Heading into their respective drafts, all three of the Atlanta Braves 2020 minor league Rule 5 draft choices were highly regarded. RHP AJ Puckett, 2B Jalen Miller, and OF Jacob Pearson were all selected early on and received significant signing bonuses.
Things clearly didn’t go according to plan, as not only were all three available today but two of the trio had already been dealt by the team who originally drafted them(Puckett and Pearson).
That’s not to say they don’t have both talent and upside- in fact every one of them deserves some consideration for the Braves Top 30 prospect list. While I wouldn’t put any of the trio on my own personal Top 30 today, they aren’t so far gone that they don’t belong in that next tier of guys capable of boosting their stock with a good 2021 season. It could be that a change in scenery and coaching is what helps them unlock their tools, and makes them a part of next year’s Top 30 prospect list.
Below this article will take a look at what that player’s scouting report said heading into their draft, what they’ve done as a pro, and where they are at right now.
AJ Puckett, RHP
Coming into the 2016 MLB Draft I had rated AJ Puckett out of Pepperdine as the 19th best RHP in the draft. The scouting report was that he was a solid framed 6’4 pitcher rising that spring with real helium after a very strong Cape Cod League performance in 2015, followed by a great year(1.27 ERA, 0.92 WHIP) in his first ever year as a starter in 2016. He brought a fastball up to 95 MPH with plenty of life on it, had a pair of swing and miss pitches with his curve and change along with decent command. That got him drafted in the second round by the Kansas City Royals.
Puckett went on to make a pair of starts in the Arizona League as an into into pro ball before shooting right up to 11 starts in Low A. In Low A he had a 3.66 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 37 K’s to 15 walks over 51.2 innings.
He went on to start 2017 in High A Wilmington, making 20 starts and posting a 3.90 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, and 98 K to 46 BB in 108.1 innings of work. Then he got dealt to the Chicago White Sox as part of a deal for Melky Cabrera. Upon starting in the Sox org he posted similar numbers in five additional starts in the Carolina League, though dropped his BB/9 rate from 3.8 in Wilmington to 1.6 with the Sox. It is of note that his fastball was only up to 92 MPH this year, though he still had projection and had hit 95 in college.
Puckett never got off the ground in 2018, as arm pain caused him to miss the season and eventually required a Tommy John surgery that knocked him out of 2019. And of course 2020 didn’t happen due to the Coronavirus, so he hasn’t pitched in three years.
At this point Puckett is a pitcher with a good frame and not a ton of innings under his belt since high school considering he only started for one of his two years at Pepperdine. Assuming he’s still got the same stuff after the surgery and layoff, if not more considering the projection on him when we last saw him, the Braves bought low on a potential #4/5 starter with a low to mid 90s fastball, plus change, and curve that can get swings and misses as well as decent command. It is also worth noting that he will turn 26 years old at the end of May, so he is on the older side for a prospect.
Jalen Miller, 2B
Jalen Miller was a local prospect coming out of Sandy Springs Riverwood HS in the 2015 class, and the San Francisco Giants selected him in the third round. I had him rated as the sixth best shortstop in that class, just ahead of former Braves prospect Nick Shumpert and former Reds future first rounder Jonathan India- and behind five future big leaguers in Dansby Swanson, Alex Bregman, Brendan Rodgers, Kevin Newman, and Richie Martin. His scouting report talked about how toolsy he was, but called him more of a raw glove first guy that needed to unlock the bat.
Upon signing Miller went to the Arizona League and hit just .218/.292/.259 with five doubles, a triple, no homers, and 11 steals over 44 games with 17 walks to 42 strikeouts.
In 2016 Miller started in Low A Augusta- the Braves new affiliate. He hit .223/.271/.322 with 20 doubles, five triples, 5 homers, and 11 steals in 112 games with 26 walks to 107 strikeouts.
Despite his struggles the Giants pushed him to High A and the offense friendly California League in 2017, and there was only a slight boost in production during his 117 games there. He hit .227/.283/.346 with 25 doubles, four triples, six homers, and six steals with 31 walks and 100 strikeouts.
The Giants kept him there again in 2018 to repeat the level, and we finally started to see a little more power from him as he hit .276/.321/.434 with 35 doubles, two triples, 14 homers, and 11 steals with 27 walks and 121 strikeouts. This was the best year of his career thus far, though some of it may have been Cal League aided.
In 2019 Miller got pushed up to Double A and continued to struggle, hitting .216/.287/.332 with 18 doubles, three triples, 11 homers, and 27 steals with 49 walks to 106 strikeouts in 135 games. However he did show the power gains from 2018 weren’t just a Cal League mirage and he started to take more walks than he ever had in his career.
That got him sent to the Arizona Fall League, where he went 6-32 with a double and homer in nine games, though had a troubling 1 walk to 14 strikeouts.
Miller will turn 24 in a couple weeks, and has spent the bulk of his pro career at second base. To this point the hit tool continues to be the biggest obstacle for him, but he’s certainly got the kind of power and speed combination that can attract a team.
Jacob Pearson, OF
Jacob Pearson is a lefty hitting outfielder selected out of a Louisiana high school in the third round of the 2017 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Angels. The scouting report on him at the time called him an excellent pure hitter with emerging power and plus speed, but with a labrum injury in his recent past. I had him ranked 20th among outfielders in that stacked outfield class.
Upon signing Pearson went to the Arizona League and hit .226/.302/.282 with seven doubles, a triple, no homers and five steals with 15 walks to 37 strikeouts in 40 games. That winter he was traded to the Minnesota Twins for international slot money in order for the Angels to have the budget to sign Shohei Ohtani.
Pearson spent 2018 in Low A, but was limited to just 78 games because of injury. There he went on to hit .237/.312/.376 with 12 doubles, three triples, seven homers, and six steals with 29 walks and 69 strikeouts.
He went on to begin 2019 back in Low A and spent his first 82 games there, hitting .220/.298/.315 with 13 doubles, a triple, four homers, and 12 steals with 33 walks and 63 strikeouts. At that point he moved up to High A for the final 35 games and had his best output to date in the pitcher friendly Florida State League. There he went on to hit .263/.313/.393 with nine doubles, two triples, a homer, and seven steals- giving him 19 on the year. He walked 10 times while striking out 22.
With some time off to get past the potential nagging labrum issues that may have been holding him back the Braves are betting on his hit tool and speed as Pearson won’t turn 23 until June 1st and comes from good bloodlines- his younger brother Josh is a high school outfielder that will go early in the 2021 MLB Draft.