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Braves Draft Wake Forest Lefty Shuster at No. 25

The Braves certainly feel good about Jared Shuster’s upside, but the club also targeted the Wake Forest left-handed pitcher with an eye to the later rounds of this year’s shortened MLB Draft.

With their only selection on Wednesday night, the Braves took Shuster with the 25th overall pick. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound hurler made significant strides since last summer and was considered one of this year’s highest risers. But MLB Pipeline ranked him as the No. 77 overall prospect, and the assumption was he would not be taken any earlier than the second round

So there was certainly some surprise when the Braves made this selection. But the team’s director of scouting, Dana Brown, provided some clarity, saying an under-slot signing could prove beneficial due to the added bonus pool flexibility the Braves may now have to pursue strong players in the final three rounds of this year’s five-round Draft.

The Braves lost their second-round selection when they signed left-handed reliever Will Smith this past offseason. So they have just three more picks before this selection process concludes on Thursday night.

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The Braves have a pool of $4,127,800 to spend, including $2,740,300 earmarked for their first selection. If Shuster were to agree to an under-slot signing bonus, the team might be able to take a chance on using one of their later-round picks on a high school player who falls in the Draft because of signability concerns.

“Strategically, we feel we were able to get a good left-handed pitcher in the beginning,” Brown said. “Maybe we could save some money on that pick and potentially sign some of our high ceiling players that may slide in the Draft. That could make up the gap of not having a second rounder.”

Shuster said he didn’t know much about the Braves’ interest until last week and did not know he was going in the first round until a few minutes before the selection was made. The southpaw caught Brown’s attention during last summer’s Cape Cod League.

“We feel like this is a pitcher with some upside play to him,” Brown said. “We feel like the aptitude is really good.”

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After spending the fall making his hip turn slightly more aggressive, Shuster saw his fastball velocity rise from 89-93 mph to 91-95 mph. He touched 97 mph a few times and continued to show good swing-and-miss stuff with his changeup. His slider remains questionable, but it has shown some improvement.

“I’m not concerned with the [slider],” Shuster said. “I know how hard I’m working on all of my pitches, and I know it’s going to be just as good as the other pitches.”

Shuster recorded 43 strikeouts and issued just four walks while producing a 3.76 ERA in the 26 1/3 innings completed before the coronavirus pandemic ended Wake Forest’s season earlier this year. He was certainly more effective than he had been in 2019, when he produced a 6.49 ERA and recorded 94 strikeouts while issuing 37 walks over 68 innings.

“I feel like I have a really high ceiling and I’m going to work hard to reach that ceiling,” Shuster said.

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