ATLANTA -- This year’s MLB Draft was much different than any other ever conducted. But like every other year, each general manager and scouting director is publicly expressing excitement about the players landed.
With just four selections during the Draft, the first of which was the 25th overall, the Braves focused on gathering as many high-upside products as possible. They started by taking Wake Forest left-hander Jared Shuster, whose anticipated willingness to accept an under-slot signing bonus allowed him to vault from second-round projection to first-round selection.
Atlanta's final three selections were University of Michigan outfielder Jesse Franklin, Clemson right-hander Stephen Strider and University of Texas right-hander Bryce Elder.
Braves vice president of scouting Dana Brown and his staff will now attempt to sign each of the team’s four selections, and then attempt to further stock the system by signing undrafted players, none of whom can receive more than a $20,000 signing bonus this year.
All drafted players must be signed by Aug. 1. Undrafted players cannot sign before Sunday.
The slot values for each of the Braves’ four selections are: Shuster ($2.74 million), Franklin ($599,100), Strider ($451,800) and Elder ($336,600).
If the Braves can sign Shuster and Strider at less than their assigned slot values, they will have the remaining bonus pool flexibility necessary to attempt to financially persuade Elder from continuing his collegiate career. Given the Texas right-hander was hoping to go in the third round, he might get a signing bonus that is double that of his fifth-round slot value.
The Braves’ pool allotment this year is $4,127,800.
If a club exceeds its assigned pool, it faces a penalty. Teams that outspend their allotment by 0-5 percent pay a 75 percent tax on the overage. At higher thresholds, clubs lose future picks: a first-rounder and a 75 percent tax for surpassing their pool by more than 5 and up to 10 percent; a first- and a second-rounder and a 100 percent tax for more than 10 and up to 15 percent; and two first-rounders and a 100 percent tax for more than 15 percent.
In eight years with these rules, teams have exceeded their allotment a total of 149 times but never by more than 5 percent. Twenty-one of the 30 teams outspent their pool last year.
Within his first two years as the Braves' VP of scouting, Brown has leaned toward college talent. A college player was taken with each of the club’s four picks this year, and with eight of the first 10 selections Brown made in 2019.
But there were a number of reasons most teams shied away from high school talent this year. The COVID-19 shutdown prevented scouts from evaluating how many of the top prep players matured since last summer.
With the addition of three college pitchers, the Braves might have gained some insurance for the next couple years. Yeah, it’s nice to think about the possibility of Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright in the same rotation soon. But pitching plans inevitably fall apart. Consequently, in case you hadn’t heard, you can never have enough pitching.
After Shuster notched 35 strikeouts and issued only five walks over 32 innings in the Cape Cod League last summer, he recorded 43 strikeouts and just four walks over 26 1/3 innings for Wake before the season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His 13-strikeout performance against third-ranked Louisville on March 7 showed how far he had come since issuing 58 combined walks over 102 innings as a freshman and sophomore.
Much of Shuster’s improvement can be attributed to the Wake Forest pitching lab, which opened in 2019. The biomechanics evaluations used in this state-of-the-art lab influenced the more aggressive hip turn Shuster developed before seeing his fastball velocity rise from 89-93 mph to 91-95 mph over the past year.
Day 2 name to watch
Franklin has the potential to be a power-hitting center fielder. His raw power is impressive, and he has shown great athleticism while pursuing fly balls. He totaled just eight stolen bases over two seasons with Michigan, but as he continues to mature as a player, there’s hope his above-average speed will start to provide value on the basepaths.
During a normal Draft, teams often used some of their picks within the first 10 rounds to select college seniors who had no leverage and thus often accepted a signing bonus of $10,000 or less. This created savings teams used in an attempt to persuade some high-upside high school players to forgo college plans. That pool of high school talent will not be willing to accept $20,000 or less this year. So look for the Braves to pursue college seniors or possibly some juniors who are unsure of what the future holds for them at the college level.
The last word
“In 31 years in baseball, I’ve never seen anything like it. I started scouting in 1993. I’ve been in a lot of different Draft rooms. This was very difficult and very challenging. You have to trust your earlier looks on the players from [last summer] and the data, whether that be with TrackMan or other analysis. I’ve had success with being able to put the pieces together. I don’t always see the players. So at the end of the day, I can put the pieces together for the organization to get an impact-type player.” -- Brown, on the uniqueness of this year’s Draft