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2019 Atlanta Braves Draft Review

Atlanta utilized a huge pool to rake in talent including 2022 Rookie of the Year Michael Harris II

2023 BBWAA Awards Dinner Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The 2019 draft was an astonishingly productive class for the Atlanta Braves, already producing key contributors to a division title run. From young stars to trade pieces to still developing prospects it was one of the best the Braves have put together and showed an amazing utilization of pick value. Ultimately, the draft needed to be as good as it was as the Braves were reeling from not signing 8th overall pick Carter Stewart the prior season and needed to capitalize on the top 10 pick that gave them. It would be their last pick in the top of the draft to date and the bonus pool from having two first round picks allowed the Braves to do a lot with their money.

For a complete list of draftees check our signing tracker from that draft.

1st Round, 9th Overall - Shea Langeliers, C

The crew did not love the pick of Shea Langeliers in this draft, especially given how high we were on William Contreras as the Braves future behind the plate, but it did work out in a good way for them. Langeliers was the best defensive catcher in the draft and did nothing in his professional career to indicate he wasn’t a solid major league player. He gunned down runners at a 42% clip in Double-A in 2021 while also contributing 22 home runs at the plate. This earned him a nod in Top 100 lists to start 2021, with his peak being a 54th overall ranking from Baseball America. Braves fans were excited for his future, but ultimately the bomb was dropped on that when Langeliers was part of the primary package of players traded to the Oakland Athletics for Matt Olson.

Langeliers went on to have huge early success in his first two weeks for the Athletics Triple-A affiliate before fading a bit to put up decent numbers the rest of the season. He was called up to the major leagues for 40 games to end the season and struggled in his first taste of the big leagues though he did throw out 8 of 11 attempted base stealers. Langeliers figures to be a big part of the Athletics future plans and will replace Sean Murphy who was traded to Atlanta this offseason. This pick worked out well enough for the Braves in the value they got in trades, but even at the time the hope from the Battery Power crew was that Atlanta would select prep outfielder Corbin Carroll. In hindsight that would have been wise, as Carroll went 16th overall to the Diamondbacks and has turned himself into arguably the top prospect in the game.

1st round, 21st overall - Braden Shewmake, SS

Shewmake was seen as a bit of a reach at 24, and since then he has proven that correct for all of the reasons we did not see coming. Shewmake was expected to be an above average hitter with questionable defense but instead he is the organization’s best defensive shortstop but has been held back by poor offensive numbers. The numbers don’t tell the entire story, as underlying metrics like exit velocity and hard hit rate do prove there is reason for hope, but so far he has yet to put it into games. That is until his strong performance in this year’s spring training which now has some believing he could be in the major leagues this season.

I personally do not see Shewmake as a major league player this season, but he is certainly in some way a major league baseball player. His defensive ability is too good to not get him a bench role and if he can put together those flashes of talent more consistently there is still starter upside. The verdict is still out on this pick, but had the Braves gone with Daniel Espino (Cleveland, 24th overall) as our Matt Powers famously hoped for they could have had a top 20 overall prospect.

2nd round, 60th overall - Beau Philip, SS

This pick was a disaster from the start, and it’s really not even clear why this pick was ever made. It was a significant reach at the time and Philip hasn’t really done anything to dispel the confusion over this selection. It did save some money which may have helped the Braves sign some later round picks, but that’s about all of the value Atlanta got here.

3rd round, 98th overall - Michael Harris II, OF

This is the single pick that made this draft special, as the Braves took a pre-draft workout and turned it into a rookie of the year and franchise cornerstone. Harris was widely regarded as a better pitching prospect than a position player, but Dana Brown took one look at his offensive potential in a workout and was sold on Harris as a hitter. That was immediately proven to be a genius choice, as Harris made it to Low-A as an 18 year old and impressed us so much in that time we already considered him a top five prospect in the system. He earned a spot at the alternate site in 2020 and all fall and spring we heard whispers that thought Harris was the next great Braves prospect.

