What to expect from the Braves in the 2015 draft

Who will the Atlanta Braves take next Monday in the 2015 MLB First Year Player Draft? What strategy will they employ with five selections on the first day of the draft, encompassing the first two rounds and the top 75 picks?

So far most of the mock drafts out there from Baseball America and Keith Law at ESPN and others have the Braves focusing on players from Georgia, specifically prep catcher Tyler Stephenson from Kennesaw. Baseball America threw a big monkey wrench in that thinking with their latest mock draft, in which they predict Stephenson going first overall to the Diamondbacks, and the Braves shying away from Georgia players with the first few picks.

To get a window into what kind of players the Braves will select I’d like to look at two things. First this quote from MLB.com Braves beat writer Mark Bowman, then the 2006 draft:

[The Braves] will be targeting high-upside players and shying away from some of the “safe picks” they made under different leadership the past few seasons.

The Braves haven’t had this many early picks since the 2006 draft, a year that saw them select a bevvy of high-upside (but also high-risk) prospects (boom-or-bust). Here’s how that year’s early rounds went for Atlanta (listed by overall pick):

24 — OF Cody Johnson
38 — RHP Cory Rasmus
43 — LHP Steve Evarts
51 — LHP Jeff Locke
68 — RHP Dustin Evans
72 — SS Chase Fontaine

The first four picks that year were all high school players. Johnson was said to have the most prodigious power stroke in the entire draft, and Rasmus projected as a top-of-the-rotation starter with good bloodlines.

Johnson did have prodigious power, but he also had a prodigious ability to swing and miss; a trait that caught up with him once he stepped on a double-A field. He was a bust.

Rasmus and Evarts had tantalizing talent, but both of their careers were waylaid by injuries. Rasmus eventually reached the majors as a reliever. Evans and Fontaine fizzled as they reached the upper minors. All of them busts.

jlockeFrom that 2006 draft with a six pack of picks among the top-75, only Jeff Locke represents a successful pick, though he’s by no means a “boom” player. His career WAR in five seasons after being traded to Pittsburgh is either 0.2 (from Baseball-Reference) or 1.7 (from FanGraphs).

Will this be the model that Roy Clark follows for this year’s draft? I’m inclined to think so. That’s how Clark drafted throughout his tenure when he had a surplus of early picks. There will be a lot of high school pitchers, preferably left-handed, and athletic toolsy position players with high-upside potential.

This boom-or-bust strategy paid bigger dividends in the following year’s draft, when Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman were selected among the first 80 picks. Of course, even that year there were two bust picks between the selections of Hey and Free.

Clearly Atlanta wants to hit that jackpot again, and with five spins on day one, going after as many true aces and first division bats as possible is the right strategy. By acquiring two additional first day picks in offseason trades the Braves have put themselves in a terrific position to take a lot of additional risk.

The Braves want this draft to be one that nets them several franchise cornerstones for years to come. To do that, risks must be taken.

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If you want to go down a mock draft rabbit hole, the Mock Draft Database is the place to go.

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