With the 2021 MLB Draft quickly approaching for the Atlanta Braves, The Talking Chop crew has had daily discussions, often multiple times per day, about the big event over the past few weeks. So we thought it time to compile some of those opinions and set them out to the world. While we may agree on a lot of things, we all certainly have our unique approaches to the draft and views of players, and it’s been enlightening for me to have a chance to pick the brains of four other amazingly talented people. Matt Powers has done a fantastic job leading our draft coverage for a few years now, and we all frequently consult him on players as he is basically a walking Wiki on draft prospects. I’ve had the fortune of working with Eric Cole and Gaurav Vedak for a very long time and we all feel like we’re more prepared for this draft than we’ve ever been for one before. It’s been an honor to have Wayne Cavadi added to our staff as well, as he is one of the most talented writers I’ve ever had a pleasure to work with and he can tell you anything and everything about Division II baseball prospects. This roundtable was a load of fun and there’s a bunch of info to prime you for the draft headed into Sunday night.
We’ve seen a lot of players connected to the Braves over the past few months. Of the players that have been mocked/connected to the Braves, who are you most interested in seeing them take?
Matt - There are two who I would prefer more than anyone else, Pennsylvania prep outfielder Benny Montgomery, who is one of the toolsiest and highest upside players in the entire draft, and ECU pitcher Gavin Williams, with his 100+ MPH heat. Either of them or Bubba Chandler and I’d be very happy. Trey Sweeney is another who I would be totally good with.
Eric - I am a big fan of Bubba Chandler (who will likely take a bit longer to be ready) and Gavin Williams, but I am finding myself more and more enamored with Trey Sweeney who has been mentioned a little bit. I think the dude can just flat out hit and hit for power. I would say the majority of the guys that the Braves have been linked to would be fine picks, but I like the upside of those three guys (and McGreevy as well) the most.
Gaurav - Gavin Williams is at the top of my dream list. A power fastball, good curveball, slider, and changeup - just everything you could dream about being able to pick at 24. Of the bats available that have been mocked, Trey Sweeney and Benny Montgomery are at the top of my list.
Wayne - The second I saw FanGraphs mock Trey Sweeney, I was excited. When I was writing my NCAA tournament previews this year, I picked him as the best shortstop heading into the tourney. Now, I don’t know he sticks at short, but I do know he has the bat to succeed. It’s not just the raw power — both gap and over-the-fence — but a sound plate approach as well. If the pick was a pitcher, it’s hard not to like Gavin Williams here.
Garrett - If he is available with the 24th pick I think I am on board with Gavin Williams as the pick. Getting a player with his raw talent down at 24, especially as a college player, would be a huge addition for the Braves. The Talking Chop MiLB crew is a bit split on Michael McGreevy, but I’m on board with him if Williams is not there and he is. A player with his command can usually find some role at the big league level and he certainly has the stuff to start even if he’s not a top of the rotation talent. I will also echo the love for Trey Sweeney. The dude can crush it and I always value those types of players.
Eastern Illinois SS Trey Sweeney (6-4, 195) has a long, well-leveraged body. Huge arm, probably plus. Moves well laterally. Likely shifts to 3B as a pro. Some of the best EVs in college baseball. Big raw power. Patient hitter. Some Matt Carpenter in the bat. #MLBDraft pic.twitter.com/h3UZfZgWdw— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) January 1, 2021
Of that group of players connected to Atlanta, are there any you would absolutely not want to see the Braves take in the first round, and why do they concern you?
Matt - Tyler Black tops that list because I just don’t think he’s got enough of a carrying tool and his great stats are a product of a heavily hitter friendly environment. I’m also not a big fan of taking a Spencer Schwellenbach or Will Bednar in the first round as I see them as more second round talents with Bednar’s case more because I see him as a reliever while Schwellenbach just isn’t first round material to me.
Eric - I love what Bednar did in the College World Series, but he isn’t an arm that super excites me and the same goes for Ryan Cusick, but both are more personal preference than anything else. Spencer Schwellenbach the pitcher doesn’t excite me at all, although I would be fine if the Braves drafted him as a shortstop.
Gaurav - Echoing what Eric said, Spencer Schwellenbach as a pitcher, and Ryan Cusick don’t excite me at 24. Most college arms that have been mocked to the Braves, outside of Gavin Williams, don’t move the needle for me and I think would be an overdraft.
