With the third overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, the Atlanta Braves had a golden opportunity to select one of the draft’s elite prospects. This marked the Braves’ highest first-round pick since 1991, when they selected Mike Kelly with the second-overall pick. As that particular pick would suggest, there is a lot of volatility with regards to draft picks, so minimizing risk is a strategy that is often employed by teams in the top 10. The Braves did an incredible job of manipulating the early rounds of the draft, and by being prudent in their strategy the team was rewarded with not one, but three first-round talents. Let’s take a look at what the Braves did on Thursday night and why Braves fans should be so excited about this year’s draft.
In a perfect world, the Braves would have ended up with the third-best player in the draft on Thursday, adding a high-end talent that could change the course of the franchise. However, the draft is far from a perfect world and the Braves treated it as such by employing a strategy that would allow them to spread out some of the risk associated with draft prospects. Rumors began to surface this week that foretold the Braves plan to draft an under-slot player who had a reasonable asking price, which they did by taking prep right-hander Ian Anderson with the third pick. Anderson was considered a top-15 talent, but his willingness to sign for a reported $2.5 to $3 million under the slot value at three made him an enticing player for the Braves.
By passing on some of the draft’s more expensive prospects, the Braves allowed themselves to draft three prep arms with first-round grades. The first selection, Anderson, reportedly features a mid-90s fastball along with a curveball and changeup that both grade as plus offerings. The New York native has a low-effort delivery that appears to be repeatable, which gives scouts reason to believe that he is one of the more polished arms in the class. In addition to Anderson, the Braves took a pair of prep left-handers in Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller.
A Kansas native, Wentz stands 6’5″ and features a mid-90s fastball that is complemented by a curveball and changeup that are both considered above-average. With such a projectable frame and solid arsenal, Wentz is considered one of the higher-upside picks in this year’s draft, with some comparisons to Cole Hamels being thrown around. This pick was made possible by the Braves’ willingness to negotiate a reasonable deal with Anderson, which allowed them to be more aggressive with subsequent selections. Wentz is rated the 16th-overall prospect in this year’s draft by MLB.com, and without signability concerns would have likely been taken somewhere in the first round. This was quite a coup for Atlanta with the 40th pick.
After taking two prep arms with their first two picks, the Braves once again added to their impressive stock of arms by selecting left-hander Kyle Muller from Texas. Muller is another big body, standing 6’5″, and features a fastball that touches 95 mph. Muller burst onto the scene this spring as his fastball jumped from mid-80’s to low-90’s over the winter. With such a large frame it is possible that Muller could still add even more velocity in the future. Muller is another draft choice made possible by the Braves’ approach to the third pick, as he, like Wentz, was rated much higher than his eventual draft slot. Muller is ranked as the 24th-overall draft prospect by MLB.com and has the potential to be another very strong selection for the Braves.
Entering the draft, the Braves had a bonus pool allotment of just over $13 million with which to sign all of their draftees. With the third overall pick, the Braves had an opportunity to select one of the draft’s elite talents such as prep arms Jason Groome and Riley Pint, or an outfielder such as Kyle Lewis or Corey Ray. This strategy can pay off immensely if the player develops as expected, but each of these players was reportedly seeking large signing bonuses, with Groome rumored to be asking for $6 million. While Groome is no doubt an impressive talent, for the Braves to allocate nearly half of their bonus pool to one player would have been a big gamble, one the organization thought better of on draft night. Anderson’s repertoire and polish make this pick seem as though it was hardly a concession of talent on the part of the Braves, but more an understanding of how to properly utilize a large bonus pool.
The strategy employed by the Braves will be one that is scrutinized by some who wish to see the organization target bats, but the fact remains that the Braves want to build through pitching depth and trust their ability to develop arms above anything else. The selection of Anderson with such a high pick was surprising to some, but the opportunity to take three top-25 talents in a single draft is one that does not come without careful planning and anticipation. Braves fans should be excited about the newest additions to the system, and should be glad that the Braves had enough foresight to understand how much talent would be available later in the draft. All three young arms have a chance to be top-of-the-rotation options, and could help to build a formidable staff in the future. This was an exercise in risk reduction, and the Braves nailed it.