Tom Battista, a cross-checker in the Atlanta Braves’ scouting department, hopped on the phone after catching Carter Stewart’s 18-strikeout performance this spring. His message: “I don’t want to see him again.”
Battista’s mind was made up on the prep right-hander out of Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Fla. At the time, the seven-inning, no-hit performance was the latest in a long line of development — adding two inches and 30 pounds to his frame and multiple miles per hour on his fastball velocity — for Stewart, the top player on Atlanta’s big board when the scouting department first convened in May.
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound is the fourth high-school pitcher the Braves have selected with a first-round pick in the past four years, following in the footsteps of Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka and Ian Anderson, and he was considered one of the highest-upside players available in this class.
“The key is you have to commit to something. So whatever you’re gonna commit to you better buy all-in to it," said Bridges, who also selected Vanderbilt right-hander Kyle Wright fifth overall in 2017. "There’s no guarantees. There’s no guarantees how things are going to end. It’s a long journey for pitchers.
"The more volume you have of quality pitchers, the better chance you have to sustain when you start winning at the major-league level.”
Bridges called Stewart’s curveball the best in the draft, but he became a realistic contender at No. 8 when his plus fastball jumped from topping out at 92 miles per hour to 98 as he matured physically. Backing up Bridges' assertion, Stewart's curve registered the highest spin rate in amatuer baseball, according to Trackman pitch-tracking technology.
The 18-year-old struck out 128 batters in 61 2/3 innings with an 0.91 ERA en route to being named Florida Gatorade Player of the Year. Stewart allowed only 26 hits the entire season.
“I like to model myself after Justin Verlander a little bit with his intensity and his ability to pitch,” Stewart said. “I’ve watched him for a long time and I feel like that’s one guy that I can model myself after.”
Carter, a Mississippi State commit, says he expects to sign with Atlanta.
New general manager Alex Anthopoulos also entered Monday night's draft process with a track record favoring pitching. During his time leading Toronto's front office, the Blue Jays tabbed pitchers with 14 of their 19 first-round or compensation-round selections, including Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez.
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No. 49: OF Greyson Jenista, Wichita State
Atlanta’s draft board looked familiar following the first-round selection of yet another top-tier pitching prospect, but Brian Bridges & Co. took a new turn with their second-round pick, selecting power-hitting outfielder Greyson Jenista with the 49th overall pick.
Jenista is the first college bat the franchise has drafted with a top-50 pick since 2001. He surpasses catcher Brett Cumberland (76th overall in 2016) as the highest college bat selected by Atlanta since the rebuild began.
“This guy’s got unbelievable power. It’s real power," Bridges said. "He’s a better hitter this year. I think a little ‘draft-itis’ was bothering him a little bit, he’s trying too hard and pressing. But still if you look at his overall numbers for a guy that you say underachieved, he still hit .300 … nine home runs, which isn’t him. He’s led the team in hitting the previous two years.”
The MVP of the 2017 Cape Cod League, the 21-year-old Jenista slashed .309/.446/.475 with 16 extra-base hits for Wichita State this past season.
At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Jenista played 32 games in center field, 21 at first base and three in left field for the Shockers, but the Braves believe in his arm and athleticism and selected him as an outfielder.
“We really like what he brings, definitely the left-handed swing in our ballpark gives us a chance to tap into that power.”
Jenista is also the highest collegiate outfielder drafted by the Braves since taking Arizona State’s Mike Kelly — and passing on first-rounders Manny Ramirez, Shawn Green and Cliff Floyd, among others, in the process — with the No. 2 overall pick in 1991.
No. 112: RHP Tristan Beck, Stanford
For the sixth consecutive season, the Braves opened up Day 2 of the MLB draft by focusing on pitching, though Brian Bridges & Co. were forced to wait a little longer this time around. The Braves forfeited their third-round selection due to this past offseason’s MLB investigation but the club found a polished college arm waiting at No. 112.
With his 6-foot-4 frame, Tristan Beck shows four pitches with command. His fastball sits in the low-90s but his off-speed stuff (curveball, slider, changeup) has received up to 50-60 grades on the scouting scale. Beck missed the 2017 season at Stanford due to a stress fracture in his back — leading him back to college this past season — but bounced back with a 2.99 ERA in 14 starts this spring. He struck out 66 batters with 29 walks.
The 21-year-old was ranked 35th on MLB Pipeline's board and 70th by FanGraphs.
No. 142: RHP Trey Riley, John A. Logan College
Trey Riley, a former Oklahoma State transfer, flashed first-day stuff this spring.
A 6-foot-2 right-hander committed to Missouri State, Riley dominated the JUCO ranks with 117 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings pitched. Riley’s command may lead him to a bullpen role, but he’s shown a plus fastball-slider combination. He’s a power arm whose fastball “reaches 97 with some cutting action,” per MLB Pipeline, but his slider may become his out pitch.
With Riley, Carter Stewart, Greyson Jenista and Tristan Beck on the board, each of the Braves’ first four draft picks fell within the top-90 overall draft prospects for both MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs — value selections for a team that did not own its third-round pick.
No. 172: OF Andrew Moritz, UNC Greensboro
Andrew Moritz can hit.
Atlanta’s sixth-round pick’s OPS in three seasons with UNC Greensboro fluctuated from 1.024 to .963 to, most recently, 1.129 during his junior season.
The 5-foot-11 center fielder boasts plus grades with his run, arm and fielding tools (MLB Pipeline) and though he will not likely provide the left-handed power of Atlanta’s second-round pick Greyson Jenista, Moritz appears to be a high-floor producer. He is the highest drafted UNC Greensboro player since Atlanta picked Ryan Clark with its 2015 fifth-round selection.
No. 202: RHP Brooks Wilson, Stetson
Brooks Wilson led Stetson in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and doubles in 2018, but the Atlanta Braves drafted the right-hander as pitcher.
The 6-foot-2 arm posted a 2.13 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 31 relief appearances.
No. 232: SS AJ Graffagnino, Washington
Tony Graffanino played the first three seasons of his long MLB career in a Braves uniform. Now his son will be afforded the same opportunity.
University of Washington shortstop AJ Graffanino played in only 21 games as a junior due to injuries, but he's considered a standout defensive options at a premium position. Questions revolve around his switch-hitting bat, but he posted a career-best .420 OBP and .854 OPS in limited opportunities this season.
No. 262: RHP Ryan Shetter, Texas Tech
Another right-hander with a solid 6-foot-2 frame, Ryan Shetter split time as a starter and reliever for the Red Raiders. He struck out 69 batters with a 2.97 ERA.
No. 292: 3B Brett Langhorne, Carson Newman College
Brett Langhorne completes a Day 2 run of college players for Atlanta. After selecting high-upside high-school arm Carter Stewart at No. 8 overall, the Braves targeted older, more polished talent in their next nine picks — a strategy which could fast-track a few helping hands as Atlanta's competitive window opens.
The third-base prospect transferred from Tennessee after two seasons in the Southeastern Conference and slashed .323/.433/.509 in his first season at the JUCO level.