Today’s piece, “2020 Braves Draft Part 1: First Round, 25th selection Jared Shuster” will give some background on the unique situation facing the Braves in the 2020 draft, a breakdown on the first round selection, and a glimpse into what the Braves might’ve been thinking by drafting Jared Shuster.

2020 Braves Draft Background

The Braves were not in a good position coming into this year’s player draft because of free agent signings (Will Smith/Marcel Ozuna), the team had lost its 2nd round pick leaving us with the 3rd smallest bonus pool to work with and only 4 picks in this year’s truncated edition of the draft. Last year the team successfully parlayed some early slot signings with late (post 10th) round overpays for young impact talent. As all signings after the 5th round are for exactly $20k this year such a strategy cannot be employed although 1 or 2 of those high-upside high-school types might be grabbed in the 3rd-5th rounds if the money is available.

Scouting Director Dana Brown is in his 2nd year at the helm of the draft, a spot he also filled for Braves GM Alex Anthropolis back in his Toronto days. As a result, we have a pretty good idea of what the team is looking for and the philosophy that guides their moves.

To discuss that philosophy and where the team (and league) are going requires a deep dive in the history of the draft and analytics. Moneyball was a thing long before the book or movie came out. What Sandy Alderson started in Oakland had been happening in fits and starts since the first time some scout picked up a stopwatch. In short, the idea was that analytics could replace some of the work of scouts, or, in a more modern vein, inform the work of scouts to give a better overall picture. It doesn’t always produce results: that draft from the book was horrible largely because the A’s front office shifted the focus almost entirely to statistical analytics at the expense of the scouts and ended up with a bunch of unathletic players unable to compete above AA ball. Modern front offices — with some noteworthy exceptions such as Baltimore and Pittsburgh — have moved on to better analysis, better rating systems and computer models.

Today’s teams have access to far more data than Billy Beane’s A’s, both from motion capture video technology and radar based tracking systems like Trackman and Rapsodo. Most minor league parks now have a system as do many colleges and several of the top high schools. This means teams can now see velocity, pitch spins, tunneling and location for pitchers and bat speed, angle of contact and exit velocities for hitters. Combined with traditional scouting this allows teams to distinguish which players fit their fancy.

The Elephant in the Room

Which brings us to the one thing that, like the gravity from an unseen black hole, causes models to warp and scouting directors to cry: money. Every team has a finite budget for the draft and every kid wants their share of it. Unlike the NBA where 1 pick might set up a franchise for a decade of success, in baseball even the best draft pick — let’s call him Tike Mrout — cannot make a bad team good. Thus, throwing everything at one pick means that however good that kid is, the team almost always would have been better off spreading the money around. So, remember that there are 2 ways money can restrict a team’s choices: the total pool available and the player’s demands. Teams will usually try to have some idea of how they will manage these restrictions before the draft goes down: I know the Braves do.

Tiers and Tranches

Other than the occasional Stephen Strasburg atop the draft, most baseball talent can be arranged into tiers. When a team picking 10 talks about being happy to be in a good place because they think the tier ends at 11 they mean that they believe the teams picking in front of them are getting approximately the same chance of a great player as they will have while the ones after will be reduced to picking from a slightly lesser class of players. Teams refer to all the players they consider equivalent as being in the same tier while they say similar players at the same position and age — like high school right handed pitchers or college left handed pipe fitters — are in the same tranche.

At the top the tiers might be 3-4 guys while by the 3rd round — pick 100 or so — a tier could have 30 names. Realistically, the Braves considered about 20 players for their pick at #25 and likely had some monetary discussions with most of them. They also have their eyes on 30-40 more guys who they think could be in play for the right price in the later rounds and they have a pretty good idea about the costs involved and signing potential for these guys as well. I mention this because these discussions may warp the choice of the first round pick.

OK, that was interesting. Who is this guy?

Shuster is a big guy — 6 foot 3, 210 pounds with the kind of big butt that only works on pitchers and models in rap videos — who will turn 22 on august 3rd. A left handed starting pitcher, he throws a fastball, sloppy slider and plus changeup. He spent his first 2 years at Wake Forest walking too many guys and mainly working 90-92mph. This does not sound like a first round pick…

Look at this video. This is bad Jared Shuster.

Of particular note is the strike of the right leg and the hip rotation: the foot hits on the left side of the rubber and then the hips turn. This closed action negates much of the transfer of force from his legs to his torso and means the pitch speed will be limited to whatever impetus the arm gives it. The motion explains the velocity and the bad results (it is also hard to throw a good slider without lower half rotation but that is a subject for another day).

Now take a look at this year.

The foot lands on the 3rd base side of things and the hips are clearing before strike. More momentum is being transferred and his velocity is magically up to 97. I have not seen reports on his changeup speed but I assume it is showing a similar velocity spike (his old plus change was 78-80 mph which is too much velocity separation for the majors). DOB reports that the slider is also showing better tilt and bite with the new delivery which is to be expected given the physical change in delivery. In short; this guy might just be a great pick at #25.

Back to that Elephant in the Room

Jared Shuster has yet to sign so we don’t know the $$ involved although several sources report that it will be less than the slot amount. We also do not know yet what talent the 3rd-5th round picks will bring and how their signings will be influenced by the money paid here. Without that knowledge it is impossible to rate the pick (a time machine set 10 years in the future might help as well). I am optimistic.

Shoutouts: DOB has an awesome column at the Athletic on the kid. Our own David Lee also has a nice write-up. Both deserve your subscriptions…

Thanks for reading “2020 Braves Draft Part 1: First Round, 25th selection Jared Shuster”. If you enjoyed this piece, take a look at all of our prospect pieces here.