Sunday, June 12, 2016

Random Prospect Sunday - Omar Obregon

Switch-hitting middle infielders with a good hit tool are always worth an extended look - even in a system that has both Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson. While Omar Obregon isn't close to reaching their prospect status, he has done enough to warrant some attention as we head into the summer of the 2016.

(For some pictures of Obregon, click here.)

Born April 18, 1994 in Nicaragua, Obregon comes from a nation that has rarely produced any decent major league bats. Only one player was both born and raised in Nicaragua and received at least 2,000 career plate appearances - Everth Cabrera. Just that is enough to work against the young infielder. Nevertheless, the Braves during the Frank Wren years loved Obregon's game enough to sign him when the 2011-12 international free agent period opened up.

After a year spent in the international complex, Obregon was added to the Dominican Summer League squad in 2012 as an 18 year-old. Walk numbers are very unreliable at that level because of the wildness from opposing pitchers, but he did walk 21 times to just 19 strikeouts. However, aside from two doubles, most of his 25 hits were of the single-base variety, giving him an ISO of just .021. Weight room much? A promotion to the states in 2013 with the Gulf Coast League Braves saw his numbers fall at the plate (this time, he had one triple and 24 singles).

The 2014 season would see Obregon  rebound to hit .297 with a .384 OBP - with the assistance of 24 BB/25 K rate. He also upped his ISO to a bit more respectable (.049). Another move that may have helped is that the Braves were able to move him off shortstop, where he really doesn't have the arm, and more him over to second base - especially with Albies joining him in Danville. While it decreases his overall value and certainly, Obregon can play shortstop, it's a bit of a stretch for him.

The following season saw Obregon jump into full-season ball with Rome. In 119 games, Obregon slashed just .274/.336/.317, but did swipe 31 bases after just 17 steals in the previous three years in short-season ball. The unfortunate thing was that Obregon was caught 19 times, which is a terrible stolen base rate. After spending the spring with Team Nicaragua in their efforts to qualify for the next World Baseball Classic, Obregon joined Carolina to begin this season and has displayed improved extra-base skills with a nearly .100 ISO so far. Yes, that's pretty terrible, but it could be a sign that Obregon is maturing a bit. His skills on the base pathes continue to need work (2-for-6 in steals so far).

I'm providing a more robust scouting report to Outfield Fly Rule so please check that out for more information, but suffice it to say, what we have seen is what we get with Obregon. Defensively, he's smooth at second and while his arm isn't plus-grade at short, it's plenty good at second base to make all the plays. He shows good instincts with the glove. The Braves have used him at both corner infield positions. I think his arm is good enough for spot duty at third, but no more than that. He's a bit on the short side to play first base, but it's good to see him get work around the infield as his pathway to the majors will be as a utility player.

His best case scenario will be to follow the Martin Prado path. Let me say that it's unlikely he will ever match Prado's pop and so Obregon will likely be limited to being only a backup. With that in mind, Obregon could succeed in that role. His best offensive tool is his hit tool as he has good bat control. With a switch-hit bat coming off the bench and a penchant for putting the ball in play, Obregon could find enough green grass to rack up some hits. He's unlikely to walk much, but with his quick-and-compact swing, he's unlikely to strikeout much either. He has good speed, but lacks the instincts and/of confidence to turn that into successful steals.

All in all, Obregon is part of a good collection of talent that is in the 45-60 range as far as a Top Braves Prospects ranking would look. Similar to Luke Dykstra, there is enough hear to see Obregon progressing into something useful - but also not enough hear to think that is very likely.

For more on Obregon, remember to check out my scouting report. In addition, here are some old videos of Obregon.



Saturday, June 11, 2016

2016 Draft: Day 2 Sees Braves Budget Their Funds

Yesterday, we saw the Braves make a total of eight selections to go with the four they made Thursday as part of the 2016 MLB Draft. Thursday was all about going big and manipulating the draft to their liking. Friday was a lot different as the Braves picked seven college kids from a variety of programs along with one high school player. Not only did they grab a a lot of college guys, their final five selections were all senior (i.e. easy to sign). Let's dive in.

Round 3, 80th overall - Drew Harrington, LHP, Lousville, Jr. - Overshadowed on a Cardinals team by higher drafted righties Nick Burdi and Kyle Funkhouser, Harrington moved from the bullpen this season and excelled as a starter with a 2.08 ERA in a tough conference while surrendering just three homeruns. He was actually their ace, but of course, that doesn't necessarily translate to pro ball. Many believe his future will be in the bullpen and I'm inclined to agree. That doesn't make this pick bad - just curious at first look. Baseball America had Harrington 124th on their pre-draft Top 500 so one might call this pick a reach, but the Braves will make some concessions to get their prize trio of prep arms signed so if they save money with this slot (worth $788,800), the Braves will be happy. Harrington works off his fastball, which gets good late movement, and then mixes in a slider. Both pitches have enough projection to help Harrington become a high leverage reliever.

Round 4, 109th overall - Bryse Wilson, RHP, Orange High School (NC) - Good value from a guy who was absolutely lights out in high school. The biggest question attached to Wilson is will he be able to develop a third pitch at some point so he can have a future as a starter? If not, the Braves have another reliever on their hands - though Wilson has been clocked with better velocity and the slide piece flashes plus potential. Ranked #93 by Baseball America, Wilson is committed to UNC, but I imagine if the Braves were trying to go underslot here, they already have a deal pretty much agreed upon. Wilson is athletic with a smooth delivery, but again, unless he adds a third pitch, the Braves spent their third and fourth round picks on relievers a year after drafting A.J. Minter #75.

Round 5, 139th overall - Jeremy Walker, RHP, Gardner-Webb, Jr. - Another pitcher, but this time, the Braves grab a small college guy. I couldn't find a lot on Walker, but it appears he can reach the mid-90's with his velocity and seemed to take a nice step forward this year in the Big South. He upped his strikeout total to 8.88 per nine (two more per nine than he had in 2015). He has great control and a nice slider to go with his fastball. I assume he has a change-of-pace, which will prompt the Braves to try him out as a starter. This is one of those moves where I trust the Braves because Baseball America had him ranked about 200 picks before the Braves grabbed him.

