The Atlanta Braves enter the 2015 draft with five selections on day one among the top 75 picks. After losing a pick last year because they signed Ervin Santana, they added the No. 28 pick this year when they extended a qualifying offer to Santana, who signed as a free agent with the Twins.
The Braves also added two additional picks on day one through two trades. The No. 41 pick was acquired from San Diego as part of the Craig Kimbrel trade, and the No. 75 pick was acquired from Arizona in exchange for a minor league outfielder.
For my preview of what to expect from the Braves in this draft, click here. In short, with so many high picks, the Braves were expected to take some risks and shoot for the moon with some of their selections. Here are the picks…
1st Round (14): Kolby Allard, LHP @kolbyallard — The Braves prove they are not afraid to take risks in this draft with their very first selection. Allard was one of the top high school pitchers in this draft class before a stress “reaction” in his back caused him to miss most of the season. He’s one of the youngest pitchers in the draft, and already has a long track record of success, including as a member of the gold medal winning USA Baseball 18U team.
With plus control of a low to mid-90s fastball and plus curveball Allard projects as a top of the rotation pitcher. The back injury is concerning, as is his thin six foot frame (for a top of the rotation guy), but he is said to have a low-effort delivery that shouldn’t add additional stress on his frame. He will also have plenty of time to develop and add strength as he moves through the system.
ESPN’s Keith Law didn’t move Allard down his draft prospects’ list after the injury, and he entered draft night as Law’s No. 6 overall prospect and the top high school pitcher in the draft. Many prospect outlets had considered Allard a top-5 pick, or at the very least top-10. If Allard does prove to be healthy and unaffected by the back injury, then this risk could pay off huge for Atlanta, as they potentially net their ace of the future.
1st Compensation Round (28): Mike Soroka, RHP @34mike19 — Atlanta takes their risk in a different direction with this pick. Instead of under-drafting a pitcher with injury concerns, they over-draft a prep pitcher who was ranked No. 61 by Keith Law and No. 90 by Baseball America. Soroka may not have gotten much first round buzz, but he is a projectable high school pitcher with a Braves connection.
According to Baseball America, “there hasn’t been a player out of Alberta [Canada] selected in the top 100 picks since the Red Sox picked Chris Reitsma 34th overall in 1996.” This will serve as a nice segue, since Soroka was mentored by former Braves pitcher Chris Reitsma.
Soroka is a tall drink of water who is still growing into his 6-foot-5 frame. He has good command of a low-90s fastball and change as well as a plus curveball that could be a wipeout pitch. While a cold-weather pitcher, Soroka made a strong showing on his Canadian junior national team as he faced major league hitters in spring training this past spring. He also faced minor league hitters in extended spring training and in the Dominican summer league, and reportedly threw exceptionally well (which clearly raised his draft stock).
Since he is a cold-weather pitcher it’s hard to gauge his floor and ceiling as a prospect. Most prospect outlets are pegging him as a back of the rotation guy with some helium coming into the draft. It might take a year or two before we get a good read on what this kid’s ultimate ceiling might be.
1st Competitive Balance Round (41): Austin Riley, 3B @austinriley1308 — Another over-draft here with a two-way prep player. Riley was effective on the mound with a mid-90s fastball, but came on this past year as a legit prospect at the hot corner. Ranked No. 164 by Baseball America this pick seems more than a bit premature for day one, let alone the first round. If, as the Braves stated before the draft, that they wanted to take the best players available with these early picks, then they seem to have veered off the tracks with this selection.
Riley is said to have plus power in a thick 6-foot-3, 230 pound frame. He has enough arm to play the hot corner, but will need to work on his fielding. Since he just popped onto the scouting radar this year as a hitting prospect it’s hard to accurately judge what kind of bat the Braves are really getting with this pick. This is a weird pick, unless there’s a pre-draft deal in place where the Braves sign him under slot, freeing up money they can use on other picks.
2nd Round (54): Lucas Herbert, C @lucasherbert_ — The Braves go back to California to nab a prep catcher, and the teammate of their first round pick Allard. Herbert was also on the gold medal winning USA Baseball 18U national team, where he caught many of the top prospects in this year’s draft.
Herbert is said to be an above average defensive catcher for his age, one of the best in this draft class. His bat will reportedly be a work in progress in the professional ranks. However, when he’s been on the big stage in championship games, his bat has risen to the occasion. Atlanta gets good value in this pick, as Keith Law ranked Herbert No. 45, and Baseball America ranked him No. 52.
Herbert and Allard took a great picture just after his selection.
2nd Competitive Balance Round (75): A.J. Minter, LHP — The Braves dial up the risk to maximum for their final pick on day one. Minter will be recovering from Tommy John surgery which he had in March of this year. He also missed time during his freshman year at Texas A&M because of “thoracic outlet syndrome,” which is a condition causing pain and poor circulation in the arm and shoulder.
When healthy he served initially as A&M’s closer, then made a smooth (before the injury) transition to the rotation. He sports a three pitch mix that includes a plus fastball in the mid-to-upper-90s. The injuries caused him to tumble down draft boards, landing at No. 484 on Baseball America’s list. He also has a year of eligibility remaining, meaning he doesn’t have to sign or settle for a below slot deal.
He didn’t pitch much in college because of the injuries. With a max-effort delivery he may be more suited to a relief role rather than as a starter. This is a strange selection by Atlanta. Surely there are a ton of other high-upside pitchers without the injury issues of Minter who are available with this pick. I get taking a risk, but this is more like an unnecessary reach.
Photo of A.J. Minter by CB Wilkins.