Recently I wrote a piece on how the Twins could make a deal for the number one pick in this year’s MLB Draft. Basically, the Twins would select a player not expected to go in the top 5 picks and sign that player for much less than the number one pick’s slotted bonus of $7.7 million. The Twins could use that saved money to get better prospects with their 35th and 37th picks than they would be able to get normally. This is not an abstract concept—since the inception of the current draft slot bonus system in 2012, a number of teams have been using this method to stockpile numerous quality prospects instead of putting all of their money, and hopes, into a single top prospect.
The Atlanta Braves currently have one of the best farm systems in baseball. They’ve built it through savvy trades and international signings, but also by making deals with high draft picks like the Twins could possibly do this year. I want to take a look at their 2016 draft as a potential blueprint for the Twins in 2017.
With the third pick in the 2016 MLB draft, the Braves also had the third highest draft bonus pool valued at $13,224,100. Like the Twins, the Braves had a second first-round pick, the 40th, thanks to the Collective Bargaining round between the first and second rounds. The Braves third pick, then, was the 44th overall pick, the third pick in the second round.
When Philadelphia drafted prep outfielder Micky Moniak first overall and Cincinnati followed with third baseman Nick Senzel, the top five prospects ranked by MLB.com were all still available to the Braves with the third pick. Instead of picking the “best player available” they took the player ranked 11th by Baseball America and 13th by MLB.com, prep right hander Ian Anderson, knowing they could sign him below the pick’s slot value of $6.5 million.
A number of quality high school players began to fall in the draft, as teams in the latter half of the first round lacked the financial flexibility to overspend on their slotted value. With the 40th pick the Braves selected another prep pitcher, left-hander Joey Wentz who was ranked by MLB.com as the 16th and Baseball America as the 19th best prospect in the draft. A few picks later, they selected a third prep pitcher, lefty Kyle Muller, who MLB.com ranked as the 24th and Baseball America as the 39th best prospect going into the draft.
With the 3rd, 40th, and 44th picks, the Braves were able to draft the 13th, 16th, and 24th best players in the draft, according to MLB.com, or three top 40 picks according to Baseball America—a remarkable haul, all thanks to saving money on that first pick. The Braves signed Anderson for $4 million, or $2.5 million under slot, and used that money to sign Wentz for $3.05 million ($1.4 million over slot) and Muller for $2.5 million (just under $1 million over slot).
Obviously it is too early to tell how the Braves’ draft decisions will work out, but there are encouraging signs. Anderson ranks as the team’s sixth-best prospect, and MLB.com currently ranks him as the 79th best prospect in the game as an 18 year old in single-A ball. Wentz and Muller rank as the teams 13th and 16th best prospects, respectively, showing just how strong the Braves’ system is. For comparison’s sake, Anderson would rank as the Twins second best prospect while Wentz and Muller would easily rank in the Twins’ top twelve prospects.
Even though the Braves made a money saving deal, all three pitchers all have solid upside. Anderson is considered a future front line starter, the third-starter projection for Wentz is seen by some as too conservative, and Muller is similarly considered a 3- or 4-starter with upside. Since pitching prospects are so fragile, even just one of these players becoming a legitimate Major Leaguer would likely mean the 2016 Draft was a success for the Braves. They also provide system depth that can be used for trades to fix gaps at the Major League level.
The 2016 MLB Draft lacked a true top prospect such as Hunter Greene, or even Brandon McKay for that matter, making the Braves’ route far more understandable for pundits and fans. But the adage goes that there is no such thing as a pitching prospect, and if the Twins want to hedge their bets they could follow the Braves’ footsteps by stocking up on a number of high end prospects by making a below-slot deal with the first overall pick.
Farm systems do not win big league ball games, but if the Twins believe they are trending in the right direction, a deep and talent-rich system can help keep the stock rising. It will be up to the front office to decide what path they want to take to help stock it.