The Atlanta Braves are having a rough year, starting 17-42 in the midst of a massive rebuild.
That being said, while the team has lost six of their last seven and eight of their last 11, they “lost” something else over the last 24 hours, as they have butchered the 2016 MLB Draft.
Since the club began revamping both their major league roster and their farm system, they have stockpiled a tremendous amount of up-and-coming pitching talent that should, in due time, pan out at the major league level. Some of these players are already playing well in the major leagues, and they will be joined over the next couple of years by more strong, young arms.
The problem for the current and for the future for the Braves franchise is offense. This year’s edition is averaging 3.1 runs per game, which is dead last in the major leagues, and every Braves minor league affiliate is in the bottom half of its respective league in scoring.
Outside of Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, who could both be in the majors by the end of the season, and Austin Riley (currently at Class-A), the rest of Atlanta’s top 13 prospects, as rated by MLB.com, are pitchers. Altogether, just nine of the Braves’ top 30 prospects are non-pitchers, and one of those (Mallex Smith) is already in the majors.
Therefore, in this draft wouldn’t it make sense for the Braves to draft some hitters that could potentially be “impact bats” in the future?
Also, high school draftees typically require a longer minor league development than those drafted from college, as 18-year olds are still maturing physically, and college players have more experience. Signability is also an issue with drafting high schoolers, who can choose to pass on turning pro and instead go to college.
That being said, for a rebuilding team that doesn’t have much offense now and doesn’t seem to have much coming either, wouldn’t it make the most sense for the Braves to take college hitters at the top end of their 2016 draft class? Their college experience could lead to a shorter stint in the minor leagues (often just 2-3 years) than the stint of a high school prospect (typically 3-5 years or more).
But that is not what the organization did. With each of the team’s first three picks, and six of their first seven, the Braves took pitchers. Each of the first three pitchers, and four of the first six, are high school players.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m sure these players drafted very highly by the Braves (who had three of the first 44 picks and five of the first 80) are excellent baseball players who have earned the right to play the game for (potentially) a lot of money. But I’m not so sure the Braves strategy in this draft was the best for an organization that is very pitching-rich, but clearly needs bats.
Three collegiate bats in particular stand out as players who the Braves could have taken with the third pick to best suit their needs: Louisville OF Corey Ray, Miami C Zach Collins, and Mercer OF Kyle Lewis, who was thought of as one of the favorites to be picked by Atlanta leading up to the draft.
Instead, the Braves took pitchers at the third, 40th, and 44th picks, before finally taking a college bat (California C Brett Cumberland) at 76th. The team did take college bats in the sixth, seventh, ninth, and 10th rounds, and while those players could certainly make an impact at the big league level, they do not project quite as well as players drafted in the earlier rounds.
I get the Braves mantra of “You can never have too much pitching.” I get the fact that any player drafted this year will not sniff the majors for a couple of seasons, and most of them won’t get there in this decade. I get the opinion that they should simply take the best available, regardless of position (I’m not sure they did, but that’s another discussion). I get that the character of the player and how they fit the organization is important. I get that the Braves will have money to spend in free agency this winter, or could trade some of these prospects for a major league impact bat or two.
But the backbone of any solid baseball organization these days is the core of players they have drafted and developed. This was true for the Braves during their phenomenal run through the 1990’s and early 2000’s. While those teams were unquestionably built on solid pitching, they still included players like Chipper Jones, David Justice, Ron Gant, Ryan Klesko, and other hitters that were drafted and developed by the club.
I’m not as much concerned about the lack of offense this year–with the Braves struggles they are likely headed towards a top-three draft pick again–but in the future when this team is supposed to be competitive. No matter how good your pitching is, the following statement is no less profound: You can’t win if you don’t score.
The 2016 Braves, as was expected, are losing more than two-thirds of the time. Now, the front office may have lost the draft.
There’s a reason that Braves radio voice Jim Powell said this was arguably the most important draft in the history of the franchise. But the front office and their team didn’t score, and now it could be a while before the team on the field does either.
2016 MLB Draft: Top 10 Selections
1. Philadelphia Phillies–Mickey Moniak, OF, La Costa Canyon (Ca.) H.S.
2. Cincinnati Reds–Nick Senzel, 3B, Tennessee
3. Atlanta Braves–Ian Anderson, RHP, Shenendehowa (N.Y.) H.S.
4. Colorado Rockies–Riley Pint, RHP, St. Thomas Aquinas (Kan.) H.S.
5. Milwaukee Brewers–Corey Ray, OF, Louisville
6. Oakland Athletics–A.J. Puk, LHP, Florida
7. Miami Marlins–Braxton Garrett, LHP, Florence (Ala.) H.S.
8. San Diego Padres–Cal Quantrill, RHP, Stanford
9. Detroit Tigers–Matt Manning, RHP, Sheldon (Cal.) H.S.
10. Chicago White Sox–Zack Collins, C, Miami (Fla.)
2016 MLB Draft: Atlanta Braves Selections (First 10 Rounds)
1st Round (3rd pick): Ian Anderson, RHP, Shenendehowa (N.Y.) H.S.
Competitive Balance Round A (40th pick): Joey Wentz, LHP, Shawnee Mission East (Kan.) H.S.
2nd Round (44th pick): Kyle Muller, LHP, Jesuit Prep (Tex.)
Competitive Balance Round B (76th pick): Brett Cumberland, C, California
3rd Round (80th pick): Drew Harrington, LHP, Louisville
4th Round (109th pick): Bryce Wilson, RHP, Orange (N.C.) H.S.
5th Round (139th pick): Jeremy Walker, RHP, Gardner-Webb
6th Round (169th pick): Matthew Gonzalez, 2B, Georgia Tech
7th Round (199th pick): J.B. Moss, OF, Texas A&M
8th Round (229th pick): Taylor Hyssong, LHP, UNC Wilmington
9th Round (259th pick): Tyler Neslon, OF, Texas Tech
10th Round (289th pick): Marcus Mooney, SS, South Carolina