Thursday, July 8, 2021
Unfortunately last season was shortened in many different ways. Not only was the MLB regular season condensed to just 60 games, but the 2020 MLB Draft was slashed to only five rounds, as opposed to the usual 40. And though the Braves most likely missed out on some valuable talent because of such a shortened draft (they also didn’t have a pick in the second round), the returns so far have to be pretty satisfying. Just over two months into the 2021 season, literally all four of Atlanta’s 2020 draftees are currently flourishing as professionals.
Jared Shuster, LHP
RD 1 — Pick 25
Although Shuster was a big riser on draft boards coming out of Wake Forest, it was a bit surprising when the Braves picked the lefty 25th overall. Entering draft day, MLB Pipeline ranked Shuster as the no. 77 prospect in his class, and according to many experts, he wasn’t expected to be taken any earlier than the second round. But with hopes of signing Shuster to an under-slot deal (which they did by roughly $540K), the Braves felt they had a top-tier lefty-pitcher.
So far the pick has looked great. The 22-year-old Shuster enters Wednesday with a 3.38 ERA in his first 24 innings with High-A Rome, and his ability to rack up strikeouts from his days in college seem to have transitioned to the minor leagues nicely as his K rate sits at an above-average 11.6 K/9. Even more, opposing left-handed batters can hardly touch Shuster right now, having gone just 2 for 24 (.083 AVG) against him so far, and in his most-recent start, Shuster didn’t allow a single hit in five innings of work.
I have Shuster ranked 12th on my Braves Top 30, but if he keeps this up, especially once he’s pitching in Double-A (if the Braves push him)… he’ll definitely be higher by season’s end.
Jesse Franklin V, OF
RD 3 — Pick 97
Power, speed and athleticism were the main attributes regarding Franklin on draft day, with both his hit tool and arm strength as two possible weaknesses. Also, coming out of the University of Michigan, Franklin had recently broken his collarbone in a skiing accident, so there wasn’t any data to go off of from the 2020 season. However, the Braves felt good about his career numbers at Michigan (.287 AVG) as well as his small sample from summer ball in 2019 (.282 AVG), so Franklin was the pick in the third round.
The early indications seemed to point to his pre-draft scouting report as Franklin mostly scuffled during his first month of the 2021 season with Rome. Primarily struggling versus lefties, the 22-year-old hit just .200 with no homers in May. But ever since the calendar turned to June, it’s as if a switch turned and everything has fallen into place. Since June 1 until this past Tuesday (a span of 27 games), Franklin has slashed .344/.415/.806 with 11 home runs, eight doubles and six stolen bases; plus, his struggles against southpaws seem to have disappeared, shown by an .896 OPS (two points higher than against righties).
I think most of us underestimated Franklin’s ability to make contact, and another couple of months of this will definitely put him higher than where I originally ranked him, at no. 18.
Spencer Strider, RHP
RD 4 — Pick 126
Signed at just over $450,000 in last year’s draft, it’s perhaps Strider who’ll go down as the best 2020 selection by the Braves, despite him logging only 63 career innings at college player at Clemson. It may surprise you given how dominant he’s been in 2021, but Strider wasn’t even projected to be drafted last year as he was a candidate to return to school because of the small amount of innings mentioned above. At the time of Strider’s pick, many looked at him as a two-pitch pitcher (fastball/slider) that could potentially become a multi-inning weapon, though it was evident since the Braves took him so high that they hoped he could start.
Well Atlanta was certainly right. Strider hasn’t been able to stay in one spot this season, for the organization is worried he’ll get bored. The 22-year-old’s first assignment was Single-A Augusta but that only lasted three starts after Strider struck out 32 batters in his first 15.1 innings (18.8 K/9). Essentially the same thing happened in Rome, where he struck out 24 in 14.2 innings (14.7 K/9). Strider made his first Double-A start back on June 24, and though for him he maybe struggled, the kid still only allowed two runs from three hits and struck out eight in 4.2 innings. This past Tuesday was outing no. 3 with the M-Braves and Strider punched out 11 in 5.1 innings, giving him 24 strikeouts in 13.2 frames overall with Mississippi (15.8 K/9).
Just like the others listed here, perhaps we didn’t truly appreciate how talented Strider was coming into the season (I have him ranked 18th in my Top 30).
Bryce Elder, RHP
RD 5 — Pick 156
Elder was who the Braves wanted all along, and in fact, he’s the reason the organization gave under-slot deals to both first-rounder Jared Shuster and third-round pick Jesse Franklin. The Braves may have gotten Elder in the fifth round of the 2020 draft, but this kid was ranked as a top-40 pitcher in his class by many. In the end, Elder signed with the Braves for $850,000, or nearly $500K more than what was assigned to that particular slot. Coming out of the University of Texas with pretty strong numbers, especially coming from such a prestigious school, at the time I felt like this was the Braves best potential-starter from last year’s draft.
So far in 2021, Elder easily falls right in line with his draft-mates as he too has performed about as well as you could ask. The 22-year-old righty began his pro career with Rome, and following his season-opener (which included five earned runs in 4.2 innings), Elder settled down to become one of the better pitchers in the league. If you exclude that aforementioned first outing, the rest of Elder’s time in High-A featured a 1.79 ERA, 49 strikeouts and 16 walks in 40.1 innings (8 starts).
Elder has been with the M-Braves since June 29, where again, he was sort of roughed up a bit in his debut outing. However, start no. 2 came on Independence Day, and despite just five strikeouts (a low total for him), Elder tossed a two-hitter in five innings, allowing one run and two walks as he certainly looked much better on the mound. Elder might not be dominating like Strider is, but it’s truly amazing that either one of these guys is already at the Double-A level. Across both Rome and Mississippi, Elder currently sports a 3.00 ERA in 54 innings this season.
Because of Elder’s better track record as a college player, I admittedly was a little higher on him, which is why I have him tenth on my Top 30 (the highest of any 2020 draftee). Right now I would probably swap Elder with Strider (no. 19), but we’ll see where both pitchers are at later on in the year. Both are incredible talents.