Braves Load Up on High Upside Prepsters in Draft


March 11, 2011; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves hat during their spring training game against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Since the day Frank Wren was asked to leave and John Hart out his hand print on the Atlanta Braves, they have been in full out rebuild mode. Hart made it evident from day one that he was going to build this franchise in his image, and apparently that meant a lot of high risk pitchers, many coming off injuries. Max Fried, Mike Foltynewicz, Matt Wisler and Manny Banuelos were some of the big pitching pieces Hart brought in during the offseason. Then, came his first draft.

There are two things we know about the Atlanta Braves with regards to the draft: they love to draft high upside high school players, and they have a tendency of picking up players from the state of Georgia. The latter has been a bit overblown in recent years, save for the Lucas Sims pick in 2012.

Braves’ scouting director Brian Bridges confirmed the team’s philosophy of going after prep players in this years draft, selecting a high schooler with his first four selections. With the team loaded with early picks, they were able to add five players who should develop into top prospects down the road.

Without further ado, here is a look at the Braves early picks.

Next: Kolby Allard

1st Round (14): Kolby Allard, LHP, San Clemente H.S. (CA)

With the selection of Allard, the Braves are getting a pitcher who has the chance to be an ace at the Major League level. The Braves were said to be shocked that he was available at this spot, as they had him rated as their number one high school pitcher.

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A stress reaction in his back kept him from being drafted in the top ten, but he’s been throwing for months now and the team was clearly not too concerned by it. He isn’t the biggest guy at 6 feet and 170 pounds, but the lefty has a hard, low to mid-90’s fastball to go along with a plus curveball that’s probably the best off-speed pitch that any high schooler has in this draft. His changeup needs work as his third pitch, as he didn’t have to use it a whole lot in high school.

It will obviously be a while before we know what kind of pitcher he can become, but he has the makings of someone special, and should be on top prospect radars for the foreseeable future. A lot will depend on whether he can develop that third pitch, and possibly a fourth. At only 17, this is of course a real possibility, but should he not, Allard could be destined for the bullpen.

This could be a big steal for the Braves.

Next: Mike Soroka

1st Round (28): Mike Soroka, RHP, Bishop Carroll H.S. (AB)

The Braves made a little bit of a surprising second selection, drafting the second Canadian high schooler to go in the first round in Soroka. You can’t help but buy in to this pick after hearing Bridges’ excitement over the kid.

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Standing at 6 foot 4 and 200 pounds, he is the definition of a projectable right handed pitcher. He has a smooth, repeatable delivery and a lean frame that will allow him to easily put on weight as he matures. The Canuck throws his fastball in the 92-94 miles per hour  range, and has a solid changeup and developing curveball as his off speed pitches.

Soroka flew up draft boards in part for his work with Canadian Junior National team pitching coach and former Atlanta Braves’ pitcher Chris Reitsma. He pitched well against the Toronto Blue Jays lineup in Spring Training in March, which no doubt impressed the Braves.

Tomahawk Take posed the question that should be asked, however, in regards to taking Soroka — whom MLB Pipeline rated the No. 60th ranked player overall — at the 28th pick. What did Hart and Bridges see in the 17-year old that made them jump nearly 40 picks and gamble on a high schooler over established college arms like Jon Harris and Walker Buehler?

The sky is the limit for the 17-year old, as he should be fun to watch as he progresses.

Next: Finally some position players!

Are the Braves concerned with the lack of progression from Bethancourt?

CBA Round (41): Austin Riley, 3B, Desoto Central H.S. (MS)

Riley was an intriguing shortstop and right handed pitching prospect heading into the draft, and created some doubt as to which he would be better suited for. The Braves drafted him as a third basemen, which bodes well for his size at 6 foot 3 and already 210 pounds.

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His pitching background will come in handy at the hot corner, and his shortstop background should lead him to become a solid all around fielder. He displays a ton of pop in his right handed bat, as he was a feared power hitter in the Mississippi high school ranks. Focusing solely on hitting should help him develop into a solid hitter for average as well.

The 17-year old has some bulk to him already, and will probably have to watch his weight going forward. By the time he reaches the Majors, he’ll probably be around 230 pounds or so, so hopefully his movement skills won’t be affected.

2nd Round (54): Lucas Herbert, C, San Clemente H.S. (CA)

The selection of Herbert was probably my favorite early selection that the Braves made. It’s not very often that a team drafts the battery mate of their first round pick in the early rounds.

Even though Allard got more recognition at San Clemente, Herbert is a fantastic prospect in his own right. Widely regarded as the top catcher prospect behind Tyler Stephenson and Chris Betts, the 6 foot 1, 195 pounder made a name for himself with his excellent defense behind the plate and his strong leadership skills.

He is basically everything you look for in a starting catcher, with the ability to hit double digit homers and hit for a decent average as well. He has the make up of a Buster Posey type, without the elite raw hitting ability. If Herbert is able to reach an agreement with the club, they may have gotten a real steal with his pick and could end up being the best catcher in this draft class. Not a bad consolation prize for missing out on Georgia high schooler Tyler Stephenson.

Next: A College Arm

CBB Round (75): A.J. Minter LHP, Texas A&M

What’s more surprising? The Braves actually drafting a high school pitcher, or that they drafted one coming off of Tommy John surgery? Obviously, the latter isn’t so much of a surprise anymore.

The Braves finally drafted a college player with their fifth selection, snagging a guy that has the potential to be a dominant relief arm. He worked as a reliever in his first couple of seasons before joining the rotation as a Junior. That’s when arm issues led him to Tommy John surgery.

His fastball works in the 92-95 range as a starter, but is known to work up to the 95-97 range as a reliever. Lefthanded pitchers who can throw that hard are always in high demand, so it appears that he is probably headed for the bullpen.

The 6 foot, 210 pounder compliments the fastball with a cutter/slider hybrid pitch, which ranges from the upper 80’s to the low 90’s. His changeup is still a work in progress at this point as his third pitch. The Braves have been known for their stellar bullpen arms in recent years, and Minter appears to fit the mold, as long as he can come back strong off of injury.