Braves 2020 MLB Draft: Targeting high school pitching

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For four-straight years — until 2019’s MLB Draft — the Braves have used their first overall pick on pitching. Starting with lefty Kolby Allard in 2015 — chosen 14th overall — the list goes on and on, featuring Ian Anderson in 2016 (third overall), Kyle Wright in 2017 (fifth overall), and the unsigned Carter Stewart in 2018 (eighth overall). And thus far, I believe it’s safe to say that the Braves consistent interest in taking pitchers at the top of the draft has worked out rather well, as we’ve witnessed Wright’s recent surge to the majors (despite his struggles in 2019), as well as Anderson’s development as perhaps the organization’s next talented major league starter. 

But there’s also another trend to take away from the Braves last several drafts: the team’s apparent attraction to high school pitchers. As you were probably already aware, three of those four consecutively drafted pitchers were taken out of high school (all but Wright, who came from Vanderbilt).

Well, despite the Braves growing desire to become much quieter these days when it comes to any potential decision or possible strategies at all (thanks to the hush hush of GM Alex Anthopoulos), there have been rumblings that they are once again looking to draft a prep arm — most recently reported by The Athletic‘s Keith Law in his mock draft last week. 

I’ve spent the last month profiling various potential draftees for the Braves, but now that there seems to be an actual preference, we can narrow the pool of players down a bit. But no matter how reputable a guy like Law is, it would be irresponsible to automatically conclude the Braves are set on picking a prep pitcher. So don’t take this as a guarantee, but more of a look at possible players the Braves could be interested in IF they indeed return to their recent stretch of drafting high school pitchers:

 Jared Kelley — RHP

Texas HS

We’ll start with Law’s mock pick for the Braves from Wednesday — a Texas high school righty ranked 20th overall on FanGraphs’ THE BOARD. Kelley comes in at 6’2″, 225 lbs, and is currently rated as a 45 future value prospect, which is just inside the top-10 among all pitchers in the 2020 class (or the 7th-best right-handed arm overall). Eric Logenhagen, at FanGraphs, has Kelley going as high as 23rd overall to the Indians.

 According to scouting reports, Kelley’s topped-out 98 mph fastball and plus-changeup give him the ceiling of a mid-rotation starter and the floor of a late-inning reliever, primarily depending on the development of his average curveball. 

 Tanner Witt — RHP

Texas HS

I haven’t seen mocks featuring Witt going to the Braves, but Law has him going 23rd to the Indians, while Logenhagen doesn’t have him included in his first round. Witt’s another Texas guy, listed at 6’5″, 200 lbs, and pegged with a 40+ FV., which results in him ranking 48th overall on THE BOARD. Witt is also committed to pitch at Texas if his stock winds up not matching his expectations in the draft.

 Witt is still just 17-years-old, though he’ll turn 18 on draft day, but his pitch mix is that of someone already maturing nicely. His fastball tops out at just 90 mph, but his two secondaries (curveball and changeup) are both said to be above average. And the velocity concerns aren’t as significant either, given he has plenty of time to develop more in the future. Also a plus, Witt is super athletic and can hit, as he played shortstop during high school. This would be more of a long-term project pick for the Braves, but it’s a player the organization could mold from start to finish. 

 Nick Bitsko — RHP

Pennsylvania HS

This one’s admittedly a bit of a stretch, as Law has Bitsko going to the Rangers at no. 14, and Logenhagen has him going to the Diamondbacks at no. 18. In terms of overall ranking, Bitsko splits the difference between Law and Logenhagen, ranking 16th overall as the fourth-best righty in the 2020 class. He may not make it the Braves at no. 25, but at 6’3″, 220 lbs., it would be crazy not to consider him. As a 45 FV, Bitsko is committed to Virginia. 

 Per FanGraphs, Bitsko has the best fastball/curveball combo in the draft, hence his decision to reclassify in January (he originally was set to enter the 2021 draft). However, moving up a class presents a host of problems, given no one has seen him pitch much, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Even so, Bitsko is reportedly 92-96 mph with his fastball, and his command is comparable to most other prep arms. He has shown out when seen, but the current small sample is all the Braves have to comb through. 

 Carson Montgomery — RHP

Florida HS

Going from a player that probably won’t be available for the Braves at no. 25, in Bitsko, to one that perhaps shouldn’t be drafted in the first round at all is Montgomery — a 6’2″, 200-pound righty from Florida. Montgomery is also 17-years-old and his 30th overall ranking on THE BOARD is the highest I’ve seen him on any 2020 draft list (granted, MLB.com has him ranked 34th). He’s another 45 FV and is committed to playing ball at Florida State.

 Like Bitsko, Montgomery’s strength is his heater/curve combo, which features a fastball that reaches 95 mph on occasion and a curveball that looks more like a slurve. Also, despite never using it much in high school, Montgomery wields a solid changeup that many scouts believe to be his second-best pitch in the future, once he starts throwing it more. Like the rest of these guys listed, Montgomery has mid-rotation potential, but according to reports, his delivery on the mound isn’t quite on par with some of the other mid to top-tier prep arms. 

 Other possible HS pitchers at no. 25

Here are a few more potential prep arms for the Braves at no. 25, though these are probably pushing more on the second or third round end.

 Justin Lange — LHP

Texas HS

profiled Lange last month, though like Montgomery above, he may be a bit of a stretch at no. 25 (ranked 36th on THE BOARD). He’s a 40+ FV committed to Dallas Baptist and stands 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, featuring a mid-90s fastball and a plus-curve. Many expect him to be a high-leverage reliever.

 Masyn Winn — RHP

Texas HS

Committed to Arkansas, the 18-year-old Winn has an 80-grade first name (if it’s pronounced MASON). Unfortunately, though, he’s just a 40+ FV talent on THE BOARD, which may ultimately mean a second or third-round selection in the draft. Winn throws in the mid-90s and has played a ton of shortstop as well, suggesting his athleticism is well above-average relative to a lot of other prospect pitchers in this class. 

 Dax Fulton — LHP

Oklahoma HS

We’re getting into definite second or third round territory now, but Fulton is a lefty with size, comparable to the Yankees’ James Paxton (6’6″, 220 lbs.). THE BOARD has him ranked 43rd overall, though he is a top-5 lefty pitcher in the 2020 class. Also, scouting reports love his curveball and command. However, Fulton did have Tommy John surgery last summer. He’s a 40+ FV that’s committed to Oklahoma. 

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