Bregman, Swanson, Rodgers, Tucker, Jay, Fulmer, Tate. Those were the only seven players in all of amateur baseball that I liked better than LHP Kolby Allard (8) prior to the draft. And that’s with there being some fear about his injury history; on straight talent, he could have been even higher. Stress fracture aside, Allard’s scouting profile is that of a top of the rotation starting pitcher you’d want toeing the rubber on Game One of any postseason series. There’s a chance for three consistent above-average pitches — 88-94 FB, 97 peak; 77-82 CB that flashes honest plus to plus-plus (!) and ranks on the short list of pitches of its kind that I’ve personally seen up close; advanced 82-85 CU that should keep getting better as he is forced to use it more often — and his athleticism, command (he fits one of my favorite prep pitching archetypes here: command/pitchability arm who sees an uptick in stuff but doesn’t lose what originally led to success), and deception are all close to ideal. Mechanically the comparisons to Cole Hamels seem pretty spot on to this layman, which is truly high praise considering Hamels’s mechanics are just about as perfectly balanced as you’d want to see in a lefthander. Stuff-wise, I’d put him closer to lefties known best for awesome curves like Erik Bedard and Jose Quintana. I’d take Quintana in the top ten within thinking twice, so landing him at fourteen is a major win. Allard should be a star and sooner rather than later.
RHP Mike Soroka (194) is a strapping (6-4, 200 pounds) young (he’ll turn 18 tomorrow) Canadian (loves maple syrup…probably) who Atlanta took a shot on before any of the supposed experts (and me) expected. For a strapping young Canadian he’s a lot more advanced than expected with three average or better pitches and sharp command of both his fastball and breaking ball. Overdrafts don’t exist in baseball; Atlanta did well here.
I was a huge fan of RHP Patrick Weigel (287) before the season. I went so far as to call him a “top two round talent” last December. Now I have no idea what to make of him. Back then I had him pegged as a prototypical long-limbed righthanded pitcher with a plus fastball (easy mid-90s) and potential wipeout slider who would get hurt because of his struggles with both command and control. Once the games started this spring, however, Weigel showed a big jump in control (a reasonable 3.53 BB/9 in 50 IP), a modest jump in command (especially with his heat), and, inexplicably, less missed bats (a good but not great 7.94 K/9) than his power stuff would suggest. So much for that high strikeout, high walk narrative, I guess. Weigel’s raw arm talent is still significant, so getting a “top two round talent” (I’m sticking with that, though my pre-draft ranking indicates the risk involved with the overall package) in the seventh is a win, underwhelming junior season or not.
LHP Alex Minter (289) went much earlier than I thought, but I give credit to Atlanta for honing in on his talent rather than worrying about his injury past (thoracic outlet syndrome) and present (TJ surgery early in the spring). Considering Minter’s abbreviated 2015 season output (12.43 K/9 and 3.43 BB/9 with a 0.43 ERA in 21 IP), the Braves did well to go up and get their guy before having to sweat out another team poaching the highly athletic, hard-throwing (90-96 in 2015) lefty. I had in my notes that he had shown difficulty maintaining velocity when stretched out in the past, but after checking in with a contact from a team that had Minter as a top 100 or so prospect (I probably should have had him higher than 289, right?), this concern seems to be outdated. Minter has gotten strong enough (and smart enough) as a pitcher to give starting an honest try upon his return to good health. With his fastball, nasty cut-slider, and slow curve (not to mention a raw yet very intriguing changeup), he’s got the stuff to do so. I would have been too much of a wimp to take him as high as the Braves did, but I get it.
It’s a shame that RHP Josh Graham (435) looks like a future reliever — and a fine one at that — because, lackluster college results or not, he’s an exciting hitter with crazy power. Of course, selfish power-loving interests aside, it’s not really a shame that Atlanta managed to snag a fresh arm capable of throwing consistent strikes with an upper-90s (96-97) fastball in the fourth round. RHP Matt Withrow (434, one spot ahead of Graham) can also run it up to 96 and could settle in as a solid middle reliever before long.