Wayne - I don’t hate the idea of Will Bednar, but I do think a big end run to the 2021 season is overvaluing him a bit. I don’t know that I’d love him in the 24 spot. I feel the same as Eric with Spencer Schwellenbach. Depending on the road traveled — P or SS — is how you value his draft spot. Either way, I think 24 is a little high.
Garrett - There have been three guys that it seems the Braves like that I’m really not particularly interested in and all have already been mentioned here. Cusick doesn’t move the needle at all for me at the 24th pick, and Will Bednar would be putting far too much faith in a single postseason run for my liking. The Braves do seem to like Bednar and I don’t think he will be there either way, but he’s not my favorite pick. Spencer Schwellenbach is another I don’t see the appeal of.
Will Bednar, Disgusting Back Foot Slider (literally). pic.twitter.com/Y0D0YupWnS— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 30, 2021
It’s been stated that the Braves strategy this year seems to be looking at college pitching at the top of the draft. Do you think this is the direction they should go or are there other groups of players that are more interesting?
Matt - They’ve actually been interested in other types of players as well. The Braves have been all over the toolsy prep outfielders in the class, though do seem to be moving more away from them in recent weeks though Benny Montgomery is a bit of an exception if he even falls that far. They’ve also been looking at a bunch of college bats so that’s another possibility. I would love to see them go with a toolsy prep outfielder like Montgomery, or Joshua Baez with Baez being a guy they were heavily in on that has really dropped from the focus in recent weeks.
Eric - It is hard to really get a sense of who is actually going to be available when the Braves pick at 24 this year just because once you get out of the first ten picks or so, there is such a wide range of potential guys that could get taken. I am a big best player available guy and I think the Braves MAY be right that there will be some college arms that fit the bill there, but I also think that there are bats that could be available that could be better (Sweeney, Tyler Whitaker, etc.) and I do think there are more interesting arms on day two and three than there are interesting bats.
Gaurav - I think everybody’s draft strategy all of the time should be the best player available. Focusing on a specific group of players, full well knowing attrition rates in professional baseball, is just ludicrous for me. I think just because the Braves have picked college arms, sometimes, doesn’t mean it’s a pattern or indicative of what is to come. I will say I could see them going with someone super cheap in the first round, like a college arm, to be able to afford more of the bigger name prep players later in the draft.
Wayne - I’m always the college-first guy when our group chats, but that’s more because I am so engulfed in college baseball for a living. That said, while I’ll always favor a college bat/pitcher over a prep bat/pitcher, I think this year, in a 20-round draft with as many options being mocked all over the place, I’m with Gaurav. This is a weird year, and I think you need to go best player available. Those GMs/draft teams that can adjust on the fly will benefit most in 2021.
Garrett - I don’t truly think the Braves are set on a college pitcher, t’s just that’s what they feel will be the most valuable pick in that spot. That said, I’m a bit split on the guys in that there are guys I think would be slam dunks and others that I think would be massive overdrafts. College pitching is the deepest field down at 24, but I would not be opposed to some of the prep bats at 24 especially if you can save money on that pick and get someone like Lonnie White sliding in the second round.
Joshua Baez might have more raw power than any other player in the 2021 Draft class. The @VandyBoys commit lands on our list of the top performers from the @PerfectGameUSA All-American Classic: https://t.co/dHxEAk844G pic.twitter.com/qo7lx4O89G— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 11, 2020
The Braves are known for turning hometown gems into top prospects, recently with Drew Waters and Michael Harris. What is one Georgia native that interests you in the first few rounds of the draft?
Matt- There are a few. Harry Ford would be a dream scenario, but I can’t see him there. Bubba Chandler is another they’ve liked and could take in the first round. I’d love to see Georgia native and Florida JUCO RHP Dylan Ross (100+ velocity) on Day 2, and prep infielder Ryan Spikes, who just plays above his listed tools.
Eric - I mean, Bubba Chandler is the easy pick, but I do wonder how hard it would be to get him away from that Clemson quarterback commitment if he somehow falls to the Braves. Ryan Spikes is another interesting guy for sometime on day two, but I am also a fan of Michael Braswell who is a prep shortstop out of Smyrna. The kid plays above his weight and I think he could be quite good if he physically develops at all.