2021 came around and we finally got to see a stronger, more experienced Harris in action and while he didn’t fully display his talent throughout the season it was clear he was a high ceiling power bat that could defend the center field position at a high level. In 2022 he spent two months in Double-A before a promotion directly to the major leagues that was a key piece in a monumental Atlanta turnaround. Harris put up a 136 wRC+, 4.8 fWAR, and was a gold glove candidate in center field on his way to winning Rookie of the Year and helping lead the Braves to a fifth straight NL East title. Now backed by a 72 million dollar extension Harris is trending to be one of the best draft steals in the organization’s history.

4th round, 127th overall - Kasey Kalich, RHP

Kalich was an interesting relief arm for the Braves, but didn’t immediately get on the field due to a broken wrist that had to be surgically repaired. When he did play with Rome in 2021 he had a solid season, but is more notably the player the Braves traded to Kansas City to get World Series MVP Jorge Soler. I’ll take that for fourth round value.

5th round, 157th overall - Stephen Paolini, OF

This is one of those picks we loved as a group as the team took a chance on an athlete with little exposure in a cold weather league. Ultimately, Paolini has not put up a great career and looks to be very unlikely to have a major league future, but for a fifth round pick he was at minimum a very intriguing prospect. Paolini had a solid second half in 2022 and may be on his way to High-A to start 2023, and the upside is still there, but he has a long path to carve out to be a major league player. Ultimately these later picks usually don’t work out, but taking a chance on a guy can sometimes pay dividends.

7th round, 217th overall - Darius Vines, RHP

Vines was an intriguing pickup in the 7th round for the Braves, getting just a $127,500 signing bonus out of Cal State-Bakersfield. Two years later and the now 23 year old was starting as an old player for a Single-A pitcher, but quickly earned his way out of that. With plus athleticism and an arsenal of above average secondaries Vines cruised with a 2.25 ERA in eight Augusta starts before finishing the season with a 3.24 ERA at Rome. Vines struggled at the outset with Mississippi in 2022 but was one of the system’s best pitchers in the second half and ended up with 156 strikeouts in 140 23 innings.

Vines earned his way onto Atlanta’s 40 man roster to start this season, and to get that caliber player out of a 7th rounder is already an amazing pick. Still, there is more to come with Vines as he has the potential to be a solid major league starter although he is still looking for improvement in certain areas. Velocity never improved for him so he is more of a junk ball guy and on days when his command isn’t sharp he is prone to being hit hard. His ceiling is probably limited to a fourth starter type, but again any sort of major league outcome from a seventh rounder is already a win, and more so one that sees him turn into a decent major league starter.

8th Round, 247th overall - Ricky DeVito, RHP

Ricky DeVito had some hype going into the 2021 season due to his nasty split-finger fastball, but was unfortunately injured early in the season. This did not stop DeVito being part of the trade to the Pirates for Richard Rodriguez. That trade did not work well for either side with Rodriguez going down in flames in Atlanta and DeVito struggling in his second taste of High-A in 2022.

11th round, 337th overall - Vaughn Grissom, SS

Vaughn Grissom is the second of the massive steals for the Braves in this draft, and it’s really quite fascinating he didn’t go higher than this. Grissom was a player the Braves described as always hitting when they came to watch, he had a major league body to go along with major league exit velocities, and he played on the same team as top five pick Riley Greene. Still, he somehow flew under the radar and the Braves gave him well over slot money to sign in the 11th round. Grissom has done nothing but hit since being drafted and got himself into top 100 conversations before being a surprise call up to the major leagues in August. Grissom then hit a home run in his debut and became a contributor to the Braves down the stretch to hold down the fort after injuries to Ozzie Albies and Orlando Arcia.

Now, despite doubts about his defense and underlying metrics to suggest he still needs to make offensive adjustments, Grissom is being all but handed the starting shortstop job this season. The Braves feel confident that his defense has improved enough to play the position, and offensively no one really doubts he has the ability to make the adjustments he needs to continue his minor league success. Getting a major league player with an 11th round pick is a huge win, but getting a quality major leaguer this low is a rare find that has helped ease the loss of Dansby Swanson this winter.