Round 6, 169th overall - Matthew Gonzalez, 2B, Georgia Tech, Sr. - An 11th rounder by the A's in 2012 who became a Yellow Jacket rather than signing, Gonzalez spent four years improving his game until a breakout campaign as a senior where he posted a .199 ISO and made a lot better contact. Defensively, he's got the skills (moreso at second or third), but will he hit enough? Last year, he did and if he continues to bloom late, the Braves got themselves a righty with some pop.

Round 7, 199th overall - J.B. Moss, LF, Texas A&M, Sr. - After moving to center field, Moss blossomed for the Aggies this year with a .325/.416/.486 slash. The ISO of .161 was just eight points better than last year, but the overall results were much better. He also went from six steals in nine attempts as a junior to 16 successful steals in as many attempts.

Round 8, 229th overall - Taylor Hyssong, LHP, UNC Wilmington, Sr. - Spent a year at Pitt Community College before transferring to UNCW in 2015. Last year, he got a chance to pitch more, but mainly as a reliever. Interestingly, his LinkedIn page says he was seeking an internship after graduating with a management degree from UNCW. He tossed three scoreless innings against UNC as they beat the nationally-ranked Tar Heels in May. Nothing really stands out in his numbers.

Round 9, 258th overall - Tyler Neslony, RF, Texas Tech, Sr. - The Braves try their luck again with a college senior with big numbers in his final taste of college ball (.308/.398/.526). He actually hit well during his entire career in Lubbock. He'll be limited to the corners and he might have more power in his bat than we saw in college. If so, this could be a sneaky good pick for a smart and committed ballplayer. That said, Neslony is not that different from any number of college bats that are selected as seniors in the 6th-to-10th round range - they would have been drafted higher if they had enough believers. Neslony didn't, but he'll have a chance to prove he has more to give.

Round 10, 289th overall - Marcus Mooney, SS, South Carolina, Sr. - You got to like a kid who comes back as a senior in a big way. Mooney hit just .213/.275/.296 as a junior and tore his hamstring. But he would come back in 2016 and slash .311/.408/.478. So, kudos on that. Mooney hit for no power in college (just 2 HR in 757 AB) nor did he flash much speed.

After a brilliant first day, the second day screamed of restraint so that the Braves could sign their big pieces. They settled for college guys who would be easy to sign over talent that was much more thought of. I like both Harrington and Wilson - especially if the latter can progress into a starter. Gonzalez has some intrigue, but the rest of the Top 10 rounds were just not overly exciting picks. The rest of the draft is free from the slot bonus rules, which might allow Atlanta to get a little bit more creative with their drafting because Day 2 was just...meh.

FYI, I won't do a review for today's picks because many of the 30 or so players won't sign. If I do a review, it will be after we know who signs.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Braves Draft All the Pitchers

Let's be honest. Yesterday's first two rounds of the 2016 MLB draft were weird.

For all of the talk about the Braves' interest in outfielders Kyle Lewis and Corey Ray, along with pitchers Jason Groome and Riley Pint, the Braves played the long game instead. The slot bonus era has its advantages, but one of its disadvantages is that it rewards teams going "cheaper" with their top pick to spread out funds elsewhere. The Braves played that to the tee with the pick of right-hander Ian Anderson.

A Vanderbilt recruit, Anderson was picked in large part because of a pre-draft deal in place which would allow the Braves to apply their strategy. Even so, let's not ignore that Anderson is a great talent in his own right. Just 170 pounds, he has room to grow into his 6'3" frame and shore up his strength. His fastball has seen a peak in the 97 mph range, but at this point, he sticks in the low 90's. That said, more physical maturation could increase his average velocity a few ticks. His breaking stuff needs refinement (which applies to all 18 year-old pitchers), but it has plus potential especially with his curveball. The sluve/slider needs tightening. He also has a change-up that he has a great handle on. If that's the framework the Braves are working with, they are already ahead of the game.

His delivery is smooth to the plate and quick. He falls off toward the first base a bit, which might be an area the Braves work on to try to make him a better fielding pitching. That said, I think the bigger concern is trying to make sure he doesn't rush his delivery. With that in mind, that's nit-picking what was a solid choice. Granted, according to multiple publications, he doesn't Pint or Groome's higher-end projection, but he brings a great combination of current skills and projection. While many experts had him in the 12-18 overall range, the difference between Anderson and the ones that were projected ahead of him is unlikely to be significant in this draft. All probably have a similar Future Value grade when scouts grade them and there are whispers that the Braves ranked Anderson as the best overall pitcher in the 2016 draft.

The Anderson choice, however, made it more possible to select top talent with their next two selections. First up was Shawness Mission East left-hander, Joey Wentz. Already 6'5" and 220, Wentz throws a low 90's fastball with movement and a great curveball that will be difficult for lefthanders to get a handle on. His change-up needs more consistency, but the good news is that Wentz might have the cleanest and easiest delivery of any pitcher in the draft - especially with his height. Wentz has a profile worthy of a Top 15 grade, but scouts wanted to see him pitch at a big time college program first before advocating their team take him that high. He has been committed to UVA for some time and will take a lot of effort to sign him, but if the money saved from the third pick helps the Braves add Wentz, it works out perfectly.

Wentz did fall because of another reason - he suffered from dead arm in high school, prompting his team to play him at first base to keep him in the lineup. For what it's worth, he's got serious power as a hitter, though he projects as an even better pitcher.

Another good hitter and left-handed pitching option, Kyle Muller was the Braves selection with the #44 overall pick. There are a lot of similarities here to Wentz. Muller might have a bit higher average velocity, though his secondary pitches need more refinement. His regular delivery is consistent and he is deliberate throughout the motion without much unneeded movement. His motion from the stretch  needs work as he flies open way too much as he tries to get on top of his pitches. Muller probably would be a Top 5 pick if he continues on his current trajectory and heads to Texas (and stays healthy), but if the Braves are able to sign him, they have another first round talent on their hands.

