While the 2023 MLB Draft is still a few months away, there’s never a bad time to go back and look at how things have shaken out for Atlanta in recent drafts thus far.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the 2021 Braves draft class which saw all but one of their picks sign — with 20th-rounder Ty Evans opting to honor his commitment to Florida instead. And despite trading two of their first 6 picks in that draft, there are still some potential everyday players the Braves selected two years ago.
The Top Ten
With their first pick in the 2021 draft, the Braves selected Ryan Cusick, a big righthander out of Wake Forest. Possessing a dynamic fastball that topped out at 102 MPH, he appeared in just 6 games for Augusta before being shipped off to Oakland alongside Shea Langeliers and others in the Matt Olson deal.
Taking Spencer Schwellenbach in the second round, the Braves were 100 percent banking on the upside he showed during his time at Nebraska. A two-way player with the Cornhuskers, Schwellenbach tore his UCL and needed Tommy John surgery his junior season which sidelined him for the time being. The Braves took Schwellenbach as a starting pitcher and while he has yet to make his debut in a Braves uniform, with the amount of potential he possesses, there’s a good chance the wait is going to be worth it assuming he returns to the form he showed at Nebraska. We should expect to see him make his pro debut sometime early this season.
Potentially the biggest steal — if you can call a third round pick a steal — was southpaw Dylan Dodd out of Southeast Missouri State. Originally viewed as a cost-saving selection to pry the likes of AJ Smith-Shawyer and Tyler Collins away from their commitments, Dodd was a 5th-year senior sign for just $122,500. Since being selected, Dodd has only increased his profile, rocketing up prospect boards to becoming in serious contention for a spot in the Atlanta rotation in the near future. Especially given his performances this spring.
Shortstops Cal Conley and Luke Waddell were the next two picks off the board and both have performed fairly well so far in their pro careers. Conley and Waddell started off their tenure with the Braves in 2021 very on two different notes with Conley finishing with a .611 OPS in 35 games. Meanwhile Waddell raked at Rome, earning a spot in the Arizona Fall League. Conley would earn a spot in the AZL too just one year later after bouncing back and making his way up to Rome. While Conley projects more as an everyday shortstop, both guys could provide value as top-end utility players at the very least.
Sixth-rounder Justyn-Henry Malloy out of Georgia Tech was initially drafted as a third baseman but quickly made the move to the outfield where he produced solid numbers in his first full year of pro ball, making it all the way to Gwinnett.
While some Braves faithful had visions of Malloy opening the year at Truist Park in left field, Atlanta shipped him off to Detroit in exchange for right handed reliever Joe Jimenez.
With Detroit in spring training, Malloy has produced a .792 OPS in 14 plate appearances.
Atlanta went with high upside with their 7th and 8th round picks in AJ Smith-Shawyer and Tyler Collins.
Both prep standouts, Smith-Shawyer appears to be the best pick in this draft so far for Atlanta, becoming the top overall prospect in our preseason rankings headed into this season.
While the numbers aren’t exactly eye-popping, the tools certainly are. Smith-Shawyer has struck out 119 batters in his one-and-a-half pro seasons in just 77 innings. Originally viewed as one of the tougher signs for the Braves to get in the draft, the righthander has the potential to be a frontline starter in Atlanta if he is able to put it together. Granted, he is still a very raw prospect being only 19 at Low-A. But still, all the pieces are there for Smith-Shawyer to be a vital part of Atlanta’s future plans.
Collins is a solid prospect in his own right, possessing elite speed and a good feel for the bat. He got off to a strong start in the FCL in 2021, posting an .877 OPS in 23 games. However, he appeared in just 4 games in 2022. So while we haven’t seen that much of the speedy centerfielder, there’s still time for the Braves to tap into that potential.
Ninth-round pick Liam McGill played just 12 games for the Braves in the FCL before retiring in March, 2022.
For their 10th-round pick, the Braves went a long ways from home, choosing 6-foot-6 righty Dylan Spain from Hawaii-Hilo College. Spain made it to Rome where he posted a 5.30 ERA in 36 games before being dealt to Colorado this offseason for Sam Hilliard.
The Rest of the Bunch
As for picks 11-20, the Braves haven’t seen much early returns just yet.
For the most part, the Braves selected a lot of college players to help fill out some depth at the lower levels but there are a few guys who could turn in some decent careers.
While they haven’t shown much to this point, guys like LHP Adam Shoemaker (11th-rounder) and LHP Kris Anglin (16th-rounder) are still young enough to have some decent potential and time to work their way into future plans. RHP Andrew Hoffman (12th-rounder) and catcher Tyler Tolve (17th-rounder) have shown glimpses of solid potential as well.
All in all, the Braves have gotten a decent amount of value out of their 2021 draft class despite none of their picks making it to the show just yet. Using players in trades to acquire players like Olson, Jimenez and Hilliard, the Braves in turn might have found some significant value still within the system capable of producing at the major league level someday soon.