Braves: Way-too-early 2022 MLB draft targets & mock draft

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We’re a long ways away from the 2022 MLB Draft, but while the lockout is going on, we may as well take a look at some options for the Braves in the draft. MLBPipeline recently released their Top 100 Prospects for the 2022 Draft, so I’ll look at some very early potential pairings for the Braves. As most know, teams typically don’t draft for need in the MLB Draft; they just go for the best player available. The Braves are actually picking 20th because the order goes by record regardless of postseason results. Using Alex Anthopoulos’ strategy of targeting college players, I’ll attempt to pinpoint some names to keep an eye on.

Let’s get started with who I like for the Braves. All scouting reports are via MLBPipeline:

Targets:

C Logan Tanner – Mississippi State

A two-way prospect as a Mississippi prepster, Tanner had a fastball that reached 96 mph but became a full-time catcher once he arrived at Mississippi State. He led the Bulldogs’ 2021 College World Series championship team with 15 homers, including one in the clincher against Vanderbilt, and his defense stands out more than his offense. He’s one of several college catchers with a chance to go in the first round in July.

Tanner has one of the strongest arms in the college ranks, earning plus-plus grades from most evaluators and top-of-the-scale 80s from some, and he shuts down the running game. He can get more consistent with his receiving and blocking but is solid in both regards. He works well with pitchers, has handled Mississippi State’s live arms with ease and shows promising leadership and game-calling abilities.

Tanner’s strength and bat speed give him legitimate power to all fields from the right side of the plate, and he might provide 20-25 homers per year if he can lift more balls in the air. He draws walks, makes contact and has done damage against quality pitching at the college level. He’s a well below-average runner but that’s excusable for a catcher.

Outside of Shea Langeliers, the Braves don’t have a ton of talent at catcher. Still, the defensive ability and raw power in the scouting report reminds me a lot of Langeliers, and Tanner is a player that could make an impact very quickly if he can develop behind the plate. With William Contreras‘ future cloudy and Manny Pina on a longer deal, the Braves could look to develop another stud catcher to serve with Langeliers.

RHP Landon Sims – Mississippi State

Sims entered his 2019 senior season as a Georgia high schooler with a chance to go in the top three rounds, but inconsistency with his secondary pitches and control combined with his commitment to Mississippi State left him undrafted. He was unhittable in his first two college seasons as a reliever, posting a 1.44 ERA with 13 saves, a .151 opponent average and 100 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings as the Bulldogs won their first-ever College World Series championship in 2021. After earning a win or save in seven of their 10 postseason victories, he’ll make the same bullpen-to-rotation transition that landed fellow CWS hero Will Bednar in the first round last July.

Sims’ high-spin fastball sits at 94-96 mph and touches 98 with a difficult approach angle and tremendous carry up in the strike zone, resulting in outstanding swing-and-miss (38 percent) and chase (29 percent) rates on his heater last season. His tight mid-80s slider is just as hard to handle and works against both left-handers and right-handers. He didn’t utilize a third offering as a reliever and didn’t pitch in the fall, but he says he believes in his changeup and is looking forward to using it.

With his strong 6-foot-2 build and strike-throwing ability, Sims is equipped to handle starting. While he does feature some spin and recoil at times in his delivery, he has shown the aptitude to control his mechanics in longer outings. He comes with a ceiling of a mid-rotation starter and the likelihood that he’s a high-leverage reliever and perhaps a closer. Area scouts love his makeup and he reminds some of them of Wallace State (Ala.) CC star Craig Kimbrel, albeit with better control and a better chance to succeed in a rotation.

Another player who could reach the majors quickly, Sims could be on the same track that AJ Minter was on when the Braves drafted him back in 2015. Sims may have a future in the rotation, but it’s hard to pass on a guy that has potential as a closer in a year or two.

SS Carter Young – Vanderbilt

The defensive glue on the U.S. national team that won a gold medal at the 2017 18-and-under World Cup and featured 11 future first-rounders, Young struggled offensively on the showcase circuit the following summer and went undrafted as a Washington high schooler in 2019. He’s the best 2022 prospect among college shortstops guaranteed to stick at the position. He hit 16 homers in his first full season at Vanderbilt but also led NCAA Division I with 84 strikeouts in 61 games, though some scouts wonder if a left shoulder injury that required offseason surgery contributed to his whiffs.

Young has transformed himself since high school, adding 20 pounds and getting much more uphill with his swing from both sides of the plate. After showing little power as a prepster, he now has average pop that plays to his pull side as a right-handed hitter and to all fields as lefty. To realize his 20-homer potential in pro ball, he’ll need to tone down his stroke and stop chasing pitches out of the strike zone.

