Recapping The Braves Drafts: 2022
Looking at the recent influx in talent in this first of six articles
Back in mid-July, the Atlanta Braves added 22 players to their system via this year's draft. Now, with the minor league seasons complete, I figured it was a good time to take a look at how their first summer of pro ball went.
This is the first in a series of articles looking at the last six draft classes. While this one has had precious little time to show us something, it's worth a refresher on just who the Braves added to the system a few months ago.
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For reference, I'll give the players round (first number) and overall selection (second number) as we recap their first taste of pro ball. Thanks to other great blogs like the Braves-centric Battery Power and Outfield Fly Rule along with more draft-focused blogs like The Dugout Edge and Prospects1500 for their help in researching this article.
1.20 RHP Owen Murphy - Initially, there was some discussion about whether the Notre Dame commit would be a two-way player. However, that was put to bed and he opened his professional career in mid-August in the Florida Coast League (FCL) with a pair of starts and five innings of scoreless work. He next got his feet wet in Augusta, starting three games. His first two starts were ugly, but he finished the season with four hitless innings against Kannapolis, walking one and striking out five. He celebrated his 19th birthday Tuesday and I would guess he's likely to return to Augusta to at least open 2023.
1.35 RHP JR Ritchie - Ritchie followed the same route as Murphy, making two starts in the Florida Coast League (4.1 scoreless innings) before joining Augusta where he K'd ten in ten innings. So, arguably, he had a better run than Murphy, but that's just being super picky. Both young arms gave the Braves zero reason for worry and it's going to be exciting to watch what happens with them in 2023.
2.57 RHP Cole Phillips - The third consecutive prep righty, Phillips was already hitting the upper 90's in high school. An elbow injury cost him a shot at being a first-round selection and the Braves knew they'd have to pony up the money to get him to sign. They did with nearly $1.5 million dollars. Phillips didn't pitch during the summer, but recently threw for the first time in about six months. The smart money is he might not make his professional debut until later into the 2023 season, perhaps waiting until the Florida Gulf League's season begins.
2.76 RHP Blake Burkhalter - Picked out of Auburn, Buckhalter was the first college player the Braves took. A junior closer with the Tigers, Buckhalter looked like a fast riser in the system right up until the moment the team announced their intention to use him as a starter. He only made three appearances after signing, including one start with Augusta. He was very strong in that start, retiring all nine batters he faced with seven K's. Some in the system have compared Buckhalter to Spencer Strider. If he follows a similar path, 2023 could be one to watch. In Strider’s first full season, he played for five different teams in the organization, finishing in the majors for an audition that helped propel him into The Show for 2022.
3.96 C Drake Baldwin - The catcher with the soap opera name, Baldwin was the Braves second-consecutive college pick and first positional player selected. The former Missouri State Bear had a monster junior year, hitting 19 homers with a 1.094 OPS. Like all draft picks, he started in the FCL, but it was a short cameo prior to his move to Augusta. Once there, he hit just .247 with three doubles and no homers, but he did walk 18 times to just 22 strikeouts in 101 PA. In a system now desperate for catching prospects following the graduation of William Contreras and the Shea Langeliers trade, Baldwin is an interesting player. Nothing truly stands out about Baldwin aside from the fact that nothing truly is a negative. The good thing there is the floor is solid. We'll wait to see how much of a ceiling he ultimately has.
4.125 3B David McCabe - A Canadian slugger, McCabe belted 30 homers over his final two seasons with UNC-Charlotte. The power truly shines for McCabe and the hope is that he can stick at the hot corner. That's where he played almost exclusively after arriving in Augusta for a 26-game run to end the season. Like Baldwin, he struggled to flash his power with just one homer. He did hit .260 with a .348 OBP. Much more will be expected for McCabe in 2023 considering he will already be 23. While his future seems blocked with the long-term extensions of Matt Olson and Austin Riley, McCabe could play himself into a DH role or become a good trade asset.
5.155 SS/3B Ignacio Alvarez - A junior college pick, Alvarez is only 19 and probably was the quickest to shine out of the Braves' top picks. In 15 games in the FCL, Alvarez hit .279 with a .392 OBP. He finished the year with 15 games with Augusta and a .294/.493/.373 slash. That meant in 71 trips to the plate, he reached base 35 times. I don't care who you are or who you’re facing - that'll play. Alvarez played third base in rookie ball but was at shortstop for most of his time in Augusta. There wasn't much to report about Alvarez prior to the draft except that he was a late riser following a great run in the Sunset Baseball League. Whether he can stick at shortstop full-time is debatable, but if he can flash a bit more power to go with an elite first-season showing as far as plate discipline goes, he could be a sleeper.
