Alright guys and gals, the draft is a little over a month away and its time to get excited. With the Braves having both a high draft pick as well as several picks in the first few rounds, the Braves should be able to add both high-end talent as well as add to their already impressive farm depth. With that said, lets go over the basics
The 2016 Draft: The Basics
Date: June 9, 2016
Time: TBA but the draft will air on MLB TV as well as have extensive coverage on MLB.com as well as other sites (including this one!)
Braves' Early Picks: 3rd, 40th, 44th, 80th
The Braves own 4 of the first 80 picks in the 2016 Draft including the 3rd overall pick. While not as impressive as their 5 picks in the first 75 that they had last year, it's still a sizable haul of early picks and with the 3rd overall pick it is certainly comparable in potential impact on the Braves' farm system. As of now, the Braves had the best draft in 2015 to my mind with them picking Kolby Allard (14th), Mike Soroka (28th), Austin Riley (41st), Lucas Herbert (54th), and AJ Minter (75th). Only Minter has yet to play due to his recovery from Tommy John (Allard has yet to debut in 2016 due to recovery from offseason back surgery) but all of those players have been lauded by scouts, the organization, and fans alike.
Even better, that does not take in to account later round values that the Braves got including Ryan Clark (5th round), Chase Johnson-Mullins (13th), and Jonathan Morales (25th). If the Braves' scouting department does the same level of job they did in 2015 this could be an exciting draft.
Also, don't sleep on the Braves trying to acquire more Competitive Balance picks in the lead up to the draft. There are already rumors that Coppy is calling around willing to take on bad contracts to get more of those picks. No takers yet but it wouldn't be too surprising if Coppy managed to snag another pick or two before the draft kicks off.
Braves Draft Pool: $12,385,000 total (4th most in 2016)
Braves Draft Pick Slot Values: 3rd overall - $6,510,800, 40th - $1,616,800, 44th - $1,459,700, 80th - $788,800
The Braves have the 4th most draft pool money in the 2016 Draft with a bit over $12 million and we should expect the Braves to leverage that money as much as is possible. Whether that is maybe signing an under slot deal on one of the early picks to free money up to sign a high schooler away from a strong college commitment or even make a deal with prospect for X dollars ahead of time similar to what happened with Daz Cameron last year, I expect the Braves to try to be creative and get as much value out of their money and their picks as possible.
If you want to look at a sweet article on how the Braves could game the draft system and come out even better, Ben over at Tomahawk Take just wrote a sweet rundown on possible options available to the Braves.
Only the Reds, Phillies, and Padres have a larger draft pool than the Braves in the draft. The Phillies have the first overall pick, the Reds won the competitive balance draft lottery, and the Padres own 6 of the first 85 picks in the draft which accounts for the higher bonus pools. More on some of those teams in a minute.
So....who are the Braves going to pick?
There are a few things I want to go over before we review some of the mock drafts floating around. One, its super early and there are a lot of things that can throw a wrench in to draft boards including injuries and players doing/saying incredibly stupid things. The second thing is more specific to the Braves interests and that is regarding the two teams that are picking ahead of them.
The Phillies and Reds are both teams in various stages of rebuilding like the Braves. This is problematic because that means they are likely to target some of the same types of players that the Braves would target...in particular college bats. Finally, regarding the competitive balance picks....no one in their right mind could reasonably predict what's going to happen that far down. We will highlight a few potential targets in that range...but it's just as likely that we will hear a name we never thought would be there and/or should be (see: Mike Soroka and Austin Riley...those worked out pretty well though so far).
Looking a few of the mock drafts from Scout, MLB.com, Draft Utopia, DraftSite, and a few others...it's clear that the consensus is that there is no consensus. Here are the players that the mocks have the Braves taking at 3:
Corey Ray - OF - Louisville - 2016 stats: .321/.392/.615 with 13 homers and 35 stolen bases in 44 games
Jason Groome - LHP - Barnegat High School - Big lefty with 3 potential plus pitches. Was consensus #1 for a while
AJ Puk - LHP - Florida - 2016 stats: 2.87 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 65 K/19 BB in 47 IP (10 starts)
Riley Pint - RHP - St. Thomas Aquinas High School - Throws 100+ with a plus curve
Blake Rutherford - OF - Chaminade College Prep School (HS) - Above average tools across the board, older than typical HS prospect at 19
Only Corey Ray was named by more than one mock amongst those I looked at here. Two names that are notably absent, power-hitting Kyle Lewis who is an outfielder out of Mercer and Nick Senzel a high bat tool third baseman out of Tennessee, are missing for weird reasons. In some mocks, Senzel is going #1 or #2 overall where others have him going as low as #19 (that's crazy and will never happen). Same with Kyle Lewis as MLB.com has him going second overall so the Braves don't get a crack at him whereas several mocks have Lewis falling to #6 with the A's.
The Braves have made it clear that while their strategy was and will continue to be drafting the best player available, they would love a college bat if they have one that they believe in. This would give credence to picking Corey Ray, Kyle Lewis, or Nick Senzel in the spot. However, with the Phillies and the Reds picking ahead of them, things could get really interesting. Keith Law and others have been quick to point out that while Jason Groome and Riley Pint are among the more exciting high school arms to come out in a while, the Phillies and the Reds do not seem to be enamored with picking a player out of high school. This could mean that AJ Puk, Ray, and/or Lewis could all slide up within the top two picks. If you are the Braves and Jason Groome or Riley Pint fall in your laps after the top college bats are off the market, can you realistically pass up on that?
There are a couple of players that could throw a wrench in to things. Delvin Perez is a fast rising shortstop prospect out of Puerto Rico that, while raw, has all of the tools to be a great player going forward. He could be a candidate for a team to try and grab on an under slot deal. Mickey Moniak is a really good prep bat out of California that has opened teams eyes with increased power, an already plus hit tool, and strong defensive ability in center field. Once thought to be a mid-first rounder, Moniak will likely not fall out of the top ten and will at least get a look from some of the teams at the top of the draft.
As for the comp rounds and the top of the second round, there are several options that could be interesting. Alec Hansen was a candidate to go 1-1 this year and has now fallen out of first round consideration for many scouts. He has great stuff, but his command has been awful this year and was demoted to the bullpen. He also has some health concerns as he missed time last year with the dreaded "forearm strain". If the Braves like what they see with his medicals and think they can fix him, he would be a great value pick.
Zack Burdi throw 100+ out of the bullpen for Louisville as their closer but has intrigued some scouts as a possible starter. Worst case is you have a dominant closer prospect, but if the Braves think he could be a starter then they may try to snatch him up if he is available. One possible ideal pick in this range is Will Craig the third baseman out of Wake Forest. He can flat out rake, but folks seem to be split if he can stick at third and if not, where does he play in the field. If he falls to the Braves, expect them to take a VERY long look at him and remember that Freddie Freeman may not be around forever and that left field is a black hole right now.
Other options in the bottom of the first - top of the second range that could be available include Georgia high school outfielder William Benson, Miami catcher Zack Collins (although his play by the day makes it less likely he falls here), and RHP Jordan Sheffield out of Vanderbilt. Again, there is a lot of variance at this level and these estimates are not a guarantee that these players will be available. Overall this draft will be an exciting one and could end up altering the course of the entire franchise...for better or worse.