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Atlanta Braves 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Atlanta Braves 2011 Draft Selections

Florida State LHP Sean Gilmartin is definitely a grower. I saw him his freshman year, and thought he was a pretty good prospect. Then during his sophomore year, he improved to the point I was ready to drop the “pretty” qualifier and just call him a good prospect. When I saw him this past year, I was pretty damn impressed with the pitcher in front of me. By that logic, you’d think I’d be on board with the Braves popping the Florida State ace in the first round, right? Not so fast, my friend. His progression, in the eyes of this amateur evaluator, went from 10th rounder (freshman year) to 5th rounder (sophomore year) to 3rd rounder (draft day 2011).Gilmartin’s final destination as a first rounder was a legitimate surprise.

Most seem willing to give Atlanta the benefit of the doubt in taking the polished college lefty in the first round (something most did not do at the time of the Mike Minor selection, by the way), but it is a real head scratcher for me. My rankings are far from the final word in prospect evaluation, but I have to believe there was more value (value being an interesting topic in its own right) to be had with the 28th overall pick than my 53rd ranked pitcher. I loved the Minor selection at the time and have heard some compare the two college lefties, a comparison I don’t think I can get behind. At his best, Gilmartin throws four pitches for strikes — average FB, good CU, average SL, occasional above-average CB — and profiles as a solid back of the rotation arm. I’d want more upside out of my first round pick than that. However, and this is the fun part where I willing completely blow up my whole argument, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this year about value. Value in a draft where picks cannot be traded is entirely up to the drafting team. If the Braves really liked Gilmartin and didn’t think he’d be there at their next pick, they did the smart thing in selecting him when they could. That may come off as a tad simplistic, but I think it is true. Trust your scouts, create your board, and get to picking. Haters (such as yours truly) are going to hate.

Florida State JR LHP Sean Gilmartin: 87-89 FB, peak 91-92; sweeping 73-77 above-average CB that he has deemphasized in favor of CU and SL; very good 74-76 CU that keeps improving; 80-81 SL could be average pitch with time; good athlete; good hitter; 6-2, 190

The biggest sure thing on Florida State’s roster heading into 2011 is JR LHP Sean Gilmartin, a four-pitch Friday night starter that I can’t help but consistently underrate. Even though he has a very good mid-70s changeup and an above-average low-70s curveball, his inconsistent fastball, both in terms of velocity (sits mid- to upper-80s, peaks at 91-92) and command, worries me against professional hitters. Does a so-so fastball really undo the positives that three other potentially average or better (his low-80s slider isn’t great presently, but has the upside as a usable fourth pitch) secondary pitches bring to the table? As a guy who championed the pre-velocity spike Mike Minor, I’m inclined to say no, yet my instincts keep me away from endorsing Gilmartin as a potential top three round prospect. 

Connecticut SS Nick Ahmed is a favorite of mine who certainly looks the part of a big league ballplayer. His ceiling is an above-average regular at shortstop (plus bat, average at best glove) or third base/center field (average bat, above-average or better glove). Worst case scenario would be a utility player capable of playing literally anywhere on the field (yes, I’ve heard the rumors that some teams like him pre-draft as a catcher) or a potential mound conversion with the three pitches and athletic delivery to someday start in the big leagues.

I try not to let a quick look at a player influence my opinion on him too much, but Nick Ahmed gave off that somewhat silly yet undeniable big league look when I see him play earlier this year. He’s got an easy plus arm, strong defensive tools and athleticism that should play at multiple spots, and enough bat speed to drive good fastballs to the gaps. My only “concern,” if you even want to call it that, is that he’ll outgrow shortstop. The reason why I’m not ready to call that a legitimate concern just yet is because, based on his current tall and lanky frame, I would hope any physical growth he experiences professionally would be accompanied by additional strength, especially in his upper body, to help his eventual power output. In other words, if he gets too big for shortstop then at least he’ll then have the chance of having the power bat needed to play elsewhere.

