It's that time of year again! The draft is fast approaching. Top 100 lists are out and mock drafts are beginning to trickle in. Let's take a look at what might be in store for Atlanta at #21 overall.
When looking at the Braves' options, you have to first look at their MO in past drafts, especially the past few under Tony DeMacio. The team has publicly vocalized a preference for two types of talent: LHP and speed in position players. This approach has been evident over the past two years with DeMacio at the helm, with the speedster Matt Lipka in '10 and Sean Gilmartin in '11. The desire for LHP at the top of the draft predates the current scouting director by two years, with Brett DeVall in '08 and Mike Minor in '09.
Looking at Atlanta's draft patterns over the past several years, let's note some trends. First, Atlanta hasn't used a first round or sandwich round pick on a college position player in over ten years. Second, its been five years since a 1st/comp round pick was used on a HS RHP. This helps narrow the demographic of probable targets down quite a bit. Essentially, I think Atlanta will zero in on college pitching and HS position players, with an outside chance at a HS LHP. One more thing to note: as always, signability will play a role in the decision. This could eliminate certain HS players (i.e. Corey Seager, Joey Gallo). Let's dive into the candidates.
1.Brian Johnson: College LHP with a good frame who should be ML ready fairly quickly, possibly within 12 months of draft day. Does this profile sound familiar to anyone? In my mind, Johnson is the prototypical Atlanta pick. He has a great pitcher's frame and should be a durable, mid rotation innings eater. In a down year, he could be great value at 21.
2.Pierce Johnson: College RHP who was linked to Atlanta and had a lot of helium before stumbling upon the injury bug with a forearm strain. Unfortunately, this isn't an isolated incident and it's risky to take on a pitcher who struggles to stay on the field. He probably offers more upside than Johnson, but the additional risk will likely rule him out from being a Brave.
3.Chris Stratton: College RHP with a plus breaking ball. Stratton is another fast riser. He has solid upside, but is a bit old for a college draftee and will need to move quickly. The one main concern is that he tends to pitch backwards and will likely need to work on his approach in pro ball. Should he make it to Atlanta, I have a feeling they would jump all over him. Unfortunately, there is a string of teams from 13-16 (CWS-CIN-CLE-WAS) that are known to like college pitching, and it's hard to see him slipping past all four of those teams.
4.Andrew Heaney: College LHP with a great mix of above average velocity and command that help mitigate his average off speed pitches. While he stands 6'2'', his frame doesn't scream durability. He is clearly the best college LHP in the draft and is a mid-first round talent that could go even higher to a team looking to cut a deal. Like Stratton, Atlanta would likely love to get him but it's hard to imagine him coming out of the 13-16 college pitching buzz-saw unselected.
5.Matt Smoral: HS LHP. Curiously, KLaw mentioned that Atlanta has shown interest in Smoral. He was getting top ten buzz before a stress fracture ended his season in early April, and it is unlikely he will pitch before the signing deadline. Teams will essentially be forced to make a decision on Smoral based on months old scouting reports. While the upside of a 6'7'' LHP is tantalizing, he has already struggled with injuries and that may be a trend that continues going forward. With an above average fastball and a plus breaking ball, Smoral is worth a long look at 21.It has yet to be seen how signability will play out, because he does have a scholarship at UNC. However, the slot money at Atlanta's position could be enough to lure him away. Still, I'd peg the chances of Smoral being Atlanta's choice as "highly unlikely."
1.D.J. Davis: Fast barely begins to describe this HS CF. He would certainly go a long way towards Atlanta's goal of adding speed to the organization. While he does have reasonable polish, there seems to be question over how good of a defender in center he could be, or even if he can stick in center. Signability is not really a factor here because he is slated for a community college. The risk is high, but the upside and profile might push him into Atlanta's short list of choices at 21.
2.Tanner Rahier: HS SS mocked to Atlanta by KLaw, he is a very polished hitter and poses less risk than the typical high school player. He is likely a 3B in pro ball, but he has an outside chance of sticking at short or being able to handle 2B. Early indications show him to be signable, which should place him in the short list of candidates for Atlanta's first pick.
3.Victor Roache: College LF mocked to Atlanta by Jim Callis. Roache is one of the most polarizing players in the draft. Personally, I tend to side with those that see Roache as more of a second round talent. If you buy into him as a first round talent, you see massive power potential that could be a steal in the late first round. However, I'm not a fan of the swing and there is a good chance he won't hit enough to reach his power potential. Additionally, Roache lost his senior year to a gruesome wrist injury that required screws and plates to repair. It wouldn't be the first time a wrist injury has sapped a player's power for an extended period of time, and power is really the only stake Roache has to a first round selection. As a relatively raw college OF, I don't see him making sense for Atlanta, but the rumors connecting the two parties likely won't die until draft day.
That covers basically every player I've seen linked to Atlanta. Assuming Stratton and Heaney are off the board, my preference list at 21 would go Brian Johnson, D.J. Davis, Matt Smoral, Tanner Rahier, Pierce Johnson, and in a distant last, Victor Roache. Hopefully this will serve as an adequate draft preview and foster interesting discussion leading up to the big day. There are plenty of more possibilities out there, so feel free to throw out more names. Thanks for reading!