Friday, June 16, 2017

Walk-Off Talk 1.3: Recapping the Draft

In this new series, Ryan Cothran and I have a back-and-forth as we discuss a subject. It's informal and we hope you guys get something out of it. This week, we focus on the 2017 draft. At times, we’ll agree. Other times, we’ll disagree. Join the conversation and tell us where we are misguided in the comment section.

Kyle Wright's Twitter
Rhyno,

Neither one of us claims to be a draft expert, but you lose all the fans if you don't pretend to know what the hell you are talking about in regards to the draft so here we go.

On Monday, the Braves made Kyle Wright a millionaire provided he signs when they picked him with the fifth overall pick (and it looks like he all but has). This is an intriguing selection to me if only because we are talking about an organization that rarely takes college pitchers this high. They prefer to take the high-ceiling high schooler they can teach "The Braves Way" to rather than go with the more polished starter.

That said...to quote the classic film, Coming to America, that boy good. That boy being, of course, Kyle Wright. He started slowly this season, but he made some adjustments and crushed it from there until running into the juggernaut known as Oregon State. He's a big, strong kid with great, repeatable mechanics and dominated the SEC, which is hardly a league to sneeze at even when we're not talking football. On many draft boards heading into the draft, Wright was either #1 or #2.

Another thing I love is that Wright is the kind of guy who should have gone to college and thankfully, he did. He was a tall, lanky kid when he left for college and now has the strength to rear back and hit 97 mph on the gun. The curve and slider are both plus breaking pitches and lucky for him, he's going to an organization that can teach a good changeup. Not all pitchers are built the same. Some are better off going to college and refining their game without the fear of getting released. Wright fit the bill.

The Braves have had absolutely rotten luck when selecting college pitchers in the first two rounds. Alex Wood and Mike Minor are their best picks and neither has amassed 10 bWAR in their careers to this point. Does Wright have the kind of stuff that you think will change that?

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Tommy,

I love reading Baseball America, MinorLeagueBall, Fangraphs, etc., to see all of the takes before and after the draft. Let’s just say that the experts are dumbfounded that Wright slipped to us as the 5th pick and many are predicting he’ll become the Braves number 2 or 3 prospect right after he’s signed. With a system that is simply bombarded with talent, this is remarkable.  I’ve got a tweett out there that’s getting quite a bit of attention, and while I did tweet it, that’s about all the credit I can take. It’s from a guy named Stu who’s a frequent poster over at Braves Journal. He’s an all things Vandy kind of guy and what he said about Wright really stuck with me:
“He’s really, really, really good. Throws hard, throws strikes — and not usually hittable strikes. Also has two good breaking balls and a changeup that flashes plus. Like I said, in my mind, he’s second only to Price in the likelihood-of-MLB-success department among VU pitchers I’ve watched over the past 15 or so years.”
Now let that sink in. There have been some great arms come from that system and a guy that’s watched him with regularity puts him behind only David Price. So, to answer your question, yes. I’ve been exchanging comments with Stu going on 15 years over at Braves Journal, and he’s been calling ‘em right when it comes to Vandy. So if Stu, BA, Fangraphs, and what seems to be the entire MLB community is on board, the Braves made the Wright move. Geez...I’ll see myself out now.

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Ryan,

Drew Waters' Twitter
I have a feeling the right/Wright puns will be neverending as he pitches for the Braves for the next decade. When I read that Wright could jump over a number of elite prospects and a guy like Keith Law float the idea that Wright may be the best prospect in the system, I got really excited. That’s a testament to both the pitcher he is and the projection left in his right arm.

With the second pick, and #41st overall selection, the Braves went local and took Drew Waters out of Etowah High School...which is just a lot of fun to say. While the first pick was a bit out of the ordinary for the Braves, this one takes me back. A toolsy outfielder from the southeast? It's like John Schuerholz is back in charge. If the Braves can keep the switch-hitting Georgia commit from honoring his scholarship to the Dawgs - and I see no reason to think they won't - Atlanta has themselves an outfielder with five-star potential.

The hit tool is there, the potential power will likely come, and he might have the ability to stick in center field. I got to be honest - the name that keeps screaming out to me as I watch video and read scouting reports in regards to Waters is A.J. Pollock. Now, that might be the best case scenario, but I believe the potential is there for Waters. Hopefully, it's Pollock without the injury concerns.

