Braves select four players in MiLB Rule 5 Draft; one of them traded today

Friday, December 10, 2021

-Clint Manry

With the MLB portion of this year’s Rule 5 Draft currently on hold due to a lockout, the minor leagues went ahead with its draft on Wednesday as a total of 51 players came off the board, including four that were chosen by the Braves.

With the first pick in the draft, the Orioles selected righty Nolan Hoffman no. 1 – a 24-year-old, former fifth-round pick by Seattle in 2015. Hoffman, pitching for the Mariner’s Single-A and High-A clubs, posted a 3.74 ERA in 51 combined innings in the minors in 2021.

Later in the first-round, at pick no. 6, the Rockies selected lefty Gabriel Rodriguez – an unprotected Braves minor leaguer. In Atlanta’s system, Rodriguez – a 31st-round pick in 2018 – had just gotten a taste of full-season ball this past season, making 26 relief appearances and one start, on his way to an 8.44 ERA with Single-A Augusta. The southpaw will enter his age-23 season looking to rebound in 2022, though as a 19-year-old in 2019, Rodriguez posted strong numbers with the Braves GCL team (rookie ball) during his pro debut, maintaining a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings. Rodriguez is a solid player, but given the Braves incredible pitching depth, his departure isn’t too significant.

And to keep with the trend, the Braves picks on Wednesday mainly consisted of arms as three of the team’s four selections were right-handed pitchers:

RD 1, PICK 15 – John Nogowski, 1B (from SFG)

RD 2, PICK 9 – Luis De Avila, RHP (from KCR)

RD 3, PICK 4 – Allan Winans, RHP (from NYM)

RD 4, PICK 3 – Tanner Andrews, RHP (from MIA)

Nogowski is entering his age-29 season in 2022 and has played with four different organizations during his pro career, which began in 2014 when he was drafted in the 34th round by the Athletics. Back in 2020, Nogowski made his MLB debut with the Cardinals but only played in one game. The first baseman was on the move plenty in 2021, starting the year with St. Louis before moving to the Pirates and then to the Giants. Negowski’s year was nearly evenly split between the majors and minors this past season as he hit .233 in 52 games in the big leagues and .211 in 64 minor league contests. This is a guy that has had some big seasons in the minors, most notably in Triple-A in 2019 when he hit .295 with 15 homers in the Cardinals system. Overall, though, Negowski is a career .233 hitter in MLB, with one homer in 53 games.

Of the three pitchers the Braves selected on Wednesday, De Avila and Winans appear to be solely bullpen guys. The former was the youngest player chosen by Atlanta (20-years-old) and only has 52 1/3 innings above rookie ball, coming this past season when he posted a 5.16 ERA with Single-A Columbia. The latter, 26-years-old, topped out at Double-A in 2021 and put together strong numbers there, maintaining a 1.65 ERA and an average of 9.5 strikeouts per nine in 27 1/3 frames.

Andrews, perhaps the only arm that could’ve perhaps worked as a starter in the Braves system, was traded on Thursday to the Giants for cash considerations. Of all the picks Atlanta made on Wednesday, I would’ve probably pegged Andrews as the one with the best shot of ever contributing for the big league team, which I guess is why San Francisco was interested. At 26-years-old, the righty was coming off a pretty dismal performance in Double-A in 2021, but the kid was excellent in 2019, when he posted a 3.50 ERA in 18 starts and five relief appearances combined for the Marlins Single-A and High-A clubs.

After Andrews, I’d probably say De Avila is the next most-interesting player off the board for the Braves. He’s still young, and according to his numbers so far, he has some pretty overpowering stuff, averaging 10.1 strikeouts per nine last year in Single-A, to go along with a history of low walk rates.

We’ll see how these guys perform in 2022, and hopefully one or two will surprise us.

And so it begins – Endeavor buys nine minor league clubs, including all of the Braves affiliates

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

-Clint Manry

We knew it was coming, but I’m not sure we knew this was on its way. According to Baseball America on Wednesday, Endeavor Group Holdings purchased all four of the Braves minor league affiliates (Triple-A Gwinnett, Double-A Mississippi, High-A Rome and Single-A Augusta). It’s the beginning of what’s slated to be a massive investment into minor league baseball by the company.

With its newly-formed subsidiary, named Diamond Baseball Holdings, Endeavor also bought five other minor league clubs on Wednesday, bringing its total to nine for the day:

  • AAA Gwinnett (ATL)
  • AA Mississippi (ATL)
  • A+ Rome (ATL)
  • A Augusta (ATL
  • AAA Iowa (CHC)
  • AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (NYY)
  • AAA Memphis (STL)
  • A+ Hudson Valley (NYY)
  • A San Jose (SFG)

Evidently the initial reporting was accurate. Endeavor appears to be interested in the most storied franchises in baseball, given the Braves, Cubs, Yankees and Giants are all what you’d call “cornerstone” organizations. And, as we were told last week, the company isn’t close to being done. Per BA’s report today, Diamond Baseball is “in the late stages of negotiations to purchase a handful of other significant franchises that it expects to announce in due course” (which, according to Baseball Digest, feature both the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers and the Double-A Springfield Cardinals).

Diamond Baseball is now the largest single owner of minor league teams, given just a year ago (before MLB took over) the rules prevented anyone from owning multiple clubs in a league. With MLB now running the show, things are, and will be, much different.

Which brings us to the future of minor league baseball: According to Baseball Digest’s reporting on the topic, the general belief is that there really isn’t any point for big league franchises to hold onto its minor league clubs. Given MLB now completely controls MiLB, the league can monetize its affiliates, just like any other asset. No more dealing with some type of minor league ownership, MLB franchises can literally make money off what it has, and there’s absolutely no risk considering the league literally runs the minors anyways.

The only thing I’m concerned about is what happens (affiliate-wise) to these teams as they’re purchased. Per BD, it appears all the clubs that were bought today will remain affiliated with its current MLB franchise. But will that continue to be the case? In terms of the overall layout of the minors as it is today, how much will ultimately change?

All-in-all, I believe this will be a good thing for minor league baseball in the long-term, if for no other reason that it certainly couldn’t get any worse and because things have began to improve (with pay increases and mandatory housing). But we’ll see what happens. I’m sure there’s plenty more to come.

Just how great has the Braves 2020 draftees performed this season?

Thursday, July 8, 2021

-Clint Manry

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
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
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
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
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.