The final player the Braves took on Thursday was catcher Brett Cumberland. Outfield Fly Rule's Brent Blackwell commented in their facebook group, "If we could somehow combine Cumberland and Lucas Herbert, we'd have the best catcher prospect in the game." He's not wrong. As highly as Herbert's defense is thought of, Cumberland's bat is just as good - if not better. A switch-hitter with discipline and the ability to hit for average and power, Cumberland belted 16 homers in the Pac-12 last year as a sophomore. But...will he stay at catcher?

It depends on who you ask and also, at least to me, what the bigger concern is. If Cumberland shows a knack for pitch receiving and framing, I can deal with a below-average arm. If both are a problem, it will all boil down to how good his bat becomes. He could certainly be shifted to first base or left field, which could even help his already impressive offensive game.

The draft continues today and the Atlanta Braves could satisfy their fans unreasonable expectations by selecting more bats, but what we saw in the first two rounds was the exactly right way to approach the major league draft. You never reach for current need as it might not be a need when the player you draft reaches the majors. You take what the draft gives you and this draft was big on prep high school arms. The Braves also tried to be creative and hedge their bets with three first-round talents rather than just one. Now, they have to sign those players, but if they do, Atlanta has added a trio of high-reward pitchers to their farm system already bursting at the seems with them. Such moves open up the discussion all the more for trading pitchers. The Braves can better afford to trade Julio Teheran or Matt Wisler and withstand a loss to the system by trading Touki Toussaint or Sean Newcomb.

Also...let's not forget that in addition to the 2016 draft, the Braves will be big players on the international free agent market. Their top target, Kevin Maitan, has higher upside than any player in the draft and the Braves already have a handshake agreement.

Recently, I went over the Best 5 and Worst 5 drafts since 2000. One common theme for the drafts, especially under Frank Wren, was an insistence on drafting for need - specifically guys who were safe bets to get to the bigs. Atlanta acquired so many college arms and bats, but saw many of them max out as AAAA filler. The current Braves braintrust values future overall value versus playing it safe. The Braves will certainly see their fair share of busts from this approach, but their chances of developing an All-Star are much higher this way. While it's impossible to grade the first two rounds a day after they were selected, the approach is a clear A++.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Best 5 Braves Drafts Since 2000 - #1

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

The  Best Draft Since 2000...The 2000 Draft
By Keith Allison from Kinston, USA (Kelly Johnson)
[CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier today, I went over the 2001 draft, which I labeled the worst since 2000. What made that draft so frustrating was that despite having six of the first 105 overall selections, the Braves got precious little out of it. It might be equally frustrating that it came just a year after a similar case of a plethora of picks. But this time, the Braves turned it into a big haul, which showed just what Atlanta was capable of doing in the draft. You win some, you lose some.

The final Braves' team of the 90's was also their final chance to claim ultimate glory, but a quick four-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees ended that dream. Still, the '99 Braves were a thing of beauty. In his Age-27 year, Chipper Jones had been named MVP. Andruw Jones, five years younger than Chipper, had posted a .365 OBP and his second consecutive 20/20 year. He was already well on his way to being the greatest defensive center fielder in baseball history. The rotation was aging, but had received a boost by a breakout season from Kevin Millwood, who struck out 205 batters. John Rocker replaced an injured Kerry Ligtenberg as closer and dominated. The team was expected to be good for a long, long time.

The minor leagues were stacked with talent from Rafael Furcal to Wilson Betemit to Marcus Giles to Matt Belisle. The Braves looked prime to only add to their already embarrassment of riches. Free agent defections after the 1999 season would give them extra selections to keep cycling through talent. Russ Springer, a good middle reliever, brought back a compensation first rounder (#29th overall) from the Diamondbacks. He also brought a supplemental pick at the end of the first round (#40th). Jose Hernandez, who only spent a couple of months with the Braves, brought the team the #38th overall selection after he signed with the Brewers. The Braves would also receive the Brewers' second rounder, #51st overall. There was literally no penalty for trading prospects for trade deadline talent back then. Atlanta had given the Cubs pitchers Micah Bowie, Joey Nation, and Ruben Quevedo for Hernandez and southpaw Terry Mulholland. They also got #38th and #51st pick. They effectively gave up three pitching prospects for four players. It's no wonder small-market teams hated the compensation system.

The Braves also received an extra fourth rounder, #106, because the Devil Rays signed Gerald Williams. If you ever wonder why the D-Rays needed so much time to be good, 2000 is a good example. Due to signing free agents, the D-Rays picked #6th overall and then took a long nap before their next spot came up - #136th in the fifth round. To compare, between both of Tampa Bay's first two picks, the Braves would draft nine players.

As the first round started, the Braves had a target. Would that target fall to them? They allegedly were spreading news around that Adam Wainwright had some injury concerns related to his right elbow with the hope that it would scare off enough teams to free up the Braves to select the native Georgian. Whatever the truth may be, clearly the Braves were hoping that Wainwright fell to them. The Cardinals passed at #24, the Astros went in another direction at #27, and the Yankees went with the son of Lance Parrish (David) at #28. When the Yankees finished the string of six players who would be drafted ahead of Wainwright, but failed to make it to the majors, the Braves must have been crazy with excitement. They got their guy.

They would also get the next guy on their Big Board because the next pick was theirs. Rather than stick with southeastern prep athletes, they bought into the reports of sick power from north of the border and selected Scott Thorman out of Cambridge, Ontario. Eight picks later, they mined the talent-rich fields of Texas to grab Austin-native Kelly Johnson. After the Rangers made their third pick of the first round (of which, they received just three hitless at-bats out of), the Braves picked shortstop Aaron Herr out of Hempfield High School in Pennsylvania. With their two second-round picks, the Braves picked a pair of righty prep pitchers in Bubba Nelson and Bryan Digby. They stuck with the theme in the next two rounds, selecting a total of three right-handed prep pitchers in Blaine Boyer, Zach Miner, and Brian Montalbo - the latter of which would choose not to sign after being pick out of Alaska and would later be picked in the 7th round by the Brewers out of Cal-Berkeley.

