Atlanta Braves Draft: Day One Reactions

The first day of the MLB Draft has come and gone. How did the Atlanta Braves fare? Who did they take and why?

First Round – 3rd Overall Pick

With the third pick in the draft the Braves selected a right handed pitcher named Ian Anderson. Ian Anderson hardly came as a shock to those who had been paying close attention to the draft throughout the day as rumors began a few days ago and were confirmed early yesterday morning that the Braves had a deal in place with Anderson in order to sign him for an “under slot” bonus.

Ian Anderson stands at 6’3″ and throws his fastball in the mid 90’s. He was considered to be the 13th best prospect in the draft, according to MLB.com .

Many were calling for the Braves to take a bat, and with good reason. The current big league club is not hitting very much and there is not an abundance of talented bats rising through their farm system. You could have made a logical argument for drafting either Mercer’s Kyle Lewis or Louisville’s’ Corey Ray with the third pick.

However, the Atlanta Braves agreeing to sign Ian Anderson to an under slot deal would prove to be pivotal as the draft night wore on and shortly you will understand why. I love this pick for the Braves.

Lottery Round A – 40th Overall Pick

When the team’s selection rolled around at 40 it was pretty evident who they were taking. Another rumor had been started a few weeks ago that the Braves could have been speaking with Joey Wentz about possibly being able to take him, a first round talent, all the way down at pick 40. This is exactly how it happened and the pick could not have gone better for the Braves.

Joey Wentz is a 6’5″ left handed pitcher out of a Kansas high school. Last summer he made himself known for his bat, crushing home runs in the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, but he established himself as a mid-first round talent on the mound. Joey throws in the mid-90’s and has two above average alternate offerings in the mix along with his clean and repeatable delivery.

Once again a really great pick for the Braves here. They were able to select MLB.com’s 16th best draft prospect at pick number 40. The Braves would next go on the clock just four picks later at 44th overall.

Second Round – 44th Overall Pick

The depth of the 2016 draft was easily high school pitchers, as there were plenty of high upside arms in this draft to choose from. After seeing the Braves select two high school pitchers with their first two picks, the organization went back to the well again for their third pick, this time selecting Kyle Muller out of a high school in Texas.

Kyle Muller is another high school left hander with a mid-90’s heater. His other offerings and control are not as advanced as the other two players the Braves drafted, but he is 6’5″ and projectable. Making him MLB.com’s 24th best draft prospect .

Atlanta’s agreement with Ian Anderson to sign him for an under slot bonus allowed for them to be able to select two other high upside and highly touted prospects much further down in the draft than where they were expected to go.

The Braves were able to draft the 13th, 16th, and 24th best draft prospects with picks 3, 40, and 44. That’s amazing value and the money they saved selecting Ian Anderson was the difference. John Coppolella has previously stated how he envisions “wave after wave” of talented prospects coming into Atlanta for years to come. This is certainly a nice vision to have and one that could bring sustainable and winning baseball to the organization. However those waves are not possible unless you have as much highly touted talent as you can acquire.

The Braves got max value from their first three picks on draft day. Braves fans should be very excited by the draft so far.

Atlanta’s final pick of the first day was the pick they received in a trade with Baltimore a few weeks back, pick 76.

Lottery Round B – 76th Overall Pick

At pick 76 the Braves finally did what all…eh…we’ll call them “casual fans” were screaming for throughout the night. They selected a position player, or, rather more importantly, they selected a bat.

The pick was the catcher out of California, Brett Cumberland. Cumberland is a draft eligible sophomore and bats from both sides of the plate. He hits extremely will and can hit for a little bit of power, ranking 69th on MLB.com’s top 200 draft prospects list .

Coming into draft night, I was pretty sure that the Braves would target a catcher with their later picks (either 76 or 80) but Cumberland was not on my radar due to his reputation as a bat-first catcher. With the pitching staff the Braves are putting together I would have liked to see them select a catcher with a defensive pedigree and projectable (or more just “a project”) bat, such as Sean Murphy out of Wright State or, even later on in the draft, taken Jake Rogers out of Tulane who has been described as the best defender at any position in this draft.

Nevertheless the pick was Cumberland, and I understand why. The guy can flat out hit and he was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year for his excellent season. Most scouts see him moving out from behind the plate later on, but the Braves will likely put him back there until he proves he can’t handle it, or his bat simply outgrows his defense and he needs to move on from catching in order to make an impact at the major league level.

Brief Day One Reaction Summary

An excellent day for the Braves organization and fans. The team snagged three early to mid-first round talents with their first three picks and added a potent bat with their fourth. Outstanding value and hopefully they will be picks that pan out in the future.

If you take just one thing away from this article let it be this…the great first day of the draft by the Atlanta Braves was built upon the golden rule of drafting…

You Do Not Draft For Need

 

 

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When Will The Braves Compete Again?

The Braves have long been one of baseballs premier organizations. However, over the past two seasons and what looks to be this season, the Braves will miss the playoffs. The lineup is abysmal outside of the ever-steady Freddie Freeman, and possibly thirty year old Hector Olivera, and the starting pitching rotation may be even worse over the course of the 2016 major league season.

