You may or may not know this, but the 2014 MLB Rule IV (First-Year Player) Draft is approaching quickly! The draft begins on Thursday, June 5th, running through Saturday the 7th, and the Atlanta Braves will make their first pick on Thursday, as they own the 32nd overall pick in the draft's compensatory round as compensation for the Yankees' signing of Brian McCann.
The Braves won't be picking in the first round after forfeiting their selection and slot money for that pick after signing Ervin Santana, which puts a bit of a damper on the excitement for the draft, but there are nonetheless many intriguing talents that could fall to Atlanta at the 32nd pick and beyond. Atlanta will have a bonus pool of $4,557,700 to allocate among their selections in the draft (this ranks 28th in the league, ahead of only Baltimore and the Yankees), so the Braves will attempt to make the most of a constraining financial situation and balance talent and upside with signability and other factors, including organizational strengths and weaknesses.
Let's take a look at some of the latest mock drafts and who they mention as possible picks for Atlanta with their top selection, starting with Baseball America's latest mock draft, released today.
32. BRAVES: The Braves are in on Adams in particular and prep lefthanded pitching in general, but they also have recently emerged as a potential suitor for prep bats such as Chavis and Forbes. Projected Pick: SS Ti’quan Forbes
The mock selection of Forbes by BA is a bit of a surprise, as speculation and previous mock drafts have long tied the high schooler from Columbia, Mississippi to the Oakland A's at the 25th overall pick. However, Forbes' stock seems to be falling a bit as the draft approaches due to concern over his future positon (he may not ultimately stick at shortstop) and his lack of overall polish, especially at the plate. Below is some video of Forbes at the Perfect Game All-America Classic taking infield and doing BP at Petco Park.
A couple of things about Forbes jump out to me as I watch video on him and read about him. First of all, Forbes is a tall, lanky guy with a ton of filling out to do physically. Forbes is listed at 6'4" and somewhere between 170-180 pounds, which looks about right. This is a blessing and a curse, as Forbes will likely lose mobility and range as he gains mass, which is part of the reason why it's unclear whether Forbes will stick at shortstop. His body and future projection make him a likely candidate to move to third base, and more pressure will be put on the development of his bat if he mans the hot corner in the future.
The second thing I notice when watching Forbes is just how raw he is and how much of a gap there is between what he's able to do now and what he could be able to do in the future. As is the case with nearly all prep bats, Forbes comes in as a project who will have to be coached and refined in order to reach his potential at the professional level. The physical tools are undoubtable--he has plus bat speed with strong wrists and forearms, sufficient arm strength to stay on the left side of the infield, and above-average overall athleticism. However, having tools is one thing, but being able to leverage those tools into production, especially at the plate, is an entirely different beast. Currently, Forbes doesn't produce much in terms of power at the plate, and his swing is a bit hitchy and get become long, which makes him susceptible to professional pitching.
If the Braves are to take Forbes, he's much more of a project than a sure thing. The last high school position player (who was also a shortstop) that the Braves selected was Matt Lipka, and his lack of development has been a bit of a sore spot for the Braves' farm system. Of course, the above-average tools that Forbes possesses could be leveraged into a player with above-average defensive and offensive capabilities if he develops as planned, which would make him quite a valuable commodity. I have my doubts that Forbes will even be available by the time the Braves pick, but it's definitely an interesting thought.
Another name mentioned as a possibility for the Braves with their first selection in Baseball America's mock draft comes during a blurb about the Kansas City Royals' 28th pick:
28. ROYALS: Kansas City would love this scenario, with Hawaiian high school southpaw Kodi Medeiros dropping to their second selection, and this year it looks like taking the health risk with upside (in this case Fedde at No. 17) first may be the way to go. The Braves also are believed to be in on Medeiros, who hit 96 mph in two mid-May starts. Projected Pick: LHP Kodi Medeiros
The bolded and italicized final sentence is what piqued my interest, as Medeiros has been a personal favorite prospect of mine leading up to the draft. Medeiros, a prep left-handed pitcher from Hilo, Hawai'i with a lively low-to-mid-90's fastball and a devastating slider, is a total wild card in the draft due to questions about his delivery and size.
As you can see in the above video, Medeiros is just funky. He has a strange, low arm slot that he'll vary on occasion to add deception and altered movement, especially to his breaking pitches. Medeiros is not a particularly large human being, as he's only around 6 feet tall and 180 pounds, which isn't normally what one looks for when evaluating starting pitching prospects. This, combined with the delivery and arm slot, makes some think that Medeiros' future role is more of a nasty late-innings lefty arm out of the 'pen as opposed to a starting pitcher. There is also some question as to whether or not Medeiros will have sufficient command and control of his pitches to remain a starter. Of course, starting pitching is much more valuable than relievers, so the team that chooses to take a chance on Medeiros will give him an opportunity to start professionally before potentially opting to move him to the bullpen.
