Written by: Chris Clegg
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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 MLB Draft was very unusual. One of the most significant differences was the number of rounds being cut from 40 to five. That is a huge difference and had a considerable effect on the way teams drafted.
Unfortunately, many talented baseball players were not drafted and were only eligible to sign for twenty thousand dollars. Also, with the college and high school seasons being canceled, teams were unable to scout prospects how they usually would leading up to the draft.
Some teams took a different approach with an unusual draft. The first seven picks of the draft were college players, with Robert Hassell being the first high school player selected by the Padres at eight overall.
As for the Atlanta Braves, they had four picks in the five-round draft, with the first being 25th overall. The Braves have shown tremendous ability to draft and develop prospects into Major League talent. This year, the Braves focused on power-five conference college players. All of the Braves’ draftees faced good competition in college, which should help them translate smoothly to professional ball. With that being said, let’s take a look at the Braves draft class.
1.25: Jared Shuster, LHP, Wake Forest
Age: 21 B/T: L/L Height: 6’3 Weight: 210lbs ETA: 2023
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The Braves selecting Jared Shuster with the 25th overall pick was right on brand for the team that loves stocking their farm system with pitching. To put it nicely, Shuster was not a draftable prospect based on his freshman and sophomore season at Wake Forest. His freshman year, Shuster produced a 7.41 ERA in 34 innings, and his command looked bad, walking 5.6 batters-per-nine innings.
In 2018, Shuster made improvements, especially with the ability to strikeout batters. His strikeouts-per-nine went from 8.5 to 12.4 during his sophomore year. His ERA was still rough at 6.49. At his point, it did not look like Shuster was destined to play professional baseball.
Then, in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2019, Shuster worked hard and made major strides to his game. In 32 innings, he pitched to a 1.41 ERA, struck out 35 hitters and only walked 1.4 batters-per-nine innings. This carried over to the shortened 2020 season, where Shuster continued to build on what he started in the Cape Cod League in 2019.
Jared Shuster’s historic rise as a pitcher came from a lot of hard work. His fastball regularly operated at 88-92 miles-per-hour in 2019. With a lot of training in the offseason, Shuster pushed his velocity on the fastball to 92-94 mph with the ability to peak at 97. His four-seamer produces good riding ability, while his two-seamer produces sink when he throws it. His four-seamer is more productive of the two.
His changeup is his best pitch, and is one of the best in the 2020 draft class. The pitch produces good tumble while sitting around 80 mph. Shuster shows the most confidence on his changeup and is comfortable throwing it in any count. His slider is still a work in progress, but it can be an average to above-average pitch in the future. Shuster needs to show a better feel for spinning the ball to be useful, but it has proved to be a good pitch at times, sitting in the low 80s.
Shuster’s delivery can appear quirky, with a funky windup and arm action form the left-side. He does have a suitable frame and broad shoulders that should give him the longevity to stick in the rotation long-term. With the improved command that scouts have seen in 2020, he could be an effective pitcher in a deep Atlanta system for pitchers.
3.97: Jesse Franklin, OF/1B, Michigan
Age: 21 B/T: L/L Height: 6’1 Weight: 215lbs ETA: 2023
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The Braves did not have a second-round pick due to the signing of Will Smith, who had a qualifying offer attached. This mean they had to wait for over 70 picks before making their next selection. Jesse Franklin stared as a Freshman at Michigan, batting .327 with ten home runs in 190 plate appearances. He showed some decline in his sophomore season as he got power happy, but he was a big part of helping Michigan finish runner-up at the 2019 College World Series.
Franklin did not play in 2020 due to a broken collarbone from a skiing accident. Scouts did not have the chance to see what kind of improvements Franklin made coming into 2020. The Braves like the potential and feel like Franklin has more to offer than he has shown to the point.
At The Plate
Franklin has big strength that gives him average to above-average raw power. He has shown at times to be very aggressive with his swing, which has caused some downfall. Franklin’s best power comes from when he swings naturally and makes good contact. He did show improved ability at controlling the strike zone in 2019. He also needs to show better ability to recognize breaking balls out of the pitcher’s hands.
Franklin has shown the ability to hit for a good average, despite his regression from his freshman to his sophomore season. He still needs to refine his approach at the plate in order to have an average hit tool. But, it is not out of the realm of possibilities.
In The Field
Franklin has shown the ability to play both centerfield and first base, despite not projecting overly well at either place. The bat does not fit well at first base. He may stays in centerfield, despite not being a prototypical centerfielder. He moves well and has deceptive speed. He fits well as a fourth outfield type player.
4.126: Spencer Strider, RHP, Clemson
Age: 21 B/T: R/R Height: 6’0 Weight: 195lbs ETA: 2023
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Spencer Strider feels like a nice hometown pick for the Braves. Growing up in Knoxville and playing for Clemson, it is cool to see Strider get drafted by the Braves. He missed all of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery. Strider is a smaller frame, standing at 6’0 and weighing 195 pounds. Despite the frame, he still packs a punch with his velocity.
Strider features a three-pitch mix of a fastball, a slider, and a changeup. His fastball is his best pitch, reaching 96 miles-per-hour. This pitch is a big part of his strikeout ability as his quick, uptempo delivery gets hitters to swing and miss. Strider struck out 12.4 batters-per-nine innings his freshman year and came back from Tommy John surgery strong this year, striking out 19 batters in 12 innings.
Both his changeup and curveball do need refinement to succeed at the next level. Strider can be wild with these pitches but did look improved in the shortened 2020 season. His slider sits between 78 and 82 mph, and the changeup could develop into an average offering in the future.
Strider is a possible bullpen risk, despite being a starter at Clemson. The bullpen honestly may be the best fit for him, at least until he can refine his secondary pitches. The Braves are extremely deep in the farm system with starters, meaning Strider can move through the system quicker in the bullpen. His electric fastball combined with a serviceable slider could work out well. The Braves are banking on his upside, as he was once an elite high school prospect and only has 63 college innings under his belt. There could be untapped potential that Strider has not shown yet.
5.156: Bryce Elder, RHP, Texas
Age: 21 B/T: R/R Height: 6’2 Weight: 220lbs ETA: 2023
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The Brave’s last selection of the 2020 draft might be my favorite. Bryce Elder is still fairly new to baseball and was better known in high school for his golfing ability. It was not until late in his senior season that he picked up an offer for Texas. He began his career at Texas as a reliever, but blossomed into their number one starter in each of the last two seasons. Elder is a workhorse type pitcher and has a high floor.
Elder provides strikes with a four-pitch mix that all tunnel well. His pitches play well off of each other, with one not standing out much more than others. His sinker sits between 88 and 95 mph, which is a significant discrepancy. If Elder can get it consistently in the mid-90s, that pitch could become plus. It has good running action in addition to the sink.
Elder also features a mid-80s slider that is his go-to pitch to miss bats. It plays well off of his sinker. He has an excellent feel for spinning his pitches, which leads him to a curveball that standouts from his slider. His fourth pitch is his changeup, which is an average pitch along with his curveball. As previously mentioned, these pitches all work well together with the fastball and slider being his two best.
Elder’s command is above average, but could eventually be plus. He has a strong frame that aids a repeatable delivery. Elder attacks the zone consistently, while also mixing his pitches well. He has good durability, which should keep him in the rotation long term. Elder projects as a back-end starter, but there is a lot to like in his profile.