Recapping the Braves Drafts: 2017
While Kyle Wright has turned the corner, the 2017 draft is full of guys who are now working non-baseball jobs like fighter pilot or USA bobsledder
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Coming into the 2022 season, the Braves' draft of 2017 was looking pretty sad. But a lot can change in a year.
The top pick has found his footing. The second pick, even thought he was traded, might turn out to be a solid player after all. And the third pick, a wild card even in 2017, is developing into a real prospect. There's definitely something to be said for the lack of talent beyond those players, who combined to receive close to $10 million in signing bonuses, but in the never-ending search for impact talent, the 2017 draft is looking better now than it did last fall.
But there is definitely no way this draft will be mistaken for a Sum 41 album as there is plenty of filler and not nearly enough killer. There were a lot of cheap signings mixed in with this draft to afford the signing bonuses at the top end. In fact, from their fifth pick to their tenth pick, the Braves would dish out just $27,000 in bonuses.
The draft is also notable in that of the 40 players selected, all of the first 24 signed and only one of the remaining 16 did. And the one that did...well, it's an interesting pick.
As always, with each player, I mention their round first and then their overall selection.
1.5 RHP Kyle Wright - Sometimes, you just gotta have a little patience. Just over a year after the draft, Wright was already in the majors. He started his first game in the bigs in 2019. But over parts of four seasons, Wright's star dropped significantly from the sky as he had an ERA over 6. Now, rational people pointed out that his entire major league body of work was just 70 innings, including a pandemic year, and that he showed improvement with Gwinnett work 2021. Others pointed to his work in the World Series that year where, in Game 4, he took over for Dylan Lee in the first inning with the bases loaded and kept the Astros at bay over 4.2 innings, allowing just one run in the process plus only one of the inherited runners.
But questions still dogged Wright as the 2022 season loomed. As the highest draft choice by the Braves since they took Mike Kelly second overall in 1991, could the former fifth overall pick, Wright, put it together in 2022?
(Edit - I was wrong. Ian Anderson was selected third in 2016. Oops. Ht to Spencer Evans (@jamesedens44) for the correction.)
The answer was a resounding yes. Wright took everything he learned from the Atlanta/Gwinnett shuttle and his postseason run to turn in a fine season with a 3.19 ERA over 180.1 innings and 174 strikeouts. While advanced metrics don't love him because he doesn't get enough K's, anyone who watched him in 2022 saw that Wright had turned the corner. He'd later be the only Braves starter to have a solid postseason outing in the Braves' four-game loss to the Phillies, getting the dub in Game 2 after out-pitching Zack Wheeler.
While Max Fried is the unquestioned ace and Spencer Strider was the talk of the league, Wright was the perfect #3 and should continue to perform well in that role moving forward.
2.41 OF Drew Waters - The nature of Drew Waters' selection and eventual signing would later lead to a lost draft choice when the Braves were dinged for an "illegal inducement." Essentially, he was offer some under-the-tables benefits like a car to get him to sign for less money. While former GM John Coppolella and even Waters' agent said the comment was merely in jest, considering Coppy's activities, it's not that crazy to think he would have done it. Regardless, the Woodstock, GA signed with the Braves. Waters would often tease the Braves with his immense natural abilities and potential five-tool game, but also frustrate them due to long bouts of strikeouts and ugly at-bats. Some suggested Waters' biggest problem was the Braves were trying too hard to "fix" him rather than allow him to just be himself. Maybe that was true, maybe not, but the Braves felt Waters no longer had a future in the Braves' organization and dealt him prior to the draft last summer in order to pick up an additional high-valued draft choice from the Royals. That became J.R. Ritchie. In Kansas City, Waters had a clearer path to playing time and made his debut last August. Over 32 games, he hit just .240, but used walks and his power to still finish with an .803 OPS. While he's probably not a center fielder and time will tell if his strikeouts will mute his potential offense (he did K 40 times), but for an organization like the Royals who badly need players to be excited about, Waters definitely fits the bill.
