Atlanta Braves 2015 Draft Review

Bill Shanks

The 2015 draft was the first with Brian Bridges as Atlanta’s scouting director. Former scouting director Roy Clark was also back in the organization as a senior advisor.

The Braves had a 79-win season in 2014, so they were right in the middle of the pack in the first round with the 14 overall selection. Then, with the Minnesota Twins signing right-handed pitcher Ervin Santana, the Braves got a compensatory pick at 28 in the first round.

With Frank Wren out as general manager, and John Coppolella running things, pitching was again the priority. Bridges and Clark shared the philosophy, as the rebuild was just beginning. The Braves knew what had made the franchise successful in the 1990s, after the same emphasis on pitching in the late-1980s, so they simply followed the same blueprint.

At pick 14, Atlanta took left-hander Kolby Allard from Sam Clemente High School in California. Allard was Atlanta’s main target all along. He had a back issue when he began his career, which slowed his development a bit early on.

Allard became a solid prospect with good development at a steady pace. In 2017, Allard made 27 starts with Double-A Mississippi. He went 8-11 with a 3.27 earned run average. Some scouts were concerned that his velocity had dipped after his back surgery right after he was drafted, and that kept him lower on the prospect charts as he got closer to the big leagues.

Allard made his MLB debut with the Braves in 2018. He pitched in three games (one start) and allowed 11 earned runs in eight innings of work. His 12.38 ERA was alarming, but the Braves believed he needed more development.

In 2019, Allard started back at Triple-A Gwinnett. He had a 4.17 ERA in 20 starts when he was traded to the Texas Rangers right before the July 31 trade deadline for reliever Chris Martin. The Braves signed Martin to an extension after the 2019 season, so to turn Allard into a dependable reliever was a good move for the Braves.

Allard started nine games for the Rangers after his trade to Texas. He was 4-2 with a 4.96 ERA. Let’s hope Allard gets another chance to start for the Rangers once the baseball season starts in 2020.

The only player the Braves may regret passing on who was picked after Allard is former Vanderbilt pitcher Walker Buehler, who went 24 in the first round to the Los Angeles Dodgers. But again, the Braves were starting a rebuild, and they wanted young high school pitchers to develop in their own system.

That’s what they were looking for with the 28 pick in the first round. Ashe Russell was on the board as an option, but the Royals took him at pick 21. Good thing they did, as Russell has pitched only 13 games in pro ball the last five years. He’s dealt with confidence issues and then had Tommy John surgery.

With the 28 pick, the Braves selected Mike Soroka from Canada. Well, he’s now their number one starting pitcher. He’s probably the best pitching prospect they’ve had since Tommy Hanson more than a decade ago. Soroka turns 23 in two months, but he still has a great future at the top of the Atlanta starting rotation.

The Braves had one more pick in the first round. With a compensatory selection they picked up from the Padres in the Craig Kimbrel trade, the Braves selected Austin Riley from DeSoto High School in Southaven, Mississippi.

This was a great scouting story. Many teams wanted Riley as a pitcher, but the Braves thought he could hit. Bridges sent Greg Walker, Atlanta’s former MLB hitting coach who became an advisor and scout in 2015, to see Riley. Walker agreed with the scouts who had seen Riley that this young man was a hitter, not a pitcher.

Riley will attempt to become Atlanta’s starting third baseman once the season starts. He must cut down on his strikeouts, as he fanned 108 times in 297 plate appearances last season in his rookie year, but Riley has a great future in the Braves lineup.

Catcher Lucas Herbert was Atlanta’s second-round pick. Herbert went to the same high school as Allard, but Herbert never became a serious prospect. He was released following the 2018 season and spent part of last season in Arizona’s farm system.

The Braves acquired the 75 overall pick from the Diamondbacks in exchange for outfield prospect Victor Reyes. Atlanta took left-handed A.J. Minter from Texas A&M. Minter had recently been diagnosed with a torn UCL and required Tommy John surgery, but the Braves were so convinced he’d bounce back well they drafted him anyway.

While Minter has had some ups and downs, he was a good draft pick. Minter had a 4.26 ERA and 20 saves in 117 MLB appearances the last three seasons.

Reyes, by the way, is a 25-year-old outfielder now who has spent the past two seasons with the Detroit Tigers. Reyes hit .304 last season in 276 at bats in Detroit. But again, with the Braves wanting to add pitching to the farm system, Minter was a great selection.

Seventh-round pick Patrick Weigel has been slowed down by having Tommy John surgery, but many believed he would contribute in 2020 to the Atlanta bullpen. Weigel’s arm bounced back well in spring training, so don’t be surprised if we see him once the season resumes.

Evan Phillips, Atlanta’s 17 round pick out of UNC Wilmington, made the big leagues with Atlanta in 2018. The Braves soon traded him, though, to the Baltimore Orioles in the Kevin Gausman/Darren O’Day trade. Phillips has pitched in 30 games the last two seasons with the Orioles and has a 8.37 earned run average.

This was an excellent draft by the Atlanta Braves. They got several centerpieces for their rebuild, along with a potential ace pitcher in their rotation for this decade.

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