For the Atlanta Braves organization, good news arrived from California, not Colorado, on Thursday.
The franchise’s top pick in the 2015 draft, 17-year-old left-hander Kolby Allard, ended UCLA-related rumors by coming to above-slot contract terms. Allard reportedly agreed to sign for a $3,042,000 bonus, a deal contingent upon next week’s physical, not only locking up the team’s first 25 draft picks but guaranteeing the front office’s rebuilding plan stays on schedule.
If the Braves and Allard could not come to terms by the July 17 deadline, plans would have been altered but both parties would have moved forward. Allard had his UCLA commitment to fall back on, and Atlanta, without a first-round selection signed, was guaranteed a compensation pick in the ’16 draft — not to mention the organization’s recent influx of top pitching talent acquired on the trade market.
However, though next year’s draft class is projected to be deeper, the Braves have publicly maintained their position that they landed a blue-chip prospect in the California southpaw, a player whose stock fell only because of a stress fracture in his back that cut his senior season short.
On draft night back in June, Braves director of scouting Brian Bridges stood in the bowels of Turner Field and lavished praise on the No. 14 pick, not unlike scouts and general managers around the league were doing with their own respective choices. Bridges gave off the impression the team had a steal on its hand: "I saw (Allard) throw at the bullpen the night I went and saw him and I thought it was a pipe dream. I said, ‘There’s no way this kid gets to us.’"
Gifted with the best amateur curveball in the draft, according to Bridges, Allard boasts a low- to mid-90s fastball and a work-in-progress changeup. He started a run of 13 pitchers in Atlanta’s first 16 picks, including fellow first-rounder Mike Soroka.
On a draft-night conference call, Allard admitted that financial terms had not been worked out but that he was confident he would sign. That sentiment was called into question during the negotiation process, as Allard’s camp was reported to be seeking a signing bonus akin to what the prep preseason All-American would have received before his injury-shortened senior year.
(It’s worth noting that Allard’s agent, Casey Close of Excel Sports Management, also represented Brady Aiken, another former California prep lefty that the Astros selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft. Aiken, of course, became the first top pick to not sign since 1983 after Houston raised medical concerns and sought a lower signing bonus. Aiken underwent Tommy John and signed with the Indians as the No. 17 overall pick this year, so Close has traveled that road before. Those UCLA rumblings weren’t meaningless.)
In the end, Allard received a bonus worth $200,000 above slot, and now, barring an unexpected development with his physical, joins a pitching-centric farm system.
Allard might never live up to the team-generated hype — this is the inexact science of the draft after all, though Atlanta’s revamped scouting department is obviously aiming to avoid such miscues — but he is an important piece in a stockpiling process.
The John Hart-John Coppolella front office combination have formuated a clear plan in their short tenure together: Accumulate high-caliber arms. The Braves have not been shy about trading stars for future pieces (Tyrell Jenkins, Matt Wisler, Max Fried, Mike Foltynewicz) or taking on additional payroll burdens to land a high-ceiling prospect (Touki Toussaint). If Atlanta becomes a seller at the trade deadline later this month, similar moves are to be expected.
Signing Allard wasn’t a make-or-break move for a franchise practically swimming in pitching depth. It does, however, keep things moving in the right direction without hiccup or delay.