3.80 RHP Freddy Tarnok - Some will swear that Tarnok can be an effective starter in the majors. Others envision a shutdown reliever. That's exactly the same back-and-forth that prospect followers had in 2017 when he was selected. Several years later, he continues to excite with 417 strikeouts in 377.1 career minor league innings. The Braves have been careful with him and his 107.1 innings this year was a new high. That includes 2/3's of an inning in the majors. Whatever role he ultimately ends up in, Tarnok is a fun prospect because you can tell that if the light-switch is flipped, he could become one of the top prospects in the minors. Even if that doesn't happen, he still has enough skills to be an asset in the majors.
4.110 RHP Troy Bacon - The Braves knew they were on the hook for a lot of money in their top three picks. While Bacon's bonus was still a nice $400,000, that was just the 16th-highest bonus of the fourth round despite Bacon being the fifth pick of said round. Overall, Bacon has been a nice arm. A relief-only option, he's routinely been just good enough. The problem is he never wowed anyone and that's why, in mid-August, the Braves released the righty who never made it to Triple-A.
5.140 LHP Bruce Zimmermann - There was a moment, especially prior to his 2018 trade, where Zimmermann was becoming a fan favorite among Braves fans. He had a mustache that made him look ten years older and was shutting down almost every hiter he faced at Rome and Mississippi. Prior to the trade, he was rocking a sub-3 ERA and was already in Double-A. But the Braves wanted to improve their current rotation and packaged Zimmermann with others to get Kevin Gausman. The lefty struggled down the stretch, but found himself again in 2019 (3.21 ERA over 140 innings) before appearing in two games with the O's in 2020. Over the last two years, he's been a regular on the Norfolk-to-Baltimore shuttle, appearing in 29 games for Baltimore and 28 starts. The results, well, they aren't great. In 145 major league innings, Zimmermann has a 5.65 ERA and has allowed 37 homers. Yikes. But what do you expect for a guy who was signed for $10K?
6.170 3B Jordan Rodgers - A former Tennessee Vol, Rodgers never hit. Over parts of three years, he finished with just a .227/.272/.337 triple slash and was quietly released in May of 2020. Since then, according to his LinkedIn, he's gone into pharmaceutical sales and helps coaches/mentors high school baseball players in the summer.
7.200 RHP Landon Hughes - Born in Marietta, Hughes went to Georgia Southern. You're sitting there thinking this was a perfect match, right? And things were trending in the right way. In 16 games after the draft, Hughes had a 1.99 ERA and 28 K's in 22.2 innings. But then, he was surprisingly released in late January of 2018. A couple of weeks later, it started to make sense when he was hit with a 68-game PED suspension. Hughes tried to make the Winnipeg Goldeyes team in 2019, an independent league squad, but wasn't able to stick. He has since opened a land-clearing business out of Marietta called Hughes Site Works.
8.230 LHP John Curtis - Starting with Zimmermann, we are just four deep into 15 consecutive college picks. A southpaw, Curtis was decent though unspectacular in 28 games between 2017-18 before getting the axe. The Lenoir-Rhyne seems to have disappeared from there. Like, if you've seen him, raise your hand.
9.260 SS Riley Delgado - Nine picks in and we have just our third player still in the system. A Middle Tennessee State grad, but we won't hold that against him, Delgado has occasionally flashed a decent stick. He hit .315 in 2018 for example. But mostly, he's an organizational player who gives you depth around the infield and not too much at the plate. Last year, he spent the whole year at Mississippi, hitting .272/.340/.329 along the way. In nearly 2000 career plate appearances, he's hit just six homers.
10.290 RHP Jake Belinda - The most memorable thing about Belinda is that his uncle, Stan, was the guy who Francisco Cabrera famously singled against to win the 1992 NLCS. A four-year starter at Lock Haven who didn't do well there, Belinda pitched 40 times for the Braves before getting cut in the summer of 2018. He tried his luck in the Frontier League to finish the year, but struggled there. I'm not entirely sure what he's up to now. His Twitter page says he's a photographer/videographer, though.
11.320 C/1B Drew Lugbauer - Good gracious, I'm glad to be out of that stretch of low-bonus players. Because of signing rules in the draft, the Braves drafted the weakest group they could in order to save money from the fifth round to the tenth round. Beyond the tenth round, the only money that would hurt them is if they signed a player for more than $125,000. They did that with Lugbauer, but only $100 more. A three-year fixture at Michigan, Lugbauer was unlikely to stick at catcher - and he didn't - but had good raw power. He's shown the latter with 87 career homers, but a crazy amount of strikeouts and a disappointing hit tool have left him with a career slash of .220/.312/.418. While the Slugbauer name is great, the chances of the now first-base only player having a future in the majors are pretty low.
