Braves: Previewing the draft and its potential impact on the farm system 

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We may or may not have a 2020 MLB season, but this year’s draft is coming regardless (no matter how much different it will be than usual). Day 1 of the two-day, five-round event will start on Wednesday, June 10th at 7:00 p.m. ET — covering the first round solely — with both MLB Network and ESPN producing coverage. Day 2 will feature rounds 2-5, beginning at 5:00 p.m. ET. 

As we’ve approached the draft, I’ve profiled a few possible players the Braves could pursue in the first round of this class — looking at some mock drafts by guys like ESPN‘s Kiley McDaniel, The Athletic‘s Keith Law, and FanGraphs’ Eric Logenhagen. However, now that we’re just days away, perhaps it’s time to focus more on the overall class itself and how it can bolster the Braves’ farm system going forward. Teams rarely draft for need anymore, but there are still ways to choose the best talent while also keeping in mind what the organization could improve upon. 

Braves’ 2020 draft order

First, let’s get on the same page regarding the quality of the Braves’ picks this year. The teams’ second and third-highest selections were spent due to the signings of reliever Will Smith and outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Although, Josh Donaldson deciding to sign with the Twins this winter allows the Braves to keep their third-round pick, meaning they will have four picks total in the upcoming draft.

With the no. 25 overall pick in the first round — featuring a first-pick bonus pool of $2,740,300 — the Braves’ opportunity for top-tier talent quickly takes a rather substantial hit, as they don’t pick next until no. 97 (third round), then no. 126 (fourth round), and lastly, no. 156 (fifth round), giving the team a total bonus pool allotment of $4,127,800. 

It’s safe to say that the Braves’ first pick in 2020 will be a crucial one (… I know… duh). Although, in terms of projected future value — according to Logenhagen’s draft board at FanGraphs— after roughly the top 15 or so players in this year’s class, the upside (or even talent level) is quite comparable up on into the second round, suggesting maybe there’s a bit more wiggle room at no. 25 than originally believed. Either way, the Braves will possibly have just one chance to land a potentially ranked prospect in this class, and it could be even more beneficial for them if it’s a player who plays a position of need. 

The current state of the Braves’ farm system 

As I mentioned above, organizations don’t usually approach the draft as a chance to fill needs, at least in a sense where they may need a better player to cover first base down in Single-A, or a better shortstop in Double-A. Most of the time, teams are looking for the best possible player at their respective pick — period. 

But for the Braves, who suddenly stopped taking pitchers every year and grabbed a catcher with the first pick in 2019, there are ways for them to select the best possible player AND fill a position that’s perhaps shallow in talent. 

For those that have witnessed the extraordinary pitching that has come through the Braves’ system over the last several years, and because of that, believe that all alone is what the organization possesses… you may want to reconsider. Right now, the Braves’ system is probably the most balanced it has ever been. Let’s use SportsTalkATL’s top-30 prospect list, compiled for the 2020 season by Chase Irle back in late January. 

First off, the top-10 is as split as can be. Five hitters and five pitchers. But really, the entire list is balanced rather well, featuring 13 hitters and 17 pitchers, to go along with seven infielders and six outfielders. Digging even a little deeper, a consistent illustration of talent diversification continues, with two catchers, two shortstops, three center fielders and three corner infielders, to go along with a fairly uniform group of pitchers that consists of eleven starters and six relievers (labeling Patrick Weigel in the latter group, given that’s his most likely role as a big leaguer). Usually, most pitchers are drafted as starters because that’s the ultimate goal at the outset of their professional development. Although over time, a more clear picture is determined and some are re-labeled as relievers (Weigel is a present example, while a guy like Jeremy Walker is an instance where his big league stock was improved once moved to the ‘pen). 

The Braves have done an excellent job over the last few years, given most of the organization’s starting pitcher draftees have maintained their original pitching title. However, it will be interesting to see what happens with guys like Bryse Wilson and Huascar Ynoa, who’ve consistently struggled in those roles recently. 

Fortunately for the Braves, considering its minor league system is composed in such a balanced way, there are no specific positions of need at this time. A corner-type power-hitter or a more athletic, defense-first contact-hitter could be a viable option if the Braves have a shot at drafting a position-player at no. 25; on the other hand, going back to the organization’s more recent trend and selecting a big-bodied prep starting pitcher also makes sense. Heck, even landing Shea Langeliers last year doesn’t necessarily mean the Braves shouldn’t draft another college catcher in 2020. Logenhagen has them doing just that in his first 2020 mock draft at FG.

With that being said, discussing the upcoming draft wouldn’t be as compelling if we didn’t analyze it from a few different vantage points. And since we already know the Braves will pick the best player available, profiling random players from the 2020 class is about as accurate in terms of projecting the team’s potential picks. Instead of looking at this draft and the Braves’ possible picks based on best available talent, let’s list a few players from the class that would strengthen the organization’s farm system altogether. 

Drafting to bolster the farm

A bit of a disclaimer here: as I mentioned above, making draft selections to bolster or reinforce the farm system shouldn’t be interpreted as simply attempting to build a better organizational depth chart (aka: trying to have x amount of strong catchers, first basemen, pitchers, etc…). Teams do NOT do this, but this also isn’t what the following list is meant to present. These are players that have both a realistic shot at falling to the Braves and are attractive because of their respective talent… along with the baked-in perk of providing the Braves with a stronger prospect class because of their position or particular style/build. 