6.185 RHP Seth Keller - An Old Dominion University commit, who was also the 2021-22 Virginia Gatorade High School Player of the Year, Keller was an interesting addition as the team opted for another high school arm. Keller is undersized at 5'10" but has three good pitches and has an advanced feel for the trio. Just 18, Keller made two appearances in the FCL - one really bad and one fairly good - before ending the year on the IL for an undisclosed injury. Provided he's ready to go in 2023, he certainly one to keep an eye on.
7.215 RHP Adam Maier - The draft is not always so simple. Teams don't always say, "give me the best player available." Case in point - Maier. Ranked #154th by Baseball America heading into the draft, Maier had a slider that some considered the best in the draft. He was on his way to a much higher selection before an injury soured many on him. Just 20, he could have returned to the University of Oregon to continue his pitching career so the Braves, feeling like they got another first-round talent, shifted their bonus pool to give Maier nearly $1.2M. That was the fourth highest bonus behind Murphy, Ritchie, and Phillips dished out by the Braves. It worked as Maier joined the organization, though he's yet to pitch professionally. Provided he is healthy, Maier has impact starter potential and has a real shot to be the best player Atlanta acquired in the 2022 draft.
8.245 RHP Jason Franks - If you're going to go way over-slot for a seventh rounder like Maier, you need to find a way save money. Franks would be the first of three consecutive picks that only signed for a $2,500 bonus. That left $174,000 according to Franks’ draft slot, which helped pay for Maier. A reliever for Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Franks secured 11 saves and 69 strikeouts in 54 innings during 2023. Post-draft, he worked 6.2 innings in the FCL and struck out a dozen. His ERA of 8.10 was ruined by a four-run outburst in his final appearance of the year. Yes, Franks was selected to save money, but it’s worth mentioning that there is something here with his fastball. Sure, he’s a long shot, but that’s to be expected with a guy who was probably closer to a 16th-rounder than an 8th-rounder.
9.275 2B Cory Acton - The Braves added their yearly Georgia Bulldog. Acton originally started his college career down in Gainsville as a Gator in 2018 before transferring to Georgia for his final season. Overall, he hit .250/.381/.367 as a college player with ten steals. Acton can play all over the infield, though only saw time at second base after the draft when he hit .219 in a dozen games in the FCL. He did supplement his average with a .375 OBP via eight walks. Acton's future ceiling is pretty low and will have to use everything at his disposal to sniff a major league roster some day.
10.305 C Andrew Keck - Hey, every team needs catchers, right? Keck comes from Southeast Missouri State which, I'm told, is a real school with books and everything. Keck was a full-time starter all four years he was with SE Missouri St., hitting .308 along the way with 26 homers in 738 PA. Most of the power developed in his senior season when he blasted 17. After the draft, he played eight games split evenly between the FCL and Augusta. Interestingly, Keck only played 4.1 innings behind the plate after joining the organization and, instead, spent most of his time in left or right field. He's shown pretty good athleticism, swiping 45 bags in college.
11.335 RHP Ian Mejia - It's been a long fight with the New York Mets this year, but in July, the Braves did something the Mets failed to do by signing Mejia. Sure, he was a lowly 35th-round pick out of high school by the Mets in 2018 and rightfully went to college at New Mexico State, but a win is a win, right? Mejia is a special pick because he's the highest selection to make his Advanced-A ball debut after pitching three times for Rome following two starts with Augusta and one in the FCL. The results weren't especially illuminating so far, but it allowed for a more detailed scouting report. He stays in the low-to-mid 90's with his fastball and flashes a curveball around 80 mph that looks like it could be useful. Finally, in the mid-80's is a changeup that will probably get junked if he does move to the pen down the road.
12.365 1B Justin Janas - Janas was battled-tested in the Big-10 as a regular the last two seasons for the Illinois Fighting Illini. He showed a nice hit tool in college with plus-strikezone awareness. For a first baseman, though, he didn't display much in terms of power. He was more of a gap-to-gap hitter who kept the line moving rather than the type to change the game with one swing of the bat. His professional career started with a cameo in the FCL before playing 23 games with Augusta. He hit just .232, striking out 21 times in 93 PA compared to just seven walks. He did pick up four doubles and a homer. Janas doesn't scream prospect, but if he can add more pop without sacrificing his hit tool too much, he could be a surprise.
13.395 RHP Cedric De Grandpre - And the award for coolest name by a Braves draftee goes to...But anyway, De Grandpre was another Canadian plucked out of an American school for the Braves. This time, they went down to Chipola College in Marianna, FL to grab De Grandpre. After two relief appearances in the FCL, De Grandpre finished with three games, including two starts, in Augusta. Sandwiched between two forgettable outings was a start against Salem in which De Grandpre allowed just two hits over 3.2 scoreless frames, striking out five to no walks. De Grandpre's velocity can hover up to 95-96 mph and he also has a good changeup and slow slider. It's not hard to fall in love with De Grandpre when you watch his easy delivery and pitches. Does that mean he’ll rocket up the prospect lists? No, but remember his amazing name because there might be something here.
