The Atlanta Braves enter the 2016 draft with four selections on day one among the top 76 picks, including the team’s highest pick since Mike Kelly was selected No. 2 overall in 1991.
The team traded for two additional picks again this year at the end of the first and second rounds. They added a pick at the end of the first round at No. 40 from the Marlins via the Dodgers in the Alex Wood trade last year, then added the No. 76 pick in a recent trade with the Orioles.
My hope with the early picks (below) of this draft for Atlanta, was that they would use their large bonus pool (made so in part because of the huge slot recommendation for the No. 3 pick) to draft first round talents with the majority of these selections. With their first three picks the Braves did just that, using picks 40 and 44 to choose prospects who were ranked by many evaluators among the top-25.
The Braves didn’t listen to the critics in the media who wanted them to draft based on current major league needs (meaning: draft hitters), and instead focused on selecting the prospects they saw as having the highest ceiling. And they used those picks to select one of the most expensive and toughest positions to fill: starting pitching.
1st Round (3): Ian Anderson, RHP @ian_anderson15 — The Braves surprised a lot of people by taking a high school pitcher who wasn’t nearly this high on most people’s board. But the Braves believe he has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the draft, and that he really came on strong late in the season. This reprises a theme from last year’s Braves draft of taking late risers or “pop-up” picks. He was ranked No. 13 overall by MLB.com, No. 11 overall by Baseball America, and No. 7 by Keith Law of ESPN.
It’s not like Anderson is a light weight prospect, or unworthy of being selected here. He is a tall and lean 6-foot-4, the kind of frame that scouting directors love to have in their system, with the belief that they can add muscle and velocity. He also has a clean and easy delivery that reminds some of Mike Mussina or Jacob deGrom.
He has at least two plus pitches with a chance at three, and his command also grades as plus. His plus fastball sits in the low 90s, touching 95-96. Though he doesn’t use his changeup much, it nonetheless garners plus grades from some scouts. His curveball is still developing, but it has plus projection. A high school pitcher with this kind of velocity who is projected to have three plus pitches certainly warrants a selection this high.
In short, Anderson checks all the boxes that a team wants in a high-ceiling prep pitcher. His upside is that of a top-of-the-rotation starter. I like this selection, as it continues the philosophy they have focused on during their rebuild of acquiring young controllable starting pitching. By concentrating their top picks on prep pitchers in the draft two years in a row, Atlanta is assembling the building blocks of a rotation similar to the one from the 90’s that led them to all those division titles.
1st Competitive Balance Round (40): Joey Wentz, LHP @joeywentz — The Braves draft strategy works to their advantage as they select another talented high school arm who was ranked higher on just about every board. In doing so they will likely be paying Wentz more than slot, using money saved on the (expected) under-slot Anderson pick. Ranked No. 22 by Keith Law, No. 19 by Baseball America, and No. 16 by MLB.com, Wentz seems like excellent mid-first-round value for an end-of-first-round pick.
Wentz is like a less-refined left-handed version of Anderson. The 6-foot-5 prep lefty from Kansas features a low-90s fastball that can reach 95-96, and a low-to-mid-70s curveball, both of which grade as above average with a future grade of plus. His changeup and overall control are also both said to be above average, with a chance at a future plus grade. Like many high school pitchers, this pick is about future projection and how the organization can guide his development.
While Wentz’s path to top-of-the-rotation prospect status may not be as clear as Anderson’s, the potential is certainly there. As with many two-way players, once Wentz dedicates all his baseball acumen to pitching, the results should get better. I really like this pick, as it checks the box that I wanted to see checked from this draft of the Braves getting at least two mid-to-upper first round talents.
2nd Round (44): Kyle Muller, LHP @kylemuller19 — Atlanta is back at it with their third pick, plucking another high school pitcher, and again getting good value. The 6-foot-5 lefty out of Dallas was ranked No. 58 by Keith Law, No. 39 by Baseball America, and No. 24 by MLB.com. Like Wentz, Muller was a two-way player in high school.
Muller is an interesting prospect, as he put up “video game stats” at times over the past two years. At one point striking out a high school record 24 straight batters over two starts and recording 36 consecutive outs on strikeouts. His fastball velocity is not consistent yet, ranging from mid-80s to low-90s, while occasionally touching 95 with some sink to it. His curve is average and change is below average right now, but some scouts think both have a chance to be above average if not plus.
Scouts love his big and athletic body, and Muller was a stand-out at the plate as well, challenging for the national high school home run lead most of the year. His athleticism and physique are said to be among the best in the entire draft. He’s more of a raw product as a pitcher than the two earlier picks, but he has the canvas to be just as good of a prospect, though it may take a little bit longer for the good results to show up in games.
2nd Competitive Balance Round (76): Brett Cumberland, C @bcumboslice — The Braves finally get off the high school pitcher bandwagon and take a college hitter. The Cal product was ranked No. 90 by Baseball America, No. 82 by Keith Law, and No. 69 by MLB.com.
The draft-eligible sophomore checks many of the boxes that are supposedly “needs” in the Braves system. He hits. He hits for power. He’s a catcher. Actually, the switch-hitter hits for a lot of power, but he may end up in left field due to the belief by some scouts that his overall athleticism and catch-and-throw skills may not be enough to stick behind the plate.
Wherever he ends up he becomes one of the best power prospects in the Braves system, and perhaps the closest one to the majors. As a sophomore he still has some development left to get to where his prospect ceiling will be, but I like the combination of power and hitting ability, even if he’s forced to move to the field. Solid pick for the team and decent value here.