We’re inching closer to the MLB Draft, and with it, we continue our preview of prospects who have a good chance of being selected by Atlanta with the 24th overall pick.
Easily the most intriguing two-way player in this draft, Bryce Eldridge is bound to be a first round pick. Simply put, Eldridge is an absolute unit. The 18-year-old stands at a towering 6’7, 220-pounds, giving him an intimidating presence both on the mound and at the plate. The only real question about Eldridge seems to be whether teams view him as a pitcher or a hitter once he makes the leap to pro ball.
Going into his senior season at James Madison High School in Virginia, the Alabama commit was viewed solely as a hitter at the next level. However, Eldridge took the next step on the mound, touching 96 MPH with his fastball and flashing two above-average breaking pitches. That showing was enough to warrant his status as a true two-way player. Plus, given his stature, there is the significant possibility a team takes his 6’7 frame and is able to tap into it, making Eldridge more of a power arm and elevating his velocity.
If teams decide to take him as a hitter, they’ll have a few different options on what to do with him. Defensively, most scouts tend to think he’s destined for first base with some thinking he could excel in one of the corner outfield spots given his plus arm.
Why he fits with the Braves
There’s been so much talk this draft about the need for the Braves to take a high upside position player, presumably a prep star. Not to mention the fact that Alex Anthopolous and company have shown a preference to take higher ceiling arms in the early rounds. Eldridge fits the bill in both categories.
The potential for what Eldridge could be is too tantalizing for the Braves to pass up, in my opinion. For a farm system severely lacking in premium positional talent, Eldridge is the kind of bat that bumps the system up a couple of notches.
At the plate, Eldridge possesses a quick, smooth swing that generates a lot of force and leverage, giving him easy raw power. Not only is the power there, but his feel for the zone has come a tremendous way in his senior season. In his final high school campaign, the big left-handed hitting first baseman took home Gatorade Player of the Year honors for the state of Virginia after swatting eight homers with a staggering OPS of 1.716. Speaking of Gatorade Player of the Year honors for the state of VIrginia, know who the recipient was in 2021-22? None other than current Braves farmhand Seth Keller. Just a little interesting fun fact for you there. On the mound, Eldridge posted a 9-0 record with a 1.06 ERA to go along with 66 strikeouts in just 39.2 innings pitched. It’s numbers like those that have made Eldridge one of the most tantalizing players in this year’s draft.
Obviously, as mentioned above, if the Braves do take Eldridge, they’ll have to make the decision of what to do with him. Ultimately if they take him at 24, I think they go with him as a hitter as the upside there is just too great to ignore. However, if things don’t pan out, there’s at least the possibility of trying him out on the mound. The Braves have never shied away from guys with true two-way potential, as they took Michael Harris II as a hitter when most teams envisioned him as a pitcher, and there’s no reason to think they don’t love what they see in Eldridge. Atlanta needs top-tier position players in their farm system and that’s why I think Eldridge is the perfect player to start that trend off.
Why he doesn’t fit with the Braves
There’s a lot of reasons to love Eldridge as a prospect. But at the same time, there’s a tremendous amount of risk involved. It’s because of that risk that I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that the Braves are even considering him with their first selection.
Since AA has taken over, he hasn’t necessarily steered away from higher upside prep guys, like Owen Murphy, JR Ritchie, and others. But we haven’t really seen him do it with position players.
Another reason I think the Braves may opt to go elsewhere for their first selection, is the priority they make on defensive value. Now, that’s not to say there isn’t any value currently there with Eldridge as it’s certainly possible he ends up in a corner outfield spot and uses his strong arm to benefit the team that way. Still, given his size, I think it’s more likely he’s a long-term first baseman and I just can’t see the Braves spending their first round pick on a first baseman.
I think AA and the front office, if they do decide to go with a position player, will try and target an up-the-middle player such as George Lombard Jr., Colin Houck (if available), or someone similar which would weed out players like Eldridge.
Given the current state of the farm system, there’s never been a more appropriate time to take a chance on a positional talent such as Eldridge. But as far as whether or not the Braves actually make that leap and do so, I’d say it leans more likely Eldridge ends up elsewhere than in a Braves uniform when it’s all said and done. But hey, I’ve been wrong before and I’d certainly be glad to be wrong here.