In 2019, the Braves bucked the trend of drafting pitchers with its first pick — a strategy that, at the time, had been the organization’s for the last three consecutive drafts. Carter Stewart (not signed), Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson — all no. 1 picks by Atlanta from 2016-18. Sure, Austin Riley broke the mold in 2015… and so did prep outfielder Braxton Davidson in 2014. But the strategy had been mostly the same over the last decade or more: 12 of the Braves last 17 drafts at that point had featured a pitcher taken first. When it came to making its first selection in the draft, Atlanta consistently went with an arm.
But when checking in on the Braves’ first-pick pitchers over the last several years… it’s rather evident that it was finally time to mix things up a bit.
I mean, let’s just do a quick rundown, shall we…
- Carter Stewart wasn’t even signed in 2018 (he’s now in Japan)
- Kyle Wright, despite some improvements in 2021, still sports a 6+ ERA in parts of four MLB seasons. He most definitely hasn’t developed into what was expected from back in 2017
- Ian Anderson, of course, is the outlier here.
- Kolby Allard from back in 2015 is no longer even with the org
- Jason Hursh from 2013 tallied a whopping -0.2 bWAR in 12 career innings as a Brave.
- Lucas Sims from 2012 showed promise as an exciting prospect, but his two big league seasons in Atlanta (2017 & ’18) featured 0.1 WAR and -0.3 WAR, respectively, before being traded to Cincinnati
- Sean Gilmartin was the 28th overall pick by Atlanta in 2011, but never pitched an inning for the Braves.
… and the list goes on and on.
First-pick pitchers, despite its popularity for the Braves, just haven’t worked out, so it was definitely time to go a different route.
And it’s not as if Atlanta went from selecting high-upside arms to just simply taking a chance on a position-player. In 2019, Langeliers was said to be the second-best catcher in that year’s draft class behind Orioles’ pick Adley Rutschman, who by the way, has been unreal with Baltimore’s Double-A club this season.
A star at Baylor, who posted a career .891 OPS and finished with a double-digit home run total in each of his three collegiate seasons, Langeliers was a highly-sought prospect entering the 2019 MLB Draft, and the Braves — regardless of your view on the org’s decision — made a great pick.
On draft day the scouting report was pretty cut and dry on Langeliers. Matt Powers at Talking Chop described the catcher’s profile as a “contact over power hitter with superior defense”, and according to most of the rest of the industry, that general evaluation was the same. The only real concern perhaps was the broken hamate bone Langeliers suffered early in 2019 and whether or not the injury would hinder him any.
But the Braves had their guy. And along with the team’s other 1st round pick that year, Texas A&M shortstop Braden Shewmake, Langeliers began his pro career with an assignment with then Single-A Rome.
Langeliers’ first couple of weeks as a professional featured mixed results. In his first 13 games, he went 11 for 51 (.216 AVG) and added six XBH with 10 RBI; not bad for his first taste of pro ball… but not exactly ideal from your top pick. However, Langeliers quickly fell into quite a slump during the second week of July. After that respectable 13-game stint to start 2019, the Oregon native hit just .167 over his next 12 games, while also posting only a .208 SLG. But everything came together on July 26 in a game against West Virginia. Langeliers recorded a combined seven hits over his next three games, including eight RBI, and from then on, he was a totally different player with the bat. From July 26 to the end of 2019 (a span of 29 games), Langeliers slashed .308/.346/.385 with seven XBH and 18 RBI, and though his improved overall game featured an uptick in swing and miss, he was finally producing like a 1st round draft pick.
But fast-forward to this season and Langeliers appears to be playing at a different level. Now with Double-A Mississippi, the 23-year-old has found his groove both at the plate and behind it.
As I’m writing this post (Wednesday evening), Langeliers literally just now belted his third home run of Mississippi’s game against Pensacola on Wednesday, already giving him seven long balls for the 2021 season.
Lately, clips of Langeliers either coming up with a big hit or throwing out a would-be base stealer has become seemingly a nightly occurrence as the catcher is now up to a .284 AVG and 1.049 OPS after last night’s game. Since May 22, Langeliers has really heated up. Counting his incredible performance on Wednesday, he’s 13 for his last 29 (.448 AVG) with four home runs. And Langeliers isn’t just one of the M-Braves hottest hitters right now, either. The kid has been a sniper behind the plate too, currently sporting a 50% caught-stealing rate (10 for 20). It’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison given how active base runners are on the basepaths in the minors relative to the majors, but the average CS% for MLB catchers this season is 26%, or essentially half the rate of the Braves prospect catcher.
So what we have is basically the perfect scenario regarding Langeliers. The kid was already a big time prospect and now he’s improving the few aspects of his game that, entering his pro career, needed a bit more work.
In 2019, FanGraphs gave Langeliers a 50 grade for his fielding but just a 30 for his hit and game power tools, clearly illustrating that this was potentially a defense-first major league catcher. But now… Langeliers seems determined to become a much more complete player. It’s these types of development stories that make following the Braves minor leagues and prospects so much fun. Langeliers is doing everything he’s supposed to do… and hopefully his progress continues.