Gaurav - Matt talked to me about Ryan Spikes before and I really like his potential profile, though his potential on the mound might be higher so he is a candidate for sure. But I think when you talk about Georgia players in this draft the first one that comes to mind is Bubba Chandler. Will he be available at 24? Can you sign him out of his commitment at Clemson? I think Bubba makes the most sense, but someone like Ryan might be a better shot.
Wayne - Harry Ford lives right down the road from me, so I’m pulling for 23 teams to forget he exists. But sadly, I don’t think there’s a chance for the Braves. Bubba Chandler is the choice, but I’ll go against the grain and mention a later round guy. I’d love to see Andres Perez in the Braves system. The Georgia native, and North Georgia baseball star, is more likely a post-draft signee, but I’d like to see him find his way to the Braves, and I’m not going to pass up the chance to hype a DII guy.
Garrett - Bubba Chandler would be a massive pick for the Braves at 24, and while I doubt he would be there I would be very happy with the pick. Not sure I favor him over Williams, but I would throw him right in there with Sweeney and McGreevy. I prefer him as a hitter, but the Braves may as a pitcher which wouldn’t affect my thoughts here much at all. I’ll echo Eric on Michael Braswell. He can do everything fairly well, and there’s a lot of ways you can develop him physically to max out his potential.
Two-sport star Bubba Chandler set a @NOHS_Baseball single-game strikeout record last night.— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) May 6, 2021
He struck out 17 batters in a one-hitter
We have him going in the top 15 in our latest mock draft: https://t.co/WW30inQNb3 pic.twitter.com/0OjjH3gWCo
What are one or more sleeper picks you hope the Braves are looking at for the first or second round?
Matt - I don’t think there are any true sleepers they’re in on in the first round, maybe Tyler Whitaker counts. The Nevada prep OF is a potential five tool guy capable of playing center or right field and showing a lot of ability to work on his weaknesses and adapt with changes he made last winter. That ability to do that is a huge positive as almost everyone will need to make some changes, and showing early aptitude for that before you have pro coaching is a major strength to me. In the second round I think OF Malakhi Knight from Washington is a guy who fits the bill a bit as he is super toolsy and has some untapped potential as a cold weather guy.
Eric - Not sure if he would count as a sleeper as he has been mentioned as a possible option by national outlets, but Ky Bush, the LHP out of St. Mary’s with a heavy fastball that has ticked up this year, seems like he could very easily be in play. Other than that, the Braves going the prep route would be a surprise but it seems like they have at least looked into the possibility. Don’t sleep on Lonnie White Jr. as a potential overslot deal in the second round if the Braves can find the money to pay him as Kiley McDaniel has the Braves as quite interested in his services.
Gaurav - Jaden Hill. Elite potential, but it all depends on his medicals. 70 fastball, 60 slider, 45/50 changeup, and a nice cutter. Immense talent, devastating injury.
Wayne - Jaden Hill. I don’t know that there are any true sleepers in the early rounds this year, although I expect a few surprises.
Garrett - This is a tough draft to pick sleepers from in my opinion, I guess we could consider Jaden Hill a sleeper and if the medicals check out that’s one that would really interest me. The Braves may be less than keen on taking an injured pitcher high, especially after the debacle with Carter Stewart a few seasons ago, but if my top guys are off the board I would love to see them take the chance on talent.
#mlbdraft2021 #spotlight @LSUbaseball #ace @iam_Jaden_Hill 6’4 230 RHP out of #ashdown #arkansas #drafted by @Cardinals out of #highschool‼️ Up to 9️⃣8️⃣ #minoritybaseballprospects pic.twitter.com/VcFBNYt7WT— Minority Baseball Prospects (@MBPTakeover) December 2, 2020
Two seasons ago, the Braves saved up a lot of money and went big on late round prep talent, to what seems to be some early successes. Do you feel this will be a viable strategy this season or should the Braves load up on talent earlier in the draft?
Matt - To an extent. I don’t think they’re in position to save as much money early as they saved on Langeliers and Philip in 2019, so I think this strategy is in play but to a lesser extent.
Eric - Maybe they save a little money here and there to get a guy on day two or three that may be a little overslot, but the Braves have one of the smallest bonus pools in the 2021 draft, so trying to get too cute is a recipe for disappointment with the big bonus pool teams lurking. Just draft the best player available for close to slot and trust your scouts and your data seems to be a much better strategy this year.