What sets this draft apart from others was Atlanta's ability to find value late. Between Chris Waters selection in the fifth round and their 17th round selection, Atlanta failed to add any future major league talent. Keoni De Renne, a shortstop out of the University of Arizona, looked interesting, but ultimately failed like so many of those mid-draft picks. In the 17th round, the Braves added sturdy right-hander Trey Hodges out of LSU. Two rounds later, they picked Western Carolina outfielder Charles Thomas. Hodges would late hold down a middle relief job for the Braves while Thomas had one nice summer in the majors, which the Braves helped turn into Tim Hudson.

The Braves selected ten more players after Thomas who failed to make it to the bigs, but in the 29th round, they picked Seminole State College 1B and sometimes pitcher, Adam LaRoche. It was the third consecutive season LaRoche had been drafted. He had refused to sign with the Marlins in back-to-back years, but the Braves convinced him that his future was in Atlanta just two weeks after drafting him. Just four years later, he would be their regular first baseman. For three years, he blossomed into a steady option at first base before the suddenly penny-pinching Braves traded LaRoche after he became arbitration-eligible and handed the first base job to the guy who was drafted 850 picks before LaRoche in 2000 in Thorman. They later brought LaRoche back during the 2009 deadline to bring stability to their 1B situation, but passed on keeping him. They had their future 1B in the making in the minors (Freddie Freeman) and a long-term deal for LaRoche wasn't in the cards.

LaRoche was the last-of-nine major leaguers the Braves drafted and signed out of the 2000 draft. Waters would leave the organization as a minor league free agent after 2006 and would later pitch in 16 games with the Orioles between 2008-09. Five years after being drafted, the Braves would package Miner with right-hander Roman Colon in a trade with the Tigers to acquire Kyle Farnsworth. Miner pitched in 173 career games, mainly with the Tigers, before retiring. Boyer was a dependable member of the 2005 Baby Braves, but washed out after that. After nearly giving up, he has been a nice story of perseverance since returning to the majors in 2014 with the Padres while posting a 2.70 ERA over 123 games with San Diego, Minnesota, and currently Milwaukee.

Even though this draft would produce some big hits, the trio of Herr, Nelson, and Digby all failed to make it to the majors. Nelson was used as trade bait while Herr and Digby simply washed out. Thorman was handed the 1B job in 2007, but showed that outside of some homers that left the planet, he was not capable of reaching base. His struggles led John Schuerholz to trade for Mark Teixeira. Theoretically, had Thorman been respectable, maybe Schuerholz wouldn't have lost his mind. Maybe.

But regardless, in addition to LaRoche, the Braves had some huge success with the drafting of Wainwright and Johnson. The latter developed into a good second baseman before transitioning into a sought-after utility player. Here is something you should know Kelly Johnson. He is the fourth-best player selected in the first round of 2000 according to rWAR behind just Chase Utley, Adrian Gonzalez, and - of course - Wainwright. Speaking of Waino, Braves fans naturally bemoan his 2003 trade to the Cardinals. While J.D. Drew would help the Braves keep their playoff streak in tact, it was a lot to give up for one year of Drew. However, from a drafting standpoint, the Braves aced this pick. First as a reliever and later as a starter, Wainwright became one of the more dominating pitchers in baseball until this year. The Braves got their man. They didn't keep him, but they got him and he turned out to be everything they thought he could be and more.

Hopefully, tonight's draft yields a solid haul like the Braves got in 2000. Do you agree or disagree with any of my rankings? Let me know! What draft since 2000 should have been named the best? The worst? I'm all ears.

Worst 5 Braves Drafts Since 2000 - #1

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

The Worst Draft Since 2000...The 2001 Draft

Anthony Lerew | By RCSmith84 (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
How important is it to hit on your draft choices? In 2001, the Atlanta Braves had six picks in the first 105 selections. Three never made it to the majors. Of the other three, the only one who went on to have a decent career re-entered the draft after not signing with the Braves. Of the 10.9 WAR Basebal-Reference currently attaches to this draft, two players account for 13 WAR. Neither signed with the Braves after being drafted in 2009. When people talk about the horrid drafts of the Frank Wren years, it's important to remember than John Schuerholz had his fair share. This one stands out.

The Braves came into the 2001 draft with the #29th overall pick based on their 95-67 finish the previous year. Chipper Jones was entering his Age-29 year and Andruw Jones was just 24, but the team was getting old in a hurry. Kevin Millwood, Jason Marquis, and Odalis Perez start 53 games combined in 2001, but the Braves needed an onslaught of young talent to add to the frey. The 2001 draft could have been a way of helping that happen.

Atlanta added three picks in compensation while losing no picks. They received the Dodgers' #24 pick after Los Angeles signed Andy Ashby while also picking up a supplemental first rounder as well. They also grabbed the Pirates' second round pick, #52nd overall, when Pittsburgh signed Terry Mulholland. The 2001 draft was a top-heavy collection of talent with Joe Mauer going #1st overall and Mark Teixeira going #5. The rest of the first round was a hodgepodge of forgettable contributors like Casey Kotchman, Aaron Heilman, and Noah Lowry. The only real impact talent over the final 39 picks of the first round was David Wright.

Wright was picked #38th overall. He could have been a Brave if he had been higher on the board for Atlanta as they had two shots to pick him. Instead, they stayed in Georgia, drafting two prep Georgians and a Georgia Tech alum over their first three picks. When Atlanta's first pick came up with the #24th overall selection, the Braves chose Macay McBride. If it's any consolation, of the next four picks, only Jeremy Bonderman and Bobby Crosby made it to the majors. McBride was a star in Georgia and would have been a Georgia Bulldog had the Braves not grabbed him. Five picks later, they selected shortstop Josh Burrus out of Wheeler High School in Marieta. Their third first rounder was used on Georgia Tech second baseman, Richard Lewis.

