The Atlanta Braves drafted the maximum 40 players last week during the first-year player/amateur draft. Before I go any further, I want to give a big shout-out to our Fred Owens for excellent draft coverage: he definitely kept everyone up-to-date during the event. I was traveling and could not throw in my take – we’ll do that now with the benefit of a few days’ of hindsight. Thanks, Fred!
Review of the Prognostications
Going into this draft, I had consistently suggested that Atlanta’s farm system was facing serious holes in the following positions:
- Left-handed pitching
Given the apparent pitching depth available, I advocated that the team pursue a couple of the top lefty arms in the early rounds.
Nope. Didn’t happen that way.
In fact, the first left-handed pitcher taken was not until the sixth round. That was Chris Diaz (it’s not pronouced “Dye-as”), a six-foot college kid from the University of Miami. The next one didn’t get picked until Round 26. This was Kyle Kinman, another college pitcher (Bellevue University in Washington state; 5’11″, 185).
I suppose I shouldn’t take it personally: nobody guessed Atlanta’s picks in their mock drafts… as Fred mentioned, ESPN’s Keith Law was close on Garret Fulencheck, but that was the extent of anyone’s ‘success’ last week.
In terms of the other positions, another outfielders went in Round 6 (Keith Curcio of Florida Southern), and not again until Round 14 (Joe Daris of Azusa Pacific). Catching was not a feature of this draft, and the consensus best two players went very early in Round 1. The Braves then waited until Rounds 20, 24, and 31 to add catching. Two high school lefty pitchers were taken late (Rounds 33-34). I would be a little surprised if either signs, though one is from North Gwinnett high school (Tucker Baca, ranked 442nd – taken 973rd).
But I’m actually much more interested in the ‘why’ for picks that were made…
MotivationRound 1 – Braxton Davidson. The more I think about this, the more I continue to warm to this selection. Fred posted a video link of him (see that link above), and the swing is remarkable. A short, quick power stroke that’s repeatable. Reports I’ve seen suggest that big power should develop along with consistent hitting. It’s always hard to figure whether a batter will be a strikeout machine, but scouts believe Braxton should have solid plate discipline and a chance to hit .300 in the majors. Other sites – including this Phillies blog – were raving over Braxton… this one calling him the ‘safest pick’ in the draft. Not a typical statement for a high school hitter.
But why did the Braves pick a kid who projects to play first base? I believe it’s because he could replace Justin Upton by 2016. While he may not have the raw power that Justin clearly wields, Braxton could be just as productive if he’s more consistent. That would clearly be good to have in a lineup that is still averaging nearly a strikeout per inning this year.
Meanwhile, Jacob Gatewood was still on the board, a 6’5″ masher with consistent power who raised the possibility of having Ginacarlo Stanton-esque power at third base… if you can stand the strikeouts. And there’s where I believe the philosophy is changing: Davidson doesn’t project to be a high-strikeout guy. Gatewood (who fell to the Brewers with pick #41) may have a higher possible “ceiling”, but his “floor” is also low. As in “can’t reach the majors due to strikeouts” low.
By the time Freddie Freeman‘s contract expires (after 2021), Davidson will be 25 years old… and hopefully a major league regular. At that point, he could slide into first base and keep hitting. Sounds like a solid plan… and spoils the idea the Phils might have had in replacing Ryan Howard by 2017 (the Phillies, by the way, chose 2 excellent college pitchers in the first two rounds – can you guess their priorities?). So good on the Braves for taking a consistent hitter - that link above compared him to Matt Holliday – who could help build a better offense.
How soon could Davidson reach the majors? Given his advanced level of hitting, 2016 is not out of the question. 2015 may be an interesting year for him.
Round 2 – Garret Fulencheck. RHP, 6’4″/185. From a tiny high school in Howe, TX (population variously reported between 2,600 and 3,300). I believe this could be partly a case of Dr. James Andrews’ influence. Fulencheck was not scouted heavily and he did not participate in all of the ‘showcase’ opportunities he had available … i.e., his avoided pitching “year-round”, as most all of the other top hurlers do. I believe that this was a key part of Atlanta’s choice: selecting a pitcher with great ‘stuff’ who hasn’t already been overused/abused. He also might have been under-ranked as a result.
In terms of that ‘stuff’, you can’t argue with a mid-90′s sinking fastball. That will play anywhere. He also features a plus slider. The change-up supposedly needs some work, but he also rarely used it in high school, given the level of competition he faced. No worries there… he has time to figure that out.
So this selection seems to be a case of good work by the scouting department – to find a gem without taking the lazy way out by simply watching the traveling teams. Hopefully, the organization can start loosening their hold on the title of “most surgically-repaired team in the majors.”
ETA: perhaps 2018. 2017 would be a “rush” to the majors.
Round 3 – Max Povse. UNC-Greensboro pitcher, 6’8″/190. The Dodgers drafted him in the 2011 41st round, which didn’t motivate him to sign (clearly). Now in contrast to Fulencheck, Povse did participate in both Summer and Fall leagues from 2009-2011 apart from his high school events.
Povse may be something of a project for Atlanta. The Braves’ scouts like his improving slider and his fastball – it has movement with speed (93-94 mph). It’s interesting that he does not seem to use his full height to advantage, though, as his low arm slot brings the ball to the hitter out from something near the shortstop position. Povse is also relatively young (20) at this point. Given all that, the takeaway quote from the scouting department was “Player development can develop him now.”
ETA: Barring arm injury – which has to be a concern – the earliest I’d expect him in the majors is 2017.
Other Notable Picks
- He’s a definite worker: giving max effort to everything he does on the ballfield. Do the Braves need a second baseman? Not really, but I have to think this one was too tempting to ignore. We’ll have to see if he signs, but I’d have to think Luke should consider how much further up the draft board he could go from here. Of the “genetics picks”, Luke Dykstra is the most interesting. Round 7 picks are not made without thought. He comes in as a second baseman that BA.com ranked 110th overall, yet was still around for the 223rd pick.
- Jake Godfrey. Looks like early confusion about his position (due to the Braves taking multiple Godfrey’s in Rounds 21/22) is now over. RHP, 6’3″/215, committed to LSU and ranked 130th, though taken 643rd. You don’t go that late unless people think you won’t sign, but I’d like to see Atlanta make a serious run to try, as he projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
- The aforementioned Keith Curcio from Florida Southern. Played a lot at 3rd base, but he’s a possible CF/leadoff/base-stealer threat. Did a lot of all that at Fla. Southern (hit .349 with 29 steals in 34 attempts/2013; .314 with 23/24 steals in 2014). Braves continuing to add some guys with speed (Jose Peraza, Kyle Wren, et al).
We’ll Keep Notes From Here
It’s a little pointless to pursue detailed bios on many of these kids until they are inked to contracts… from here the signees will be distributed to the Gulf Coast league and Danville Braves with a couple perhaps reaching Rome by the end of the Summer. I do hope, as they were scouting players, that the organization was taking a look at the workloads these pitchers (19 were selected) have endured as they’ve been growing up. Getting them early (8 from high school, 1 from a community college) can help establish control of their arm health earlier. It’s difficult on all of them when a pitcher goes down – even the healthy ones, since others have to take up the innings slack. So keeping more of them out of the hospital is a big benefit.
We’ll keep watch.