Gaurav - With that bonus pool it will be hard to unless they go super cheap in the first (which is still possible). Like Eric said, trust your scouts and draft the best player available.
Wayne - The 20-round draft changes everything and you have to go with the best player available. That said, the Braves have been pretty good at late-round talent of late, but I don’t know that it would be wise to be THE strategy in this shortened draft.
Garrett - I think both bonus pool limitations and the 20 round draft handcuff their ability to go big late because ultimately they can’t take as many risks. I think you see a guy in the 11th like most years and maybe the 12th, but it probably won’t be as deep on high end talent though the Braves have still picked up lower ranked gems (Tucker Davidson).
Two more questions. This one isn’t related to the Braves. If you had the Number 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, which player would you take there?
Matt - That’s a really tough question. I would be going with either Texas prep SS Jordan Lawlar, a five tool player who I think can be an All Star level hitter, and Oklahoma prep RHP Jackson Jobe, the best pitcher in the draft this year and a guy I would be happy to have over either of the Vandy arms that get more attention.
Eric - Factoring in bonus pool considerations, I would look at Kahlil Watson, Marcelo Mayer, and Jordan Lawlar and see where I could save the most money. Once that was determined, I would start floating deals with some guys further down the board and see if you can offer a deal that could get them pushed to my next pick. There seems to be some prime candidates for that in this draft particularly on the prep side.
Gaurav - Kahlil Watson or Jordan Lawler would probably be the pick for me. Marcelo Mayer also would be totally viable here as well but I think I might gamble on Kahlil.
Wayne - Dansby Swanson, Alex Bregman or Brenden Rodgers. Oh, sorry. Wrong shortstop draft, but you get the picture, leaning most towards Kahlil Watson.
Garrett - I always love taking up the middle hitters with top picks, and there is no shortage with Mayer, Watson, and Lawler there for the taking. I lean Mayer myself, with the premium defense, size, and left handed bat there would just be so much to dream on with that pick.
In our latest Mock Draft, we have Wake Forest (N.C.) SS Kahlil Watson going No. 13 to the #Phillies. Here is a video of all the swings he took tonight, including a mammoth home run. pic.twitter.com/BQ964JhwC5— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) May 8, 2021
Final question. Draft big board, who are your top 3 realistic targets with the 24th pick?
Matt - In no particular order it’s Gavin Williams, Benny Montgomery, and Bubba Chandler. That’s being realistic for who the Braves might take. If it was being realistic for just who is on the board it would be Andrew Painter, then a huge gap followed by Montgomery and James Wood, the prep OF who gets comparisons to a young left handed hitting Aaron Judge.
Eric - Trey Sweeney, Gavin Williams, and Bubba Chandler in that order. I just think that Sweeney could be a coup at 24 if the Braves were to pull the trigger there and I do think he will be available (although he definitely seems to be a bit of a riser). Williams has a big time arm and would be great, but I openly question whether he would actually be there at 24 and I think there are opportunities on day two and three to get some interesting arms. Chandler is a big time athlete and would be a great addition either on the mound or at shortstop, but the Clemson commitment is a thing and he is getting some looks earlier in the first round, too.
Gaurav - First and foremost Gavin Williams. Potential to be an absolutely elite arm, which also means he may not even make it to 24. From there it’s hard to ignore the upside of a player like Benny Montgomery should he manage to fall to 24. And likely most realistically Trey Sweeney whose offensive profile is super intriguing - despite the fact that he may have to move to third base.
Wayne - I think the names mentioned by my esteemed colleagues here are the no-brainers. I lean towards Trey Sweeney as my favorite, with probably Gavin Williams second and then Bubba Chandler. Chandler gets the nod over Benny Montgomery for completely illogical reasons — homegrown and his name is Bubba — but that’s how close it is for me to separate those two.
Garrett - Gavin Williams is my number one, though I fear he won’t be there. If not I would love to take Trey Sweeney because I believe in the bat enough to take that bet there. It would be fantastic to add another college bat to the system. At three I’m actually going a little bit of a different path, because I’ve been really intrigued by Peyton Stovall. While his ultimate defensive home is certainly a question I have no qualms about betting on him as a prep bat who can really swing it. It would put a lot of strain on the bat if he eventually had to transition to left field, but I think he has the talent to handle it.