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  • Grant McAuley

Analyzing the Braves' selections in the 2020 MLB Draft

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

The 2020 MLB Draft is officially in the books. With a five-round format, this year's amateur draft was unlike any we've seen. The Atlanta Braves held four selections, having lost their second round pick after signing free-agent reliever Will Smith over the winter. They used those four picks to craft a draft class exclusively of college talents.

Below you'll find a draft recap, scouting reports, quotes and reactions to each pick. Prospect experts, Carlos Collazo, David Lee, and Eric Cole will provide more insight into Atlanta's draft class as well.

1st Round: Jared Shuster | LHP | Wake Forest

After taking a position player with their top selection in 2019, the Braves returned to their time-honored strategy of drafting an arm this time around. Jared Shuster became the 5th pitcher in the last 6 years selected by Atlanta with its top overall pick. A college lefty who was on track for a breakout season in 2020, Shuster was ranked the 43rd overall draft prospect by Baseball America, who rated his changeup as the second best among college arms available in this year's draft.

The change is a plus-pitch. Atlanta vice president of scouting Dana Brown said the club believes Shuster can combine it with a fastball and slider for an effective three-pitch mix. Though he struggled in his first two seasons with the Deacons, Shuster made some mechanical adjustments which saw both velocity and command improve during his truncated junior campaign.

Shuster cut down his walks significantly (from 5.1 BB/9 over his first two seasons down to 1.4 BB/9 in 2020) while upping his strikeout rate to an impressive 14.7 K/9. The hit rate (7.9 H/9) was also down in 26.1 innings across his four starts before the season was cut short due to COVID-19. The huge step forward all around put Shuster firmly on the Braves' radar.

By the numbers at Wake Forest:

Height: 6'3" | Weight: 210 lbs | DOB: 8/3/1998

What they're saying:

Dana Brown scouting report on Jared Shuster: "He has both size and strength, also arm strength with the makings of a plus-changeup. We like that arm strength up to 95 mph with a plus-changeup combination. Also, he has pretty good feel for his slider. So, we feel good about getting a left-hand starter with a three-pitch mix."

Jared Shuster self-scouting report: "My fastball gets into the mid-90s. I've been up to 96 or 97 mph. My changeup is my best pitch. It's a plus-pitch. I get a lot of swings and misses on it. My breaking ball is my third pitch, but I can throw it for strikes and get some swings and misses on it... I'm not concerned with it. I know it's not as good as my other [two] pitches, but I'm working on it everyday and I know it's going to be just as good as my [fastball and changeup]."

Dana Brown on Shuster's mechanical adjustments: "I think he got more of a hip turn and got into his lower half. Getting the strength from the lower half allowed him to increase the velocity and improve both the changeup and the breaking ball. So, we feel like this is a pitcher with some upside play to him. We think that the aptitude is really good and there's a chance that this guy could be a three-pitch mix with above-average-to-plus stuff."

Jared Shuster on his mechanical adjustments: "That was a big emphasis this offseason. Me and John Hendricks and Evan Wise, our pitching coaches [at Wake Forest], really emphasized that with me. It's something we worked hard on."

Jared Shuster on adjustments leading to success his junior year: "I saw it coming. I worked really hard to get a lot better. I was expecting to get a lot better... I think I have a really high ceiling and I'm going to work hard every day to reach that ceiling."

Dana Brown on Jared Shuster's improvements over the last year: "I did see him last year in the Cape Cod League. The velo wasn't as good, although he was up to 92 mph and showed the makings of a very good changeup. I would say the breaking ball was more of a work in progress, but he started to really pull down on it and get through it. That improved also with the delivery change. When you take that into consideration, that was a big part of us selecting him. He made that jump, which is outstanding."

Dana Brown on Jared Shuster's path through Braves system: "The beauty is this is a college guy, so maybe he could start off at a higher level. And he's a strike thrower, which is a pretty good combination. You take a three-pitch, college left-handed starter who throws strikes and is up to 95 mph with a really good feel for a changeup, I would project that would put him on a faster track. Of course, he's going to have go out and perform and produce and continue to work hard to get better."

Jared Shuster on who he patterned his style after: "I'd say Cole Hamels maybe, just based off changeups and we have similar releases. Another guy is Clayton Kershaw. I met him once, so I've always like to watch him and see how he does."