The second round included a pair of names the Braves had a shot at that would turn into dependable major leaguers (#56, J.J. Hardy and #72, Dan Haren). Instead, with the #52nd overall pick, the Braves selected Jesuit High School (Sacramento, CA) lefty J.P. Howell. A pick after Haren was selected by the Cardinals, Atlanta stayed in the southeast to grab Decatur High School (AL) third sacker Cole Barthel.

The picks kept coming. Over the next nine rounds, they picked pitchers Kyle Davies, Raymond Nieves, Donnie Furnald, Willie Collazo, and Anthony Lerew along with outfielders Adam Stern, Matt Esquivel, and Bill McCarthy. Only four reached the majors and only Davies stuck around for any length of period. That was a better success rate than they had after round 11. Of Braves they drafted and signed, only Kevin Barry made it to the majors.

It's hard to screw up three first rounders in one draft, but the Braves in 2001 found a way. Burrus and Lewis went nowhere during their careers. Burrus, a toolsy shortstop was shifted to the outfield and only played 5 games at the Triple-A level during his ten year career. At least Lewis was repurposed as the Braves traded him just three years later to the Cubs in the Juan Cruz deal. He hit .228/.280/.332 during 203 games at the Triple-A level before his career came to a close after 2008. McBride was part of the Baby Braves that reached the majors in 2005 and he looked useful over 14 innings, but his lack of control caught up with him soon after. The Braves traded him to the Tigers in '07 for Wil Ledezma and after 20 games with Detroit to finish the year, McBride would never again play in the majors.

The second round went worse. While Howell would develop into a solid lefthand reliever, it was only after heading to college. Barthel played just 149 games with the Braves organization over four seasons before being cut after never making it past Rome. Stern and Davies would both make it to the majors with Stern hitting a buck-16 over 54 games while Davies's career ERA is 5.57. He actually made it back to the majors for the first time in four years last April for one game. Recently, he debuted with Yakult in the Japan Central League.

But as bad as Davies has been, at least he's received an extended look. The trio of pitchers that reached the majors from the tenth to 14th rounds (Collazo, Lerew, and Barry) combined to pitch 95.2 innings in the majors with Collazo's ERA of 6.35 the best mark of the bunch.

Atlanta would select just two more players who made it to the majors, but neither signed with the Braves that year (Delwyn Young & Dallas Braden). This was a John Schuerholz/Roy Clark led draft at the height of "The Braves Way." It's enough to remind you of the quote from Moneyball when Billy Beane tells Grady Fuson, "I've sat at those tables and listened to you tell those parents 'When I know, I know. And when it comes to your son. I know.' And you don't. You don't." The variables that go into selecting a player are the only things the team controls. After that, they can't control how a player takes to coaching, how his pitches look against advanced hitters, how healthy he remains, etc.

All draft choices are made with the best intentions. Sometimes, good things happen. In 2001, the best the Braves could hope for was Kyle Davies - an underwhelming right-hander who has the second-worst fWAR among pitchers who threw 750 innings between 2005 and 2011.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Best 5 Braves Drafts Since 2000 - #2

On this 2016 Draft Eve, here is my pick for the second best draft since 2000.

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

2nd Best Draft Since 2000 - The 2002 Draft

Keith Allison via Flickr (No Changes)
(Creative Commons)
It was a perfect storm for the Braves. Two years before, they had added a lot of talent to the system, but were still short on real prospects. While they would win a NL East Title in 2002, the cracks began to show as they won just 88 games. That would actually help the Braves as it gave them a higher draft choice than they were used to getting during The Streak with the #23rd overall pick. They would add a supplemental first (#34th) and an extra second round pick (#65) after Steve Karsay signed with the Yankees.

The table was set for a big haul and the Braves had their eyes firmly set on one player - Parkview High School two-sport, do-everything, superstud Jeff Francoeur. But would he be there when they selected in the first round for the first time at #23? Previously, I went over how the Braves may have muddied the waters when it came to Jason Heyward. The Braves and especially their scouting director Roy Clark had been tied to some accusations of dirty play beyond that. They were blamed for bad medical reports related to Adam Wainwright before the 2000 draft. They were also possibly responsible for a fax that suggested Francoeur wanted a $4M bonus.

Whether any of that is true, Francoeur made it clear to other teams that he had three options in the draft. Either the Atlanta Braves drafted him or he received a "significant amount of money" to sign with whoever picked him. Or, and this certainly was a possibility, he could head to Clemson University, where he had signed a letter of intent to play defensive back. Francoeur was expected to be a standout as a college safety - something not lost on Bobby Bowden or his son, Tommy Bowden. One story involved the latter being at Francoeur's home on a recruiting trip. The elder Bowden called Francoeur, which prompted Tommy to take the phone and kindly tell his dad to get off the line while he was on a recruiting visit.

Teams ahead of the Braves had Francoeur higher on their Big Boards based on talent, but he dropped due to the demands Francoeur would have to sign. He never did get that $4M, regardless if it ever was one of his demands, but after Atlanta selected the outfielder and convinced him to give up football, he received $2.2M and the Braves' 2002 draft was off.

Up next, with the #34th pick, was James Madison University southpaw, Dan Meyer. A standout college pitcher for the Dukes, he was the first college arm selected by the Braves in the first round since 1987 when the Braves tabbed Derek Lilliquist as the sixth overall selection. Thirty picks later, the Braves again chose a prep star from their own backyard, Duluth High School catcher, Brian McCann. While he lacked Francoeur's infectious smile, he was left-handed catcher with power. McCann had been playing baseball with-and-against Francoeur since the two became teenagers. Now, they would become roommates.

The next pick of the draft was Atlanta's extra second-round pick courtesy of the Yankees. It would ultimately be wasted on shortstop Tyler Greene. An athletic shortstop with power, Greene passed on the Braves, but liked the area enough to attended Georgia Tech. Right-hander Charlie Morton out of a high school in Connecticut, was selected next. Morton, like Meyer, would be used in big trades.

