Braves: A look at the first three undrafted free agent signings

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Following the two-day 2020 MLB Draft, Sunday marked the beginning of an unprecedented period. All 30 MLB teams can sign undrafted free agents, although at a maximum of only $20,000. 

A few days ago, I looked at several top-end players left undrafted, which may have been a mistake considering the signings we’ll take a look at won’t include those I discussed. I knew that signing top-tier talent for $20K would be quite a stretch, but glancing at Sunday’s activity, it’s apparent that even mid-tier prospects will choose college ball over signing for such a low bonus. Basically, anyone projected to go before the 8th or 9th round is probably untouchable, so this is not going to be a fast-moving process. Either way, the Braves did pretty good compared to the 29 other organizations, and signed three players — two hitters and a pitcher. Here’s a look at all three:

 

Landon Stephens — UTIL

The Braves first pick-up from this year’s undrafted free agent class came Sunday morning when the team signed Landon Stephens — a 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior from Miami-Ohio — for the max signing bonus of $20,000. 

As a right-handed swinger who debuted for the Redhawks in 2017, Stephens has logged playing-time everywhere on the field except behind the plate and on the mound, concluding his collegiate career as a .300 hitter (.893 OPS). Stephens’ best year came in his last full-season (2019) when he was named First Team All-MAC, after slashing .310/.407/.555 with nine home runs and 46 RBI in 56 games, split almost evenly between second and third base. He also tallied 12 stolen bases and was caught stealing just twice. That 2019 campaign also featured 21 doubles and 23 multi-hit games for Stephens, as well as healthy walk and strikeout rates (15.2 BB%, 22.7 K%). 

When taking into account Stephens’ time playing summer ball in the Northwoods League (two summers), it’s rather apparent that third base has been his primary position. But the Braves don’t necessarily have to keep him there, and his bat probably fits anywhere. Overall, Stephens is what you’d call a bat-to-ball guy, and at $20K, it’s an excellent signing for the Braves.

 

Bryson Horne — 1B

Similar to Stephens in size, Horne is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound first baseman from Columbus State University — a D2 school in Columbus, Ga. Horne was offered the full $20,000 bonus, though the Yankees were said to also be in on the Georgia native. However, given he has grown up a lifelong Braves fan and has always worn no. 10… Horne ultimately chose Atlanta over New York (that’s always nice to see!).

Horne started his college baseball career at Georgia Highlands Community College, posting a combined .411 AVG during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. In the latter season — his sophomore campaign — Horne slugged six home runs and 38 RBI, which wound up earning him a spot on the All-Conference team and a shot to play Division 2 baseball. Of course, like everyone’s, Horne’s 2020 season with Columbus State was cut short. However, in just 21 games, the 21-year-old mashed six more homers and slashed an incredible .425/.510/.725 — good for a 1.235 OPS. If those 80 at-bats this past season are any indication of what Horne has developed into, then it’s safe to presume his power-bat is what attracted the Braves — who could use more left-handed sluggers in its farm system. Horne isn’t quite as big-bodied as current Braves’ farmhand Bryce Ball, but the two players may have a good bit in common when it’s all said and done. 

 

Carter Linton — RHP

The Braves wrapped up their Sunday by signing right-handed pitcher, Carter Linton, from Tusculum University — a private Presbyterian college just north of Knoxville, TN. It was a great birthday present for Linton, who turned 22 on Sunday. Also… Linton’s dad — Doug Linton — pitched professionally and in 2002 played for the Richmond Braves. 

Linton played ball at Columbia State University, starting his collegiate career there in 2017 before transferring to East Tennessee State for the 2018 season. However, Linton’s playing-time during those first two years was quite insignificant. In 2017-18 combined, he tallied just 26.1 innings, and the latter season featured an unsightly 8.16 ERA. 

His performance improved once at Tusculum in 2019, where Linton has played the last two seasons. His first year there featured a 3.00 ERA, and his 2020 campaign concluded with a 1.35 mark, but altogether Linton made just 17 appearances from 2019-20… all out of the bullpen. He has also averaged a poor walk-rate during that time, walking five batters per nine over his last two seasons. However, Linton does wield a capable repertoire, with his fastball hovering in the low-90s mph and sometimes as high as 95 mph when needed. Linton also has a solid changeup and throws a couple of different breaking balls, providing him with enough tools to average 13.9 K/9 over his last two seasons. I would imagine, given Linton already comes with at least three pitches, the Braves will at least try him out as a starter. If nothing else, he could be a dangerous option in the bullpen if he’s able to hone in his walk issues. 

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