The Braves have had a lot of success in the MLB Draft in recent years, so I’m inclined to trust the judgment of Alex Anthopoulos and his scouts. However, I’m going to use their blueprint to make a few predictions, and that blueprint is clearly taking talented college players to help re-fill the system of a competing team quickly. That strategy has paid off big time; in 2020, the Braves snagged talented players Jared Shuster, Spencer Strider, Bryce Elder, and Jesse Franklin V. Atlanta once again went to the college well in 2021, with 17 of their 19 signed draft picks being from college. Check out the way-too-early 1.0 edition below:
Since then, the Braves have gained the 76th pick in the draft for losing Freddie Freeman in Free Agency. I’ll factor that in here.
Round 1, Pick 20: RHP Blade Tidwell — Tennessee
MLBPipeline mocked Tidwell to the Braves in a recent mock draft, and for good reason. This pick just makes way too much sense. Tidwell seems like a guy who would start in Mississippi with a chance to climb the system quickly. His pitch mix is very interesting, and it’s advanced for a 20-year-old. He has the makeup of a potential frontline starter. He fits the mold of an elite college pitcher who has the stuff to work with and develop. Playing on the best team in college baseball makes him even more appealing. Here’s what MLBPipeline has to say about Tidwell:
Shoulder soreness kept him out of action for six weeks and he just re-joined the Volunteers’ weekend rotation last week, so there’s still a bit of a question mark here. But he was pretty lights-out in that start and a few more of those could help prove his health, which means he probably goes earlier than this.
Tidwell teamed with Ryan Weathers to lead Loretto HS to the Tennessee state Class A championship in 2017 and finish runner-up in 2018. Now in his second year at Tennessee, Tidwell could join Weathers (selected No. 7 overall by the Padres in 2018) as a first-round pick. In his college debut, he won 10 games (second-most in school history for a freshman behind R.A. Dickey), including the super-regional clincher over Louisiana State that sent the Volunteers to the College World Series for the first time in 16 years.
Tidwell can light up radar guns with a fastball that parks at 93-96 mph and tops out at 99 with some arm-side run, though it also straightens out and gets hit when he doesn’t work up in the strike zone. He has a full array of secondary pitches, led by a low-80s slider that hits 88 mph and features sweep and some depth. His sinking low-80s changeup generated the best swing-and-miss rate (39 percent) of any of his offerings in 2021, and he’ll also drop in a mid-70s curveball to give left-handers a different look.
After adding 20 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame since arriving in college, Tidwell does a good job of maintaining his stuff deep into games, and he still has room to add some more strength. He throws strikes but needs to improve the consistency and command of his pitches. If he does that, he’ll join Dickey as the only Volunteers pitchers ever taken in the first round.
Round 2, Pick 57: RHP Jonathan Cannon — Georgia
I’ve watched Cannon a few times — he’s an absolute steal at this point in the draft. Cannon posted a 0.69 ERA over three starts in the Cape Cod League, and he has been dominant for the Bulldogs over his career. The 6’6” Righty currently boasts a 9-1 record with a 2.38 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, and 9.67 K/BB Ratio. Cannon could rise quickly, but as of right now, this is around where MLBPipeline is projecting him:
Cannon entered 2021 as a potential first-rounder but missed the first three weeks with mononucleosis and was rarely in top form during the season. Though he made three starts with a 0.69 ERA in the Cape Cod League before the Draft, he wasn’t going to be signable where he would have been picked and ultimately went unselected. In a down year for college pitchers, he could fit in the top two rounds but did give clubs pause when he missed two starts in April with a forearm strain.
Cannon maintains a heavy 92-96 mph fastball when he’s at his best, but his heater sat at 91-94 with less life and got hit hard in 2021. The biggest difference for him this spring has been an improved cutter that parks in the upper 80s and regularly misses bats. His low-80s slider looks sharper than last year, though he has lost some trust in his sinking mid-80s changeup and has mostly shelved his curveball.
Strong and physical, Cannon keeps his 6-foot-6 frame in sync and pounds the strike zone on a regular basis, walking just one batter in his first six starts this spring. Now that he has regained his former heater and developed an out pitch, he could be a mid-rotation option. His strike-throwing gives him a high floor as at least a No. 4 or 5 starter.
Compensation Pick 76: OF Colby Thomas — Mercer
The Gainesville native is having a huge year for the Bears, slashing .325/.451/.734/1.184 with 17 home runs and 11 stolen bases. Thomas has an incredible athletic and defensive profile, something the Braves have had success developing in their outfield. He’s another home run pick at 76 if he’s available.
A 37th-round pick by the Orioles out of a Georgia high school in 2019, Thomas led the Southern Conference with five homers in 16 games as a Mercer freshman during the shortened college season the following spring. He got too aggressive at the plate and struggled throughout 2021 before starting to get back on track in the Cape Cod League. He’s showing more discipline this spring and has played his way into the top three rounds, making him the Bears’ best prospect since Kyle Lewis went 11th overall in 2016.
Thomas is challenging for the NCAA Division I home run lead now that he’s chasing fewer pitches out of the zone and missing fewer over the plate. His right-handed swing can still get too uphill, but his combination of bat speed, strength and loft gives him well-above-average raw power. He’s doing a better job of working counts and drawing walks, leading to optimism he’ll hit for a decent average while posting a healthy on-base percentage.
One of the better athletes in the 2022 college class, Thomas is a solid to plus runner with arm strength to match. He has the savvy to steal bases and covers more ground than a typical right fielder. Scouts believe he has the quickness and instincts to perhaps play center field, though he hasn’t gotten that opportunity with the Bears.
Round 3, Pick 96: LHP Nate Savino — Virginia
Savino is a guy I have watched a lot of this season. He got off to a hot start for Virginia, but he’s had a few rough starts over the past few weeks. Regardless, when Savino is on, he’s one of the better pitchers in all of college baseball — just watch his complete game shutout against Duke. He can work both sides of the plate and consistently throws strikes with good movement. If he can refine his sinker and add some velocity, it will be a pitch that will give any hitter fits — minor or major leagues.
When Savino was a senior in high school, he was thought to be one of the prep left-handers in the country, one who could have been a high first-round pick in the 2020 Draft. Intent on attending the University of Virginia, he graduated early, in December of ’19 and headed straight to Charlottesville. He didn’t progress as many hoped over his first two springs on campus, but generated some buzz with an uptick in stuff last fall and at the outset of the ’22 season, but he was struggling with maintaining it.
A little more velocity to his fastball and a little more sharpness in his slider helped Savino’s stock rise as the spring began at Virginia. His fastball has averaged over 91 mph this spring, compared to just 87.4 mph in 2021, and his slider climbed to 81.6 mph from just over 78 mph last year while mixing in an effective changeup as well. That’s led to more missed bats as he’s nearly doubled his strikeout rate from the ’21 season.
Savino has been a solid strike thrower, but as the season turned to April, however, Savino’s stuff backed up a bit and scouts were seeing more 88-92 mph fastballs than the ones that were touching 95. That led to some rough starts, leading scouts to wonder who the real Savino was. His ceiling isn’t what many predicted back in high school, but if the early spring version is for real, he has the potential to be a back-end starter in the big leagues.