Color me surprised. After going for what is presumably an under-slot guy in the first round, I expected 2 or 3 high school kids who could be bought out of college commitments with over-slot money in the Braves 2020 Draft Rounds 3 through 5. Instead we have 2 injury buy-low guys and a potential mid-rotation starter (who will cost more than slot).
OK, What Gives?
Let’s dig back into baseball history again! Before the draft became a thing in the mid-60’s teams had to not only scout but also sign players, often in competition with other organizations. To achieve the stocking of both the major league team and the minor league affiliates was a huge challenge, requiring tens or even hundreds of thousands of hours of work each year. Teams developed player acquisition departments and manned them at levels unimaginable by today’s standards.
Take Branch Rickey’s staff during the mid 1930’s for the Cardinals. While he only had 2 guys officially working for the big league team, he had well over 100 scouts and over 1200 “bird dogs” who were on various minor league payrolls to find him talent. (St. Louis owned all it’s MiLB teams and Rickey had a weird financial arrangement where he got paid according to the minor league profitability which explains the employment mix). A bird dog is a non-employee who would be compensated if the team signed a player they recommended. Mostly they were high school coaches or local umpires with the occasional former player or factory-league official mixed in. Teams still have bird dogs, but with the ubiquitousness of camera phones and travel leagues they are no longer particularly important in the identification of talent — until COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 amateur season.
The Braves have one of the more elaborate bird dog networks remaining today, one that more or less dominates the southeast. Just about every university has someone with Atlanta ties on staff, as do most of the junior colleges and at least 1 person in just about every county. In a year with little statistical or analytical data to go on, the reports on injury rehab, skills growth and signability from the bird dogs offer real value to the team. I believe all 4 of this year’s draft picks are a result of this inside information to one degree or another.
Braves 2020 Draft, Rounds 3 through 5: The Picks
Round 3, Pick #97 Jesse Franklin, CF, Michigan, 6’1”, 215 lbs
Franklin is a good athlete regarded as a potential power speed combo guy. He suffered a broken collar bone during the off season and thus didn’t get into any games during 2020. This pick has to be predicated on insider information as most draft pundits had Jesse 2 rounds lower in their pre-draft tiers. I suspect the team has a really good source in Ann Arbor as this is also where they got Drew “Slugbear” Lugbauer a few years back. Anyway, Braves Scouting Director Dana Brown said of Franklin “We like the makeup, the strength, the body, the swing,” Brown said. “He’ll grow into some power. I saw it more so in batting practice, so he’s got some raw power. Because of the swing and the way it looks, we feel like he’ll be able to get into a lot of that power.” The kid has good makeup and was rated by Baseball America as “very likely” to have a major league future. Let’s hope we know more than the other teams about this one.
Round 4, Pick #126 Spencer Strider, RHP, Clemson 6’, 195 lbs
Another pick of an injured player, this one coming off Tommy John surgery, once again predicated on the team having good injury and rehab reports from the Clemson trainer’s room. Strider had a 92-94 mph fastball (it touched 98 this spring) and a good slider that is effective vs left handers while his change is a work in progress. Spencer was rated near the top of his tranche coming out of high school and rejected entering the draft after being Tennessee’s high school player of the year in 2017. While his stature (he isn’t really six feet in height) and injury history gives him more reliever risk than most the team is adamant that they see him as a starter. Let’s just hope he recovers and then we’ll see.
Round 5, Pick #156 Bryce Elder, RHP, Texas, 6’ 2”, 220 lbs
Now this guy has a pitcher’s dream build. Elder has average fastball velocity but is best known for a wipeout slider (a plus, if not plus plus pitch), a plus curve and an at least average change. Most teams had Elder in their 2nd-3rd round tiers but passed on him due to his bonus demands. I’m guessing that the money saved in the 1st round goes here. More from Brown, “He can sink it, he’s got a pretty good slider, swing and miss type pitch. He logs innings. He’s been very durable. He pitches for the University of Texas so there’s really good competition and a really good school. We feel like we’re getting a guy who can eat innings.”
Where Do They Fit?
New draftees — especially ones who didn’t play this year — are hard to fit into our rankings of the Brave’s minor league prospects but I will have a go here. First, none of these guys currently rate as better than a 45 on the scouting scale for future value. Contrast that to last season where Shea Langeliers and Braden Shewmake both profiled as 45+ and were evaluated as such.
I put Shuster in the same tier as Jasseel de la Cruz, Michael Harris and Alex Jackson, somewhere around 13-15 in the system. While this seems low for a first round pick he could easily vault into the top 10 should he display that his velocity and command/control gains from limited action this spring are real.
The 2 injured guys — Franklin and Strider — need to prove their health before I thoroughly buy in. I’m putting them about 23-24 in the system with CJ Alexander and Greyson Jenista who also need to show it on the field as soon as possible. Franklin has an above average regular ceiling while I expect Strider to be somewhat limited as I see him as more of a late-innings guy.
Finally, Bruce Elder would like to turn into Kevin Millwood and that would be a very good thing. I’m going to slot him in about 15 on the list, just behind Alex Jackson.
Were the minors playing, I expect Shuster and Elder would start at Rome in low-A while the other 2 would be at Danville in advanced rookie ball, although depending on Tommy John recovery protocol Strider might have started in extended spring training.
So, Was It a Good Draft?
At the end of the day does it look like the team got good value for their picks? It obviously depends on how one sees the injured guys and how much we buy into the increased velocity from Schuster, but yes, I like the upside plays here. If one remembers that teams rarely get even 1 good player from their first 4 draft picks than getting 4 guys who each possess the requisite physical tools and a clear roadmap of the struggles they need to overcome make some success likely. Is there a future superstar here? No, but that doesn’t make it a bad draft.
Thanks for reading on Braves 2020 Draft Rounds 3 through 5. If you enjoyed this piece, check out our entire arsenal of pieces on Braves Prospects here.