12.350 C Hagan Owenby - After destroying the Southern Conference for two years, Owenby had a decent run in the Braves' organization. Over 122 games stretched over three seasons, he hit .274/.333/.358. However, much like Jordan Rodgers, Owenby was released during 2020 after the pandemic led to minor league seasons being cancelled. He's another guy I don't really know what happened after he was released.
13.380 LHP Connor Simmons - Another Georgian kid, Simmons was a teammate of Hughes at Georgia Southern. The southpaw was solid after the draft, but couldn't seem to get out of Danville and move up the system. After not making a full season roster coming out of spring training in 2019, he was cut. And...don't really know what happened from there.
14.410 RHP Keith Weisenberg - Stop me if you've heard this before. After a short amount of time, Weisenberg was released. He struggled tremendously to open 2019. He finished the year with the Augusta GreenJackets, then a Giants farm team, before being released again during 2020. But Weisenberg had a degree from Stanford to fall back on and now works in investment banking in the Chicago area.
15.440 1B Austin Bush - As a fan of the 2017 Danville Braves, Bush looked like a giant and, at 6'6", I guess he kind of was. The Braves initially sent him to Rome. That did him no favors. When he came to Danville, the hits started to fall for him. However, more struggles at Rome to open 2018 led to him being released. He'd finish the year with Evansville in the Frontier League, but his career prospects dried up from there. He returned to the Santa Barbara area and eventually became a transportation planner.
16.470 OF Gary Schwartz - A graduate of Grand Canyon University, Schwartz hit well at Danville in 2017, but never really did much beyond that whether it was at different stops in the system or a run in the Australian League. He also played in the 2019 Arizona Fall League, an environment that typically includes some inflated offensive numbers. He hit .103 with three singles in 29 at-bats. After 34 games in 2021, he was released with a lifetime .210 average and .625 OPS. I'm not sure what happened after that, but I do know his Twitter account is suspended so...that's probably not great.
17.500 RHP Cutter Dyals - A sidearmer out of NC A&T, Dyals was a fun watch in 2017 with Danville. He maintained a 2.05 ERA over 17 games. That earned him a promotion to Rome and he again looked good, pitching to a 3.02 ERA. But a horrendous start to 2019 led to him being released. Not sure what happened after that.
18.530 C Zack Soria - Selected out of Florida International, Soria was an athletic catcher with a decent glove and, sadly, not much else. He hit .198 in his brief experience of professional ball. Though, I will always think highly of him because he did an interview for my old blog. He now works in the Miami area as a financial representative.
19.560 LHP Tanner Allison - Not much was expected out of Allison after a 9.05 ERA over parts of three years with Western Michigan. And then, he put up a 2.20 ERA over 16.1 innings in the Gulf Coast League and that's why scouting is still important! Um, ignore that his ERA ballooned to 6.90 the following year. He was cut in 2019 ahead of the season.
20.590 OF Justin Smith - After 15 consecutive college picks, the Braves shook things up by grabbing a junior college athlete in the 20th round. Smith initially started at The U, Miami University, before transferring to the JC level for more playing time. Big numbers got him drafted. He didn't hit too well after the draft, though landed a spot in Rome in 2018. He struggled there and was sent back to Danville where he went on a homer binge. That wasn't enough to keep him in the organization, though. After a 13-game cameo with Windy City of the Frontier League in 2019, his career came to a close. He returned to the Saint Johns area of Florida and is now a talent acquisition recruitor for a vision care company. Those are all words.
21.620 RHP Connor Johnstone - None of the nine players selected by the Braves ahead of Johnstone are still in baseball, but there's Johnstone, the 21st rounder out of Wake Forest, who is still beating around in the Braves' organization. He's spent the last two years with Gwinnett, throwing over 150 innings with an ERA close to 4.20. Nice. Johnstone's strength is his control, pitchability, and a heavy sinker. Is that enough to overcome a lack of stuff and get the Roswell High School alum to the majors? It's not likely, but it wasn't likely a 21st rounder would still be in the system over five years later.
