The details of the Atlanta Braves strategy heading into the 2016 MLB Draft were the subject of a great deal of speculation by baseball media as a whole. However, the Braves front office had its plan set into action weeks before selections were made.
With the third-largest draft bonus pool in 2016, at just over $13 million, but with no Bryce Harper or Mike Trout-type talent to throw money at, Atlanta wanted to allot the right amount to bring as many first round-caliber players with their first three picks.
They didn’t worry about the needs of the team, but instead drafted the players they viewed as the best available with the highest ceilings at the beginning of the draft, and using the rest of their picks to fulfill any needs.
The results show that the Braves followed this plan to utter perfection.
Atlanta Braves 2016 Draft Review
Round 1, Pick 3 Overall: Ian Anderson, RHP, Shenendehowa High School
Most draft experts were expecting Atlanta to choose a proven college bat with the third overall pick, such as Kyle Lewis of Mercer or Corey Ray of Louisville. However, the Braves decided to select Anderson, a high school pitcher, who was ranked a consensus top-15 draft prospect, but nowhere near top-five status.
That shouldn’t dampen any thoughts towards Anderson’s projectability as a prospect. His long, 6’4″ body produces a clean delivery, and with added muscle should result in a frame any team would want in their organization. He has an elite fastball that sits in the low 90s but can touch 95, and his delivery creates a great downward angle with consistency. He has a good feel on his two other pitches, a developing slurve that projects more as a slider, and an average changeup, that he can throw as out pitches.
Atlanta wanted a controllable young pitcher for their first selection that they could sign under-slot to save pool money for the 40th and 44th selections, and they got that in Anderson. Some say he has the ceiling of a Jacob deGrom, but his frame and delivery are almost carbon-copies of Mike Mussina. Anderson is an excellent fit for the “Braves Way” of the 1990s that this front office is trying to replicate.
Way-Too-Early Grade: B+
Lottery Round A, Pick 40 Overall: Joey Wentz, LHP, Shawnee Mission East High School
By not taking a top-five selection with the third pick, the Braves likely saved enough money to sign Wentz, another top-20 prospect with mid-first round potential.
The left-handed Wentz is not as polished as Anderson, but projects around the same value. He has two above-average pitches in his arsenal: a low-90s fastball that can touch 97, and a mid-70s curveball with great depth. He also uses an average changeup that projects well, and and has good overall command of all his pitches. He used those pitches to produce insane stats for Shawnee Mission East in his senior season.
Joey Wentz Senior Pitching Stats: 51.1 IP, 0.53 ERA, 7 H, 104/24 K/BB
Atlanta wanted mid-to-upper first-round talent in their top-40 picks, and Wentz adds another check to those boxes. Wentz has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, even maybe surpassing Anderson as the best selection for the Braves in the 2016 draft.
Way-Too-Early Grade: A-
Round 2, Pick 44 Overall: Kyle Muller, LHP, Jesuit College Preparatory School
The Braves went with another high school left-hander and another top-25 prospect in Kyle Muller, the Gatorade National Player of the Year for 2016.
Muller put up crazy stats in his senior season from both sides of the diamond. On the mound, he set a national high school record by recording thirty-three consecutive outs via strikeout. At the plate, he was consistently atop the leader board for the national home run title, batting .396 with fifteen home runs and fifty-two RBI in forty-four games.
Muller is one of the better two-way players in the draft, but Atlanta drafted him to pitch. His fastball was inconsistent and lacked velocity before he bulked up this past off-season. He now can touch 95 with the pitch, with good sink action. His other pitches, a curveball and changeup, aren’t anything more than average at present, but scouts believe he can develop them into out pitches.
The biggest projection for Muller is his size. At 6’5″, 230 pounds, he has the best frame of any pitcher in the draft class. His physique allows him to create a difficult plane for hitters to pick up on any of his pitches. His athleticism rivals that of any player in the draft, regardless of position.
Muller is more raw than than Anderson and Wentz due to his nature as an All-American hitter in high school. Now that his concentration is solely on pitching, he should develop into a durable arm for the future.
Way-Too-Early Grade: B-
Atlanta Braves 2016 Draft Review Overall
Atlanta has the best crop of young pitching talent in their farm system, yet decided to use their first three selections on high school arms. That may cause some concern for Braves fans who think the front office should have drafted for “need” and taken impact college bats that could join Atlanta soon. However, the Braves front office wanted to take the best players available, regardless of position. They followed that plan perfectly.
Overall Draft Grade: A
Sources: MLB Pipeline, Baseball America, ESPN, SB Nation.