There are concerns that he won't be able to stick in center field and the power tool has ways to go to be realized, but I love these type of picks. When you have a chance to grab a potential superstar, you take it. The Braves of a few years ago spent far too many high-grade picks on the Todd Cunningham's of the world. This is the type of choice you make.

So, what're your thoughts? Did the Braves make a splash with Waters?

Yeah, I went there.

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Size 13. That’s what I keep hearing about this kid, Tommy.  His frickin’ shoe size. “But why does that matter, Ryan?”  Well I’ll tell you, voice in my head that goes by Randy. This kid isn’t done growing. He’s 6’2 right now and if you look at the correlation between foot size and height, Waters might end up in the 6’4ish range. Point being, a 6’4, 220 pound switch-hitting CFer that transitions to RF after 5-6 years in the bigs sounds dandy. Waters ranked as Baseball America’s number 7 position prospect and for good reason as he’s been donned with the beloved “5-tool talent” label. To put it mildly, take Nick Markakis’s game that he plays. He’s average at everything. Now imagine a guy that has the projectability to be slightly above average at everything. That’s 5 tools, but the best part is if he can continue to provide value from both sides of the plate, it’s like he’s got an extra monkey wrench hidden away in his 5-tool belt. If Waters reaches his ceiling he could be a 3-4 WAR player for a long time with peak years pushing 5-6. Wouldn’t that be swell?

But there’s a downside to Waters and that is some scouts see him as a Drew Stubbs type with tons of athletic ability coinciding with swing and miss potential. There’s no denying that would be disappointing as Stubbs had a decent enough career for 4-5 years, but was more of a burden in his late 20s and has been a roamer since.  However, with an organization that seems to be adopting a philosophy to cut down the strikeouts, I have no doubt that they can turn Waters into wine. There it is again...oh my.

Last point on these 2 guys. When an organization’s farm is as stacked as the Braves is and the pipeline is bursting from Gwinnett to the Dominican, these are the types of drafts that should take place. Take 3-4 guys that could be superstars, then go flier crazy on seniors in college. I liked the strategy and hope to see more of this thinking when it comes to trades at the deadline. Keep reaching for high ceilings. Many will fall, but some will float to the heavens.

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Ryan,

Tampa Baseball's Twitter
Couldn’t agree with you more. Like I said, this is the opposite of the Frank Wren-era drafts where the Braves went high-floor and guys who are easier to sign. Their next pick continued that trend. The Braves stayed in the prep ranks for their third round selection, grabbing righty Freddy Tarnok. From what I've seen, he was a bit of a fast-rising prospect who topped out at #170 at Baseball America. In that sense, this could be called a stretch when Tarnok was the #80th overall pick. Of course, that's why the Braves pay their scouting team so much money.

One thing that is very intriguing about Tarnok - beyond his He-Man villain-sounding name - is that he only switched to pitcher from shortstop over the last two years. The switch turned Tarnok into an exciting prospect and led to the University of Tampa offering him a scholarship to take his talents there. You have to believe the Braves have a deal with Tarnok to have taken him this high.

He's got feel on the mound and great velocity that will become more consistent under the tutelage and aid of the Braves' coaching system. Will he be able to develop his curve and changeup enough? Again, you have to believe the Braves think so. This guy is very raw and probably a dream for pitching coaches provided he takes to coaching well. The sky's the limit and coaches have to love the idea of molding a high-projection arm like Tarnok?

This pick lacks the overwhelming excitement of Wright and Waters, but the ceiling is there. Can he reach it? What are your thoughts?

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Using their 3rd pick to grab Tarnok will most definitely be judged by the masses over the course of the next 3-4 years. Braves will either look back and pat everyone on the back for finding talent most looked over, or will be trying to figure out who thought it was a good idea to draft this guy. In the aftermath of Hector Olivera, it came to the public’s knowledge that the Braves scouting team was split on his talents ranging from “Superstar” to “Really? What are they thinking?”

I don’t think that’ll be the case for Tarnok for 2 reasons.  One, I’ve got a feeling that he’s getting a deal way under slot and that’ll help keep the guilt trip down. Two, I think this scouting department is much more in-sync than previous years and drafting Tarnok 3rd wasn’t pulling a rabbit out of a hat.  The Braves LOVE pitchers with athleticism and seeing as though he’s just converted from shortstop, there’s obviously a lot of athleticism there, and only upside from there.

