The June 4th draft is just over a fortnight away and the obvious question is this: who could the Braves be targeting for their first couple of picks? What follows is a look at both History and the ‘State of the Farm’ with an aim to discern that answer. I will be checking the following data points:
- Past picks in the first two rounds
- Picks by position
- Picks by region
- Picks by their career success
- Positional Needs
Let’s dig in…
Braves Draft History
I limited the scope of this task to the first two rounds for the past thirty years. This was done for multiple reasons, but the primary ones involved (a) the sheer magnitude of the task; (b) improved chance of draft picks being ‘successful’; (c) the draft gets a bit ‘unruly’ after the first couple of rounds; and (d) this meshes well with that Top 100 list from Baseball America.
So with that, here is a list of every player drafted by Atlanta before round 3 over the past thirty years, along with some positional, regional, and career “peak” information:
* – DNS means “Did Not Sign”; 3 players out of the 76 listed… that’s not too bad.
The Braves have picks #32 and #67 for 2014, so generally speaking, this table is consistent with that area of the draft.
There are obvious exceptions: from 1986-1991, Atlanta had six picks in the top 6 positions. But at the same time, you can look at the names selected and note that there was obviously a very high degree of variability to the success that each of those players had in their professional careers… literally everything from a “bust” to the Hall of Fame.
The next charts show these picks broken down by position, region, and age when drafted. Career success is tracked for every category: The two yellow columns are your “bust/non-bust” indicators. If a player rises to the AAA level or better, then I call the pick a “success.” Anything less, than no. The “AAAA” players are those who were unable to sustain a career at the major league level, though still enjoyed some time there. There are still five players recently selected that I have opted to leave out for evaluation purposes since it is still too early to tell for them.
DRAFTS BY POSITION CATEGORY
DRAFTS BY REGIONAL SOURCE (Note: this is not by hometown, but via their school at draft time – in other words, the location in which each player would have been scouted).
DRAFTS BY PLAYER AGE/EXPERIENCE
The aim of these charts is to see what the trends have been by this organization over the past three decades. You might argue “but the philosophy has changed lately” – and you would be right: the Braves seem to be targeting College-age pitchers more often since roughly 2005. This practice has even accelerated and expanded since 2010 as you can see from the list of players taken.
Indeed, you can check my charts and see that this philosophy is valid. 71% of draft picks taken from a College or University have seen time at the Triple-A level or better, with very few “busts.”
Findings that Jump Out At Me
I already mentioned the ‘College Effect’ – that 71% figure. That’s the biggest one. But the Braves have long established a tradition of drafting kids close to home… Georgia and South-Eastern US natives. Now the sample sizes are such that I wish to urge caution here, but the trends suggest that non-southern players have tended to make better draft picks over the past 30 years. Is it possible that the Braves have emphasized the “Braves County” factor too much in their drafting – to their own detriment?
The Braves draft a lot of pitchers. That’s probably good, for at least two reasons: (a) it can be tricky to get a pitcher to the majors (though you can see that Atlanta has enjoyed consistent success in doing so); and (b) everybody needs pitching, so having extras around to use as trade chips is never a bad thing.
Finally, left-handed pitchers seem to fare better as Brave draftees than any other position. Interesting. That’s good – for reasons that will become clear shortly.
What Do the Braves Need?
That question is partly answered by this next chart – an organization-wide look at our depth by position. There are necessarily a lot of short cuts that I made to this, but I also believe that it’s a fair look (note: some of these players – such as 29-year-old Steven Lerud – cannot be thought of as prospects, but they are also the next-best-available on the depth chart).
- Left-Handed Pitching. For all the pitchers taken and all the past success, Atlanta is very short on LH pitching prospects right now. The best one not currently in the majors is Hector Daniel Rodriguez. He’s at AAA… and he’s thirty years old. Beyond that, Carlos Perez is hurt and Luis Merejo hasn’t thrown a pitch above Rookie Ball… or anywhere else this year for that matter.
- Outfield. We’ve got B.J. Upton through 2017 – like it or not – so that’s one position. Kyle Wren might actually be a viable option for Center Field, though… roughly by 2016 or 2017. In the meantime, the elder Wren may have to come to an understanding with Jason Heyward at some point due to lack of many other options. But the outfield is a long-term concern since the minors have little in the way of current upside.
