As we approach the 2023 MLB season we thought it would be a good idea to look back at some of the recent drafts to see just how the Atlanta Braves fared with their picks. Obviously it’s way too early to judge any of these recent drafts since these players have barely begun their careers, for either better or worse - but that doesn’t mean we can’t review what the early indicators look like.
Today we take a look at the 2020 MLB Draft. Remember that this draft was shortened to just five rounds because of Covid. Also remember that just before the world shut down, amateur seasons were just barely getting under way, and scouts didn’t get another chance to get back on the road before this draft. Not only was this draft shorter, but scouts had less to look over and less opportunities to do so - which had the potential to make 2020 a draft that saw weird results in the future.
So with that we take a look at how the Braves did.
Round 1: Jared Shuster, LHP, Wake Forest
With the 25th pick of the draft the Braves took Wake Forest lefty Jared Shuster, a pick that drew interesting reactions from some both positively and negatively. Shuster to his credit has worked, and pushed his way up through the minors to find himself knocking on the door of the big leagues. After 27 games split between Double-A and Triple-A last year (10 in Gwinnett), Shuster finds himself currently potentially leading the race for the fifth starter spot in big league camp right now. This shouldn’t surprise anyone as he was ranked by some as the top prospect in the organization this offseason following his 2022 that saw a combined 3.29 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in the upper levels of the minors. It’s too early to say anything about a player who hasn’t made his big league debut less than three years out from his draft, but he is at least on a good track.
Round 2: No pick
The Braves gave this pick up when they signed Will Smith ahead of the 2019 season. Smith was dumped at the 2022 deadline, but despite his up and down time in Atlanta he played a significant role in helping the Braves win the 2021 World Series. There was no pick, but considering this pick helped the Braves get a ring it can’t be a negative.
Round 3: Jesse Franklin, OF, Michigan
The Braves took college outfielder Jesse Franklin in the third round, a player who came into the spring expecting to go higher but an off-field accident cost him the start of the 2020 season and then the season shut down. 2020 became a lost year for Franklin and he showed some rust in early 2021 before finding his stroke at the plate and hitting 24 homers to earn him a spot in the Arizona Fall League. He started 2022 in Double-A, but after just 15 games he suffered an injury that cost him the remainder of the season. It’s been a tough path considering he has basically lost two out of the last three seasons, but Franklin did only turn 24 during the offseason and did show promise in what we saw in 2021. It’s still too soon to call.
Round 4: Spencer Strider, RHP, Clemson
The Braves surprised a lot of people with this pick. Spencer Strider was a top recruit out of high school that turned down the draft to attend college and pitched out of the bullpen as a freshman. He missed the 2019 season as a result of Tommy John surgery and made just four starts for 12 innings before the 2020 season was called to an end. Yet the Braves happened to catch him in that small window and saw enough to grab a player not everyone expected to be selected in this short draft and signed him to an over-slot bonus to lock him up. After a record setting rookie season, Strider has more than made this pick worth it and already qualifies as a home run of a pick in the fourth round after posting a 2.87 ERA and 0.995 WHIP to finish second to Michael Harris II in NL Rookie of the Year voting last year. He could be fronting the Braves rotation for a very long time after already establishing himself as one of the top pitchers in the game - not just top young pitchers.
Round 5: Bryce Elder, RHP, Texas
As if Strider and what we may see from Shuster isn’t enough, the Braves also got Bryce Elder in the fifth round of the 2020 MLB Draft. All Elder did was make 10 appearances, including nine starts, down the stretch for the Braves last year and mostly held his own with a 3.17 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. Like Shuster, Elder is also competing for the fifth rotation spot, though he is no longer a prospect after crossing the threshold for rookie eligibility last season. Still while no longer a rookie Elder isn’t a completely finished product and we can’t judge his career yet - though early returns are positive for this pick as well.
The Braves had just four picks in the 2020 MLB Draft and managed to grab one of the top pitchers in baseball, a guy some consider their current top prospect, another who made nine starts down the stretch in last year’s pennant race while holding his own, and a fourth guy who got to the Arizona Fall League the last time he finished a season healthy. It may be too early to judge the class, but it’s hard to argue with results like these.