So, the question must be asked, when exactly will the Atlanta Braves be competitive again? Let’s first set some ground rules for what we will define as “fielding a competitive team.” I feel that simply contending for the division is not enough, the team will need to be a perennial playoff and World Series contender to appropriately fulfill the requirements set forth in this article.

2016

The 2016 Braves team will not likely be very good. This is obvious to most who follow the game, as the Braves have been pegged to finish near the bottom of the table once again, only up ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds, according to Karl Buscheck , contributor to Bleacher Report.

The current roster only consists of a few regulars which, I feel, can stick with the team in a few seasons time. Those players are: Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Hector Olivera, Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Foltynewicz, and possibly Ender Inciarte. These players will hopefully be able to remain useful and productive big league starters when the influx of youth begins to reach the major leagues.  That is not a lot of major league regulars on the current team, and does not create a positive outlook for the coming season.

However, that does not mean this season comes without intrigue, on the contrary, this season marks one of the more important seasons in recent Braves history. During 2016, Braves fans will likely see the highly anticipated premiers of top prospects Mallex Smith, Aaron Blair, and Tyrell Jenkins.

Also, the organization will see the addition of multiple new top prospects to replace those who have graduated to the big league club. The Braves own the third overall pick in the upcoming draft and will be aiming to add a “college bat” according to General Manager John Coppollela . On the International Market, the Braves look to make it’s biggest splash of the calendar year, it has been well noted that the Braves plan to spend big and spend well through their limit in the upcoming July 2nd International Period. The main target, of course, being the young Venezuelan phenom, Kevin Maitan.

2017

At the start of the 2017 Braves season, the team will be unveiling the new stadium, and a new buzz will be surrounding the team. The starting lineup will look to have more spark with the addition of Mallex Smith (who possesses 80 grade speed, on the 20-80 scale), and the rotation will likely have a couple new arms as well in Aaron Blair and the organization’s 2015 minor league pitcher of the year, Tyrell Jenkins.

I am going to do a little prediction here and say that by this time, right fielder Nick Markakis will no longer be a Brave (I will not speculate on the return), allowing for the opening day outfield to go Olivera, Inciarte, and Smith.

The holes in the opening day lineup will continue to be third base, catcher, shortstop, and second base. However, throughout the season, the Braves may see the middle infield quickly fixed, and fixed for the long haul.

Midway through the 2017, the fans can likely expect to see the arrival of top prospects Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies. The two will man the middle infield positions and form quite the formidable double play team. Both provide above average defense and it is yet to be decided which player will slide over to second base. They will also provide a tremendous boost to the offense, and the team will finally begin to reap the benefits of the deep farm system.

On the mound in 2017, fan’s can potentially expect the emergence of top arm, southpaw Sean Newcomb. So his addition could prove to be a big factor in the team reaching the level of play we are looking for, in terms of World Series contender potential. In addition to Newcomb, Braves fans could finally get their first sightings of 2012 first rounder, Lucas Sims.

I would expect the first season in the new ballpark to also be an underwhelming season for the Braves, but one that I’d look for the team to finish closer to .500 than the team will had seen throughout the last three years at this point. The offense will be improved with the addition of Swanson and Albies, and the pitching staff could finally have the ace it’s been needing in Newcomb. However, they will need time to develop and adapt to the big league level.

2018

The 2018 Braves may be the first team to make the playoffs since the 2014 Braves. This could be when going out to the ballpark becomes fun again for the casual Atlanta fan.

The offense will see the full season debut for stars Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, and the rotation will be aided by an entire season with Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims in the fold.

The opening day lineup holes could still be catcher and third base, depending on what the front office has determined to do when it comes to free agency and trades with the depth of prospects to fill lineup holes. I would expect the 2018 starter at third base to be prospect Rio Ruiz, who could prove to be an average regular at the position, however the current outlook for Ruiz is more of the utility/bench role.

I am going to predict the 2018 Braves shock the baseball world, much like the 2015 Astros, and sneak into the playoffs and give the team they play in the first round a scare with their mixture of youth and hunger.

2019

Finally, the Braves will be ready to take off. This is the year I expect the Braves to be fully embraced by the baseball community as a World Series contender. Led by Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, and Sean Newcomb, the 2019 Atlanta Braves will contend for the NL East division and then, during the playoffs, the World Series.

The teams will be aided by the rapid influx of high upside talent at this point in time (most of which is currently playing in Rome, go watch the future of the Braves!). Third baseman Austin Riley and outfielder Braxton Davidson will provide the power boost the lineup will need. The rotation and bullpen will receive major upgrades in pitchers Touki Toussaint, Kolby Allard, and Mike Soroka. Along with the potential debuts of young hitters Ronald Acuna, Juan Yepez, and Isranel Wilson .

In Conclusion

The 2019 season is looking like the season Braves fans are all waiting for, this is the season the team could potentially make the final step in becoming a contender. Properly utilizing free agency and potential future trades by John Coppollela will help fill holes and add necessary depth to the 25 man roster, and the talent he and his crew have already infused within the system will either be big league regulars by this time or will be ready to make their mark.

