Recapping the Braves Drafts: 2020
I don't know about the Spencer Strider pick, but I guess we'll see
The 2020 season was weird in every shape ands form. The Braves seemed to cruise to a division win even though they never led the division by more than six games. There was an extra round of the playoffs, which now seems like a dry run experiment for the 2022 playoff format. And, oh, there was only sixty games.
Along with this weirdness was a draft that only went five rounds. Because most high school and college seasons were cancelled or truncated due to the COVID-19 pandemic - and teams had less money and no minor leagues to send players - the choice was made to shrink the draft to a microscopic size. In addition, teams could sign an unlimited amount of undrafted players provided those players were willing to sign for $20K.
Thanks for reading Walk-Off Walk! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Further, the Braves had lost their second round pick due to the Marcell Ozuna signing, meaning they would only draft four players. As such, this will be the only draft I'll take a look at some of the undrafted free agents considering there were so few actual draftees.
Like last week, I'll give the player's round and overall selection when I focus on them. As always, would love to hear from you either in the comment section or on Twitter.
1.25 LHP Jared Shuster - If you are a pitcher at Wake Forest, the Atlanta Braves are interested in you! Perhaps you can be the next top choice for the Braves. Two years prior to drafting Ryan Cusick and three years after selecting Connor Johnstone, the Braves grabbed Shuster. His career as a Demon Deacon wasn't hugely impressive, but his run since being drafted has been quite a sight. In 2021, he made 18 appearances - all but one as a starter - for Rome and Mississippi. This year, he appeared in 27 games, including 25 starts, between Mississippi and Gwinnett. And maybe he didn't dominant at Gwinnett, but he's pitched like a first rounder pretty much the entire time. In 212.1 innings, he's struck out 235 with a 3.69 ERA including a trip to the Futures Game last July. Along the way, he's shown exceptional control with his low-to-mid 90's heater, improved slider, and truly special change-up. Shuster didn't have a high ceiling at the time he was drafted, but had a reachable elevated floor and he's closing in on that. He does get homer-prone, having surrendered 1.4 HR/9 in the minors. But he has a mature understanding of how to pitch and should be in the mix for a big league job - or be used for trade capital - moving forward.
3.97 OF Jesse Franklin V - The only hitter taken in the 2020 draft by the Braves, Franklin V has absurd raw power. In his first year of pro ball, he hammered 24 homers in 101 games at Single-A Rome. Unfortunately, 2022 was destroyed by Tommy John surgery, limiting the slugger to just over a dozen contests for Mississippi. Franklin V fits a similar profile as 2021 draftee, Justyn-Henry Malloy. Franklin V's hit tool won't overwhelm you, but his power and plate awareness can overcome that. The Michigan product adds a speed component, ending the 2021 season one steal short of 20/20. The power he flashes probably grades as the best raw power in the system. But will he hit well enough to take enough advantage of it? We didn't get much of a look at that in 2022 so here's hoping 2023 gives us more than a glimpse.
4.126 RHP Spencer Strider - Complete bust here. I don't know what Alex Anthopoulos was thinking. Okay, okay, of course, I am kidding. Signed for just shy of $450,000, Strider tossed just 63 innings in college due to Tommy John and the pandemic, but the Braves had seen enough. Over 22 games in 2021, all but one as a starter, Strider finished with a 3.64 ERA over 94 minor league innings. He struck out a ridiculous 153. After ending the year in the majors, Strider pitched his way into the bullpen to open 2022. Following eleven outstanding outings - and a parade of bad ones by other fifth starters - Strider was moved to the rotation and made 20 starts to end his rookie season. The results are nearly unprecedented for a rookie. 202 strikeouts in just 131.2 innings. Control that was shockingly good. An expected wOBA of .242, among the best 4% of MLB pitchers. He was awarded a long-term extension and, if healthy, could be the x-factor that delivers a World Championship this season.
