As expected, the Braves are heavily involved with multiple college pitchers leading up to the MLB Draft. We’ve seen Alex Anthopoulos & company’s strategy before — they go after talented college players in the draft. With a farm system ranked last by Fangraphs, these college players can replenish a system quickly and serve as valuable trade chips. Leading up to Sunday’s draft, I did a three round Mock Draft you can check out here. Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline is following a similar blueprint, as he has the Braves taking two college arms:
Top 5 of @JonathanMayo's latest mock:
1. Orioles: Druw Jones
2. D-backs: Jackson Holliday
3. Rangers: Kevin Parada
4. Pirates: Termarr Johnson
5. Nationals: Elijah Green
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) July 14, 2022
First up is a name that has been connected to the Braves a lot — Gonzaga righty Gabriel Hughes:
20. Braves: Gabriel Hughes, RHP, Gonzaga (No. 26)
Some feel Hughes will go higher as a healthy college arm who impressed many teams at the Draft Combine. Another college arm like Justin Campbell is being discussed as well. The Braves picked up a comp pick (No. 35) from the Royals and it will be interesting to see how they use the extra pool money.
It’s been a little while since Gonzaga University has produced any early-round Draft talent, with Wyatt Mills a third-rounder in 2017 and lefty Marco Gonzales a first-round selection back in 2013. Hughes, who like Gonzales, has been a two-way player for the Zags, threw well in the weekend rotation in 2021 before pitching for USA Baseball over the summer, and has taken a nice step forward as Gonzaga’s Friday night starter, while focusing only on pitching, this spring.
Hughes has an exciting combination of size, repertoire and feel for pitching. The 6-foot-4 right-hander has electric stuff, starting with a fastball that’s regularly in the 94-97 mph range with ease, leading some scouts to wonder if he might touch triple digits someday. His slider can be a wipeout pitch, up to 89-90 mph, and he even shows very good feel for his changeup.
The big right-hander can fill up the strike zone with all three pitches, throwing them to both sides of the plate and commanding his breaking stuff well. He gets high grades for his makeup, a tremendous student-athlete who is on pace to graduate in three years. Some evaluators see him as the best arm on the West Coast, one who is shooting up Draft boards with his strong spring in Washington.
With the 35th pick acquired from the Royals in the Drew Waters trade, Mayo has the Braves selecting 6’7 righty Justin Campbell from Oklahoma State in the MLB Draft:
Scouting grades: Fastball: 50 | Curveball: 55 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 55 | Overall: 50
An 18th-round pick by the Astros out of a California high school in 2019, Campbell opted instead to attend Oklahoma State and pull double duty as a pitcher and DH. He immediately won a spot in the weekend rotation in 2020 and was a finalist for the John Olerud Award as NCAA Division I’s best two-way talent in 2021, when he threw a 99-pitch no-hitter against Kansas. More of an on-base guy than a slugger at the plate, he focused solely on pitching this season and could fit toward the end of the first round after finishing seventh in D-I with 141 strikeouts in 101 1/3 innings.
Hitters just don’t seem to see the ball well against Campbell, who has a 6-foot-7 frame and deceptive mechanics with an unusual approach angle. His fastball sits around 92 mph and touches 97, and it features high spin rates and running action that generate a lot of harmless contact. He has a pair of solid secondary pitches that he’ll use against both left-handers and right-handers: an upper-70s changeup with even more horizonal movement than his heater and a mid-70s curveball that creates a lot of empty swings and groundouts.
Campbell also fiddles with a low-80s slider but primarily operates with three pitches. Extremely athletic for his size, he provides plenty of strikes and can win on days that he lacks his best stuff. He’s a high-floor starter with a good probability of filling a No. 4 slot in a rotation.