Sad to say, but the rest of the draft produced very little. Long-time followers of the Braves' minor league system might recognize the names of Steve Russell (4th), J.J. Jurries (6th), and Wes Timmons (12th), but the latter two failed to progress beyond Triple-A while Russell was cut after five years in the system. Shortstop Jon Schuerholz out of Auburn would be lambasted as a sign of nepotism after the Braves spent an 8th round selection on him.

The Braves would get a hit on 20th rounder Chuck James out of Chattahoochee Valley Community College. It's difficult to get much value out of the 20th round, so the 64 games and 55 starts they received from James constitutes a hit in my mind. His metrics were never that good and after a fun retelling of Chuck Norris jokes with James in the latter's place, he wore out his welcome with the Braves. Nevertheless, he was the Braves' #3 pitcher in 2006 and '07.

For all of the hype surrounding Francoeur, this draft would ultimately be known as the year the Braves finally picked a catcher in the draft who turned into a star. In the previous ten drafts, Atlanta had spent eleven picks on catchers. Some didn't sign, but those that did gave the Braves precious little. You have to go back to 1989's draft choice of Tyler Houston, which was a bust, to find a catcher the Braves drafted and developed into a major leaguer for more than a cup of coffee. Of course, the Braves had more luck internationally, but catcher was a position that year-after-year was draped in failure. McCann gave the Braves not only success from the draft, but one of the best catchers in baseball for 8.5 years.

While 2002's draft could have certainly been better, grabbing a guy who may have a borderline Hall of Fame career when it's all said and done is a big get.

Worst 5 Braves Drafts Since 2000 - #2

With the 2016 draft tomorrow, it's time to get to the end of this series. Just three more articles remain after this one.

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

2nd Worst Draft Since 2000 - The 2011 Draft 

Gilmartin | By Kaotate [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
On one hand, Atlanta's haul in the 2011 draft produced eight major leaguers. On the other hand, the Frank Wren/Tony DeMacio-led approach of cheap, sign-able college players effectively reduced the chance that the Braves would bring an impact player into the system. The 2011 edition would possibly be their worst draft together.

Flash back to 2010. The Atlanta Braves would win 91 games in Bobby Cox's final year and were batting on the young duo of Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens to lead their rotation while the also young core of Brian McCann, Martin Prado, Jason Heyward, and the just-arrived Freddie Freeman would give the Braves a big boost at the plate. The Braves also had high hopes for the foursome of Mike Minor, Arodys Vizcaino, Randall Delgado, and Julio Teheran. You could forgive Wren and DeMacio if they felt they had a dynasty on their hands.

Of course, they didn't and the 2011 draft certainly didn't help matters. Their first pick finally came with the 28th overall selection. As they had done two years before, they went with a left-hander out of a big southern college program. But Sean Gilmartin wasn't Minor - who certainly raised his share of eyebrows when the Braves drafted him. Minor's floor was noticeably higher than Gilmartin for one. Gilmartin was a borderline Top 50 player heading into the draft. He was a perfectly fine second rounder, but the Braves played it safe as they had done so often during the Wren years. Either there was an edict that they needed to compete and needed cheap depth players to fill in the gaps rather than hope for the best with an 18 year-old out of high school or the Braves were just flatout missing. Regardless, Atlanta made the choice to knowingly give up on the high reward and play the chances that they have grabbed a high enough floor guy to play in the majors.

They were successful. They also had very bad drafts as a result. 2011 stands out because the Braves not only drafted a college player in the first round once again, they did so in 18-of-the-first-19 rounds. They went with smart kids out of UConn (Nick Ahmed) and Gonzaga (Cody Martin) along with smaller school standouts like Kyle Kubitza and Tommy La Stella. The draft could have just easily been a winner. Instead of Joe Panik or Henry Owens, it was Gilmartin in the first round. Instead of Andrew Susac in the second, it was Ahmed. Instead of Carter Capps, it was Kubitza in the third. Rather than draft Greg Bird in the fifth, they took Nick DeSantiago. Could have had Ken Giles, but took Martin in the seventh.

Is this unfair? You betcha. But 2011 showed just how warped the Braves valued talent in the draft under Wren and DeMacio. I'm not a guy who buries Wren. I think he shoulders too much of the blame. But when it came to the draft, the Braves simply were missing and missing badly.

Here is a sign that something went wrong. The 2011 draft was just five years ago. Nobody from the draft remains the system. Some, like Gilmartin and Martin, were given away. As was J.R. Graham, who the Braves lost voluntarily in the Rule 5 draft. Kubitza and La Stella were traded for arms with higher upside. John Cornely and Gus Schlosser were sent packing. As was Ahmed, though at least he was a piece that helped the Braves acquire Justin Upton.

If a year stands out as a reason to not play it safe and draft for need, it's 2011. The Braves got exactly what they sought - good bets to make it to the majors. Eight of them did that - so far. But their roles in the majors reflect the conservative draft philosophy the Braves followed. Each player that has made it to the bigs has little chance of developing into much more than they were when they were drafted.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Transaction Tuesday: Allard, Shae, Kinman, Pache

These moves happened between May 31 and June 6. Check out the previous week's recap.

Gwinnett Braves
Promoted (from MIS): Brad Roney...A righty out of Southern Miss in 2014, Roney is another of those exciting arms who has off-the-charts stuff, but doesn't always know where it's going. In fact, he rarely does. Last year, he struck out 70 in 48.1 innings, but also walked 35, hit six batters, and uncorked six wild pitches. More of the same this year, but the Braves are still progressing him through the system in a hurry. While no one should be compared to Craig Kimbrel, it's worth remembering Kimbrel had serious control concerns in the minors. The year before he hit the majors, Kimbrel walked 6.8 per nine. With any luck, Roney will make that leap as well.

Activated: Sean Kazmar...The veteran Gwinnett fixture had been on the paternity list for a little over a week. I had wondered if he was considering retirement, but he got back in action over the last four days. He's hitting .302 this season.

