ATLANTA -- Joey Wentz caused some jaws to drop when he hit a 543-foot home run with a metal bat during the Junior Home Run Derby that was staged as part of MLB's All-Star Game festivities in Cincinnati last summer. But if Wentz lives up to his potential, he will make his next visit to the Midsummer Classic as a pitcher.
Considered one of the top pitchers in this year's MLB Draft, Wentz fell out of the first round on Thursday night. But this drop played right into the hands of the Braves when they took the left-handed pitcher with the 40th overall pick and landed the top-flight prospect they were hoping to get via the financial flexibility gained when they took Ian Anderson with the third overall selection.
"This guy is what they look like," Braves scouting director Brian Bridges said of Wentz. "If you draw up a picture of what they look like, he's that guy."
• 3rd overall: Ian Anderson
• 44th overall: Kyle Muller
• 76th overall: Brett Cumberland
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Blessed with an athletic 6-foot-5, 209-pound frame, Wentz has drawn some comparisons to Cole Hamels. The 18-year-old pitcher did not allow a hit in his first four starts and ended up going 9-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 112 strikeouts for Shawnee Mission East (Prairie Village) High School this year. Before ending his prep career with a state title, he homered and pitched a two-hit shutout in the semifinals.
"He's just one of those guys that stands out the first time you see him," Bridges said. "To put up those kinds of numbers shows you he knows what he is doing out there."
Wentz temporarily stopped pitching as he dealt with a dead arm last summer. But after spending the fall and winter working out with his good friend Riley Pint, who was taken by the Rockies with the fourth overall pick, Wentz gained a stronger frame and approximately 5 mph of velocity on his fastball, which Bridges clocked as high as 96 mph.
With Wentz, Anderson and left-handed pitcher Kyle Muller, who was taken 44th overall, the Braves selected three of MLB.com's top 25 available players in this year's Draft. There was some thought to taking a position player within this span, but Bridges was thrilled with the way the Draft unraveled, allowing him to gain three of the top 20 players on the team's board.
"This was a big victory for the Braves today," Bridges said. "When you're fortunate to get three of your first 20, you're happy."
Because Anderson was selected earlier than expected, his signing bonus is not expected to come near the $6.5 million slot figure assigned to the third pick. Though he fell out of the first round, Wentz could benefit from the financial flexibility gained by the Braves and end up getting a signing bonus that rivals Anderson's.