On day two of the 2015 MLB First Year Player Draft the Atlanta Braves continued their pattern of making risky selections on players they consider high-upside talent. There are some odd selections within this group.
3rd Round (89): Anthony Guardado, RHP — For the Braves in this draft, risk be thy name. Guardado was not listed among the Baseball America top-500 draft prospects, and is instead a late comer known as a “pop-up” guy. He is also a QB at Nogales High School in La Puente, California, with a brief history of shoulder problems that kept him out of some games this spring. When he did take the mound he showed a solid four pitch mix, with a low-90s fastball, change, curve, and what is described as an out-pitch hard slider. Guardado also meets a desire by the Braves to draft two-sport athletes who can bring a more competitive intensity to the game. Being such a late-rising prospect he will likely arrive in the Braves system quite raw, with a protracted development path ahead of him — high-risk, but potentially high-upside.
4th Round (120): Josh Graham, RHP — Atlanta continues to pick helium players, or players who have come on strong late in the season. Graham is a converted catcher from the University of Oregon, who apparently retained his catcher’s body as he shifted to the mound. He throws his fastball in the low-to-mid-90s, and compliments it with a solid-average slider and changeup. While he worked in the rotation some this year, he profiles as a reliever in the pro ranks. Though he is a college junior, his limited experience on the mound could keep him from moving too fast through the system. He was ranked No. 198 by Baseball America.
5th Round (150): Ryan Clark, RHP — Another helium pick, this time out of UNC Greensboro. Students of the Braves system may remember that the team drafted 6-foot-8 right-hander Max Povse in the third round out of that same school last year. Clark comes close to measuring up at 6-foot-5. He’s described as athletic with plenty of projection in his frame and repertoire. He already works his fastball in the low-to-mid-90s, with a good breaking ball and a curve that needs work. Much like Povse, the Braves will likely try to develop Clark as a starter, though a move to the bullpen is more likely.
6th Round (180): Matt Withrow, RHP @mattwithrow35 — The Braves traded for Withrow’s brother Chris last month in the Alberto Callaspo and Juan Uribe trade. Chris was acquired with the knowledge that he would not be ready to pitch until next year, as he is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Matt arrives in the Braves system with his own injury concerns, missing time this year and only throwing 22 innings, mostly in relief. When healthy he has a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a fringe-average slider, but struggles to command them at times. He was unranked by Baseball America, and given his injury history represents another strange and risky pick by the Braves. He profiles as a reliever.
7th Round (210): Patrick Weigel, RHP @pwags42 — With this selection the Braves take a risk of another kind. Weigel can run his fastball into the upper-90s, touching 100 mph, but his control doesn’t always come to the mound with him (see Jaime, Juan). At 6-foot-6 the velocity is apparently easy and lively, and as a young junior from the University of Houston the hope here is that the Braves can get him to control his pitches better, even if it means backing off the velo some. I actually like risky hard-throwing picks like this, especially in these middle rounds. Baseball America ranks him No. 192, so this is also good value.
8th Round (240): Ryan Lawlor, LHP @itslawlor — While he was the Friday night starter for UGA this year, he wasn’t the dominant kind of pitcher one normally sees at big programs. He’s a bit undersized at just 6-foot, and throws in the high-80s to low-90s. Everything about him reminds me of last year’s fifth round draft pick, Chris Diaz (seriously, go read my review of Diaz, and it should tell you all you need to know about Lawlor). He projects as a back of the rotation starter or middle reliever, and doesn’t have much of a ceiling. Wait… this isn’t a risky pick at all! What gives, Braves?
9th Round (270): Taylor Lewis, RHP — The Braves once again dodge a risky pick by selecting a side-arming closer from the University of Florida. Think of him as a shorter Cory Gearrin, who was also a closer in college. Lewis apparently gets both lefties and righties out with a fastball and slider mix. He could move fast through the Braves system, arriving as early as late 2016.
10th Round (300): Stephen Moore, RHP @stephenmoore20 — A starting pitcher from the Naval Academy, and a Roswell, Georgia native. He wasn’t on anyone’s scouting radar, and according to MLB.com Braves beat writer Mark Bowman, “Moore will pitch in the Braves Minor League system for a portion of this summer and then begin his military commitment.” This selection is almost certainly about adding this slot’s $149,000 to the team’s bonus pool to use on other picks.
However, the Braves do have a recent history of selecting kids who are destined for military service. The one who stands out the most for me is LHP Matt Fouch. He was drafted in the 34th round in 2010 out of West Point. I remember watching him in Savannah while he was pitching for Rome, and his stuff was absolutely filthy. During his brief stint in the Braves system he pitched in 6 games, totaling 9 innings, and allowed 0 runs on just 3 hits and 1 walk while striking out 10 before leaving for military service. The following year the Braves drafted another pitcher out of West Point in the 50th round. RHP Kevin McKague didn’t sign, so the Braves drafted him again in 2012 in the 23rd round. He didn’t have as much success as Fouch in his brief five game stint before leaving to serve our country.
We may be concerning ourselves with the risks of a baseball draft, but these selections are a sobering reminder of the risks these kids face as they are deployed around the world in the service of our country.