Optioned: John Gant...One of the trio of pitchers holding down the long relief role for the Braves, Gant got into a pair of games against the Dodgers last week, including a two inning stint. It was his fourth stint in the majors just this year. Gant has looked good in 43 innings with Gwinnett.

Optioned: Ryan Weber...Another part of the trio with Gant and Casey Kelly, Weber has not been able to find the magic from last year that made him a competent fifth starter toward the end of the year for the Braves.

By Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Rehab: Erick Aybar...Nobody needed to get away for awhile more than Aybar, who suffered a foot contusion a few weeks ago. He'll look to jumpstart his season once he is activated, though the results in Gwinnett have hardly been awe-inspiring (2-for-12, 2 SB, 2 BB, K).

Rehab: Shae Simmons...After some forearm tightness halted his rehab stint over a week ago, Simmons was able to get back in the saddle during the weekend. He opened a game with a hitless inning where he walked one batter and struck out two. So far in four rehab games, he's pitched four innings, allowed two hits, walked four, and struck out nine. The control needs to be cleaned up, but with another good rehab outing or two, he might rejoin the Braves.

Mississippi Braves
Acquired: Jed Bradley...A former first rounder out of Georgia Tech, Bradley was acquired from the Brewers for future considerations last week. In his first game, he allowed all three batters he faced to reach and each would score, giving him an ERA of infinity with Mississippi. The lefty was a Top 100 prospect heading into 2012, but that was a long time ago.

Activated: Kyle Kinman...A pair of DL trips have limited Kinman, who briefly became a potential option for the major league team toward the end of spring training. Lefties can't hit him, but can he progress against righties? With a wide-open bullpen situation in Atlanta, Kinman could get a look sooner rather than later.

Promoted (from MIS), Demoted: Steve Janas...After just a game in Gwinnett where he retired all six batters he faced, Janas returned to Mississippi. He's had a surprisingly good season after being moved from the starting rotation to the pen this year. He doesn't get K's, but also doesn't walk batters. It's difficult to see him as a prospect for the future, but he might have a chance to surprise.

Released: Danny Burawa...Things have gone from bad-to-worse-to-cut for Burawa this season. After a dozen games in the bigs last year for the Braves, Burawa entered spring with a chance to win a spot in the bullpen. He struggled early and was one of the first players crossed off. He went down to Gwinnett, but couldn't find the strikezone. A trip to Mississippi did little to help and after the Braves acquired Bradley, Burawa was cut to open up a spot.

Carolina Mudcats
Demoted (from GWI): Stephen Gaylor...Wherever you need him, Gaylor is there. Whether it's one game in Rome or another game in Gwinnett, Gaylor will be ready. For the most part, though, he's played in Carolina for 36 games where he's slashing .232/.347/.263 with 10 steals.

Demoted (from GWI): David Peterson...A righty out of the 2012 draft, Peterson was struggling very badly for Gwinnett to open the year. In 17.2 innings, he had been charged 18 earned runs, surrendered three homers, and walked 14. In his defense, four were intentional. A far cry from his 2015, where he had a 2.28 ERA in 51.1 innings as he climbed from Carolina to Gwinnett. A move to Carolina could help take the pressure off and get him jumpstarted.

Rome Braves
Promoted (from GCL): Kolby Allard...The expectation was that we wouldn't see Allard until later this month with Danville, but the 18 year-old first-rounder started his first game of the year yesterday with Rome. The results weren't so good, but it was great to see Allard get his season going with a game in Rome either way. The Braves will be very cautious with Allard and it wouldn't surprise me to see him head to Danville when their season begins.

Danville Braves
Demoted (from ROM): Adam McCreery...Early results were not overwhelming for McCreery, who gave up six runs (three earned) in 3.1 ING. He was moved down the ladder to make room for Allard.

Demoted (from CAR): A.J. Minter...I've yet to see an explanation for this move. Minter had thrown 10 innings over 7 games with Rome and Carolina before not appearing in a game for a week and getting reassigned to Danville. Theoretically, if it were an injury, Minter would have been DL'd. Maybe it was an innings deal?

GCL Braves
Promoted (from DSL): Anthony Concepcion...The following several moves were DSL guys from last year who were promoted to GCL to begin the year. Concepcion was a good bat last year, though he was a bit old for the league. He slashed .308/.410/.451 with 5 HR and 12 SB while splitting time between 1B and LF. I would have liked a more aggressive move to Danville.

Promoted (from DSL): William Contreras...A catcher, Contreras hit well last year in the DSL at just 17 years-old. He was part of the group of free agents the Braves added in the winter after changing general managers and scouting directors.

Promoted (from DSL): Luis Mejia...An infielder who turned 19 a few months ago, Mejia on-based .376 with the help of a 29 BB/25 K rate over 60 games. A little undersized, it's difficult to foresee the switch-hitter developing much power.

Promoted (from DSL): Luis Mora...Good to see Mora get a promotion after two years in the DSL. He had zero control in 2014, but turned it around in a big way in 2015 as one of the Braves' more dependable starters. A right-hander, he went form more walks than strikeouts to a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate in the span of a season. He turns 21 in a little more than a week.

Promoted (from DSL): Christian Pache...One of two big international pickups (Derian Cruz is the other), it's good to see that the Braves think enough of Pache to skip him past the DSL. Pache was ranked 11th by Fangraphs among the 2015 International Class. He's expected to have the skills to stick in center with a chance to hit for a high average with good power.

Promoted (from DSL): Ramon Taveras...Like Mora, Taveres pitched two seasons in the DSL before earning a trip state-side. A full-time reliever, Taveras's control improved tremendously a year after walking 11 in 14 innings as Taveras walked just six in 34.1 innings last year. He doesn't have gaudy K numbers, but the righty's improvement will keep him around for a third season.

Promoted (from DSL): Randy Ventura...No Brave had a bigger year in the DSL than Ventura, who swiped 55 bases in just 58 games last year with 35 walks to 27 strikeouts. A car accident ended his year prematurely, but if back, he'll get a chance to show that he has an encore in him. I ranked him 25th in my Top 50 before the season. His production early will go a long way toward keeping that spot.