22.650 C Justin Morhardt - After hitting .439 with Bryan (the college, not the person), Morhardt hit poorly in the Gulf Coast League and was released. He's now an accountant in the Winsted, Connecticut area.
23.680 LHP Troy Conyers - A lefty out of San Diego University, Conyers appeared in 18 games after the draft with a 1.91 ERA and 43 K's in 42.1 innings with well over half of those frames coming with Rome. Wanting to go out on top, Conyers opted to retire. Since retiring, he's been in a variety of jobs. According to his LinkedIn, he's working as a Operations Manager for Moore Supply in Austin, Texas.
24.710 RHP Jackson Lourie - Lourie was another small-school pick who didn't have impressive college numbers, but the Braves hoped they could still turn him into something pretty good. He missed much of 2019 with injuries and overall, he didn't do that well in two seasons at the Gulf Coast League level before retiring in January of 2020. He moved into Player Development and Scouting with the Braves. Later, he took a job with Pinnacle Search Partners, LLC., a head hunting firm out of Atlanta.
25.740 C Jake Taylor - Did not sign. After reaching agreement with all of their first 24 picks, the Braves wouldn't reach agreement with almost all of their remaining 16 selections. Of little surprise, after just two prep picks prior to the 25th round, ten of their next picks were out of high school starting with Taylor. A catcher named Jake Taylor? Perfection. Taylor went to Oklahoma State and not much further.
26.770 C Charlie Carpenter - Did not sign. Carpenter was three years into his journey at South Carolina-Upstate. He opted not to sign with the Braves and returned for a senior season. He went undrafted after 2018. He works for a construction firm in Orlando.
27.800 OF Randy Bednar - Did not sign. After graduating from high school in Bethesda, he stayed in-state to go to Maryland. After going undrafted in 2021, he signed with the Mariners and has played the last two years in their system, including hitting .217/.299/.310 in 86 games with Modesto last year.
28.830 RHP Brett Brocoff - Did not sign. He pitched parts of three years for the Utes of Utah and did not earn another selection after 2021. He works for Insight Global as an account manager now.
29.860 RHP Cade Cavalli - Did not sign. I don't count Cavalli as a major league product from the Braves draft since he didn’t sign, but the future 22nd overall selection by the Nats in 2020 did appear in the majors for one start last year. He was a consensus Top 40 prospect heading into last year and that likely will not change as we look at 2023.
30.890 LHP Hayden Wynja - Did not sign. He'd go on to suit up for a quartet of colleges, including Purdue and South Florida. Overall, he had plenty of K's but not much else in college and went undrafted after 2022. He did, however, sign as an undrafted free agent with the Giants and appeared in three games in the Arizona Complex League.
31.920 RHP Ryan Miller - Did not sign. A year later, after returning to Clemson, Miller would be a sixth-round pick by the Diamondbacks. He'd sign this time, appearing in 39 games ahead of the pandemic. Arizona wasn't impressed and released him. Miller kept hustling, signing with Southern Illinois of the Fronter League. After a solid season, he moved to Sioux Falls of the American Association. He'd appear just once for them before the Yankees signed him for the rest of 2022.
32.950 LHP Reid Detmers - Did not sign. Three years later, after pitching like an ace for Louisville, Detmers became the tenth pick of the 2020 draft by the Angels. After five starts in 2021, Detmers broke out last year with a 3.77 ERA over 25 starts. He's going to be a good one.
33.980 RHP Chris McMahon - Did not sign. Another 2020 draftee, McMahon went in the second round to the Rockies after some decent numbers with Miami University (the Florida one). In 143 innings since joining Colorado, he has a 4.41 ERA and pitched mostly at High-A ball.
34.1010 1B/3B Ricky Negron - Did not sign. So, this one was weird. Negron was initially a 2014 pick by the Padres in the 39th round. He opted to transfer from community college to Auburn and then to the University of Tampa. That's where he was when the Braves drafted him. But they didn't sign him and he, instead, signed with the Blue Jays in August. Not sure what happened after for Negron, but I can tell you two things. One, he is not the same Ricky Negron that appeared on a HBO Max show about Magic Mike which apparently is something that happened. And second, his father is Ray Negron, a Yankees executive who was caught by George Steinbrenner spray-painting the walls of Yankee Stadium as a 16-year-old. That sounds weird, but it's true.