Young plays quicker than his average speed thanks to his advanced instincts on the bases and in the field. He covers ground at shortstop, where his hands, strong arm and internal clock make him a solid and reliable defender. If he doesn’t hit enough to be a regular, he has the versatility and skills to fill a utility role.

We know how much the Braves love their utility players, and Young looks to do a little bit of everything on the diamond. This would be a case of taking the best player available. The Braves drafted a lot of utility shortstops in 2021, but you can never have enough talented infielders.

OF Jordan Beck – Tennessee

Several evaluators draw parallels between Beck and former Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe. Both were physical, tooled-up right fielders in the Southeastern Conference, and both were drafted by the Red Sox as raw high schoolers (Beck in the 14th round in 2019). Renfroe slugged his way into the first round after improving in his third college season, and Beck could do the same this spring.

Beck uses his bat speed, strength and the leverage in his 6-foot-3 frame to create well-above-average power to all fields. He gets too aggressive at the plate, however, and he struggled to make contact and drive the ball with wood bats in the Cape Cod League last summer. He’ll need to develop more discipline and make some adjustments against breaking balls and changeups in order to make the leap Renfroe did.

Beck runs very well for his size, displaying solid speed and the ability to steal an occasional base. His plus arm strength adds to his profile in right field, where he’s a better-than-average defender. Though he doesn’t play center field for the Volunteers because they have Drew Gilbert, he did see some action in center on the Cape and may merit a look there in pro ball.

Atlanta’s system is very top heavy for outfielders, and they could use a replenishment of talent. While they have Ronald Acuña Jr. — Drew Waters and Cristian Pache are trade candidates. Michael Harris and Jesse Franklin look like nice up-and-coming pieces, but Alex Anthopoulos could look to replenish the system’s outfield depth.

RHP Blade Tidwell – Tennessee

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.

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.

3B Kayden Wallace – Arkansas

Wallace ranked as Arkansas’ top prep position prospect in 2020, though questions about his pure hitting ability and ultimate defensive home, along with his commitment to the Razorbacks, left him undrafted. He made an immediate impact in 2021, tying the school freshman record of 14 homers held by former first-round picks Zack Cox and Heston Kjerstad. He continued to build momentum with a strong summer in the Cape Cod League and could play his way into the first round if he continues his upward trend.

One of the best power hitters in the 2022 college class, Wallace generates impressive exit velocities with his bat speed, strength and relatively compact right-handed stroke. Most of his present power comes to his pull side, and some scouts question his ability to handle quality stuff and pitches on the outer half. He’ll need to do a better job of using the opposite field and staying back on changeups.

Wallace has gotten stronger and improved his tools in college, going from an average to solid runner and plus to perhaps double-plus arm strength. Primarily a right fielder as a freshman, he’ll move to third base in his second season and also played a lot of center field during fall practice. While he could be an adequate and maybe average defender on the hot corner, most evaluators believe he’ll wind up in right field as a pro.

Corner infield is pretty thin in Atlanta’s system, and even if Wallace sticks as an outfielder, his bat should make him very appealing. The scouting report I’m reading screams Austin Riley, and the Braves have had a lot of success developing the MVP Candidate.

 

Mock Draft:

Round 1, Pick 20 – LHP Connor Prielipp – Alabama

Gatorade’s Wisconsin high school player of the year and the state’s top Draft prospect in 2019, Prielipp slid to the Red Sox in the 37th round because of his commitment to Alabama. He immediately became the Crimson Tide’s No. 1 starter as a freshman and didn’t allow a run while striking out 35 in 21 innings before the coronavirus pandemic ended the 2020 season. He looked like a potential No. 1 overall pick for 2022 before injuring his elbow in his first start as a sophomore, leading to Tommy John surgery last May. He’s not expected to pitch for Alabama this season but may throw in a summer collegiate league before the Draft.

Prielipp’s slider is one of the most devastating pitches in the college class, sitting in the mid-80s and touching 90 with two-plane break that has it drop off the table as it approaches the plate. He also can elicit swings and misses with a low-90s fastball that peaks at 95 mph with run and downhill plane. He has a quick arm and could add more velocity after completing his rehabilitation from elbow reconstruction.

Prielipp hasn’t used his changeup much but shows feel for an 82-85 mph offering with some sink. He pitches with confidence and while he doesn’t have the smoothest delivery, he’s athletic and locates his pitches where he wants. Assuming a return to full health, he has all the ingredients to become a frontline starter.

I could see Alex Anthopoulos rolling the dice on a very obviously talented pitcher recovering from Tommy John surgery. He has top-of-the-draft talent, and when you have an organization like Atlanta’s with plenty of collegiate talent, you can afford to take this type of gamble. If he fully recovers from injury, you’re talking about a top three talent at 20th overall.

 

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