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2020 Draft recap: Atlanta Braves 

Atlanta sticks with trend from 2019, adds more college talent
June 26, 2020

Following the five-round 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft, MiLB.com takes an organization-by-organization look at each pick with help from team scouting executives. There were limitations on every team involved in the 2020 Draft, but with just four picks this year, the Braves looked to maximize their choices, especially without a

Following the five-round 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft, MiLB.com takes an organization-by-organization look at each pick with help from team scouting executives.

There were limitations on every team involved in the 2020 Draft, but with just four picks this year, the Braves looked to maximize their choices, especially without a pick in the second round.

In keeping with that strategy, Atlanta used all their picks on college players -- three pitchers and one outfielder. While they might lack some sure-fire star power, the Braves' focus centered on players expected to impact the Major League roster sooner rather than later and a mix of high-upside and high-floor players. And, according to MLB.com, Atlanta already has signed all four of its picks -- including first-rounder Jared Shuster.

And with nine of the team's top-10 prospects already at the Double-A level or higher, the Braves could use an infusion of talent as its current crop of prospects near The Show.

First round: Jared Shuster (No. 25 overall)

During his first two seasons in the ACC, Shuster struggled with command. His ERA didn't dip below six nor did his WHIP drop under 1.52. But during his two stints at the Cape Cod League, the southpaw shined against top competition.

In the latter summer, Shuster struck out 35, walked just five and sported a 1.41 ERA across 32 innings on the Cape. That momentum carried into a shortened season with the Demon Deacons as the southpaw posted a 3.76 ERA in four starts. What stood out was his ability to keep the ball in the zone, maintaining a 1.4 walks-per-nine and a 0.95 WHIP.

There was much improvement on Shuster's fastball velocity, which ticked up into the low- to mid-90s from 89-92 mph, in part due to the use of a biomechanics lab Wake Forest incorporated into its facilities.

He also features a changeup, a plus offering that grades at 60 and is considered his best pitch at the moment, and a slider. At 6-foot-3, the Braves like what he features from a mound presence standpoint.

"We value that he has both size and strength, also arm strength with the makings of a plus changeup," Atlanta's vice president of scouting Dana Brown told reporters after Day 1 of the Draft. "We liked the arm strength of the 95 [mph], a plus changeup combination and he also has a good feel for his slider. So we think we feel good about getting a left-handed starter with a three-pitch mix."

With mechanical tweaks that utilized his legs and hips more, Shuster was able to improve his command over the course of the past year, according to Brown. He increased his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 10.75, which ranked as the highest mark in his collegiate or Cape seasons.

"Getting the strength from the lower half allowed him to increase the velocity and to improve both the changeup and the breaking ball," Brown said. "We feel like this is a pitcher with upside play to him. We think that the aptitude is really good. There's a chance this guy could be a three-pitch mix with above-average plus stuff."

MLB.com reported Shuster inked a $2,197,500 deal, slightly under slot value for the 25th pick. With Kyle Muller and Tucker Davidson ranking as the team's best left-handed hurlers, Shuster should be able to compete with them for the mantle of best southpaw in the system with continued focus on better velocity and overall command.

Third round: Jesse Franklin (No. 97 overall)

By signing free agent Will Smith in the offseason, the Braves lost their second-rounder and had a sizable gap between their first and second picks. When they chose again at No. 97, the club took their only position player of the Draft out of the University of Michigan.

There were some questions about Franklin heading into the event as he missed 2020 with a broken collarbone sustained in a skiing accident. However, the 21-year-old showed plenty of promise during his time at Michigan, jumping onto the scene with an incredible freshman campaign. In 2018, he blasted 10 homers and hit .327/.379/.588 in 47 games. Although he didn't replicate his freshman season the next year, Franklin still connected for 13 long balls and finished with an .865 OPS. On college baseball's biggest stage, Franklin shined and was named to the College World Series All-Tournament team.

He gives a team a good combination of power (50 grade) and speed (55 grade) as he can play all three outfield positions and also has some experience at first base.

"We were able to get in the third round Franklin, who we feel has the upside to be an above-average center fielder," Brown said. "He has some power ... left-handed hitter."

