With the 2021 MLB Draft rapidly approaching and the college and high school baseball seasons winding down, now is a good time to start considering who the Atlanta Braves may end up taking in the 2021 MLB Draft with pick No. 24.
I have come up with a list of 12 players that I have heard some connection to the Braves with or in a couple cases believe they fit in with Alex Anthopoulos and Dana Brown’s past history.
One guy you won’t see included is Wake Forest right hander Ryan Cusick, who keeps getting mock drafted and mentioned with the Braves elsewhere. I am not including him because it feels like they are trying to link the Braves to another Wake arm (heavy pitching analytics school) after the team took Jared Shuster from there last summer. It’s not to say they aren’t looking at Cusick, but I don’t at all believe he is among the front runners as of today.
The 12 players are being listed in alphabetical order as opposed to preference or likelihood they are the guy, considering there is a lot of time left for things to move.
One thing you’ll notice is that the list is heavy on prep players, especially bats, and college arms. That is in part because there doesn’t project to be much in the college bat category available with much value for the pick.
Joshua Baez, OF, Massachusetts HS - One theme you’ll notice here is the Braves are connected to a bunch of prep outfielders, and they don’t all have the same profile. Joshua Baez is the slugger of the group, a prototypical right fielder with potentially huge power and a huge arm. It is worth noting that he is a Vanderbilt commitment, one of the schools that is never cheap to sign players away from, though he isn’t an impossible sign by any means.
Bubba Chandler, RHP, Georgia HS - Chandler is widely expected to be gone before Atlanta’s pick, but he’s got a massive bit of leverage over teams in the fact he is also a significant football recruit signed to play quarterback for Clemson next year as well as baseball. As a baseball player, he is a two-way guy, though his future is on the mound and the thinking is that he could really improve fast if drops both hitting and football.
Adrian Del Castillo, C, Miami - Del Castillo may not be available when the Braves come up to the board but he would be a hard player to pass up as one of the top college bats in the draft. There are real questions about his future defensive home, but the bat plays elsewhere and if he does catch, he could be a special offensive catcher.
Harry Ford, C, Georgia HS - Ford is a local high school catcher who has drawn comparisons to JT Realmuto for his athleticism and tools behind the plate. He is one of the most interesting players in the draft even though he hasn’t performed as well this spring as he did last summer/fall. Still with his tool set and position, he is one of the least likely players on the list to be available at the Braves pick, but should he get there, he would be hard to pass up as the best available player despite the team’s catching depth.
Jaden Hill, RHP, LSU - If not for an injury this spring Jaden Hill, was a potential Top 5-10 pick in this draft. He may not have a long track record in college due to the injury, lost 2020 season, and limited role as a freshman, but he does have premium stuff. Hill represents an upside pick that the Braves could make if they are comfortable with the medicals, and it isn’t as if Anthopoulos and Brown didn’t grab another spring TJ arm in Toronto when they took Jeff Hoffman with the 9th pick in 2014, a move that helped them land Troy Tulowitzki in a trade.
Gunnar Hoglund, RHP, Ole Miss - Hoglund is very similar to Hill in that he was a potential Top 5-10 candidate who went down with Tommy John this spring. Hoglund, a first round pick by the Pirates out of high school that didn’t sign, doesn’t have the present stuff Hill does but he has a longer track record of success as an SEC starter which could help him come off the board quicker. Like with Hill, the medicals will determine what happens.
Michael McGreevy, RHP, UC Santa Barbara - One of the biggest risers this spring is UCSB right hander Michael McGreevy. A reliever in 2019 who moved to the rotation last year, McGreevy has been excellent since he arrived on campus. His stuff is more mid 90s but he can touch 97 and has shown room to keep growing into a starting role.
Benny Montgomery, OF, Pennsylvania HS - Benny Montgomery is arguably the toolsiest player in the entire 2021 MLB Draft, a potential big time power and speed guy in center field with a big arm. You’d have a hard time finding a guy with more upside, but there is a reason he could be available for the Braves towards the end of the first round. That reason is scouts question his hit tool, and with less looks at him than you’d typically get in a non-pandemic environment, that makes his draft stock volatile in that he could go very high or drop quite a bit as the hit tool will determine what he becomes.
Andrew Painter, RHP, Florida HS- The way a lot of mock drafts go it doesn’t seem like a huge stretch to imagine a top prep arm like Painter dropping to the Braves. The huge (6’6, 230) arm with both present stuff and projection was the top prep arm in the class until Jackson Jobe separated himself from the pack, but Painter would be a huge addition to the arms in the lower levels for the Braves.
Spencer Schwellenbach, SS/RHP, Nebraska - The Big Ten Player of the Year as a two-way standout is an interesting player who has enough talent to be drafted as a hitter, but also projects as a potential starting pitcher. I say projects because he comes out of the bullpen in college due to his play at short and is going to need more time to develop than a typical college arm. However Schwellenbach has the mid to upper 90s fastball and promising slider that make him an attractive option, as do the fallback options of being a reliever or a hitter.
Will Taylor, OF, South Carolina HS - Chandler isn’t the only Clemson football signee on the list as Will Taylor is an even higher rated football recruit as a receiver. He projects as an athletic, toolsy outfield with plenty of speed, promising power and the thought that he could rise if he chooses to focus on just baseball.
Tyler Whitaker, OF/3B, Nevada HS - If you look at others ratings, Whitaker is a big riser this spring as he wasn’t ranked or wasn’t highly ranked coming into the year due to a limited showcase event background. However, after making some changes at the plate since the fall, Whitaker has taken off as a player who could hit for power and average, has plus speed, and a big arm. A former shortstop, he could slot in at third base, but the thought is he may be best in right field with premium defense and a big arm. This pick might surprise those just looking at rankings, but teams think highly of him and the Braves aren’t the only team that are considering him as high as the first round.