What in the world are the Braves doing? They must be nuts. Crazy. Those guys in the front office have lost their minds.
Why would the Braves draft three straight high school pitchers with their first three draft picks? They need hitters. Doesn’t the front office know how bad the offense is? Doesn’t the front office realize the farm system is not flooded with hitting prospects?
Don’t they know the Braves can’t score? And they’re taking more pitchers?
Those were just some of the insane questions asked and comments made Thursday night after Atlanta’s first three draft picks. Yes, they were insane. Stupid. Idiotic. Sure, I respect the opinion of others. I do. But these comments were absolutely nuts.
I know the Braves need bats. They will get bats. The draft is not over. There are two days and many rounds left. But are people really complaining that the Braves got three of the top high school arms in this draft – when high school pitching is a strength of this draft?
Let me break news again here if it’s been missed along the way: The Atlanta Braves are rebuilding. This is a process. It does not happen overnight. It does not get better overnight. It is tough to watch. It’s tough to watch the major league team be horrible and at the same time be told to be patient. But that’s what rebuilding is all about.
The Braves could have taken Kyle Lewis and prayed he would be ready to join the lineup in 2018. Okay, so they’re still going to struggle in 2017, so what good would that have done to provide immediate relief to the anemic lineup?
They could have taken A.J. Puk and hoped he would join the rotation in 2018. So you would have taken a pitcher who wasn’t even his college team’s top starter with the third overall pick in the draft?
There was no Bryce Harper in this draft, no Stephen Strasburg. There was no Chipper Jones. There was no player who was going to immediately help this team. This was not a great draft with elite talent. There was no one who would magically fix the mess in Atlanta right now.
But right now is not important. That’s tough for some to realize, but it’s true. This draft, this process is all about 2018, 2020. That’s what rebuilding is all about. It’s about the future, not the present.
People were panicking Thursday night because they see what’s going on in Atlanta. They see the offense struggling every night to score runs. They know the farm system is not packed with hitting prospects.
The Braves’ front office, however, saw potential in the three pitchers they selected. They saw depth. They saw the strength of the draft falling right in their lap.
Some say the Braves drafted Ian Anderson to save money. They may save some money. That’s true. But the scouts loved Anderson. I was told a month ago that while no one was talking about Anderson being that high, they loved him. They compared Anderson to Adam Wainwright and Mike Mussina. They loved his makeup, his talent and his potential.
They wanted nothing to do with Jason Groome, and they weren’t the only team that made that call. They were worried Riley Pint would have trouble throwing strikes consistently. They didn’t believe A.J. Puk was that special and he should have been. They didn’t believe Lewis or Corey Ray were middle-of-the-order hitters, which is what they wanted with a hitter if they went that direction.
So they looked at Anderson and said this was a pitcher who had a tremendous upside. They think he can develop, like last year’s top pick Kolby Allard, into a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. For the second year in a row, the Braves took the top high school pitcher in the draft. That’s what teams who are rebuilding do in this process.
Then they didn’t stop. Joey Wentz fell. He was ranked 16th by MLB.com, 18th by Scout.com and then 26th by Baseball America. He’s a tall (6-5) left-handed pitcher with a mid-90s fastball. Four picks later they selected Kyle Muller, another tall (6-5) left-handed pitcher with a mid-90s fastball who fell a bit in the draft.
So a team rebuilding took three long-term pitching prospects who were rated as three of the top pitching prospects in the draft. And people are upset about this?
Look, again, the Braves do need bats. They know that. They have Ozzie Albies set for second base (or so it seems) and Dansby Swanson set for shortstop (or so it seems). They have Mallex Smith as one of the outfielders for the future. It looks like Freddie Freeman will remain as the first baseman.
But they need more help. They need outfielders. They need a catcher. They need a third baseman. They desperately need power.
So why didn’t they address that in the top three picks? Well, several reasons. First, they knew they got great value with those high school pitchers. They’re right. What a coup to get those projectable arms in a draft with no elite hitter.
But they also know they can get hitters in day two and day three of the draft. Ron Gant and David Justice were both 4th round picks. Ryan Klesko was a 5th round pick.
Sure, Chipper and Bob Horner were the top picks in the draft. There was no obvious Chipper Jones or Bob Horner in this draft, though.
Plus, the Braves are getting ready to spend huge money on the international market and the emphasis will be on position players. They are the favorites to land six of the top 30 international prospects, as ranked by MLB.com. Five of those six players are position players.
Kevin Maitan is the top-ranked international player, and the Braves are the leading candidates to sign him. Maitan, even at 16 years old, is a better hitting prospect that any hitter in this year’s draft. Once the Braves sign Maitan, he will immediately become one of their best prospects.
Maitan is a switch-hitter with 60 power, 60 hitting ability and a 70 arm. There’s not a position player prospect in this draft with those grades.
And look, more trades are coming. The emphasis in those deals will likely be position players. There are three ways to rebuild – through the draft, through international prospects and through trades. That’s what the process is all about.
But the Braves made the perfect move by drafting three high school pitchers with their top three picks. Yes, I’m a pitching guy. I love pitching prospects. I love depth. But I was around in the late-1980s when the Braves did this the last time. I know how that model worked, and the current front office is following that same mode.
It doesn’t mean there are future Hall of Famers in this group of pitching prospects. They certainly didn’t know that when the team had Tom Glavine and John Smoltz as young starting pitchers. But it does mean the depth being accumulated is important in this process.
There is no better currency in baseball than pitchers. Look at what the Braves got for Shelby Miller – a top pick in a draft who will likely take over as the starting shortstop and perhaps be the new face of the franchise, a starting outfielder and a starting pitcher.
Some of these young pitchers, perhaps many of them will be traded. They won’t all make it to Atlanta. But this is about value. This is about having as many options as possible to keep the great ones and trade a few with bats.
The Braves are stacked in Atlanta. Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, Mike Foltynewicz and Williams Perez are all 25 years old or younger. There’s John Gant, Lucas Sims, Tyrell Jenkins, Sean Newcomb, Chris Ellis, Andrew Thurman, Rob Whalen, Max Povse, Max Fried, Touki Toussiant, Patrick Weigel, Mike Soroka, Ricardo Sanchez, Ryan Clark, Kolby Allard… and on and on and on.
They are loaded. They got more loaded on day one of the draft. They are stockpiling value. The bats will come. This farm system will look drastically different in two months, as it will be more balanced. But to complain about taking three high school pitchers with great potential, in a rebuilding process, well, that’s just insane.
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