The Braves made it hard on me this year by selecting so many early round college guys that I’ve run out of things to say about. Texas State 3B Kyle Kubitza is a gifted natural hitter whose success will be defined by his ability to stick at third base. There is also the added bonus of Kubitza’s affiliation with Texas State, a school with a coaching staff that has received a lot of positive chatter about the way they prepare players for the pros.

Kubitza has many of the key attributes you’d want in a third base prospect – good raw power, solid arm strength, and a patient approach at the plate. The biggest question he’ll have to answer is on the defensive side, but I’m on board with the idea that good pro coaching can help him through some of his concentration lapses in the field.

Strikeouts and groundballs are a recipe for success in pro ball. Santa Clara RHP JR Graham gets both in bunches. I love seeing future relievers get starting pitcher workloads early on (doubly so when they excel in said role), but concerns about his frame (6-0, 180 pounds) and delivery temper some of the recent enthusiasm that he might stick as a starter. From a stuff standpoint, I think he can do it: he has the plus “rising” four-seamer, nasty sinking two-seamer, and enough of a head start on developing his slider (flashes plus, but inconsistent) and changeup (much improved in last calendar year). As I’m reviewing this year’s draft I’m beginning to wonder if college relievers, once overdrafted with alarming regularity, are now a sneaky undervalued draft commodity. I understand the relative value of relievers to other players, but also think a bullpen with three or four top ten round college arms with middle relief floors has value in a) the joys of a quick return on the investment, and b) cost certainty at a spot so many teams pay far more than necessary. If a fourth round pick like Graham winds up as a pitcher the manager trusts to pitch the seventh inning, you’ve got yourself three dirt cheap years of service and an increased opportunity to spend on any of the 24 other spots on the roster.

Santa Clara JR RHP JR Graham: 94-98 peak; average 83-85 SL with plus potential but still very inconsistent like the Billy Wagner get me over slider; developing sinker; has hit 100-101; really shown improvement with CU; 6-0, 180

Blinn JC (TX) C Nick DeSantiago can hit a little bit, but I’m not sure he’ll catch. The former Longhorn has gotten off to a rocky start as a pro.

Fifth-year senior Vanderbilt RHP Mark Lamm was 100% a signability pick, but that doesn’t make him a bad prospect. The sixth round still feels a little rich for a guy who wasn’t the best senior sign pitcher on his college team (Taylor Hill) or the best Vanderbilt reliever drafted by Atlanta (Navery Moore).

My notes on Lamm were short and sweet: 90-94 FB; Tommy John survivor. The development of a pair of above-average offspeed pitches — a slider and a change — got him drafted way ahead of where I would have guessed. He’s up there as one of the top senior signs around and could be a quick mover through the system.

Remember what I said about drafting college relievers early on becoming the new market inefficiency? Yeah, the Braves went a little overboard with that strategy. Gonzaga RHP Cody Martin is yet another senior sign reliever. He’s a physically mature righthander with a chance to pitch in a big league bullpen someday. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.

Gonzaga SR RHP Cody Martin (2011): 88-90 FB, sitting 92-93 out of bullpen; good 70-75 slurve-like CB that is much better as firmer mid-70s CB in 2011; good 86 CU

This is a little bit like the Matt Harvey to the Mets thing from a few years ago; it is such a pain in the neck seeing prospects I’ve invested so much time covering wind up with hated division rivals. I had Coastal Carolina 2B Tommy La Stella as a fifth rounder, yet am already kicking myself for having him so low. There are at least a half dozen college second base prospects with the chance to start in the big leagues someday, La Stella included. If he can handle the position defensively, he has star upside.