35.1040 OF Jason Rooks - Did not sign. A Marietta kid, Rooks tried his luck at Chattahoochee Valley Community College before being a part of 2020's brief season for the Virginia Tech Hookies. More recently, Rooks played in 14 games last summer in the Pecos League, hitting .333 with 7 homers in the process.
36.1070 RHP Chase Blueberg - Did not sign. Blueberg opted to transfer from the junior college level to Presbyterian where he'd pitch six times over two years with a 11.57 ERA before having to essentially retire due to a torn labrum in his shoulder. But his athletic journey was hardly over. Blueberg would later qualify for the USA Bobsled team as a development athlete. When not bobsledding, Blueberg operates a marketing firm in Sierra, Nevada.
37.1100 OF Dean Miller - Did not sign. Another JC player, Dean Miller transferred to California-Riverside rather than sign with the Braves. His first year was forgettable while his second year probably won't be forgot by Miller any time soon (.365/.401/.650 triple slash). That led to Miller getting selected again, this time in the 24th round of the '19 draft by the Red Sox. He hit well against some younger competition in the Gulf Coast League after the draft before the 2020 lost season. In 2021, he struggled with Greenville and Salem, both A-level teams for the Sox, and was released. Last year, he played for the Glacier Range Riders of the Pioneer League, hitting .308 with a .914 OPS.
38.1130 OF Adam Groesbeck - Only one player picked after the 24th round signed with the Braves and Groesbeck is the one. He struggled in 15 games in the Gulf Coast League after being selected, but hasn't played since. Not because he was released. The Air Force graduate had other committments. After a .959 OPS over 197 games for the Falcons, Groesbeck is a Captain in the Air Force where he is a Chief of Training and an instructor pilot. No word if he ever plans on continuing his baseball career, though he's now 27 so that seems unlikely.
39.1160 LHP Joe Sanchez - Did not sign. After saying no to the Braves, Sanchez went to Miami-Dade College before transferring in 2020 to South Florida. Over parts of three seasons, he carried a 5.90 ERA for the Bulls and was never selected again. He currently works as a Network Pricing Data Specialist for Prime Therapeutics. Again, those are all words.
40.1190 OF Baron Radcliff - Did not sign. What an 80-grade name! The Norcross High graduate and Gwinnett County native didn't sign, but did stay in-state as he attended Georgia Tech. He hit .236 with the Yellow Jackets, but walked a bunch and flashed some good pop. In 2020, the Phillies made him their final pick of the five-round draft. He signed and though he hit just .195 with 112 K's in 87 games in 2021, he also hit 13 homers and walked 71 times. Last year, he moved up to High-A, playing 104 games with the Jersey Shore BlueClaws. He upped his average to .237, finishing with a respectable .790 OPS and 17 jacks. He might be headed up to Reading, the Phils' Double-A team, next year.
40 players selected, 40 players profiled. Many are no longer active - not only in the Braves' organization, but baseball in general. Some have moved on to be accountants while others are working construction. And, of course, one is a friggin’ bobsledder.
John Coppolella's last draft was about impact. He put all of his eggs essentially in three baskets - Wright, Waters, and Tarnok - and prior to 2022, that looked like a grave mistake for the since-disgraced general manager. Wright couldn't settle into a role with the Braves, Waters was floundering, and Tarnok still seemed raw. But now, things are looking up as Wright has established himself in the majors while Waters, though with a new team, looks rejuvenated. And Tarnok? He remains a wild card, but one on the cusp of getting an opportunity to prove himself in the majors.
That's the good part of the strategy. The bad part is that five years since the 2018 draft, only five of the 25 players that were signed are still in the system. Well, six if you count Groesbeck. Just two others are even still playing. Certainly, if you want to feel better, you can look at the 15 that didn't signed and several are active in baseball either at the affiliated or independent level. Two even became good prospects. But I choose to not include them because the Braves had nothing to do with their development.
And that's where this draft ultimately becomes a Pearl Jam album for me. The hits are great, but the rest of the songs are just forgettable.
Previous Recapped Drafts
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