Braves aim for value over need with prep lefties Wentz, Muller
The Atlanta Braves landed three of the best high-school pitchers in the country — and perhaps three of the top 25 players in the draft — and scouting director Brian Bridges was far from apologetic for the organization's overflowing stockpile of arms.
"We went right by the board. You can't control what happens in the draft, so it as it fell we are just as happy as we can be to get the ones we have," Bridges said. " ... There were bats targeted, but with saying that you can't control what happens in the draft. When it comes down to it, you just take the best available player and the next one that's on the board."
Regardless of organizational needs, Atlanta stuck to its script and chased value on Thursday night.
The 6-foot-5 Wentz was one of high-school baseball's most dominant players after leading his Shawnee Mission East High School to the 6-A Kansas state title by getting it done both on the mound and at the plate. The Virginia commit draws Cole Hamels comparisons, including one from Bridges, as a three-pitch pitcher with excellent command of the strike zone.
"I think he had a perfect season: 9-0 with a 0.00 ERA," Bridges said of Wentz. "If you're pitching in Kansas and you have a 0.00 ERA, I think you have the ability to move the fastball around, pitch off his changeup. This guy's classic. He's what they look like. If you draw up a picture of what they look like when you meet (him), he's what they look like. All three of them. These are the kind of guys that we want to add to the system."
At 6-foot-5, Muller fits a similar mold from the left side. The Texas commit grew into his projectable frame by bumping up his fastball velocity by nearly 10 miles per hour over the past year and challenging for the national high-school lead in home runs. If possible, the front office appeared even higher on its No. 44 pick.
"Muller's a fastball command guy at 91 to 95 (miles per hour), breaking ball's just got to tighten up a little bit, but he's an animal," Bridges said. "He's 6-foot-6, 230 pounds and it's not fat."
After spending the vast majority of the top picks on pitching last season and, aside from acquiring 2015 No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson, hunting down top pitching talent on the trade market, the apparent lack of attention paid to adding impact bats — for the lowest-scoring team in baseball over the past three seasons, no less — was bound to garner negative attention. However, given how the draft board unfolded between No. 3 and No. 40, the Braves refused to deviate from course. Talent trumped everything else. Over the past two years, they've drafted a potential future rotation of prep arms with Anderson, Wentz, Muller, Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka.
Investing in the volatile market of young arms is risky, but Atlanta has certainly hedged its bets.
By adding Wentz and Muller, it's difficult to picture another franchise featuring more left-handed depth in its farm system. The two high-school superstars join the likes of Allard, Sean Newcomb, Max Fried, Manny Banuelos and Ricardo Sanchez, leaving room for optimism for a parent club that has not received a single start from a left-hander in 2016.
Bridges relayed this story informing his group's decision-making: "Paul Snyder, who happens to be in the room, has been in the game over 50 years, he had told me one time, 'Seventeen percent of society is left-handed, and they don't all pitch.' And when you can covet this many left-handed arms that we do in our organization, where can you go wrong?"
The Braves targeted a college bat, catcher Brett Cumberland, with their 76th overall pick, hitting on two needs with one selection, and they will need more over the course of this rebuild. But with international free agency promising an influx of high-end talent and plenty of selections remaining in this draft — and more top picks on the horizon in 2017 — Atlanta's fixation on value, even if it means more pitching, is not misplaced.