Sunday, June 5, 2016

Best 5 Braves Drafts Since 2000 - #4

Time to try to push out the final seven of this series. The good news is that three of them are already written so expect me to polish up the 3rd Worst for publishing later today. Today's choice is a bit nuts since it hasn't even produced a major league talent yet, but I am a big fan. Clearly.

Best/Worst Drafts since 2000
Worst: #5, 2009 | #4, 2004 | #3, 2013 | #2, 2011 | #1, 2001
Best: #5, 2010 | #4, 2015 | #3, 2007 | #2, 2002 | #1, 2000

4th Best Draft Since 2000...The 2015 Draft

I am fully aware that I am judging this draft way too quickly, but I believe this draft could - yes, could - exceed any draft since 2000.

It was the first time since 2007 that the Braves had multiple picks in the first time and it had been 14 years since the Braves had three picks in the Top 41 selections. The 14th overall was the pick they received for going a Frank Wren-dismissing-worthy 79-83 in 2014. The 28th overall was compensation losing Ervin Santana while the #41 overall was a competitive balance pick the Braves stole from the Padres in the Craig Kimbrel trade. In addition, they added the final pick of the second round (#75) in the Victor Reyes/Trevor Cahill trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. When you add the #89 overall the Braves were receiving anyway, the Braves had six picks in the Top 100.

It was big news for a system in desperate need for added talent. In a pitching-rich draft, the Braves never deviated from their plan of taking what the draft gives you rather than reach for need. It was a stark change from the Wren-led years where Atlanta settled on college talent who could be expediated through the minors to provide depth for the big league club. Such a method produced big hits like Alex Wood and Andrelton Simmons, but also led to unremarkable high-round additions like Todd Cunningham and David Hale. The new Braves pushed money around to spend heavily on amateur talent and the 2015 draft was a first step toward showing what the Braves under the leadership of John Hart and John Coppolella, along with newly promoted Brian Bridges, could do.

They would sign their first 25 players drafted and 31-of-43 overall. They went high school early before adding college arms to finish the first ten rounds. After that, they cycled between junior college, four-year colleges, and high school players. The only real constant was that pitchers played a prominent role, much to the criticism of casual observers who noted the Braves already had a wealth of pitching talent. Of the first 25 drafted, 19 were pitchers. But Atlanta was not interested in filling out a quota of X amount of infielders and X amount of outfielders. They were only interested in taking the best player available.

Their first pick was a sign that these Braves were fearless in their approach to the draft. Rather than take their chances later in the draft and play it safe early, the Braves went with lefty Kolby Allard out of San Clemente High School (CA). Allard was a Top-5 calibar player before back issues chased off many teams. Not the Braves, though. They took the southpaw with frontline stuff and a curveball that was one of the best in the drafts. Atlanta played the odds. A true 14th best player in the draft might solidify the middle-of-the-rotation or be a plus-hitter. A Top-5 talent can start a Game 1 of the World Series. Atlanta went with the high-end.

Atlanta remained risky by taking a player whose draft status wasn't as high as the pick Atlanta grabbed him at in Mike Soroka. A righty prep star from Canada, Soroka had handled himself with maturity as a member of the Canadian junior national team in exhibition games against major league talent. Atlanta continued to not paint-by-numbers with their final first rounder as they went with Austin Riley, a pitcher who had some interesting power potential at third base. Their second position player came 13 picks later in the form of Allard's battery mate, Lucas Herbert.

The next ten picks were all pitchers ranging from the risky A.J. Minter, who threw just 58 innings in college because of injury, to Grayson Jones, out of THE Shelton State Community College.

When the dust settled, some scoffed at Atlanta's haul, finding it underwhelming at times. Many wondered if the risky direction was less smart and more reckless. However, you have to imagine that the Braves' braintrust set back and was happy with the talent they had added. Riley would have a breakout first season and become an immediate prospect. Allard was handled conservatively, but in brief cameos in the Gulf Coast League, he mowed down hitters. Later picks like Patrick Weigel (7th round) and Trevor Belicek (16th round) would produce intriguing arms while 25th round catcher Jonathan Morales might be a diamond in the rough.

Yes, it's too soon to get this excited, but you have to forgive me. This collection of talent is too good to ignore and their refusal to limit themselves to conservative approaches of too many college kids or guys who were born in Georgia/southeast is a refreshing change to the drafts of the last several years. One draft into the Coppy/Bridges years and I am on board and anxious to see what they can do with the 2016 draft.

Oh...and least we forget that the Braves also added Dansby Swanson via trade to their 2016 haul. That only makes this draft look all the better.

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