Instant analysis: Carlos Collazo of Baseball America:

There were some rumors that the Braves were going to target high school players, maybe with their later picks. That obviously didn't come to pass and they went full college [draft class]. I think they might have got their pockets picked on a couple of high school players they liked. I heard they liked Nick Bitsko and he got taken right in front of them (No. 24 overall to Tampa Bay), so I'm interested if they would have taken him if he fell there. So, again, you can't always look at their class and say this is what they were trying to do, because it's just kind of how the board fall to them.

Jared Shuster, their top guy, I think he's a perfectly solid first round kind of pick. He's a guy who improved significantly over the past year. He increased his strike-throwing ability. He increased his fastball velocity. He's up to 96-97 mph from the left side. He's got a plus-changeup. He's got a slider that could be an above average pitch as well. You look at a left-handed pitcher with a good track record in college, three above average pitches and a fastball with that velocity from the left side and that's a pretty good combination. I don't know if he has the biggest upside compared to a lot of the guys that were taken around him or maybe a little bit in front of him, but the Braves have done an excellent job developing arms. I think there's a lot to work with here. - More from Carlos on the latest episode of From The Diamond.

Instant analysis: David Lee of BravesProspects.com:

The Jared Shuster pick is a sensible one and about collective value. Selecting him at 25 wasn’t that much of a reach down the draft board. He projects as a low mid-rotation starter in the majors, and there’s a solid bet that he sticks as a starter long-term. He has a strong, durable frame and is a great athlete with aptitude and work ethic.

Shuster’s fastball is up to 97 and comfortably sits low-to-mid-90s with riding life up in the zone on the four-seamer. That velocity came along recently after tweaking his delivery to better utilize his lower half. His changeup has at least plus potential by mirroring the fastball very well out of the hand and featuring plus depth to the tumble. He adds a slurvy breaking ball that flashes solid-average and could reach that consistently with further feel. He has a tight, deceptive arm action that works for him, and he’s found a consistent release point.

Were there higher ceilings at 25? Yes. But the Braves liked Shuster’s newfound stuff and athleticism enough to grab him here. This isn’t a high-floor, bench infielder or guaranteed reliever. Add the appeal of signing him underslot and using the saved money on toolsy ceiling types in the later rounds, and this could turn into a solid strategy over the course of five rounds. - More on Jared Shuster from David over at BravesProspects.com.

Instant Analysis: Eric Cole of Talking Chop:

In Jared Shuster, it seems as though the Braves found a backup plan to the long rumored attempt to draft Duke’s Bryce Jarvis before he was snatched up earlier in the first round: a college starter with some upside that, it appears, was willing to sign an underslot deal thereby giving the Braves options on the second day of the draft. The 6’3, 210 pound lefty found some extra velocity on his fastball over the last year and his changeup is a true plus pitch. His breaking ball lags behind and his early college career was rough, but if the strides that Shuster has made are signs of things to come, Braves fans could look back on this pick as a coup as Shuster could end up as a quality middle of the rotation starter who the Braves, at least we think, got at a discount. - More on Jared Shuster from Talking Chop.

3rd Round: Jesse Franklin | CF | Michigan

The Braves went with a position player with their second pick of the draft, though they had to wait until the third round to do so. The club selected Michigan center fielder Jesse Franklin with the 97th overall pick. A broken collarbone suffered in a January skiing trip and the early shutdown due to COVID-19 conspired to keep Franklin off the field in 2020. He was healthy and anticipating an April return prior to the pandemic prematurely ending the season. Baseball America ranked Franklin as the No. 151 overall draft prospect.

A native of Seattle, the Mariners selected Franklin in the 37th round of the 2017 draft. He opted to go the college route and join the Wolverines instead. He's battled a couple of injuries during his young career. Franklin underwent labrum surgery prior to his freshman season at Michigan and shifted to first base as a result. That injury did not stop him from having a standout season at the plate in 2017. Franklin slashed .327/.379/.588 and belted 10 home runs in 165 at-bats. He moved to center field for his sophomore campaign and was a member of Michigan's runner-up team in the College World Series. Though the slash line from his second year was not as gaudy is his freshman season, Franklin drew more walks and raised his on-base percentage. He also displayed good instincts upon moving to center and could remain there as he works his way through the Atlanta system.

By the numbers at Michigan:

Height: 6'1" | Weight: 215 lbs | DOB: 12/1/1998

What they're saying:

Dana Brown on Jesse Franklin's power profile: "He has pretty good exit velocity, so we think he’s definitely going to hit for some power. He knows how to elevate. We like the makeup. We like the strength in the body and the swing."