- A True Power Bat. The strikeouts are an obvious concern, but the lack of actual power is part of it as well. The corner outfield and third base positions are ‘okay’ for now, but going forward, that will be a bigger concern… depending exactly on the future of the players currently manning those spots at the majors. Right now I do not see anything encouraging past Joey Terdoslavich or Mark Hamilton.
- Third Base. After Chris Johnson, I see the name Victor Caratini. Edward Salcedo was supposed to be the “next” guy, but that’s just never going to happen… which definitively explains CJ’s recent extension. At this time, I don’t think the organization knows whether Victor is a catcher or a third baseman, so that’s still up for debate. Once the extent of his own power bat becomes fully known, we might get an answer… but he’s going to get older (and lose range for third base) quickly if he keeps catching.
So: Who Should Atlanta Target on June 4?
Without further lengthening this post by adding the entire Top 100 list, here are a few ideas for the first selection:
- Cody Reed, LHP, Ardmore High School, AL. Rank: 44. Literally about 20 miles away from me as I type this, Cody is the most dominant Alabama pitcher available. 10-2, 226 K this year – including a no-hitter during the playoffs. Low-mid 90′s mph fastball with command. Projectable build at 6-3, 220. Alas, he couldn’t pitch all three of the games for his team in the state finals, and they finished as runners-up. Cody has committed – so far – to Vanderbilt. He would probably be worth the pick if he would sign.
- Sean Newcomb, LHP, Hartford, CN. Rank: 19. Chances of him still being on the board for the 32nd pick? None. But I can’t help but list a 6-5/240 lefty that can throw 95 mph…and maybe even 100. He at least fits the profile of what the Braves have liked lately: a power arm from College. But good luck getting him.
- Matt Imhof, LHP, Cal Poly. Rank: 42. Another big southpaw (6’5″). Made Team USA’s college national team in 2013. Low-mid 90′s fastball. Given that data I’ve posted above, this kid could easily be the pick for Atlanta.
- Derek Fisher, LF, Virginia. Rank: 30. Depth aside, this is one of the few decent bats in the early rounds. This lefty hitter had previously been drafted and then rejected by the Rangers based on price. Has “well above average: raw power, but not consistently so, and that’s why I think I’d advise the Braves to stay away… they already have “inconsistent.” May be limited to left field as well due to arm strength.
- Monte Harrison, ???, Lee’s Summit HS, MO. Rank: 21. This kid is just an athlete. 6-2, 195 and has signed to play football with the University of Nebraska. He can hit a ton, throw, play third base, play the outfield, and can do spectacular dunks on the hoops court. But does he want to play baseball? That’s the question. Lots of upside. Signability may keep on on the board longer…or force somebody to take him early.
- Marcus Wilson, Junipero Serra HS, CA. Rank: 47. An outfielder with speed, an arm and tools. 6-2, 175 – room to grow. Made multiple 1st teams in California. Committed to Arizona State.
- Mike Papi, ???, Virginia. Rank: 45. Drafted by the Angels in 2011, he’s 6-3/195 and is listed both for 1B and LHP…or maybe even an outfielder, since he can hit a bunch (ACC batting champ in 2013, first team All-American). 90 mph fastball, but with that offense, I doubt he pitches.
- Casey Gillaspie, 1B, Wichita State. Rank: 29. Yeah, I know – he’s at the wrong position. But he’s also one of the best college hitters available, and at 6’4″/238, he’s got power. He only plays first base. But did you see his slash line? .402/.511/.687. 12 homers, 40 walks, 20 K as of May 6. Maybe he can learn left field?
There are a bunch of high school lefty pitchers on the board that are ranked in the 51-100 area. A number of them should still be available when Atlanta makes their second pick… maybe even their third one. The question here will be whether they want to go “high school” for somebody who will take a while to get to the majors. I’m personally hoping for “power bat” with a couple of these pitchers still being on the board for the 2nd round.
Baseball drafts are notoriously difficult to predict since (on top of everything else) signability and pool-money management are huge factors. But that’s a rundown of what you might see for the Braves on June 4th.