The minor league season is coming to a close, and the Braves got some notable contributions from their 2021 draft class. As usual, I trust Alex Anthopoulos with these picks, and he continued to target talented college players to help replenish a farm system that has graduated a lot of talent. So far, many of these guys are paying serious dividends. This is part one, and I’ll cover the last nine picks that signed in the second part.
Round 1, Pick 24: RHP Ryan Cusick, Wake Forest
Key Stats: 6 GS, 16.1 IP, 2.76 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 18.73 K/9, 63.0 S%
As you can see, Cusick showed a lot of what he flashed at Wake Forest — an overpowering arsenal and a lot of swing-and-miss stuff, headlined by his 100+ MPH fastball. A 63% strike percentage isn’t bad for a guy who needed to work on his command coming out of school, and only walking four batters is very encouraging as well. Cusick will likely start 2022 in Rome after dominating Augusta, and he may not be challenged until AA as a college arm.
Round 2, Pick 59: RHP/SS Spencer Schwellenbach, Nebraska
Key Stats: N/A
Schwellenbach underwent Tommy John Surgery, but there’s a lot to like about his potential as an infielder or as a closer. Who knows, maybe he can contribute in both areas.
Round 3, Pick 96: LHP Dylan Dodd, Southeastern Missouri State
Key Stats: 4 GS, 14 IP, 9.00 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 12.86 K/9
Dodd was always likely to struggle after playing at a smaller school, but he had some flashes over his four starts. He made one start in Rome and got touched up for eight runs, but he’s still adapting to the game. Dodd gave up many hits, but he was throwing strikes and wasn’t issuing many free passes. I can live with that. I’m not too concerned, and he has a lot of room to develop.
Round 4, Pick 126: SS Cal Conley, Texas Tech
Key Stats: .214/.304/.307/.612, 5 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 8 SB, 14 BB
Conley showed some decent gap-to-gap power and ability to get on base in Augusta, but he struggled with some strikeouts and made a few errors in the field. Once again, as a young guy, he should have a good opportunity to get his feet under him with a full season in Augusta or Rome in 2022, likely Augusta.
Round 5, Pick 157: SS Luke Waddell, Georgia Tech
Key Stats: .260/.324/.450/.774, 6 HR
Luke Waddell stole the show for this draft class. He got extremely hot and knocked all six of his home runs over a six-game stretch. He earned himself a promotion to Mississippi, where he finally came back down to earth. His .952 Rome OPS dropped to .373 in AA, albeit over an eight-game sample size. If he can keep up this level of play, he’ll be knocking on the door of a major league call-up as a utility man in no time.
Round 6, Pick 187: 3B Justyn-Henry Malloy, Georgia Tech
Key Stats: .270/.388/.434/.822, 5 2B, 5 HR
Waddell’s teammate and subsequent draft pick, Justyn-Henry Malloy, wasn’t far behind him, as he showed that he could handle the bat down in Augusta. Third base depth has become a problem for the Braves, and Malloy is on the right track. Hopefully, he can keep it up; he needs to refine his work at third base, but he looks like an excellent sixth-round pick so far.
Round 7, Pick 217: RHP AJ Smith-Shawver, Colleyville Heritage HS (TX)
Key Stats: 4 GS, 8.1 IP, 8.64 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, 17.28 K/9
Smith-Shawver was one of the few high school players the Braves targeted, and they paid a premium to get him. Regardless, he is only 18 and is a lot more sizzle than steak right now. That’s fine for a kid that young getting thrown into professional baseball.
Round 8, Pick 247: OF Tyler Collins, McKinney Boyd HS (TX)
Key Stats: .347/.424/.453/.877, 4 2B, 2 3B, 12 SB
I loved the Collins pickup; the Braves have a track record of scooping up toolsy outfielders and developing them into studs. Collins is only 18, and he held his own in the developmental league. His bat was a concern coming out of the draft, so it’s nice to see him finding green grass in the gaps and stealing bases. If he can develop some pop, watch out.
Round 9, Pick 277: C Liam McGill, Bryant University
Key Stats: .229/.325/.429/.754, 1 HR
McGill has a decent OPS for his batting average being as low as it is, but it’s only a 35 at-bat sample size. From looking at the box score, it’s concerning that he has allowed 12 stolen bases without throwing out a runner. Still, he’s a young guy in the developmental league. No cause for concern yet.
Round 10, Pick 307: RHP Dylan Spain, University of Hawai’i at Hilo
Key Stats: 17.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 8 H, 2 BB, 0.57 WHIP, .328 OPSA, 10.7 K/9
We finish with the mystery man of the draft from Hawai’i, Dylan Spain. I knew next to nothing about Spain coming out of the draft, but it looks like the Braves have an early gem. Spain didn’t allow a single run out of the bullpen in the FCL, Augusta, or Rome. He looks primed to make a quick run through the system if he can keep pitching like this.