Dana Brown on Jesse Franklin's long term outfield position: "It’s going to depend on how big he gets. We know he’s very strong and right now he’s an above-average defensive center fielder, and we feel good about that. But if he gets too big, we’ll put him on a corner because he does have power. He profiles better in center. I think his value is even greater if he can stay in center, but if he ends up going to a corner, we still feel good about him being an everyday major league left fielder."

Instant analysis: David Lee of BravesProspects.com:

Jesse Franklin is an upside college pick. Maybe not what fans want to see after a safe first-round pick, but there are things to like from Franklin. He’s a current up-the-middle power/speed guy who may have to move to left with age, but that’s uncertain right now. No one tool stands out besides his plus pull-side raw power, but he does everything well with a solid package of average tools. He could grow into useful pop while stealing a few bases and performing as an athlete in the outfield. He’s also said to have a strong work ethic and great instincts. Franklin may not be an impact prospect down the road, but he’s a high-probability major leaguer.

Instant Analysis: Eric Cole of Talking Chop:

While not the crazy, exciting overslot name that some were hoping for with the Braves’ third round pick, Jesse Franklin out of the University of Michigan can really hit and is a nice find. While he has been pretty dinged up as a college player after being a highly recruited prep prospect, he is a greater-than-the-sum-of-his-parts type of guy who has a chance at sticking in center field and, if not, he has the raw pop in his bat to make playing in left field a fine alternative. He has put a lot of work in to get some more loft in his swing and continue to improve. If he had stayed healthy, it is unlikely that he would have been available for the Braves to pick. One last note, this is another potential underslot pick, so the Braves may not be done trying to make things happen. - More on Jesse Franklin from Talking Chop

4th Round: Spencer Strider | RHP | Clemson

The Braves went off the board with their fourth round selection, spending it on Clemson right-hander Spencer Strider. A draft-eligible sophomore, Strider missed the 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He returned to make four starts this year before the season was shutdown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While his live arm showed promise in his return to the mound, Strider is the third consecutive college selection by Atlanta and represents what figures to be yet another underslot signee. That allowed the Braves to spend the remaining pool money on a talented high value target with their fifth and final selection of this draft, even if some of the names Atlanta was pursuing had already come off the board.

That strategy aside, Strider was not among Baseball America's Top 500 draft prospects. He did look good in limited action for the Tigers this year, striking out 19 batters against just three walks across 12 innings. Clemson won all four of his starts as well. Strider's mid-90s velocity was back and he seemed to be picking up where he left off as an All-ACC Freshman selection in 2018. Strider averaged 12.7 K/9 in college career and surrendered just six home runs in 26 appearances (10 starts). A high school standout, he was named 2017 Gatorade Player of the Year for Tennessee following his senior season at Christian Academy of Knoxville. Baseball America rated Strider the fourth-best prospect in Tennessee before the Cleveland Indians spent their 35th round pick on him. Despite his family's Ohio roots, Strider went the college route and headed to Clemson.

By the numbers at Clemson:

Height: 6'0" | Weight: 195 lbs | DOB: 10/28/1998

What they're saying:

Dana Brown on Spencer Strider's return from Tommy John: "He had a little health issue with the arm and then it got fixed, but we feel now that he’s through it. He’s out of the woods and we feel like he’s going to be a starter. Fastball is up to 96 with good rise and a really good breaking ball that he can get out left-handed hitters with. At the end of the day, we feel like we got a good package. He’s on the rebound and we feel like the arrow is pointing in the right direction."

Dana Brown scouting report on Spencer Strider: "He's touched 97. He pretty much pitches 92-94, but he’s showing the arm strength. And he’s got a really good breaking ball, really good curveball for lefties and righties that he can get both sides of the plate out with. He’s very athletic with the quick-twitch muscle fiber, so we feel really, really good about this guy’s upside. We think he’s going to get a little stronger and he’ll be able to hold and maintain his velocity."

Instant analysis: Carlos Collazo of Baseball America:

I think Bryce Elder is a pretty good value in the fifth round and maybe that's part of the Spencer Strider pick in the fourth. We weren't as high on Spencer Strider, but he has shown good stuff before and coming out of high school he was a really highly regarded player. He's got a fastball that can get into the mid-90s. He's dealt with some injury and he's had Tommy John surgery. And, again, the Braves have not shied away from Tommy John guys before, at least historically, so they could figure out how to get him back to the player that he was in the past and it would not surprise me. - More from Carlos at BaseballAmerica.com

Instant analysis: David Lee of BravesProspects.com:

Spencer Strider is a sleeper pick. He missed all of 2019 because of Tommy John surgery and only threw 12 innings this spring, so I don’t have a personal look to lean on even though he’s from Clemson. Word is he’s bumping upper-90s with a sharp breaker now, which would make sense if the Braves feel he’s worth a fourth-round pick. He may be a future two-pitch reliever, but I need to see him for myself.