16th round, 487th overall - Joey Estes, RHP

Estes got a massive signing bonus of $500,000 in the 16th round, and in his first full professional season he proved that money worth spending. Estes dazzled as a teenager for the Augusta GreenJackets, posting a 2.91 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 99 innings to vault himself into top prospect status. The Braves then moved him as part of the aforementioned Matt Olson trade, turning that 16th round pick into part of a key contributor to the major league club. Estes had a couple of injuries and was mediocre in his first season with Oakland, but he still has a ton of talent and is only 21 years old.

18th round, 547th overall - Mahki Backstrom, 1B

It is no secret that we liked Mahki Backstrom a lot when he was drafted, but he has unfortunately not yet lived up to our hopes. Backstrom’s power is absurd as he regularly posts elite exit velocities, but he just hasn’t yet hit enough to maintain top prospect status. Backstrom is still only 21 years old and has all of the talent in the world and is a good prospect for an 18th rounder. Still, he needs to show more for us to say that $400,000 signing bonus was well spent.

19th round, 577th overall - Kadon Morton, CF

Morton started this season in a similar position to Backstrom as an elite athlete who hadn’t yet forged his skills, but he made major strides in 2022 and has reignited a spark of hope. Morton still strikes out a lot, far more than is acceptable for a prospect to be considered a reasonable probability major leaguer, but the athletic talent is just unbelievable. Morton has power, speed, defensive ability, and a cannon of an arm that earned him a football scholarship from Oklahoma, and if he can unlock his hitting potential still has major league upside. Still, signing him away from that Oklahoma commitment took a lot of money and that $450,000 hasn’t yet been paid off.

24th round, 727th overall - Bryce Ball, 1B

Bryce Ball hits the ball a long way. It’s great, and he was fun to watch take batting practice for the Rome Braves. Ball hit the ball hard enough and consistently enough for us to consider him a top 30 prospect despite being a likely designated hitter, and he’s put up solid numbers at every level. The Braves utilized him in a trade to get Joc Pederson from the Chicago Cubs in the first of those important 2021 trades, and while Joctober was all the rage in Atlanta, Ball was steadily improving with the Cubs. Last season Ball hit .265/.357/.405 with the Cubs Double-A affiliate while drastically cutting his strikeout rates, and with his raw power and plate discipline he could be a contributor in Chicago in the future. He is also 24 years old and will need to put the power into games with swiftness to get that opportunity.

27th round, 817th overall - Indigo Diaz, RHP

Indigo Diaz was a surprise star for Rome in 2021, striking out an unbelievable 54 batters in 27 innings. Across two levels Diaz struck out 83 in 45 innings while posting a 1.20 ERA and there was hope he could be a major league player by 2022. Unfortunately his command regressed in 2022 and he had a bit of a rough season, but his overall numbers were decent and there is still some major league potential there. Diaz was traded for Lucas Luetge this offseason, who will likely have a bullpen spot in Atlanta this season.

33rd round, 997th overall - Justin Yeager, RHP

Yeager is a classic flamethrowing reliever with upper-90’s heat and absolutely no clue where it is going. He struck out 81 batters in 52 13 innings in 2022 while earning his way up to Double-A. Yeager has major league potential but huge risk due to his high walk rates and was part of the trade that brought Atlanta Sean Murphy.

40th round, 1207th overall - Cade Bunnell, 2B

Cade Bunnell is probably not a major leaguer, but it’s always fun to talk about the last pick in a draft especially when they’re an extreme hitter. Bunnell has gargantuan strikeout rates with 365 in 1043 career plate appearances, but also a walk rate near 20% and 20+ home run power from the second base position.. His overall three true outcome rate is 57.6% in his professional career and was 57.9% last season. It’s an interesting profile and the Braves like him enough to have given him at bats in major league camp this spring. Bunnell’s strikeout rates are far too high for him to be a major leaguer unless he makes major adjustments, but even getting a Double-A player out of a 40th round pick is a decent outcome.

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