Right now, there’s just not enough info out there that makes me go yay or nay on this one. I’m thrilled to hear he’s topping out at 96 being so young and Braves sure do seem pretty good at developing these guys. I hope it works out.

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Ryan,

The next several rounds of the Braves’ draft were all about saving money. Five of the next seven picks had a few things in common - all were college pitchers, easy to sign, and likely will cost significantly less than the assigned value for the draft pick they were selected. Of Troy Bacon, Bruce Zimmerman, Landon Hughes, John Curtis, and Jacob Belinda, who do you think has the best shot to surpass his pre-draft hype?

Hard for me to not go with Bacon if only because he's the top choice of the group. And I love bacon. He was originally a Florida Gator commit who later transferred to the junior college level. The heater has been clocked at 99 mph and the Braves might even try him as a starter first. The breaking stuff and changeup are both inconsistent but have plus potential.

Even though they are moving into the college ranks, I still see Bacon as one of those high reward guys the Braves are taking a shot on. Even while they are trying to save, save, save money, they are showing the ability to bring in a talent with a decently solid ceiling.

Is Bacon your highest rated selection of the five second-day pitcher selections or would you go with one of the other choices?

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My choice is Bacon, simply for the velocity. Also, he’s a slider/fastball guy from a Community College and the Braves have had pretty good success developing those kinds of guys. However, I don’t think that he’s going to be a rotation guy long term, or for even a full year. We have enough of those guys. I think he keeps with the fastball/slider combo and will be on the fast-paced to the back end of a dominant bullpen. And something I discussed above on Tarnok, Bacon is known for his athleticism and this seems to be something that the Braves covet out of their pitching draft picks. Bacon sizzling out of the pan...I mean pen? I’m all in, baby!

Honestly the other guys I’ve read up on and feel pretty meh about. However, there’s a pretty awesome story out there about Jacob Belinda who was scouted by Gene Kerns who lost a battle to cancer earlier in the year. Kerns was the scout that found Brandon Beachy under a rock. On the surface, Belinda looks like Bridges and the crew honoring a scout that everyone liked, but like Beachy, maybe there’s a diamond in the rough in Belinda.

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Ryan,

That is a wonderful story related to Kerns. He also found Brady Feigl, who looked like a possibility to break camp with the Braves in 2015 before injury removed him from the competition. He was later used in the Luke Jackson trade.

The Braves did draft two more players on Day 2, taking 3B Jordan Rodgers in the sixth round and SS Riley Delgado in the ninth round. Each went to school in Tennessee (Rodgers was a Vol while Delgado went to Middle Tenn. State) and both will be easy to sign as seniors who didn't have a whole lot of buzz before the draft.

Don't see Delgado doing much as a professional. He's going to step in as a senior sign with a lot of experience and, in all likelihood, a reputation for high work ethic and strong clubhouse presence. He'll go get the ball like Marcus Mooney or Levi Hyams before him and that's about it.

Rodgers, though, has some interest. Unlike Delgado, he made into Baseball America's Top 500 at #396 and was the 13th best prospect out of Tennessee (Wright was #1). Speaking of Wright, Rodgers spoiled a win for the Vandy ace by hitting a Grand Slam off the Commodores bullpen back on April 29. Once Rodgers became a starter in his junior year, he showed some pop (ISO around .180) and a decent enough hit tool.

He can move around the diamond a bit and profiles, to me, like a potential corner infielder/outfielder type with platoon potential from the right-side. Do you see that? And am I selling Delgado short?

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Of the 7 we have discussed after Braves first 3 picks, Bacon is the only one that perks me up a bit. If I was forced to pick a 2nd it would be Rodgers, but really I only see a Wes Timmons type of player. What I mean is I see a guy that could stay in the Minors for 5-6 years, maybe get a callup should someone go down with an injury, then spend the real bulk of his career coaching. From everything I’ve read, Rodgers is a guy that’s a team-first dude, will play anywhere, do anything, and that’s the way Timmons was when he played for the Braves minors from 2002-2010. And he was good, but just not next level good.

Outside of Bacon, I just don’t see any potential MLBers here, but I’ve been wrong all the time.

