One more year removed from Coppy’s initial draft, the 2015 draft class continues to take shape as many high picks have made their way to AA or higher.
Kolby Allard – 1st Round – If you accept that Allard is not going to be a top-5 pitcher in all of baseball, which most would, then it’s hard to have expected more out of his age-20 season. Bypassing A+, he began the year in AA and had his most rigorous workload as a professional. After pitching only 87.2 IP in 2016, his innings almost doubled to 150 IP across 27 starts, and scouts say his velocity dipped a little bit. But skipping a level and being very young for AA, he really impressed. He improved his BB/9, HR/9, BABIP, HR/FB, and accordingly, his FIP (3.27). His K rate slipped a little bit, but with improvements everywhere else, he ought to get a bit of a pass. There’s a possibility he could see Atlanta in 2018, but with another full year in the high minors, you’d think he’d challenge for a rotation spot in 2019.
Mike Soroka – 1st Round – A different type of pitcher than Kolby, but the results continue to mirror each other. His ceiling is similar to Allard’s as a #2/#3 starter, and his floor is equally comforting. It doesn’t seem he has some of the durability “risks” that Allard has, and after getting a bit of a “workhorse” reputation with his 143 IP in 2016, his workload didn’t increase much in 2017 (153 IP). Nonetheless, his K rate stayed around the same as he too jumped to AA at age 20, and he kept pace with his strong BB/9. However, his home run rate nearly tripled, and his groundball percentage went down a tick. It still equated to a strong 3.19 FIP. So as Atlanta continues to challenge these two to perform against older peers, they continue to impress. His track continues to look very similar to Allard’s.
Austin Riley – 1st Round Supplemental – Well, Keith Law recently said he has a slow bat, so there’s that. But if you believe the scouts and other talent evaluators, the Braves might have their 3B of the future here. Another 20-year old youngster, he spent a good bit of time in AA this year. You tend to think that a player will incrementally and consistently rise through the levels of the minor league system in preparation of the major leagues, but that didn’t really happen with Riley. He began the year in A+, and he didn’t exactly earn a promotion with strong performance: .252/.310/.408, .289 BABIP, 109 wRC+ in 339 PAs. Nonetheless, the Braves must have known something because after being promoted to AA, he produced a .315/.389/.511 line with a 162 wRC+ in 203 PAs. Certainly not the largest sample size, but his trip to the AFL has produced gaudy numbers: .357/426./.810 in 42 short ABs. It’s really hard not to get a little excited about another 20-year old handling his own against advanced competition. He has the physical skills and size to be a major league third baseman, and if he holds his own against another several hundred PAs of high minors work, he should get a shot in Atlanta soon as well.
AJ Minter – 2nd Round Supplemental – Minter is another one of the many that are challenging for permanent roster spots so quickly after this draft. And for a rebuilding team with few bullpen studs, Minter has developed a bit of a folklore as he has dominated at times through his rapid ascent through the minors, and some of his numbers have been performances you’d see in a video game: 14.9 K/9 at AA last year (his longest stint at any one level) and 15.6 K/9 in his short stint in Atlanta this year. His only issue is durability and injury concerns. After having Tommy John in college, the Braves were very cautious his two seasons in the system heavily limiting his work including not appearing in back-to-back days until he made it to Atlanta. He also missed time earlier this year with a groin injury. But if he can stay healthy, his comparisons to Billy Wagner may not be too far off.
Patrick Weigel – 7th Round – Atlanta took their fair share of college pitchers in this draft, and Weigel has been the best performer of them. Weigel had an excellent showing in 2016 at A- and AA, and then opened the season with another strong performance at AA. After 8 starts in AAA, though, he went down to Tommy John. He has an explosive fastball and the polished you’d expect from a college pitcher, and that has led to a 8.7 K/9 in his 279 professional innings. He would have challenged for a spot in Atlanta this year had he not gone down to injury. He won’t be back until 2019.
Chase Johnson-Mullins – 13th Round – Interesting big, tall lefty. He can get into the mid-90’s, throws at a three-quarter arm slot, and he’s 6’10”. I’ve watched him pitch a couple times, and others seem to agree that he struggles to repeat his delivery. He’s now also 23 years old. But he’s about as projectable of an arm as you can find in the 13th round, and he’s certainly the size and velocity to do something. He posted a 3.07 ERA at A+ with more than a strikeout per inning, but his walks were a problem (surprise, surprise).
So far in this draft, it looks like you might have 4 guys who could get big league hitters out: Allard, Soroka, Minter, and Weigel. Johnson-Mullins could surprise people. It doesn’t seem like Riley has done enough just yet to justify keeping the third base position uncommitted for the next few years, but he’s a projectable position player prospect who’s another strong stint at AA away from solidifying himself as a top prospect. If three of these guys hit, and you’d have to think there will be, then this could be one of the better drafts of this decade.