The 2015 draft marked the first year of Coppy’s drafts, and also the strategy of consolidating resources into draft picks. So not only did you have a new staff at the top making the selections, you also had more selections. And since we’re two years removed and coming up on the 2017 amateur draft, why not take a look at how this draft class is looking? And while the Braves had 43 picks, we’re only going to focus on the players who fit the following description: they have a projectable skill set, they’ve continued to progress, and they’ve either reached AA already or they are on popular prospect sheets. That leaves us with 8 players.
-Kolby Allard – What’s there to say? Allard was a potential top pick early in the draft season until some concerns over his back lowered his stock. As a result, he slid to 14th, went a little over-slot, and Atlanta got him. He was dominant in the rookie Appalachian League, got some innings at Rome, and the Braves decided to let him skip A+ and start the season in AA. He hasn’t disappointed: his 1.86 ERA, 46 K’s to just 17 BB, and 1.11 WHIP as a 19-year old has shown that he has ability to be reach Atlanta and stay. He’s shown no signs of injury concerns, but Atlanta will undoubtedly be cautious with his workload. We may see him in Atlanta next year, but he and Ronald Acuna have to be two of the most exciting 19-year olds that Braves have had in a while.
-Mike Soroka – Speaking of 19-year olds in AA, Soroka was picked 28th with a compensation pick. Sort of the opposite of Allard, he’s a tall right-hander who has more a workhorse type appeal. He doesn’t have quite the ceiling that Allard has, but he seems to have a very projectable floor of a back of the rotation starter. He, too, had a strong showing in Rookie and A- and started 2017 in AA. His peripherals have been certainly impressive with a 51 to 15 strike out to walk ratio, 1.11 WHIP, and only 5 HR allowed in 54 IP. While his ERA has not been as shiny and he’s surrounded by pitchers with more plus tools, he is right there amongst the Braves pitching prospects that could have a long career in Atlanta.
-Austin Riley – As the Braves entered the draft, the system was light on power-hitting prospects, and they had just traded away Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, and Justin Upton. Riley was the first plus power tool taken in the draft, a big 220lb third baseman. His showing at Rookie level in 2015 reinforced his draft position as he finished with a .933 OPS in short season work. His 2015 season at A- Rome was mired by a problematically slow start, but his second half allowed him to start 2017 as a 20-year old at A+. He’s had another slow start, but his bat still projects as a future major league though he is still raw and a long ways away.
-Lucas Herbert – With catching being another position of need in the system, the Braves took a more defensive-minded, small framed catcher with their 4th pick. Since then, his bat has not yet translated to professional baseball (.562 OPS in 515 PAs), but his defense has earned positive reviews, and as he performs his second season at Rome, his bat is slowly improving. He’s certainly over-matched as a hitter right now, but his defense could allow him to continue to advance in hopes his bat turns around. One would have to consider him the first disappointment of this draft class, though he was considered to be a good value pick at the time.
-AJ Minter – Who cares about injury risks? Minter was coming off Tommy John surgery as the Braves drafted him, and while the Braves have certainly been extremely cautious with his workload, Minter can’t help but turn heads everywhere he goes. He refused to allow a run during his 16 innings between A- and A+, and his 14.9 K/9 at AA had people wondering if he would see Atlanta in 2016. Injuries have still been a concern with Minter as he missed Spring Training this year with nerve irritation in his elbow, and after one inning at A+, he was shut down with a groin strain. He was slated to return in late May/early June, but he will have to show he can stay healthy. The stuff, however, is near major league ready and the closest in talent to the major leagues in the Braves’ 2015 class.
-Matt Withrow – Brother of Chris Withrow, who was in the Atlanta organization for a couple seasons, he was a safe college pick and has progressed steadily through the system. He continues to be young for his levels, and is now finding some consistency as a 23-year old at AA. He’s on a couple prospect sheets, and he could be a back of the rotation starter if he develops more consistency.
-Patrick Weigel – He has become the steal of the lower end of the draft for the Braves. He struggled to get his footing in college, transferring colleges and moving between the bullpen and rotation, but he has found his way in the Atlanta system. After a dominant showing at A- (135 Ks in 129 IP and a 2.51 ERA), he began the year at AA. After 7 starts in which he continued to flash a 9+ K/9 and a low WHIP, he was promoted to AAA. And while he was the first pitcher from this class to reach AAA, he has struggled in his early work. With an upper-90s fastball, Atlanta seems to like him a lot, and he may be the best value out of this draft class depending on what he does from here.
-Chase Johnson-Mullins – Another tall lefty (6’7”) with a mid-90s fastball and a Tommy John on his record out of this draft class. Thought to be a quick riser out of community college, the Braves have moved him slowly through the system. At A+, though, he’s had a fast start to the year with a 9.5 K/9 and 1.46 ERA. One would assume he could be yet another lefty in the pen in the high minors before mid-season.
A couple others to note:
-Evan Phillips (17th Round) – Braves have moved him quickly through the system to have him in AAA at this point, but his results don’t resemble a legitimate prospect. But with his journey bringing him to AAA, perhaps the Braves see something in his stats that isn’t easily perceived.
-Jonathan Morales (25th Round) – 22-year old catcher out of junior college with some pop.