Instant Analysis: Eric Cole of Talking Chop:

The Spencer Strider out of Clemson selection was a bit of a puzzling one for us because in our mind, the team had already saved some money on previous selections, however that does not sound like that was the case. Strider does have upside with a fastball that sits in the mid-90’s and above average slider that could improve with some coaching, so we are talking about a live arm. But he's undersized, has already had Tommy John surgery, and is almost certainly going to be a reliever. It does sound like this pick enabled the selection of Bryce Elder who we liked, but we openly wonder if some slightly different strategic decisions could have let the team select Elder and make better value decisions elsewhere. - More on Spencer Strider from Talking Chop

5th Round: Bryce Elder | RHP | Texas

Atlanta rounded out its draft class with a talented right-hander in Bryce Elder, the fourth college player in four picks for the club. A durable righty with a good sinker-slider combo, Elder was on Braves' radar in the third round and became a higher priority as the night unfolded. Other clubs were concerned he may not sign and stayed away from Elder, who fell to Atlanta at pick No. 156 despite being ranked the 83rd on Baseball America's Top 500 draft prospects.

The Texas native led the Longhorns in strikeouts each of the past two seasons, though he was limited to just 26 innings in 2020 due to the pandemic. Since the NCAA restored a year of eligibility to spring athletes, Elder was strongly considering a return to Austin if he did not find a deal to his liking. Dana Brown confirmed the Braves managed their pool money with underslot deals to create an opportunity to select and then sign Elder.

In terms of projectability, Atlanta added a pretty safe bet to its class. Brown said the club envisions a back of the rotation starter with the potential for more. A second team All-American in 2020, Elder starred for Decatur High School (TX) and threw consecutive no-hitters in the 2017 state playoffs. Much like Shuster, there's a chance Elder could rise quickly through the Braves system.

By the numbers at Texas:

Height: 6'2" | Weight: 220 lbs | DOB: 5/19/1999

What they're saying:

Dana Brown scouting report on Bryce Elder: "Elder is a pitchability guy. He can sink it. He’s got a pretty good slider, a swing-and-miss type pitch. At the end of the day, he logs innings and he’s been very durable. He pitches for the University of Texas, so it’s really good competition and a good school. We feel like we’re getting a guy who can eat innings and he has a good sinker with a slider that he can get swing-and-miss off. We feel like this is a guy that’s really going to be a part of the back end of the rotation one day."

Dana Brown on selecting Bryce Elder in the fifth round: "We had Jesse Franklin and Bryce Elder in the same area on our draft board and the fact that we got both of them, we’re excited about. So, we really didn’t deviate from the plan. The difference was, Elder slid some and he feels like he’s a pretty good pitcher and he had options to go back to college. He’s probably going to be a bit of an overpay. At the end of the day, we feel like – without a second round pick – we feel like we’re getting two third round picks in Elder and also Franklin. Strider we had positioned in the fourth. We pretty much played the board because at that point, Elder was pretty much a tough sign for a lot of [other] teams."

Instant analysis: David Lee of BravesProspects.com:

The selection of Bryce Elder makes sense from a fifth-round perspective. He has a high floor as a durable college starter with a deep repertoire, including a standout pitch. He doesn’t light up radar guns but comfortably sits low-90s and bumps 95 with sink. He tunnels his slider exceptionally well off the fastball and gets hard, late bite for a plus-potential pitch. He adds a curveball and changeup for varying looks to complete a solid starter’s arsenal. Some ranked Elder much higher than fifth round and see him sticking as a starter, perhaps low mid-rotation or back-end.

Instant Analysis: Eric Cole of Talking Chop:

The Braves’ final selection was a good one as they were able to snag RHP Bryce Elder out of the University of Texas. Elder doesn’t have an overpower mix of pitches with a sinker that is a low 90’s offering that he uses to great effect to get batters to put the ball on the ground and an above average slider that gets a good amount of swing and miss. The changeup lags behind the other two pitches, but Elder knows how to sequence pitches and throws a lot of strikes. That, combined with his track record as being the ace on a very good Texas squad, had a lot of folks thinking that he was going to go earlier in the draft than the 5th round. It is going to take an overslot deal to get him to not return to Texas, but the Braves do not sound concerned about getting him on board and his addition rounds out the draft class nicely. - More on Bryce Elder from Talking Chop