By Mark Bowman – MLB.com
With just four selections in this week’s MLB Draft, president of baseball operations and general manager Alex Anthopoulos and the Braves will have less room for error as they attempt to restock a farm system that will continue to be depleted by the graduation of high-level prospects over the next year.
Recognizing that Cristian Pache, Drew Waters and a couple of other heralded prospects could soon join Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies and Mike Soroka to further strengthen what is already an impressively strong young core is highly encouraging from a short-term perspective.
But the steady graduation of this prospect talent, combined with the sanctions that have significantly limited the Braves’ activity on the international market over the past few years, puts the club in a position where there is now a significant need to replenish a farm system that has stood as one of the game’s best over the past few years.
Approaching his second Draft as the Braves’ vice president of scouting, Dana Brown will be looking to land high-upside quality with his four picks and then address the need for quantity via signings that will follow.
Dating back to the early weeks after the coronavirus pandemic ended Spring Training and delayed the start of the regular season, there had been speculation the Draft would be reduced to five rounds. So Brown and his peers have had time to prepare for this different landscape.
But instead of racing to catch flights or driving unfamiliar roads in search of high school and collegiate talent, scouts have been forced to rely on video evaluations and discuss their plans via the Zoom and Microsoft Teams platforms that were foreign to most of these folks just a few months ago.
The Braves lost their second- and third-highest selections with their signings of left-handed reliever Will Smith and outfielder Marcell Ozuna. But Josh Donaldson’s decision to sign with the Twins allowed the Braves to keep their third-round pick. So they will have a single pick in Rounds 1, 3, 4 and 5.
Day 1 of the 2020 Draft airs on Wednesday, June 10, on MLB Network and ESPN at 7 p.m. ET, and includes the first 37 picks. Day 2 begins at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday, June 11, on MLB Network and ESPN2, and spans the remainder of the 160 picks.
Comprehensive coverage will be available on MLB.com and MLB Pipeline, which will simulcast MLB Network’s broadcast. Go to MLB.com/Draft to see when teams pick, the Top 200 Prospects list, mock drafts from analysts Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, scouting video and more. And follow @MLBDraft and @MLBDraftTracker on Twitter to see what Draft hopefuls, clubs and experts are saying and to get each pick as it’s made.
Here’s how the Draft is shaping up for the Braves, whose first selection is the 25th overall pick.
State of the system
With Acuña, Albies, Soroka, Max Fried and Austin Riley, much of the Braves’ future core already exists at the big league level. But the organization still has five players — OF Pache (13th), OF Waters (26th), RHP Ian Anderson (37th), RHP Kyle Wright (52nd) and C Shea Langeliers (70th) — listed among MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects. The club has upgraded its catching depth over the past few years and it has had enviable pitching depth dating back to the start of the rebuild in 2015. But there’s not an abundance of promising pitching prospects at the club’s lower Minor League levels.
What they’re saying
“I think the process is going to go the exact same way as it has in the past. You’re still taking the best player available. You don’t want to overweigh small sample sizes. You’re really trying to thread the needle on a lot of these guys. So that’s probably been the biggest challenge. Basically, the information is incomplete, but you still have to make the same determination.” — Anthopoulos
Who might they take?
MLB Pipeline’s latest mock draft has the Braves taking Texas Tech right-hander Clayton Beeter with their first-round pick. In earlier mock drafts, Mayo and Callis had predicted this pick would be used on either University of Miami right-hander Chris McMahon or Auburn right-hander Tanner Burns. Another college hurler who might fit in this spot is South Carolina right-hander Carmen Mlodzinski.
Each team gets an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of its selections in the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. This year, with a five-round Draft, all signing bonuses of drafted players will apply toward the bonus pool total.
For 2020, there is a $20,000 limit on bonuses for non-drafted free agents. There is no limit to the number of undrafted players teams may sign, but they cannot go over $20,000 per player. These bonuses do not count toward the pool total. The Braves have a pool of $4,127,800 to spend, including $2,740,300 to spend on their first selection.
The Braves have told some representatives they feel good about where they stand with their pitching depth. While that might simply be pre-Draft talk, there is a chance they could go in another direction if Beeter, McMahon and Burns are not available. The indication that the National League could soon utilize the designated hitter enhances the value of power hitters. This year’s top power hitters will be gone by the time the Braves pick.
But there will be a lot of maneuvering and negotiating this year as teams attempt to still have enough bonus-pool flexibility to potentially enhance the value of the picks made beyond the first round. Some representatives are prepared for teams to use first-round picks on players projected to go in the second round or later. The Braves have the fourth-lowest pool allotment. So unless they feel like they can’t pass on a certain player still available with the 25th overall pick, the overall value of this small Draft class could be enhanced by using the first-round pick on a player willing to accept an under-slot signing bonus.
A player from a four-year college was taken with four of the first five picks and seven of the first nine picks the Braves made with Brown heading their Draft for the first time last year. Brown chalked this up to it being a college-heavy Draft. But he’s found success going this route in the past. He ran the Nationals’ Drafts when Ryan Zimmerman (University of Virginia, 2005) and Stephen Strasburg (San Diego St., 2009) were selected.
The recent top picks
2019: Shea Langeliers, C (Class A Rome)
2018: Carter Stewart, RHP (Japan)
2017: Kyle Wright, RHP (Atlanta, Triple-A Gwinnett)
2016: Ian Anderson, RHP (Gwinnett)
2015: Kolby Allard, LHP (Rangers, MLB)
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.