14.425 RHP Landon Harper - After one year with Southern Miss, Harper was added to the reliever cadre of the Braves in the draft. And then, he started four games for Augusta so is he a reliever? A starter? Nobody knows? Coming out of the draft, the rub on Harper was that his fastball needed more consistent velocity as it stayed more in the low 90's than the max 96 mph. His best pitch was a mid-80's slider. The results so far haven't been pretty and he has struggled to miss many bats. A project with time to develop, my bet is that Harper returns to the pen to open 2023 but I have been wrong before. One cool fact about Harper - he only has half a thumb on his right hand.
15.455 RHP William Silva - A Miami kid, Silva made three appearances in the FCL and two with Augusta before hitting the IL to end his season in late August. A junior college arm out of Miami-Dade, there isn't a lot of information about Silva to really go on. He sits in the low-90's right now with a good-looking slider. He's another kid who the Braves are hoping to mold into a power reliever.
16.485 SS E.J. Exposito - Confident they had drafted enough pitchers, the Braves finished with a handful of position players starting with Long Island University-Brooklyn infielder, Eladio Jayden Exposito. Long Island was his second college stop after a year with New York Tech. He showed some good pop for a middle infielder, though he was still available this low because of hit tool questions. He didn't put those to bed with a .234 average over 26 games in Augusta, but he did blast a trio of homers and walked 17 times. The feeling is that he can stay at shortstop and if his game continues to evolve, there is a lot to like about Exposito's professional chances.
17.515 OF Kevin Kilpatrick - The Braves went back to Florida, selected College of Central Florida outfielder Kilpatrick next. But he's actually a Georgia kid and graduated from Redan High School in Stone Mountain. Kilpatrick has the quickness and speed to stay in center field and there might be some hidden power here for the Braves to try to unlock. In 21 games in Augusta, Kilpatrick hit .287/.354/.425 with seven doubles and seven steals, having some of the best success of any 2022 draftee.
18.545 OF Noah Williams - Their first high school selection since Keller in the sixth round, Williams was almost a bit of a surprise in that he signed rather than head to college. The Los Angeles County native is a lanky 6'2" teenager right now, but there is hope that he will be able to add some power to his game. He was a free-swinger in his first taste of professional ball, but the sample size is way too low to make any determinations on that. He gives the Braves another strong athlete that they will try to turn into a sleeper player.
19.575 OF Christian Jackson - There was a time where Jackson looked like he would honor his commitment to Georgia State rather than sign with the Braves, but the team was able to convince him to start his professional career. The last time the Braves went for an outfielder out of Stockbridge, Georgia, they landed Michael Harris II. Is Jackson similar? Well, he has a projectable frame and speed to burn. Just 18 for another three weeks, the Braves have a lot of time to be patient with Jackson.
20.605 SS Keshawn Ogans - The Braves went back to Cali for their final pick, this time settling on the Bay Area native, Ogans. A three-year performer for the University of California, Ogans became the first position player of the draft to appear in Advanced-A when he joined Rome to close out the campaign. Prior to that, he played three times in the FCL and suited up for 18 appearances in Augusta. Overall, he hit .250/.331/306 during his first summer of pro ball. Perhaps noteworthy was that the full-time college shortstop played more second than short professionally. Ogans doesn't have the typical size you'd like for a shortstop, but has plenty of arm. He also had a lot of college experience for a player who was still only 20 when the Braves selected him. Now 21, Ogans profiles more as a organizational piece with no flashing tool, but his youth is a nice weapon that should keep him around.
To close up, this draft was impressive in that the Braves signed every player they drafted which is both not easy for obvious reasons - many of these players could have continued their amateur careers - but also because staying under the bonus allotment can be nearly impossible if you sign every player. When Harper inked his contract, the Braves spent nearly their entire available allotment without getting saddled with a big penalty like losing a top draft choice in a future draft.
For a farm system hurt by graduations and international signing restrictions, this draft was needed to add more talent to a depleted system. The arms are the big get here with Murphy, Ritchie, Phillips, Burkhalter, Keller, and Maier all packing a lot of potential. The position players are a little lacking, but I was really happy with the late prep picks of Williams and Jackson as potential sleepers. The draft has already changed the landscape of Top 30 lists like MLB Pipeline with Murphy (#4), Ritchie (#5), Phillips (#8), Maier (#15), Baldwin (#22), Keller (#23), Burkhalter (#24), and McCabe (#30) getting recognition. It's a double-edged sword to draft so well to have eight choices in the Top 30, but it also requires a system so desperate for talent for that to occur.
All in all, I'd call this a successful draft. The premier talent of the first three picks along with the impressive addition of Maier and Keller reminds Braves fans of the 2016 draft when the Braves added Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, Kyle Muller, and Bryse Wilson in the first six selections. Hopefully, when I do this article again next year, we will be able to see several of these players have big first full seasons as professional athletes.
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