Braves' top four Draft picks participating in instructs
Allard, Soroka, Riley, Herbert all attending instructional league
As the Atlanta Braves prepared for the 2015 Draft, they realized they needed to get back to basics, back to the formula that had been instrumental in building a perennial favorite in the National League East.
It was time to go young again. After several years of college-heavy drafting, the braintrust came to the collective decision that a return to selecting high-ceiling high school prospects was what was needed.
The Braves had four picks in the first two rounds, and they used all four selections to go the high school route. The quartet -- left-hander Kolby Allard (No. 14 overall), right-hander Mike Soroka (No. 28), third baseman Austin Riley (No. 41) and catcher Lucas Herbert (No. 54) -- are all in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., currently participating in instructional league play for Atlanta, joining many of the club's young farmhands in putting the finishing touches on the 2015 season and giving them a head start on '16.
"We're getting back to the Braves way," assistant general manager John Coppolella said. "When you build a skyscraper, you build it from the bottom up, you don't build it from the top. We wanted to get the most impact talent we could. We got away from that and we're paying for it now with a bit of a talent drain at the upper levels.
"As an organization, all of us feel we're going to win with impact. If we don't go with upside, it's not going to work."
Allard was the top high school arm in the class until a stress reaction in his back shelved him for nearly all of his senior year. That enabled him to get to the Braves, and while his summer debut was brief, it was nonetheless impressive: no earned runs allowed and just one hit yielded in six innings, with 12 strikeouts and no walks. Being understandably cautious, Atlanta won't give Allard much mound time in instructional league play, which began on Monday.
"We'll probably work with him more on strength, he probably won't throw that much this instructs," Coppolella said. "He should be good to go in 2016. We feel he could be a future No. 1-type starter."
Allard's future batterymate could come from this Draft class as well, and it's someone he is very familiar with. Herbert attended San Clemente (Calif.) High School with the left-hander, though Allard's injury kept the pair from working together much in their senior year. They might have gotten the chance to do so in the Gulf Coast League, but Herbert tore his right meniscus in late June, before Allard signed. There's an outside chance they could reunite in instructional league action, but that's not the highest priority for the Braves.
"These guys are best friends," Coppolella said, adding that Herbert is healthy now and will be involved in all activities. "It's not like they have to do it here to get anything accomplished. They've done it every day for the last four or five years. Whether it happens at instructs really doesn't matter, they're both very big parts of our future."
The Braves feel Herbert has the chance to be an impact everyday catcher, one who can lead the young arms the organization is once again accruing. Along with Allard, there's Soroka, the Canadian high schooler taken at the end of the first round. The right-hander got 34 pro innings under his belt this summer in the GCL and the Appalachian League, finishing with a 3.18 ERA to go along with a 9.8 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 ratios.
"He pitched well at two levels," Coppolella said. "He's 17 going on 35. He's incredibly mature with an advanced feel. Scouts pushed hard for him. It was the work of our area scout Brett Evert and our cross-checker Tom Davis that put him over the top. They really pounded the table for this guy and he had a great first pro season."
Between Soroka and Herbert came Riley, one of the more intriguing two-way players in this last Draft class. Every Braves scout who saw him agreed they liked him better as a hitter, and if his summer debut is any indication -- .304/.389/.544 across two levels -- they made the right call.
"He had a very good first summer at a very young age," Coppolella said. "He just got better and better. We have a respect for those who do prospect rankings, but he wasn't ranked very high. We trust our scouts and we feel we were really lucky we got him at No. 41."
Assuming all goes well at the instructional league, the quartet will get the work in and leave with an offseason plan to prepare them for the 2016 season. The Braves are hopeful all four will be able to head straight to full-season ball in the South Atlantic League at the start of the 2016 season. It might take a little longer to get there, but watching them play there should give Atlanta fans hope for a return to the years of annual postseason trips.
"You should go see [Class A] Rome next year to see them," Coppollela advised. "That's going to be a loaded team.
"We're trying to target long-term success and impact. We're not looking for the easy answer, we're looking for the right answer."