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Atlanta Braves MLB Draft Preview: Reviewing Alex Anthopoulos’ Braves Drafts

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Alex Anthopoulos has shown a different strategy for each of his two drafts as the Braves GM. Let’s discuss how his draft approach will impact the 2020 draft.

2020 Grape Fruit League Media Availability
Alex Anthopoulos sitting in front of a sign with his name
Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Alex Anthopoulos GM of the Blue Jays is much different from the Alex Anthopoulos GM of the Braves. His time with the Dodgers coupled with not having to win now has appeared to refine his approach to the MLB draft. Looking at the 2018 and 2019 drafts, you can clearly see there was a different strategy utilized. The main question we’ll try to answer today is if there’s enough information from AA’s two drafts to help predict what will happen in the 2020 draft?

If you want a history of AA before he arrived in Atlanta, then find that info here.

You may remember back in 2018, I talked about the importance of the 2018 draft class. With the heavy sanctions levied against the Braves under Coppy, the main strategy for the 2018 draft was one of balance between talent and depth. Signability was another key. The Braves signed 85% of their available picks which was easily the most in the past five plus years.

The first 10 picks were as follows:

Carter Stewart - Prep
Greyson Jenista - College
Tristan Beck - College
Trey Riley - College
Andrew Moritz - College
Brooks Wilson - College
AJ Graffanino - College
Ryan Shetter - College
Brett Langhorne - College

See a theme here? AA went heavy up on college early and often. In fact, the Braves only signed one prep player out of thrity-three total signees and that was Victor Vodnik. Eleven players would go on to play at Single A Rome in 2019. At least eight players from this class made it to High-A. There were even four players that climbed to the AA level (Jenista, CJ Alexander, Nolan Kingham and Trey Harris). The depth of this draft has been felt throughout most of the system.

Now the 2019 draft was a different beast altogether. Having some of the depth issues set aside, AA turned his focus to a much more compelling strategy of drafting college early and then going heavy on prep players in the middle part of the draft. This required saving money with the first five picks to utilize those savings later in the draft. Don’t think those savings meant taking less talent. Langeliers dealt with an injury most of his Junior season that also sapped his power; Shewmake was dealing with being undervalued defensively. Since getting into the Braves org, we have seen many media outlets give him more positive reviews for his defense and overall abilities while moving Shewmake up prospect rankings. The fascinating thing thing about this draft is how the Braves went overslot on at least seven players after round 10. I say at least since we don’t know what Mahki Backstrom and five other players got (this info is missing across all major baseball media sites). It’s most likely that only Mahki got over pick value (any pick after round 10 a team can spend up to $125K before it counts toward the overall pool). This is quite undprecedented. By comparison, the Diamondbacks had over $16M in bonus pool (a record high) yet only went over the $125K threshold in rounds 11+ twice.

The first 10 picks were as follows:

Shea Langeliers - College
Braden Shewmake - College
Beau Philip - College
Mark Harris - Prep
Kasey Kalich - College
Stephen Paolini - Prep
Tanner Gordon - College
Darius Vines - College
Ricky DeVito - College
Cody Milligan - College
Brandon Parker - College

While only two of the first ten picks were high school players, AA would then go on to select six prep players within the next nine picks. Every prep player after round ten got over slot value (assuming Mahki got overslot). This will either turn out to be a brilliant strategy that other teams copy or is used as a cautionary tale. However, for now, it appears to be a rather clever strategy. Prep players offer that high risk/high reward, but bust rates for HS players are simply higher than their collegiate counterparts. That’s the simple truth. If the Braves can gamble by going over slot for a few prep players in the mid rounds, the pain won’t be near as much if a prep player busts since you aren’t paying out 1st and 2nd round type money. It’s more in the 3rd through 6th round money.

This strategy by AA was completely new to me. I checked out several other teams from 2017-2019 including big teams like the Red Sox and Dodgers and didn’t come across anything remotely similar. It’s possible this has been done before, but I just didn’t come across any examples. Mainly you see teams spending overslot early and have to draft a few very cheap senior signs to get savings within the first ten picks.

If someone has seen a similar strategy, please let me know in the comments.

Back to the main question. What does this mean for the 2020 draft? Honstly, I think we could see a repeat of the 2019 draft, but obviously scaled down due to there only being 5 rounds. Keith Law mentioned in a chat toward the end of May that the Braves were one of the only teams that were looking to draft mostly prep players.

From 5/20:

Greg: Does Atlanta stay college/conservative? Seems like that’s the route Anthopoulos and Brown went last year in the early rounds.

Keith Law: I heard yesterday they were one of the most likely teams to go all high school.

Other experts have mentioned the Braves are likely to heavy up on prep players. Now whether AA and team heavy up on high school players remains to be seen. If the best player availabe happens to be college players when the Braves pick comes up, then maybe they pivot. The Braves only have four picks, so even heavying up on prep players isn’t really saying much. Besides, after the fifth round, then it’ll likely be college heavy as it’s extremely doubtful that any HS player would want to sign for $20K unless they just don’t want to go to college.

If I had to wager a guess, I’d say the Braves sign a college player under slot in the 1st round and use the savings to go after prep players in rounds 3-5. This could mean someone like Bryce Jarvis, Nick Loftin, Clayton Beeter or Carmen Mlodzinski in the 1st round. In that group, I’d prefer Jarvis. I’m interested to see if a prep player falls to 25 to see if the Braves alter any plans. If a player like Nick Bitsko or Pete Crow Armstrong are somehow magically available, then they aren’t taking underslot money so that alters what can be done in rounds 3-5.

The MLB draft kicks off June 10th at 7pm ET on MLB Network. Let me know your thoughts.