We will not have to wait much longer to see who the Atlanta Braves are going to pick in the 2022 MLB Draft. The intrigue and excitement level surrounding the Braves’ draft certainly got a boost when they traded three prospects for the 35th overall pick in the draft which gives them a top 10 bonus pools. All of us who have been trying to handicap what the Braves are going to do had to re-evaluate, well, a lot of things in the wake of that move. To get a sense of where are heads are at going into Sunday, we got the BP MiLB crew together to give both our hopes for Day One of the draft as well as our predictions for what is going to happen. We all look forward to being very wrong. Enjoy!
Matt: There is less a guy I really want to see the Braves take and more of a small group of guys. Brock Porter would probably be #1 on the list, but he isn’t the answer because he’s the least likely of the group to even be available at 20. Then there is the injured, but very talented Dylan Lesko - another guy who is somewhat questionable to be available at 20. So if we’re talking about the most realistic player to be available it would be Cade Horton, who has some of the best pure stuff of anyone in this draft, high school or college. Horton is a bit of a risk, but adding pick #35 gives you the ability to take a swing at an upside play here.
The answer to who I expect the Braves to take changed a lot this week. Up until Monday morning, my answer would have been Cooper Hjerpe, probably the best of the safer college arms the Braves have been linked to - and they’ve been linked to a lot of them in these past few months. However, Monday’s trade gave them a lot more money to work with, and more money means more possibilities that weren’t there before. Andrew Hoffmann wasn’t a future ace, but he was a very solid pitching prospect. As a team that doesn’t have a very deep farm system and a team that does have some needs at the trade deadline, you don’t trade one of your good assets for a prospect unless you have someone you really like the upside on more than what you already have. Until very recently I would have said the Braves take Prielipp here at 20, but it now feels like a different college arm will be the pick. I’d guess it is Gabriel Hughes as the pick as a college arm who has some upside and will actually be available. It’s not my favorite choice, but I see a pick like this happening at #20. Should one of the prep arms I mentioned above fall I think that could change this, but if you were asking me to make a wager on the pick under the assumption they aren’t available it would be on Hughes right now.
Gaurav: I had a pretty strong opinion leading into the week that the Braves were going to go Hjerpe. Based on draft history, you almost expect the Braves to go with a fringe arm that may be underslot so that they can go after a prep player who might be originally more expensive. Well, the trade with Kansas City pretty much changed everything. With the amount of money the Braves now have access to - that changes everything. The Braves can go after someone they were previously linked to, like Prielipp - a consensus top 10 pick heading into the season without any issues of signing him. The player I would like then to go after would be Cade Horton out of Oklahoma.
Garrett: There are a number of players I want, but I think the players that stand out to me most are the prep options that could have the potential to slide to 20. Like Matt mentioned, Porter and Lesko would be absolutely fantastic options, as would the prep shortstop from Texas Jett Williams who seems more likely to make it to 20. Williams’s all around offensive game and athleticism stand out to me among that second tier of prep players.
As for who I think the Braves will pick, the safe bet is to go with recent history and predict a college arm like Hjerpe. I think that’s an option, but if it’s the goal, why on earth trade away two prospects just to do what you had planned to do anyway? The prior picks of college arms were more a case of how the draft talent shook out, and with the unpredictability of this draft I’m not so sure the Braves have a reason to just play it safe in the first round and see what happens after that. They could go get Williams or Lesko, or even Jackson Ferris. The Braves are likely not pigeonholed into taking a college arm now, though I think if they do take one, they would prefer the projectibility and offspeed stuff of Gabriel Hughes. Keep in mind they wanted Schwellenbach in the first round last year before medical red flags, spent a lot of money on AJ Smith-Shawver, and went and got Spencer Strider the prior year. A strong right handed pitcher with a high velocity fastball/slider combo, a relative lack of experience pitching, and the body to project for more velocity is EXACTLY what the Braves seem to like from their pitching prospects.
Eric: I honestly thought this draft was gearing up to be reasonably easy to predict for the Braves. We were going to see the draft play out in front of them and then the Braves were going to pick a college arm that they both like and who would save them a bit of money so that they can go after some Day Two overslot guys again. However, the trade for the 35th overall pick changes things considerably. I don’t think the Braves make that trade unless they REALLY wanted that extra $2.2 million for something other than just another guy at that slot. As a result, I do think the Braves have some sort of plan up their sleeve that is more than just “we get to draft another player”. If it were my choice, I would be looking at some of the mid-first round prep guys like Dylan Lesko (ideal), Jett Williams (also great), or Cole Young (less exciting, but still fine) and try to get them down to pick 20 with a healthy bonus offer.
Do I think that happens when the draft goes down? Possibly..the Braves have some real options now and I think having that pick at 35 provides them with a ton of flexibility in terms of their gameplan. If a prep guy they like, say a Jett Williams or Dylan Lesko, does fall to them at 20, they can at least make a reasonable offer for that player. If they have a couple of the Tommy John arms that they are high on, they can pick a guy like Peyton Pallette and still have bonus pool flexibility to go overslot later. I think ultimately the Braves let the draft come to them and have multiple plans in place based on their board and who is available. This draft has all the makings of the most exciting draft night since the Braves took Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, and Kyle Muller….hopefully it turns out that way.