ATLANTA -- When the Braves took University of Michigan outfielder Jesse Franklin in the third round of the MLB Draft on Thursday night, they crossed their fingers and hoped that their financial approach to this year’s event would put them in position to take University of Texas right-hander Bryce Elder in the fifth round.
Shortly after taking Elder with his team’s final pick, Braves vice president of scouting Dana Brown discussed the approach the team took while navigating through this unique Draft, which was shortened to five rounds because of COVID-19 restrictions.
"[Elder] is probably going to be a bit of an overpay," Brown said. "But without a second-round pick, we feel like we're getting two third-round picks in Elder and Franklin."
When they signed left-hander Will Smith in November, the Braves forfeited their second-round pick. Brown used his first-round pick on Wake Forest left-hander Jared Shuster, who is expected to agree to a deal below the $2,740,300 bonus pool value assigned this year to the 25th overall pick.
By targeting Shuster with their first-round pick, the Braves created some of the flexibility that enabled them to end their Draft by selecting Elder, who is likely going to be seeking a signing bonus of more than $600,000 (more than double of what is slotted for most fifth-round selections).
Here's a breakdown of the three players selected Thursday:
OF Jesse Franklin
Round 3 (97th overall)
Though a skiing accident prevented Franklin from playing baseball this year, the Braves saw enough of the Michigan outfielder in the 2019 College World Series and during the past two Cape Cod Summer Leagues.
Franklin helped Michigan advance to the College World Series finals during this 2019 sophomore season, then missed this year's virus-shortened collegiate season because of a broken collarbone suffered while skiing last winter.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound outfielder hit 23 homers with a .520 slugging percentage over 425 at-bats for the Wolverines. He was named the 2018 Cape Cod League Offensive Player of the Year. He didn't hit for power when he returned to the Cape in 2019, but this had more to do with a hamstring strain that didn't damage the impression he made on Brown.
"He showed some power in batting practice," Brown said. "It didn't transfer over to games [last summer]. He has some good exit velocity, so we think he's going to hit for power. He knows how to elevate."
Franklin's raw power might be considered his top attribute, but scouts have also been impressed with his speed and athleticism. The outfielder has the potential to remain a center fielder, but there are some concerns about his arm strength.
"He profiles better in center," Brown said. "His value is even greater if he stays in center. But if he goes to a corner, we still feel good about his ability to be an everyday Major League left fielder."
RHP Spencer Strider
Round 4 (126th)
The Braves went back to the Atlantic Coast Conference to find another potentially high-upside hurler who might be willing to be an under-slot sign. Strider missed all of 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. But the 6-foot, 195-pound right-hander signaled a full recovery as his fastball touched 97 mph while pitching for Clemson before the season ended abruptly in March.
"He's on the rebound, and we feel the arrow is pointing in the right direction," Brown said.
Strider posted a 4.50 ERA as he struck out 19 over 12 innings this year. He averaged 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings, but posted a 4.71 ERA over 26 career appearances (63 innings) for Clemson. Control was an issue, with 38 walks over 63 innings during his collegiate career.
"He's showing the arm strength and he's got a really good breaking ball to use against lefties and righties," Brown said. "He's very athletic with the quick-twitch muscle fibers. So we feel really, really good about this guy's upside."
RHP Bryce Elder
Round 5 (156th)
Elder falling to the fifth round was one of the Draft's surprises. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound right-hander ranked 109th on MLB Pipeline's top Draft prospects list. He established himself as Texas' Friday night starter, pitching well before the season was halted in March.
"We feel like this a guy who can really be a good piece in the back end of the rotation," Brown said.
Elder's top pitch is a slider, which some scouts considered the best available in the Draft. But he has also made a good impression with his competitiveness and ability to consistently command his two-seamer. Elder struck out 32 and produced a 2.08 ERA over 26 innings this year.
COVID-19 restrictions led MLB to reduce this year's Draft to five rounds. Teams can begin signing undrafted prospects on Sunday. These players not selected are not permitted to receive a signing bonus that exceeds $20,000 this year.