“A slugging first baseman”

Aaron Sabato, UNC 

Current Braves’ prospect and absolute masher, Bryce Ball, is living proof that a future replacement for Freddie Freeman does exist. The Braves snagged Ball in the 24th round (!) in last year’s draft, taking advantage of the disregard these days for legit home run hitters that aren’t full of tools. Sometimes you just need a guy that can straight up launch, and right now, the Braves’ farm system lacks those types of players.

Sabato could join Ball and start a competitive battle to see who can become the Braves’ next offensive leader, as right now, there aren’t any viable candidates other than the 6-foot-6 Ball. As a freshman at North Carolina in 2019, Sabato earned NCAA’s Freshman of the Year award after slugging 18 home runs (a school record for most homers by a freshman) and leading his team in AVG (.343), hits (79), doubles (25), RBI (63) and SLG (.696). In limited action in 2020 (just 19 games), the Tarheel belted seven homers and batted .292. 

Even better, Sabato should be available for the Braves in the first round. According to THE BOARD at FanGraphs, Sabato ranks 37th overall among this year’s class, and McDaniel doesn’t even have him listed in his most-recent mock at ESPN (though Logenhagen has Sabato going to the Twins at 27th overall). At 19-years-old and packed with a similar build as Ball (6’2″, 230 lbs), Sabato could be yet another steal for the Braves, as well as a much needed first baseman with legit power. Oh.. AND he hits from both sides of the plate.

“A power-hitting middle-infielder”

Justin Foscue, Mississippi State

As of right now, the Braves’ second pick from last year’s draft, Braden Shewmake, is the organization’s most talented middle-infielder. Sure, second baseman Greg Cullen is trending well as a former 15th round pick back in 2018 who holds an impressive .273 AVG through two seasons in the minors (he played at Single-A Rome in 2019), and guys like Riley Unroe and Jack Lopez are both hybrid-types in Triple-A Gwinnett that have shown flashes of great play, but overall, the Braves’ lack a true legitimate middle-infielder that can hit home runs and play solid defense. 

Here’s where Foscue comes in… if the Braves can grab him (Logenhagen has him going to the Brewers at 20th overall, while McDaniel has him projected to go 19th to the Mets). A Power 5 guy with a plus-bat AND one who plays a premium position is usually a sought after prospect (just look at Shewmake in 2019), but there’s a chance he’s there at no. 25 if his 27th ranking on THE BOARD holds up on draft day. 

At 6-foot and 200 pounds, Foscue is a muscular dude with a pretty right-handed swing, resulting in a fantasy baseball dream season for a second baseman in 2019, totaling 14 home runs, 60 RBI and a .331 AVG. Oh, and Foscue’s plate discipline stands out even more, considering he finished 2018 with the same amount of walks as strikeouts (22 apiece) and 2019 with just two more strikeouts than walks (30 walks / 32 strikeouts), all while facing SEC pitchers. The small sample of the 2020 season was more of the same: a .321 AVG, including 15 walks and just three strikeouts in 16 games. Perhaps it’s time for the Braves to draft a middle-infielder with their first pick?… especially since it has been ten years since they’ve done so (picking shortstop Matt Lipka in the 2000 draft 35th overall as the Braves supplemental pick for the loss of free agent Mike Gonzalez). 

“A toolsy two-way player”

Masyn Winn, Texas HS

Yes, the Braves presently roster two extremely athletic and toolsy outfielders in their minor league system in Cristian Pache and Drew Waters — hands-down the organization’s top-two prospects, respectively. Down the list, there’s Justin Dean, who offers blazing speed, and guys like Greyson Jenista and Jefrey Ramos, who have been known to swing strong bats (though the former has struggled lately). But after Pache and Waters, there aren’t many toolsy position-players left within the system’s top-30, save for potentially a more filled out Shewmake who could eventually hit for more power one day. 

Winn is a small guy (5’11”, 185 lbs.), but he could give the Braves’ system a bit more athleticism. Also, he’s a natural shortstop with an incredible arm and 70-grade speed, suggesting he could flourish virtually anywhere on the field. He can also pitch, as he hit 98-mph on the mound. And according to McDaniel, Winn has a “hellacious high-spin breaking ball.” Many draft gurus are labeling Winn as an under-the-radar player — either as a hitter or pitcher — so he’ll probably be available at no. 25. 

“High-risk, high-reward pitcher”

Clayton Beeter, Texas Tech

Beeter is as high as 19th overall on THE BOARD and trending upwards, but there will be numerous teams afraid of his recent Tommy John surgery and the fact that he has logged just over 40 innings combined in the last two seasons with Texas Tech. But at 6-foot-2, 220-pounds, armed with high-90s heat and a bugs-bunny curve, this is one of the top arms in the 2020 class. However, because of his elbow ailments, lack of recent workload, and the fact that he’s a relative newcomer as a starter, some draft mocks projecting Beeter as a late-second rounder. 

After making 21 relief appearances and converting eight saves with a 3.48 ERA in 2019, the 2020 season was supposed to be the beginning for him as a starting pitcher. Beeter made four starts, maintaining a 2.14 ERA and finishing with 14.1 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 — a not too outlandish K/BB ratio, given he finished the 2019 season with a whopping 17.4 K/9 (though, he did walk almost nine batters per nine innings last season). All-in-all, Beeter is a risky pick, but could also be, based on his already elite stuff, an incredible investment for the Braves. They just need to make sure they do their due diligence regarding the health of his arm. 


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