Atlanta Braves: 5 players to consider signing after the draft

With only 160 draftees, the Atlanta Braves could have solid leftovers available.

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College players could be a target of the Atlanta Braves after the draft. (Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

In an otherwise normal draft, the Atlanta Braves would be mulling over forty different names as part of a 1200+ class of players taken overall.

My friend Fred has already pointed out the history of Braves draftees coming after Round 5.. and it isn't pretty.

But what if you could change the equation?  What if you didn't have to wait on 29 other teams to make selections?  What if you got some players who could choose a team as much as the team choosing the player?

That's the situation that will unfold starting on Sunday morning when the draft is over and something I'll call the "amateur free agency" period begins.

Starting then, all draft-eligible players not getting a call in these 5 rounds will be free to either stay in school or to sign a $20,000 contract with a team interested in them.

The money isn't particularly great (that $20K is the maximum allowed), but for players in certain situations, it still might work for them -- especially if they come into pro ball with the attitude they there's something they want to prove about themselves.

In fact, nearly all players beyond Round 5 have some sort of "flaw" (for lack of a better word) in their game that made teams pass on them.  It will be up to the savvy clubs to discern flaw from (latent) feature as they project some of these kids going forward.

The better ones:  yes, they may very well return to school in the hopes of getting drafted next year.  Many of the high school kids will take this route.

Some of the players already in college may not be able to return to their schools for some reason or another.  Their scholarships might be given away, their age might be a factor, or -- in the case of Furman University -- their entire baseball program might be taken away.

With all that said, here's five names -- among those 1200-plus -- that the Atlanta Braves might want to give a phone call to this weekend if they remain undrafted.

Atlanta Braves love pitching, so here's two options.

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The Atlanta Braves and pitching go together well. (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

5. JACK LEFTWICH, RHP, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

  • 6'4" / 220
  • 21.7 years old.
  • Drafted by Detroit in 2017.
  • Baseball America ranking:  157.

Yes - a righty named Leftwich.  There's still a fair chance that Jack will be taken in these first 5 rounds, but teams with the idea of making him a "project" could see his raw ability emerge.

Obviously, Leftwich has the size of a starter, but in Gainsville he was doing starter and reliever work.  He can pump in a mid-90's fastball, but it's a bit flat, and that led to getting hit around in the SEC.  Between that and some command issues, his ERA had been trending in the wrong direction.

He has a solid slider and decent changeup, but needs movement on the fastball to make all of his pitches more effective.  Do this and a team might find something.

 

4. MASON HICKMAN, RHP, VANDERBILT

  • 6'6" / 230
  • 21.5 years old.
  • Never drafted previously.
  • BA ranking:  161.

Baseball America called him 'one of the most reliable starters in the nation' and he began 2020 as the Friday night starter for Vandy.

The trick here will be whether teams recognize his accomplishments despite the fact that he's only a 90 mph pitcher... despite the size that would normally scream "big heater".  The report on his offerings isn't that great, but somehow his result are:  3.13 career ERA in college with 10.5 K per 9 innings and 2.9 walks per 9.

Despite the Hickman's stock in trade is command over 'stuff', with descriptions about his makeup and feel for pitching that makes one think of Atlanta Braves legends like Tom Glavine.

But when you think about pitching programs at the collegiate level, Vanderbilt is right up there with the best.  Being the #1 starter for that team should speak volumes and perhaps the Braves should listen.

UPDATE:  Drafted by Cleveland in the 5th Round, Pick #154.

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More Atlanta Braves post-draft options

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Florida State baseball gave the Atlanta Braves Matt Diaz back in the day. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

3.  ELIJAH CABELL, OF, FLORIDA STATE

  • 6'2" / 200 (Bats/Throws Right)
  • 21.0 years old
  • Drafted:  Milwaukee 2018
  • BA ranking 172

"Massive raw power", though with the usual caveats - strikeouts aplenty.  That will be the trick here:  whether additional reps will be sufficient for him to recognize pitches better to lay off the junk and swing only at the strikes.

While Cabell (see the featured picture of this post) is a gifted athlete, he isn't a particularly gifted defender, though a corner OF position should work well enough... if his bat carries him to the majors.

 

2. KALE EMSHOFF, C, ARKANSAS-LITTLE ROCK

  • 6'2" / 228 (Bats/Throws Right)
  • 22.1 years old
  • Not previously drafted
  • BA ranking 174

Another "plus/plus raw power" guy, but this comes from the catching position.  His glove is good - good enough to at least be a possible backup at the position (we've seen how valuable even older catchers can be in that role).

Emshoff actually has a Tommy John surgery in his recent past (2019), so he was still coming back from that loss of playing time, but his arm should be good enough once he gets a chance to play -- somewhere -- again.

Catchers who can field a bit and hit a lot are still highly valuable, and there's a good chance Emshoff will have a pro job someplace next season.  The Braves could use another one in their ranks.

UPDATE: SIGNED BY THE ROYALS ON FIRST DAY OF UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT SIGNING PERIOD.

 

1.  KYLE RUSSELL, SS, CURTIS HS / UNIVERSITY PLACE, WASHINGTON

  • 6'1" / 180 (Bats/Throws Right)
  • 18.8 years old
  • Committed to Washington State
  • BA Ranking 195

Let's dream a little bit on this last name... you may have noticed that the prior names are all college kids from the South.  That wasn't an accident.  The Atlanta Braves might have better odds of signing players of that age group from their own geographical area.

So... why this shortstop from 2,500 miles away?  Because he's been overlooked a bit, perhaps, due to a hammate injury... and because the description of his skills at the position suggest both that (a) he will stick at short, and (b) he could be another budding Andrelton Simmons.

Frankly, this kid will likely be extremely difficult to sign - especially for a paltry $20K.  But anybody described in this manner (subscription required for full report) ought to be on a pro team:

He has smooth actions in the infield and does a nice job cutting down ground on the ball and creating good throwing angles on his approach. He showed reliable hands going to his forehand and backhand side and seemed to have an advanced internal clock and above-average body control. His arm was solid and accurate as well, giving him all the tools necessary to continue handling a premium infield position at the next level.

Will he hit?  That's more difficult to judge.  But if he can field like this... teams may not care that much.

The fun part of this MLB draft may end up being the 'after party' this year:  the signees that the Atlanta Braves end up with.

Next: Draft times might be a'changing

$20,000 is a fairly cheap bet to make to find a diamond in the rough.  These are 5 guys who have a chance to be that kind of a find.