The number one knock I heard on La Stella heading into the season was his tendency to get too anxious at the plate and swing at pitcher’s pitches too often. This clearly wasn’t reflected in the numbers — notice the awesome batting averages and BB/K ratios — but it was a concern from smart people who had seen him often. When I receive scouting tips that contradict what the numbers reflect, I get dizzy. Trust the reports from people who are paid to this, banking on the idea that sometimes a scouting observation shows up before a dip in on-field production? Or acknowledge that sometimes even the best see things that sometimes aren’t really there? In La Stella’s case, I’m inclined to go with the latter. La Stella’s pure hit tool is on par with darn near any college prospect in this year’s draft.

Tough to make it in this world as an all-bat prospect, but Cameron OF Chase Larsson has a chance. As good a natural hitter as he is, this is a worthy gamble at this point in the draft.

I never really followed up on Western Kentucky SS Logan Robbins despite jotting his name down as an interesting 2011 college shortstop to follow. He has the classic speed/range/arm trio that will get a guy plenty of middle infield looks professionally, but I’m less certain than most that he’ll ever figure it out at the plate. He’s a little bit like the Bizzaro-La Stella in that way.

Atlanta’s most significant late round addition was Vanderbilt RHP Navery Moore (Round 14). He is another player that I’m all out of original thoughts on, so I’ll do an ugly grammatical recap: love his never straight plus fastball, don’t love his control or lack of a reliable second pitch, still think he is smart and athletic enough to thrive in a big league bullpen after a year or three working on his breaking ball in the minors. Writing is much easier when you don’t have to worry about following the rules.

Vanderbilt JR RHP Navery Moore: 92-96 plus FB, 99 peak; plus 81-84 SL that comes and goes; flashes plus CB; iffy control; Tommy John survivor; very occasional CU; “Intergalactic” is his closer music; has the stuff to start, but teams might not risk it from a health and delivery standpoint; 6-2, 205

Moore’s velocity was down late in the year. That’s a significant problem when your most marketable skill is a big fastball. That said, I still think he’s a good bet to settle in as a big league reliever someday due to his good athleticism and above-average raw stuff. The drop in velocity has to be addressed, however, whether or not it turns to be a mere matter of fatigue (treatment: rest, rest, more rest…and perhaps a tweak or two to his delivery) or a more serious health concern (treatment: shut him down, get him to a top surgeon, and hope he comes out healthy on the other side).

Like Moore, Arizona LHP Matt Chaffee (Round 12) is another solid relief prospect coming off an injury plagued college career. His raw stuff isn’t as good as Moore’s, but he gets a boost for his consistency and for being lefthanded. If healthy I’d like to see him get a chance to start, but his future is likely in the middle innings.

Arizona JR RHP Matt Chaffee (2011): 89-92 FB; average CU; mid-70s CB

I’ve always liked Oklahoma City SS Kirk Walker (Round 26). He may be limited to second base professionally as he lacks the foot speed for shortstop and the arm for third. If a pro training program can tick up both areas just a notch, he could have a future as a utility infielder.

Oklahoma City SR 3B Kirk Walker: gap power; average arm; slow; good athlete; could play 2B

The Braves only signed one player past the 37th round. We’ll save ourselves a little bit of time and not focus on all of the ones who got away, and instead focus on two of the bigger names that didn’t sign. Iolani HS (HI) LHP Carlos Rodriguez (Round 20) had an up and down spring and a strong commitment to Oregon State, so he was considered a tough sign to begin with. He’ll wisely take his intriguing three-pitch mix and skinny frame to college. Another really tough sign was Army RHP Kevin McKague (Round 50). It should come as no surprise that an agreement wasn’t reached between the Army man and Atlanta. A return to health and a more clearly defined outlook on his military future could have the nearly big league ready McKague shooting up draft boards next year.

Army SR RHP Kevin McKague: 92-96 FB; mid-80s SL; great splitter; missed most of 2011 due to back injury; 6-5, 230 pounds

Late edit! I missed the 37th round selection of Austin Peay RHP Ryne Harper. He’s got the fastball/slider needed to make it as a bullpen contributor if he gets the proper breaks.

Austin Peay SR RHP Ryne Harper (2011): 94 peak FB; very good SL; had offer from Vanderbilt out of high school

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