alabama reliever was drafted by the Mariners in the 4th round, and came to the Braves with Luiz Gohara in the Mallex Smith / Shae Simmons trade. Yet another member of the Fire Frogs, Burrows is ranked as the Braves’ 26th best prospect by MLB Pipeline.
Jeremy Walker, RHP, Gardner-Webb University
Round: 5, 139th overall
Current MLB Pipeline Rank: Braves: unranked
The Braves have been successful in recent years with small school pitchers, and they gambled on Walker (out of Gardner-Webb University) to continue that streak. Walker started to grow into his potential in the second half of his season with Rome, as he walked only 5 batters (against 40 strikeouts) in his final 11 starts.
He started 2018 with Florida, and after a slow start has managed to string together several successful starts in a row. Walker is a pitch-to-contact pitcher who rarely relies on the strikeout, so he will need to minimize hard contact to reach his full potential.
Following the fifth round, the Braves went into Senior Sign mode. After paying overslot bonuses for multiple picks, they used Rounds 6-10 to sign seniors with little negotiating leverage to underslot deals. Of these players, only Tyler Neslony (9th round) and Marcus Mooney (10th round) remain with the organization. Neslony is currently with Mississippi, and Mooney is with Florida.
The Braves were able to snag multiple interesting pieces through the rest of the draft. Matt Rowland, a high-upside righty out of Mariettta, GA, signed for $400,000 in the 11th round. He has been sidelined with injuries since his signing, but he was recently declared good to go. 17th rounder Devan Watts has already seen time in Mississippi, and has posted strong numbers as a reliever through his entire Minor League career. Another Fire Frogs lefty, Tucker Davidson (19th round) was ranked as the Braves’ 22nd best prospect coming into the season.
As the draft went on, the Braves kept finding hidden gems. Davenport’s Corbin Clouse came off the board in the 27th round, and he is currently striking out 12.42 batters per 9 innings for Mississippi. He could be a fast-moving relief candidate. Even farther down the board, Atlanta took Cal-Poly Pomona outfielder Jared James in the 34th round. Son of former Brave Dion James, James played among some of the game’s top prospects in the 2017 Arizona Fall League.
As the saying goes, you cannot put a grade on a draft for several years. However, if this current crop of Braves draftees continues to progress at the same rate, this will be a draft that is talked about for years.