In two seasons on the Cape, Franklin's power dipped with only three homers, but he still batted at a .293 clip with a .370 on-base percentage over 49 contests. Although he didn't hit for a ton of power in the wood bat league games, he did show it during batting practice and obviously wielded a good bat in the Big Ten, according to Brown. With a strong swing where he can get optimal launch angles, Franklin is expected to collect his fair share of extra-base hits.

"He has pretty good exit velocity, so we definitely going to think he's going to hit with some power," Brown said. "He knows how to elevate and we like the makeup. We like the strength in the body. So, at the end of the day, we think he's going to hit with some power. I saw it more so in batting practice that he's got some raw power."

The third-rounder reportedly inked a slightly under-slot deal to join Atlanta, where he'll be among the ranks of a solid top-30 group that includes five outfielders. While he likely won't unseat No. 1 and 2 prospects Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, Franklin could work his way into the thick of this list when he gets some innings under his belt in the Minors.

Fourth round: Spencer Strider (No. 126 overall)

Tommy John surgery wiped out his entire sophomore season, but Strider returned for a truncated 2020 season (12 innings) and brought back his mid-90s fastball to the hill.

The Clemson product whiffed 70 across 51 innings during his only full year in 2018. He followed that up with a strong stint on the Cape, posting a 3.38 ERA in 26 2/3 frames.

The strikeout pitch was never a problem for Strider, who kept a solid 12.7 K's per nine innings with Clemson. Command, however, was a little bit of an issue with a 1.44 WHIP, walking 38 in 63 frames.

The right-hander wields a slider and a changeup to go along with the potentially plus fastball, giving him a strong three pitch mix if he gets the control under his belt. Although he had some injury issues and stands 6 feet tall, the Braves view Strider as a starter in the long term. There would be a high ceiling if he continues the progress off the injury and gets command of his off-speed stuff consistently.

"We feel now he's through it and he's out of the woods," Brown said. "We feel he's going to be a starter. The fastball's 96 [mph] with good rise and a really good breaking ball that he can get out left-handed hitters with. At the end of the day, we got a good package. He's on the rebound and we feel the arrow is pointing in the right direction."

Fifth round: Bryce Elder (No. 156 overall)

There's plenty of uncertainty with any Draft, but there is a solid chance the Braves got a steal with their final pick.

The right-hander isn't flashy with high-velocity stuff, but has a 50 grade or better on all of his offerings, including a slider that fits more into the plus category with a 60 grade. His two-seamer acts like a sinker, which helps him get ground balls effectively.

A reliever to begin his college career, Elder transitioned to become one of the top hurlers on the Longhorns staff and delivered an impressive 2019 season. In his only full year as a starter, he kept a stingy 2.93 ERA with 86 strikeouts in 83 frames. He kept up that pace with great command (0.92 WHIP) through his first 26 innings this season before the shutdown.

Ranked 109th overall by MLB.com, Elder slid all the way to the fifth round and the Braves selected him as their third and final pitcher of the Draft. With a high floor, the Braves feel they are getting a reliable arm who can be a consistent presence on the mound every fifth day.

"Elder is a pitchability guy, he can sink it, he's got a pretty good slider; it's a swing-and-miss type pitch," Brown said. "At the end of the day, he logs innings and is very durable. ... We feel we're getting a guy who can eat innings, good sinker with a slider he can get swings-and-misses on. We feel this is a guy that's going to be a part of the back end of the rotation one day."

With the money saved on their top two picks, Elder came in above slot value in a reported $850,000 deal.

Overall outlook

Navigating any Draft year is a challenge, and the pandemic shutdown and lack of a second-round pick presented a couple for the Braves.

“In 31 years in baseball, I’ve never seen anything like it. I started scouting in 1993," Brown said. "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 [2019] 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.”

In spite of these challenges Atlanta went with players who had an NCAA track record and have plenty of upside, if injury issues don't linger for some of these prospects. The Braves kept with their trend from last year, making eight of their first 10 picks from the collegiate ranks. As all four picks were college players this year, they conceivably could make the big club in a shorter period of time if all goes well.

Brown was pleased they were able to snag guys they valued on their Draft board.

"In a nutshell, these guys are pretty much mastering their crafts," he said. "Not only do they have talent, they're developing the skill that we think is going to lead to success."