 

Future Stars For The Atlanta Braves

Under the current Braves’ regime, the farm has gone from one of the worst, to a consensus top-3 system. While the crown jewels of this system are Top 100 prospects: Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb, Ozzie Albies, Aaron Blair, and Kolby Allard, real appreciation of the job the John’s have done can be found in the lower levels of Braves’ organizational prospect lists. As the 2016 Braves season approaches, let’s take a look at some of the lesser-known prospects within one of the league’s top minor league systems.

Ronald Acuna

Ronald Acuna was a 2014 International Signing out of Venezuela. Standing at 6 foot tall and weighing in at 180 pounds, physically he may leave a little to be desired, however Acuna is still just 18 years old and has plenty of time to mature over the coming seasons as he rises through the minor leagues. Throughout his first professional season, Acuna batted .269 with 4 long balls and and 16 stolen bags (per milb.com ), and he was playing his best at season’s end, batting a cool .325 over his final 10 games. In addition to the potential offensively, Acuna mans the valuable position of centerfield, and, by all accounts, scouts view him being able to stick there and as a plus defender. In his recent breakdown of all minor league systems , ESPN’s Keith Law describes his outfield tools as “plus range, with an above-average arm and above-average speed.”

Flashing future signs of all 5 tools so early is without a doubt a good sign for Acuna. Current Special Assistant to Baseball Operations and Braves Hall of Famer, Chipper Jones spoke quite highly of Acuna at Braves’ Spring Training in an interview with Braves AJC beat writer David O’Brien , saying he’s heard Acuna compared to a “young Andruw Jones.” Certainly high praise and not a comparison loosely thrown around, especially amongst the Braves organization. Personally, I have tremendous faith in Acuna, you can take one look at his Instagram account and it’s clear that this man lives and breathes baseball, hopefully we see that passion translate into future success.

Acuna is likely to start off the 2016 season in Single-A Rome, and I’d keep a keen eye on Acuna as a player to shoot up prospect lists come season’s end.

Juan Yepez

As another 2014 International Signing out of Venezuela, third baseman Juan Yepez boasts major upside with his bat. While the outlook on Yepez remains foggy at the moment due to his lack of a position, many see a move to first in his future, his offensive production could very well carry him all the way to Atlanta, sooner rather than later. Like Acuna (and many in the Braves system), Yepez is incredibly young, signing with the organization when he was just 16 years old. Albeit, his lack of experience did not stop him from tearing up his assignment last year, batting .299 over his first 201 professional at-bats and crushing 4 home runs (per milb.com ).

John Sickels, Executive Editor to SB Nation’s Minor League Baseball, recently wrote a piece on the current top 20 prospects for the Braves , where he has Yepez ranked 21st. In his article he states that Yepez is “off to an excellent start” and is “possibly the highest ceiling bat in the system other than Austin Riley.” Given the probable upside in the bat of Riley, that’s high praise for the 18 year old. While some may see this ranking as too high for a kid just coming out of their first season of pro ball, I see this ranking as too low. Just like Acuna, Yepez is a prospect that Braves fans should take the time to get out to the ballpark and see, an exciting and explosive bat who could very well have mashed his way onto the national scene this time next year.

Isranel Wilson

Surprise! Another 18 year old with massive upside here. Isranel Wilson was signed by the Braves out of the Dominican Republic and quickly began playing in the Gulf Coast League as a raw 17 year old. As one could expect, Wilson struggled early on but turned his season around and wound up leading the league in home runs with 10. Early on, it looks like the outfielder could have the most power potential of any prospect in the system, with respect to Austin Riley and Juan Yepez. Standing at 6 foot, 3 inches tall and weighing 185 pounds, Wilson has a frame that’s easily projectable to add weight, and with it, more power.

When he signed with the Braves they viewed him as a player who, like Acuna, could develop 5 above-average or better tools. Recently, Garrett Spain of SB Nation’s Talking Chop sat down with Isranel for an interview , and in it were some interesting quotes that I feel give you an insight into the mind of Wilson. When asked about what he’d been working on over the offseason, Wilson told Spain that it was no secret he had trouble with pitches away and he has been “working on dominating [pitches away].” Dominating. Love the power behind that word. Later on Isranel Wilson directed his attention at the Braves fan base, telling them, “Please be calm, we have plenty of championships coming.”

Wilson possess the drive and mentality of a winner. This interview alone could have excited me for this player, when you tack on his potential and successful first season in the pros, wow. Who knows what Wilson’s ceiling could be, all he knows is he plans on dominating the competition. Let’s enjoy his rise.

The development of these three young players could prove pivotal in the future of the Atlanta Braves. If and when they reach the highest level, they will likely be moving up together through the system, and could take the league by storm. Braves fans should have nothing but optimism about the future of the organization when three players of their caliber have somehow slipped through the cracks. Prepare for Acuna, Yepez, and Wilson to all have big seasons in 2016, and prepare for the future.

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