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2023 MLB Draft Preview: College players to watch

Taking a look at some college players to know as their season has just opened. Plus some comments on the loss of Dana Brown and his replacement.

COLLEGE BASEBALL: APR 20 Texas at Texas State
Tanner Witt
Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the 2023 MLB season getting started with spring training, the 2023 amateur baseball season is also getting underway. So that makes now as good of a time as any to look at some prospects the Atlanta Braves could potentially target in the 2023 MLB Draft.

The Braves first round pick comes in at No. 24, their second round pick is No. 59, and the pick for losing Dansby Swanson is No. 70. They also have pick No. 94 in the third round, so despite winning the NL East again in 2022, the team will have four of the Top 100 picks in the 2023 draft.

It is of note that scouting director Dana Brown is gone, as he took the general manager job in Houston. Some may worry that could affect the Braves draft going forward, but I don’t think it has the impact some are thinking it could. Brown was good at his job, that is why Houston wanted him after all, but he didn’t do everything himself. There were plenty of scouts and other members of the front office who contributed to the Braves strong picks in the last few drafts, and most of those people are still in place. The Braves haven’t formally replaced Brown, but they do still have Ronit Shah, the assistant director of amateur scouting in place - a former member of the Astros front office by the way, and I highlight him as he is presently the highest ranked member of the front office on the team’s front office directory.

So lets take a look at some guys who could intrigue the Braves this summer. For this edition we will stick with college players, and high school players will come via a second article.

Maui Ahuna, SS, Tennessee - A transfer from Kansas, Maui Ahuna is a player who is a bit of a wild card in the first round right now following a disappointing summer for him and the upcoming test that will be facing SEC pitching on a daily basis. Ahuna isn’t very big at 6’1 and 170, but he’s a plus runner and above average or slightly better fielder, and has a fairly similar profile to Dansby Swanson offensively - though from the left side. Ahuna is a guy that today would probably go somewhere around #24, but his season could see him rise or fall depending on his success. As of now Ahuna has not played yet this spring as the NCAA looks into his eligibility, but the season just began so it is too soon to be concerned there.

Cole Carrigg, ?, San Diego State - Yes, the ‘?’ where position goes was intentional. Cole Carrigg could be a centerfielder, but then again he may be a shortstop, and some even think his future is at catcher. What he is is a 6’3, 190 switch hitting, plus runner who makes good contact. He’s a below average power guy, but he presents as arguably the most interesting position player in all of college baseball long term as you could be talking about a legit centerfielder-caliber athlete behind the plate.

George Klassen, RHP, Minnesota - If Carrigg is the most interesting position player, George Klassen is the most interesting pitcher in the country today. He hasn’t been seen much due to Tommy John in 2021 and briefly returning last year, but the reports on him over the summer and fall were excellent. Klassen has touched 102 MPH with his fastball and can get swings and misses with his curve and slider. In addition to his lack of college innings, he also has challenges with command and effort in his delivery - but reports from fall say that he has made real progress there. This will be a big year for him to prove what he can be, but the stuff is certainly going to get people’s attention whether or not he can be developed into a future starter.

Rhett Lowder, RHP, Wake Forest - Rhett Lowder is ranked in a spot that makes it less than likely that he falls to #24 as things stand today, but that could be where the Braves having four Top 100 picks comes into play. We all know how the Braves love their Wake Forest arms, due to Wake being excellent on the analytical side in developing their pitchers. Well Lowder is the most talented to date with a plus change and a fastball and slider that have each flashed as plus at times to go with above average command. Lowder isn’t going to be the highest ceiling college arm in the draft, but he does have upside as well as a fairly high floor for being a pitcher. That’s something the Braves love with their pitchers, a good mix of upside with likelihood to reach at least some of it. So that and his Wake Forest background make him a guy that the Braves will at the very least be taking a hard look at.

Yohandy Morales, 3B, Miami - Yohandy Morales has been a potential high pick before, when he came out of high school, but chose to go to college instead. This time through he is now a third baseman instead of a shortstop, but has a similar offensive profile as a plus power guy with some feel to hit. The shortstop background also helps him defensively, as he is an average fielder with a plus arm at third.

Will Sanders, RHP, South Carolina - If Will Sanders sounds familiar to you, that is because he is a player I talked about coming out of high school in Georgia back in 2020. The 6’6 right hander is up to 215 pounds and still has a little room to add more weight to give him some projection. Presently Sanders doesn’t have a plus pitch, but he does have four that project as all above-average with solid command. He represents a kid who a team could see promise in getting into a system, adding a little more strength to, and seeing if he could just bump things up a slight amount to really have him take off. Like Lowder, he represents a mix of ceiling and floor considering his arsenal and ability to throw strikes.

Matt Shaw, SS, Maryland - Matt Shaw was the MVP of the Cape Cod League last summer and presents a bunch of interesting tools, as he could be above-average to plus in hitting, power, and speed. The contact ability is real, as are the home run totals he has posted (22 last year). The biggest drawback is that most don’t think he sticks at short longterm, as his arm is probably not good enough and while his defense is sound at short, it isn’t strong enough to make up for the arm. Still he might be my favorite college bat in this draft.

Kyle Teel, C, Virginia - Kyle Teel is a player I talked about quite a bit back in 2020 when he came out of a New Jerey high school. However he pulled out of the draft just before it started, despite being very likely to go in that five round draft. Teel didn’t quite have the summer most hoped for last year, but has produced in college since getting to school. He’s an athletic catcher with good defense and up until last summer a guy who made regular contact. His 2023 season will really help to determine where he goes, but considering how the Braves feel about never having enough catching and a tool set that appeals to the Braves, he is likely on their radar this spring.

Juaron Watts-Brown, RHP, Oklahoma State - As of right now Juaron Watts-Brown going #24 would seem a bit high, but he has a profile that the Braves like in their pitchers. Watts-Brown has four average or better pitches, with his slider being a potentially plus offering, and has solid command. He is also fairly newer to playing baseball full time, as he was also a high school football player. He missed 2021 injured from a football injury, made nine quality starts for Long Beach State last year, then went to the Cape Cod League and stood out before ending up transferring to Oklahoma State. This is a chance for a guy without a ton of mileage on his arm to raise his profile into a first rounder, if he can keep pitching like we saw in the Cape over the Big 12 season.

Brock Wilken, 3B, Wake Forest - I couldn’t mention Lowder and the Braves looking at a Wake Forest player without assuming that they’re not also watching his potential first rounder teammate, Brock Wilken. The 2021 Cape Cod MVP is a big time slugger, though has some questions about contact and if he has the glove to stick at third. However while the Braves likely watch Lowder, it can be assumed that they will also be taking a close look while having a front row seat to see Wilken.

Tanner Witt, RHP, Texas - No, Tanner Witt isn’t related to Bobby Witt, but he is the son of former big leaguer Kevin Witt. He made just two starts last year, and looked good doing so, but blew out his arm. His status for this year isn’t fully known other than he is out until at least April, but he’s a player with two poential plus pitches in his fastball and curve, plus a slider that can get swings and misses and a solid change. The Braves showed last year that they aren’t afraid of taking a big swing at an injured pitcher with upside, so Witt makes this list.

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