With the above concerns noted, the reason why Medeiros is being talked about as a potential first-round selection is his absolutely absurd stuff. Medeiros' fastball not only sits in the low-to-mid 90's, but also has a disgusting amount of arm-side run and sink, running down and away from right-handed hitters and away from lefties. In addition to this pitch, according to Medieros in an interview with Viva El Birdos, SB Nation's Cardinals blog, he's also working on developing a cut fastball that would give him an offering to balance out his other fastball that features action more consistent with that of a two-seamer. Medeiros' slider may be the most talked-about pitch in the 2014 class (other candidates include Tyler Kolek's fastball and Carlos Rodon's slider), as it features a ludicrous amount of horizontal tilt and movement while being thrown generally in the low-80's. Medeiros' rawest pitch is his still-developing changeup, which could become a serviceable offering in time.
Medeiros is a total wild card, but the Braves are currently bereft of left-handed pitching (especially starters) in the minor league ranks. There are valid questions pertaining to his size and ability to maintain velocity and effectiveness deeper into outings, which give evaluators some pause when considering Medeiros. However, unconventionality isn't always a death sentence, and with the Braves' general propensity for developing pitching, Medeiros is a risk that I'd be happy to take. Of course, Medeiros may not make it to this pick, as there's certainly buzz surrounding him earlier, especially to the Royals with the 28th pick, but it's a risk that the Braves may well be willing to take if he's still around come pick 32.
Finally, MLB.com's Jim Callis also released his latest mock draft today, and it has the Braves going with yet another prep talent, this time in the form of a Georgia infielder.
32. Braves: Michael Chavis, SS, Sprayberry HS (Ga.)
Most of Atlanta's targets appear to hail from the Southeast, with Chavis and (Forrest) Wall the strongest possibilities. Others include (Foster) Griffin, (Spencer) Adams and (Michael) Gettys.
I certainly don't think that it'd be a shock to anyone for the Braves to select a Georgia high schooler with their first pick in the draft, as the Braves are notorious suckers for local talent. Chavis, from Sprayberry High School in Marietta, is an infielder who's seen time at all three positions outside of first base, but likely profiles as a third baseman or a corner outfielder (probably a left fielder) in the future.
Chavis' calling card is the stick, as he profiles as an above-average hitter with good pop. As you can see above, he has a very simple and compact swing with a simple load and trigger and impressive bat speed. Many think that Chavis' offensive ceiling is that of a player with the ability to hit for both an above-average batting average and above-average power, which would certainly play nicely regardless of his future defensive position. Pure hitters from the high school ranks aren't too common, and Chavis' simplistic swing would lead one to believe that he isn't nearly as much of a project offensively as someone such as Forbes.
There is nevertheless some concern with Chavis, however. Continuing the theme of how he's sort of Forbes' antithesis, Chavis is short and compact, coming in around 5'10" or 5'11" and pushing 200 pounds. He seems to be maxed out physically and doesn't offer much in terms of physical projection, meaning that what you see is likely what you get with him. He doesn't project to add much additional strength, and there is some concern that Chavis could add additional weight that isn't muscle, which would hurt his athleticism. Chavis has an above-average arm, but the athleticism and a bit of a hitch in his throwing motion, which is clearly visible in the infield portion of the embedded video, could force him to the outfield, which would put additional pressure on his bat. The hope is, however, that Chavis ends up as a third baseman who plays acceptable defense and contributes heavily with his bat with above-average power and a solid average.
Chavis may not be as "sexy" as Forbes or Medeiros, but he's probably more of a sure thing (of course, a sure thing doesn't exist in the draft, especially when it comes to high schoolers), and would add offensive talent to a system that could use some reinforcements in that department. It's interesting to weigh a case for him against more "toolsy" guys, and considering how Atlanta and scouting director Tony DeMacio sometimes tend to favor more polished position players in lieu of "projects," Chavis could be a very real target for Atlanta in the draft if he ends up being available when they're on the clock. Third base is a bit of a question mark in Atlanta's system, and Chavis could become the system's possible future answer at the position if prospects such as Kyle Kubitza don't work out.
Of course, mock drafts aren't really much more than a fun exercise, and a lot can change as unexpected picks are made and dominoes fall on draft day. It's quite likely that Atlanta won't pick any of the three above players, but it's interesting to speculate on what could be. Atlanta could choose to focus more on college players with the ability to help more in the short-term, or they could do something wholly unexpected. It is, of course, a complete guessing game, and the Braves have surprised before.
Continue to stay with Talking Chop as the draft approaches, as we'll continue to bring you coverage up to, during, and after the draft!