Promoted (from DSL): Bredio Vega...A tall righty out of Panama, Vega struggled in the DSL last year especially early, but started to turn the corner over his last eight games. He K'd 13 in 13.2 innings while walking six. A reliever with good velocity, Vega could be a fun name to watch when the Gulf Coast League season opens.

DSL Braves
Too many moves to list as the Dominican Summer League rosters were set for the beginning of the season.

Best 5 Braves Drafts Since 2000 - #3

Halfway home in this series as I alternate back to the "Best" side with a draft that produced just two established major leagues so far, but their impact on the Braves is significant.

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

3rd Best Draft Since 2000 - The 2007 Draft

Credit: Tommy Poe / Freeman and Heyward with
Myrtle Beach in 2009
At first glance, 2007 was a win - but it could have been so much more. Questionable picks after the second round kept this draft from being more than it could have been. Fortunately, two stars were acquired early on to make this draft a major asset for the Braves.

The season of 2006 was a massively disappointing year for the organization. One year after graduating a host of youngsters known as the Baby Braves to the majors, Atlanta struggled to stay within striking distance of the New York Mets, who ran away with the NL East title. Atlanta was meandering through the season until June hit. That month, they would flat-line into a 6-21 run that the Braves could not recover from. The big problem was that the rotation - long a strength for the Braves. It didn't help that Chris Reitsma was blowing games left-and-right, not that Jorge Sosa couldn't harness whatever made him a decent pitcher for the '05 team.

The only thing positive to come from the 2006 season was that the 79-83 season gave way to the #14th overall pick of the '06 draft. That wasn't all as the defection of Danys Baez (remember him?) gave the Braves a supplemental first round choice (#33rd) and the Orioles' second rounder (#69 overall). Atlanta also had their second rounder, the 78th overall, inside the Top 100. The scene was set for a big draft haul.

The stars aligned in another way. The Atlanta Braves were desperate to draft Jason Heyward, a potential franchise keystone. However, would he be available at #14? Baseball America had ranked him the ninth best prospect heading into 2007 and remarked that no one had a bigger upside. Of course, Atlanta has never been shy about finding some less-than-honorable ways to open the doors to acquire the local talent they want. Allegedly, that is. Atlanta put up a smokescreen to avoid looking too interested in Heyward, least they tip their hand. Working in the Braves' favor was Heyward's reputation as a fearsome hitter to gameplan around. While the Braves had been scouting him since he was 11 and kept an eye on him in summer league games where he would use a wooden bat, other teams focused on his high school games. Pitchers were afraid to throw to him and Heyward, as we would later learn, was a patient hitter.

But still, the Braves needed luck. Ed Creech, the Pirates scouting director and Georgian native, passed on him. The Rockies, Nationals, and Indians also passed on him - due in no small part to not seeing him swing the bat enough. However, one team was very interested and picked two picks in front of the Braves. The then-Florida Marlins area scout, Brian Bridges, compared Heyward's swing to Willie McCovey and told anyone who would listen that Heyward was the real deal. In a private workout with the Marlins, Heyward belted homers on half of the 60 pitches he saw. But the Marlins, citing Heyward's signability, went with 3B Matt Dominguez and then paid him $100K more than Heyward got. Bridges felt the Marlins were using Dominguez's position as the deciding factor, believing it would be easier to find a right fielder than a third baseman. In their defense, 64 picks later, they took Giancarlo Stanton.

Atlanta's war room went crazy and suddenly, the road was clear for them to draft Heyward. Bridges would be hired away from the Marlins to help sign Heyward. But Atlanta was far from being done. They had 49 more draft selections. Their next two were used on a high school third baseman, Jon Gilmore, and right-hander Josh Fields out of the University of Georgia. Nine picks later, they drafted lanky Freddie Freeman out of El Modena High School in Orange, CA. Their next eleven picks were a mixture of junior college and four-year guys like Brandon Hicks, Cory Gearrin, Travis Jones, Michael Fisher, and "pitcher" Brandon Belt. The last name wouldn't sign. Neither would Fields. Fifth-round selection Dennis Dixon out of the University of Oregon did sign, but played just one summer before returning to college to start at QB for the Oregon Ducks.

Righties Caleb Brewer and Paul Demny (who didn't sign) represented the first two high schoolers taken after the rush of college players, but Atlanta would head back to college-age guys in the 16th through 21st rounds. Some interesting names from the remainder of the draft include C.J. Lee in the 20th round, Benino Pruneda in the 31st, and a pair of players in the 27th and 33rd rounds who would both be drafted again the following season (Adam Milligan and Craig Kimbrel).

The draft would be known for Heyward and Freeman. Each would climb up the ladder and become good friends with a bromance reminiscent of Jeff Francoeur and Brain McCann a few years before. Gilmore would be used by the Braves to acquire Javier Vazquez from the White Sox in the winter of 2008-09. Hicks and Gearrin would both get to the majors with Gearrin following Hicks' footsteps by becoming a semi-established player for the Giants. But the Braves weren't able to develop anymore of the players. While three (Fields, Belt, and 24th rounder Mitch Harris) would all make it to the majors, it was only after re-entering the draft and getting selected by a different team. Of course, the relationship with Kimbrel would become very fruitful.

Pruneda and Fisher both flashed big potential at times, but neither saw their careers progress to AAA with the Braves. Fisher's career is over, but Pruneda continues to try to harness some filthy stuff and recently made his Triple-A debut with the Royals' organization.

This draft really only developed two great players, but their greatness helps push this draft into my Top 5. Heyward gave the Braves five good seasons once he made it to the majors before being traded to the Cardinals. If you add Shelby Miller's deal, the Braves effectively 24.6 WAR from Heyward plus Tyrell Jenkins, Ender Inciarte, Aaron Blair, and Dansby Swanson. Really shines up this draft even if the Braves may have tried to be sneaky as possible to get Heyward.