Atlanta drafted a lot of pitchers. Too many for my tiny brain to produce coherent sentences on each, in fact. So let’s run through them blurb style and sort it out afterwards…
- RHP Anthony Guardado – undersized athlete who is young for class; 93 peak fastball
- RHP Ryan Clark – UNC Greensboro junior; 88-94 FB (96 peak) that is tough to elevate with ample sink, enough offspeed to start (CB and CU stand out as average or better future pitches); has the command, athleticism, and track record to suggest lots of good things to come; profile reminds me of many of the guys traded this deadline (e.g., Pivetta, Eickhoff) in packages that returned star big leaguers; underrated on my end before the draft, really nice pick
- LHP Ryan Lawlor – Georgia junior – 86-91 FB with a curve with some upside; likely reliever, but could sneak in as a pitchability lefty who gets some starts
- RHP Taylor Lewis – Florida junior – 88-93 FB, 95 peak; above-average 82 SL; sidearm delivery; doesn’t mean a ton of bats, but looks like a quick-moving bullpen piece with built-in big game experience
- RHP Stephen Moore – Navy senior – older (23) command pitcher with an above-average CU and legit plus control
- RHP Grayson Jones – remember how I described what I thought Weigel was before the season – that’s Jones (except Jones isn’t as large); big stuff, little control, interesting raw talent that could be molded into something
- LHP Chase Johnson-Mullins – velocity has trended upward from HS (87-92, 94 peak) to now (96 peak), but still fluctuates from outing to outing as he leans on the pitch heavily; upper-70s curve has been his best secondary pitch since prep days, it’s a good one; attended Bourbon County HS, which I’m assuming is as magical a place as my imagination suggests; once described to me as a “lefty Broxton”
- LHP Trevor Belicek – Texas A&M-Corpus Christi senior; 87-91 FB that he commands well; average or better SL; outstanding final college season (11.35 K/9 and 2.25 BB/9 in 87 IP)
- RHP Evan Phillips – UNC Wilmington junior; young for class; control has been his downfall, but stuff is legit (88-93 FB, 95 peak; average or better CB); another player I underrated out of a North Carolina college
- RHP Gilbert Suarez – up to 94 with his fastball, but don’t have anything beyond that; young for class; impressed they were able to sign him
- RHP Sean McLaughlin – Georgia junior; 89-93 FB, 95 peak; above-average 73-75 CB; CU has improved a lot, now an above-average pitch at 77-78; two-way athlete who was smart to give up center field for the mound; like Lawlor before him and Hellinger and Geekie to come, you have to figure Atlanta knew these local products better than anybody; definite sleeper potential here
- LHP Jaret Hellinger – good athlete who just kept getting better all spring; 85-91 FB, 93 peak; usable CB and CU already; plenty of upside left in his 6-3,170 pound frame
- RHP Dalton Geekie – great name, solid stuff, little wild…that’s all I’ve got and I won’t pretend to know more
- RHP Taylor Cockrell – Stetson transfer with an 88-92 FB coming off an impressive two-way season at the State College of Florida
- LHP Ben Libuda – tall and lanky (6-7, 185 pounds) and notable because the Braves left the south to find him all the way up in Worcester, Massachusetts
- RHP Matthew Custred – Texas Tech junior and teammate of Withrow; big guy (6-6, 240 pounds) who got on my radar for racking up the strikeouts this year (13.00 K/9) while also walking his fair share (7.00 BB/9)
On the whole you have to like what Atlanta did with adding pitching this draft. Many of the HS and junior college prospects they signed (Jones, Johnson-Mullins, Suarez, Hellinger) stand out as being real value picks that the Braves were able to land due to impressive leg work on signability and late-rising ability. I don’t really believe in calling any top ten round pick a “sleeper,” but the top ten round collection of Minter, Guardado, Graham, Clark, Withrow, and Weigel represents an intriguing blend of upside (Minter, Guardado, and Clark could all work in a rotation one day) and high-floor reliever certainty — it’s not sexy, but if they don’t get at least three middle relievers out of that group then I’d be stunned — that gives the system a great deal of depth at arguably the game’s most difficult to fill spot. Every team always needs pitching, so loading up via the draft is never a bad approach. Combine that with a top ten talent in Allard and a lottery ticket in Soroka (who the Braves like — and know — a lot more than I do), and life is good. Of course, loading up on pitching comes at a price. So about those bats…
C Lucas Herbert (79) will get the chance to catch his high school teammate Kolby Allard as a professional, which is a damn cool thing anyway you look at it. His bat is well behind his glove at the moment, but catcher is the one position that you can get away with that in a young prospect. C Trey Keegan (411) gave up his final two years of college eligibility at Bowling Green to get his pro career going, a smart move consider he’s already 22 years old. He checks just about all of my personal boxes as far as catching prospects go: bat speed, arm strength, athleticism, and plate discipline. C Collin Yelich is another college guy with an excellent arm (both accurate and strong) who makes a ton of contact as a hitter.
Unsigned 1B Liam Scafariello (264) was drafted as an infielder, but I’m hoping the big yet athletic guy gets a chance to roam the outfield some now that he’s off to Connecticut. 2B Kurt Hoekstra (324) is a great get as a twenty-first round pick (630) who can swing the bat better than most late-round picks. The pre-draft rumblings about him being athletic enough to give shortstop a shot have been realized, so reaching his utility ceiling now feels more attainable than ever. My preference was to see 3B Austin Riley (88) get a shot on the mound first, but there’s no reason to argue with Atlanta wanting to see the young (18 this past April), athletic, strong-armed, power-hitting (above-average to plus raw) at the hot corner first. So far so good on the power front, though his approach is understandably raw. The Braves might have a type — or I might be more wrong about prospects than I think — since their other third base prospect of note is a player I preferred on the mound pre-draft. 3B Robby Nesovic never wowed as a pitcher at Santa Barbara, but scouts liked his upper-80s sinker/slider combination enough to think he could get a look as a relief prospect. Instead the Braves are taking his plus arm and sturdy frame to the field and batter’s box. We’ll see if it works out for them…and him.
The best outfielder drafted by Atlanta is off to South Carolina. Bummer for them. That would be local product OF DJ Neal (200), a two-way standout that is likely to play both baseball and football for the Gamecocks starting this fall. It’s not a perfect comparison, but there are some shades of Brandon McIlwain, current Council Rock North star and 2016 MLB Draft favorite committed to play both sports at the very same school. Was that a gratuitous mention of a big-time future draft prospect that I wanted to slip in because I’ve otherwise been too lazy to write about how much as I’ve enjoyed watching him play this summer? Could be. As far as signed outfielders go, Justin Ellison and Brad Keller both offer some degree of the power/speed package needed to get an extended opportunity in pro ball.
Top 500 Prospects drafted by Atlanta per me…
8 – Allard
79 – Herbert
88 – Riley
194 – Soroka
287 – Weigel
289 – Minter
324 – Hoekstra
411 – Keegan
434 – Withrow
435 – Graham