First off, I know there’s no such thing as future proofing for the bullpen. However, maybe there are things a team can do to help their chances. There’s basically two ways of getting an MLB caliber reliever when you build from within: drafting a reliever or eventually turning a starter into a reliever. Unfortunately, the Braves haven’t been putting a premium on drafting higher end relief talent. Let’s face it, the Braves aren’t likely to pay big money for bullpen help or trade multiple top 100 prospects for a top reliever/closer.
For those that know me, I made it no secret that there were a a few relievers I really wanted in last year’s draft. In fact, I wrote an article about how I would have drafted a bit differently. The Braves farm system would look much better with the likes of Nolan Hoffman, Joey Gerber and Ethan DeCaster in it. Ethan DeCaster has just been pure filth since getting drafted with a .177 OBA and a 0.77 WHIP.
Instead the Braves waited until the 7th round to draft a reliever in Brooks Wilson. Outside of that, they didn’t take any high end reliever in the 2018 draft. Not a single one.
Now the Braves have Thomas Burrows, Jacob Webb, Corbin Clouse and Grant Dayton in AAA. Well, Jacob Webb did get recalled along with Dan Winkler. I wouldn’t exactly call any of those players a high end reliever....something the Braves desperately need.
Of course some of the best relievers were once starters. Maybe it’s Luiz Gohara or Huascar Ynoa that eventually make a successful transition to the pen. Jeremy Walker has all the sudden started to flourish after a move to the bullpen this season...although his job has been to provide multiple innings as the Braves build Patrick Weigel back up. This is not so cut and dry because you still don’t know if a starter can make the transition. Having said that, this is a perfectly fine option. But it’s still just one option. Why not increase your chances by also drafting some high end reliever talent, which doesn’t typically take a top round pick.
The Braves are doing themselves a disservice by not drafting 1 or 2 higher end relievers in the early to middle rounds. The Braves have only spent a pick on a reliever in the first six rounds once since 2015 (AJ Minter), and that was Troy Bacon back in 2017 as a 4th rounder. And he signed just below slot at $400K, so not exactly chump change for a JUCO school pitcher. Expanding a bit through the first 10 rounds, and the only other name you can add to the list is Brooks Wilson, who I mentioned earlier. He’s a quality reliever, but he was drafted in the 7th round as a cost saving measure since he was a senior (signed for $80K).
It’s not like the Braves have to spend a high pick to get a quality reliever/closer. Those three prospects I mentioned earlier, Nolan Hoffman went in the 5th round for $300K, Joey Gerber was an 8th round selection for $167,400, and Ethan DeCaster went in the 18th round for a meager $4K. I still can’t get over that fact.
So let’s take a look at some of the top names that the Braves should be thinking about. I’ll even include if they are currently ranked on Baseball America (BA) and Fangraphs (FG).
Matt Cronin, LHP, Arkansas (BA - 60; FG - 104) - Cronin has been one of the best closers over the past year+, but he’s definitely been more inconsistent this year. His BB rate has doubled, but his K-rate has climbed considerably as well. His fastball sits 92-94 for the most part and his delivery offers some deception helping the fastball play up. He does have a slider that could be a potential above avg to plus pitch, he’s still fastball heavy.
His slider’s RPM’s would be about 50th overall in the MLB, but he’d be No. 1 for LHP (Baseball Savant).
Over 9 innings with 1 hit and 0 runs allowed Matt Cronin featured a slider with spin rate averaging 2570 RPM (sample size 25 sliders) not bad to go with a low 90s fastball (FB spin rate between 2305-2515 RPM) #d3b @UMassDBaseball @FlyersBaseball1 @LittleEastConf @NE_Baseball— Showcase League (@showcase_league) April 1, 2019
Parker Caracci, RHP, Ole Miss (BA - 207; FG - NR) - He’ll sit mid 90’s (fastball was down in the low 90’s to start the year), but he’s known to run it up to 99 mph at times. He was excellent last season, but he got off to a slow start to the year where he gave up five runs in back to back appearances. Since then, he’s been lights out going 5/5 in save opportunities and pithced 3.2 shutout innings last weekend to earn a win. He’s only appearing in about two games a week though, so his usage is down vs last season.
Andrew Schultz, RHP, Tennessee (BA - NR; FG - 203) - Has thrown as high as 101 mph, but he’ll sit 95-98. His slider comes in at 84 and is effective with the velocity difference. He has yet to pitch over 19 innings in a single season, so it remains to be seen how his arm would hold up over a long season. Also, walks are a big issue and he didn’t pitch well in the Cape Cod as he walked more than he struck out (23 K vs 25 BB).
Andrew Schultz, 99mph Fastball and 84mph Slider, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/k7BJbRh2XL— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 13, 2019
Jacob Wallace, RHP, UCONN (BA - NR; FG - 224) - Wallace has a mid 90’s fastball (max 98) and he’ll get swing and misses on his 87 mph slider. Attacks hitters with a big time closer mentality. He’s sporting a 0.61 WHIP and walking just 2.35 per 9. He’s sure to be a big riser and likely could go as high as 2nd or 3rd round.
Jack Little, RHP, Stanford (BA - 246; FG - 229) - Little has had a terrific career at Stanford. The 6’4” righty won’t blow you away with a fastball (low 90’s), but he pounds the strike zone to minimize walks. His slider is more of a slurve and he throws a change. Neither pitch flash plus, but all he does is get outs.
I’m sure I’ll do a deep dive on more relievers as we near the draft, both current starters that will likely end up as a reliever as well as straight relievers/closers.