5.156 RHP Bryce Elder - The recipient of the second-highest signing bonus by the Braves, Elder was a tried-and-true Texas Longhorns stellar arm who had a 2.93 ERA in his second season followed up by a 2.08 ERA to open the pandemic-shortened 2020. While Strider rightfully made the headlines, Elder, too, had an outstanding 2021 going from Rome to Gwinnett with a stop in Mississippi. Overall, in 137.2 innings, he had a 2.75 ERA and 155 K's. He followed that up with some growing pains in 2022 and a 4.46 ERA at Gwinnett with fewer K's. That said, he grabbed attention with a solid rookie season in the majors, including the Braves' only complete game shutout. Elder fits the mold that we typically see the Braves target for college pitchers in the draft - pitchability, a well-rounded selection of pitches, and just enough projection to expect improvement. Obviously, he's not Strider and carries more of a bottom-of-the-rotation grade, but what Elder does very well is that he limits barrels and keeps the ball on the ground with a lot of weak contact. That, despite stuff that isn't overwhelming, is enough to play in the majors.
Undrafted Free Agents
Antonio Barranca, 1B/C - The only high school addition from the 2020 class, Barranca is the son of Germán Barranca, who played sparingly in the majors from 1979-1982. There wasn't a ton of information about the younger Barranca prior to the draft outside of Perfect Game. At the time he was drafted, he looked every bit like a capable catcher with good arm strength and some intriguing raw power. He probably would have been better off going to college. His first two summers of pro ball haven't been good at the plate, though he still looks capable enough behind it. After spending much of the last two seasons in the Florida Coast League, he'll look for time in Augusta next year.
Bryson Horne, 1B - Your classic Braves fan, Horne hit .425 with Columbus State during 2020 and his hit tool was intriguing. Since being drafted, however, he's hit just .256. His plate discipline isn't great so he's going to need more of his batted balls to find green grass or, preferably, go over the wall. He did hit 21 homers in 795 PA along with 36 doubles. But nothing has stood out for a guy playing a position where he needs to hit. After a year in Augusta and a year in Rome, he will look for time in Mississippi next spring.
Carter Linton, RHP - After a college career that included stops with East Tennessee State and Tusculum, Linton's time with the Braves was quite limited. He appeared in five games with Augusta last year, walking 8 and striking out 11 in 6.1 innings. After the season, he was released and briefly pitched for Great Falls in the Pioneer League last year. It didn't go so hot there either.
Cam Shepherd, SS - Literally born to be a Brave. He went to Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee before attending the University of Georgia. Twice picked in the draft, but he didn't sign with the Red Sox nor Rays, Shepherd spent 2021 with Augusta and struggled mightily, hitting just .173 with a .504 OPS. He voluntarily decided to retire and has already moved to the coaching ranks. First, he was an assistant in a collegiate summer league before, two months ago, taking an assistant job at Samford.
Landon Stephens, UTL - In the dictionary, Stephens' picture is under the word, "grinder." In terms of physical attributes, he definitely won't wow you. But he tries to get everything he can out of what he has. He has shown some fairly impressive pop since he signed, though. After 23 homers in 169 games as a four-year start at THE Miami of Ohio University, Stephens has hit the 20-mark in each of the last two years. There's a good deal of swing-and-miss and he's not blessed with great athleticism. That said, he also takes his walks and can play first base and the outfield corners. In college, he played all four infield spots, but outside of a third of an inning at third base, the Braves have not utilized him like the infield utility player he was expected to be. He finished 2022 with Mississippi, struggling mightily over 91 PA, and the smart money is that he will return there next year.
Ethan Workinger, OF - Though he was selected from San Diego City College, Workinger was the youngest player added to the system from today's group of players. A toolsy outfielder, Workinger showed big-time exit velocity at Perfect Game. So far, the rawness has been his most-present calling card. He's hit just .227, but has mixed in a lot of extra base hits among 74 professional hits (17 doubles, 8 triples, 8 homers). Workinger is a scratcher lottery card and the Braves have barely started to reveal what he can be. In a group of college-age high-floor guys, Workinger is a reminder of the John Schuerholz years that valued tools heavily. Sure, a lot of those guys crashed and burned, but those first few years where they try to turn their raw tools into something more is an exciting time. And hey, the reason teams still get enamored with these type of player is that they occasionally excel.
That's the abbreviated 2020 draft along with six undrafted free agents. Obviously, hitting on Strider makes this draft a real win. If Elder develops into a consistent major league performer, that's just a cherry on the top. But don't count on the two guys selected before them as Shuster and Franklin V are good prospects. And Workinger...man, there's something there. The unlimited potential is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Other Articles in This Series
Thanks for reading. If you liked this, consider subscribing. Also, feel free to reach out on Twitter.
Thanks for reading Walk-Off Walk! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.