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Ryan,

Wes Timmons. There’s a name. I actually had him turn into a solid bench player for one of my Braves squads in Out of the Park several years back. But I can’t disagree.

I do like Drew Lugbauer a lot, though. As much as you can like an 11th rounder out of Michigan (ugh). Left-hand hitter with pop who might be able to stay at catcher? Where do I sign up? His numbers in college weren't Brett Cumberland-good and he strikes out a good deal, but if the power translates after the switch to wooden bats, I'm a big fan of what the Braves have added. Of course, if he can stay behind the plate, that makes this good as well, but I have to say that I like the idea of a Peter O'Brien type who can be a legitimate catcher (rather than an emergency one) and play first, third, and maybe some outfield.

Granted, O'Brien can't hit...

Well, I mean he can hit, he just doesn't hit the ball all that often. But when he does...

Anywho, another draft choice I really like is Justin Smith. Baseball America gave him a #117th ranking in Florida and he's a JUCO guy who could head back into the draft at a later date, but the kid hit .355/.486/.680 last season. That was enough to get him named the Mid-Florida Conference Player of the Year. I get that it's JUCO level, but that's pretty darn impressive. From the video I've seen, he has a quick, compact swing and plenty of power. When he came out of high school, he was a big prospect (ranked #43 by BA). It didn't work out for him at Miami in 2015, but he came on big last year at St. Johns River State JC.

I don't have a lot of rational reasons to think this, but I believe Smith could be pretty special.

Any guys on the third day that really pop out for you?

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I’m more generally excited that the Braves decided to draft 6 catchers on day 3. Get as many as you can, I say! Sure we have a lot of catchers in our system that could turn into great ballplayers, but both Alex Jackson and Brett Cumberland have defensive questions, Kade Scivicque has offensive questions (although he’s been making good contact for over a year now) and the other guys are just too far away to really know much about them yet. Stocking up on a position that could be troublesome is wise. Of those 6, I really like the profiles of Lugbauer and Hagen Owenby, but leaning more toward Owenby due to the ability to maintain the power with a low K-rate).

Justin Smith sounds exciting as he got a lot of attention coming out of high school by Baseball America as they ranked him 43rd best high school talent and gave him the “5-tool” label. It looks like he’s slowed down a bit, but the bat is still smoking. It’s a big jump from JuCo to the Minors so it’ll be interesting to track him this year.

Of the other picks, I’m going to say that Troy Conyers has caught my eye. Big, thick LHP, of course, already down a Tommy John so it likely let him slip quite a few spots in the draft. He had huge K-rates and can run it in the mid-90s...and I bet it could stay there if he can stay healthy.

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Ryan,

Conyers definitely took a big step in 2017 in returning to form after his 2014 TJS wiped out most of that season and 2015. Seemed to flourish in the closer role. Looks like another potential quick riser from the relief ranks.

Hagen Owenby put up some ridiculous college ranks. It wasn’t Big 10 baseball like Lugbauer, but Owenby was already drafted just last year in the 14th round, which shows to me a lot of interest in him. Going to be fun watching the catcher playing time for Danville and GCL as their seasons start up with so many added prospects and Abrahan Gutierrez, who is a better prospect than any of them, likely to make his debut with one of the rookie squads. And of course, there’s also Jake Taylor. Scouting report on him is mixed, but from what I’ve read, he has great leadership skills but some issues with his ex-wife that might affect him on the field. He enjoys the classics like Moby Dick and has been known to drop a bunt when the defense is looking for him to drive the ball deep. I like this pick a lot. Sadly, looks like he won't be signing.

And that’s the end of the Walk-Off Walk Draft Review. What did we get wrong? Did we get anything right? What choices do you believe could pay off big for the Braves beyond the first three? Let us know in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. Appreciate your honesty, and the back-and-forth format adds to that. Trying very hard not to cringe at mention of the Wren-era top picks; as the Minor/Gilmartin/Hursh choices piled up, I realized the Braves were headed for a long non-competitive period. Wright should be our best prospect right now; while watching the high school grads develop is enjoyable, and some may become decent ML starters, none is likely to be a long-term staff ace (though Soroka's peripherals do seem to resemble those of Brandon Beachy, who might have been Greg Maddox Lite but for the injury). Thanks for the consistently excellent articles.

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