The Braves entered Day 2 of the 2020 MLB Draft on Thursday having caused quite a ruckus from the night before. Twitter featured numerous tweets of dissatisfaction from those that reside in Braves Country, as the team decided to go in an unexpected direction by selecting Wake Forest lefty Jared Shuster 25th overall — a player many experts projected as a second or third-round talent. The Braves’ made Kiley McDaniel’s Biggest Round 1 Head Scratchers list at ESPN on Friday (if you care about such things). However, McDaniel’s criticism was fairly subtle… if you can even call such an obvious statement like “they will have to be more aggressive making selections on Day 2,” a form of criticism. As I said in Thursday’s profile post on Shuster, perhaps we should have a little trust in GM Alex Anthopoulos before we start sharpening our pitchforks.
Regardless of your thoughts on the Braves’ selections over the last couple of days, the organization must now welcome four new players (assuming of course each of them sign). We already discussed Shuster on Thursday morning, so let’s look closer at the other three players taken in rounds 3-5 on Thursday night:
Round 3 — Pick 97
Jesse Franklin V — OF
Taken in the 37th round as a prep star in the 2017 draft by his hometown team (the Seattle Mariners), Franklin instead spent the last two seasons manning center field for the University of Michigan. However, he missed 2020 due to a broken collarbone. At 6’1″, 215 lbs, having concluded an NCAA stint that featured playing-time all over the outfield and first base, Franklin’s sweet left-handed swing earned him a high ranking as no. 142 on MLB Pipeline’s 2020 draft board, including 150th and 196th on Baseball America’s and FanGraphs’ THE BOARD, respectively, entering this year’s draft.
Although despite his rather poor ranking on most draft boards, Franklin’s numbers in Ann Arbor seem to fall right in line with many of the college hitters taken on Day 1 in the draft. With back-to-back seasons featuring at least ten home runs (10 and 13 in 2018 and 2019), Franklin wrapped up his collegiate career with a strong slash-line (.287/.385/.520) thanks to his ability to consistently showcase elite plate discipline (career rates at UM of 15.2 BB%, 20.7 K%). In fact, he came close to tallying more walks than strikeouts in 2019, drawing 51 free passes compared to 54 punchouts in 260 at-bats.
Franklin will turn 22 in December, and he’s maxed out in terms of what he can prove at the college level, for his bat is already promising given his position (though many believe long-term he’ll wind up a corner-outfielder). Also, Franklin has shown plenty of speed while playing the field, so all-in-all signing with the Braves — most likely at or under slot — is perhaps his best option. He could become yet another talented outfielder in the Braves’ minor league system, given his plus-bat and the fact that he can handle a premium defensive position.
Round 4 — Pick 126
Spencer Strider — RHP
Another player part of the 2017 draft, Strider became the second college pitcher taken in this year’s event, coming out of Clemson University. Despite spending the last three seasons with the Tigers, Strider did miss all of the 2019 campaign because of Tommy John surgery. With a rather small sample of career numbers that include a mix of both starts and relief appearances, Strider didn’t show up on any pre-draft top-100 or top-200 prospect lists, though Perfect Game has him marked at 354th in the country.
There’s no sense in sugarcoating it, Strider’s numbers at Clemson aren’t too inspiring. As a freshman in 2018, he struggled mightily with free passes and walked a whopping 35 batters in 51 innings (6.2 BB/9), which is likely what resulted in him pitching out of the bullpen the majority of the time. In 16 relief appearances and six starts during the 2018 season, Strider did well posting a 5-2 record and 12.4 K/9, but his run prevention lacked (4.76 ERA) as he surrendered too much contact. Although Strider followed up his first collegiate season by pitching a bit better in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2018. But despite an improved 3.38 ERA there, he still walked 6+ batters per nine in 26.2 innings. After missing all of the 2019 season from TJ surgery, Strider seemed to be in the middle of a massive turnaround in his first four starts at Clemson during the 2020 campaign, maintaining a 4.50 ERA and a much-improved 2.3 walks per nine through 12 innings. He also had 19 punchouts in that span — good for 14.3 K/9.
Strider turns 22 in October, and he’s known for having a lively mid-90s mph fastball with a sharp slider that many believe will eventually become elite; and because of the amount of missed time, there’s reason to believe Strider’s draft stock was a bit undervalued, meaning there’s real potential that the Braves possibly picked up some real upside at a 4th-round discount. Either way, it’s probably safe to say that Strider’s more of a long-term plan for the Braves, and the worst-case scenario he’ll wind up a reliever due to his size (6’0″, 195lbs) and minimal track record.
Round 5 — Pick 156
Bryce Elder — RHP
Concluding their draft this year with yet another Power 5 college player, the Braves scored a nice one picking Elder in the fifth round — a former ace pitcher for the University of Texas, where he has spent his last three seasons. You could even say he was a bit of a steal, given THE BOARD had Elder ranked 134th, directly in front of prep righty Ben Hernandez who was taken by the Royals in the second round. Even better, both Baseball America and Perfect Game had Elder listed inside the top-100, while MLB Pipeline (no. 109) and ESPN (no. 150) ranked him among the top-150.
Similar to the other two college arms the Braves selected on Thursday, Elder has widely improved over the last couple of seasons. His freshman year in 2018 featured a 5.55 ERA in 22 relief appearances and a below-average walk-rate (4.5 BB/9). However, after moving to the Longhorns’ starting rotation, Elder finished 2019 with a 2.93 ERA and just 3.6 walks per nine as part of a sophomore season that included 13 starts and 83 innings. A short stint in the Cape Cod League last summer was followed by what looked to be a huge year for Elder in 2020. Through his first four starts (26 IP), the 6’2″, 225 lb., righty carried a 2.08 ERA as well as 11.1 K/9 and just 2.4 BB/9. By the time the NCAA season was suspended, Elder was Texas’ bonafide ace starter.
Elder is a bit younger than Strider and Franklin, having just turned 21-years-old in May. Also, despite his strong K rate in college, he’s not really looked at as a power-pitcher, at least in terms of his pitch mix. Elder throws a low-90s mph fastball that generates ground balls rather well. He also wields a plus-slider and an average changeup, with the latter offering ultimately dictating just how high his ceiling will be as a professional. The guys at Talking Chop see Elder as a guy with above-average command and project him as high as a no. 3 type starter if everything goes as planned. In terms of where he was picked on Thursday, Elder was a nice pickup for the Braves.
Check back soon for more regarding the 2020 MLB Draft! Next, we’ll hand out some grades for the Braves.