The Braves went for high upside with their first four selections of the MLB Draft.
Upside was the theme for the Atlanta Braves on Day 1 of the 2022 MLB Draft as they selected four pitchers, including three high school arms. That is a pretty big departure from what we have seen in recent drafts where the Braves have leaned heavily into the college ranks. However, the team’s vice president of scouting, Dana Brown thinks they have four guys that can impact the team at the major league level.
Atlanta took Owen Murphy out of Riverside-Brookfield high school with the 20th pick and followed that up with right-hander JR Ritchie out of Bainbridge High School in Washington with pick No. 35.
“What we found that in high school, a lot of the misses with high school arms, it’s when they’re not athletic, and they don’t throw strikes,” Brown said of the risks of drafting high school pitchers. “Both of these guys are really good athletes. Murphy, little better athlete as he was actually a position player as well. The common theme is if they can throw strikes, and if they’re really good athletes, they get to their ability and many times can avoid injuries because the deliveries are good. So we’re excited. Both are power arms. Richie has been up to 98, Murphy is up to 96, and as I said, they are strike throwing machines.
Murphy is a two-way player that also played shortstop in high school. Brown made it clear that the Braves liked him more as a pitcher and that was his quickest path to the major leagues.
“He was on our radar for the last couple of summers. He’s a really athletic kid,” Brown said of Murphy. “He’s actually a prospect as a shortstop and a pitcher. We like him, of course, more as a pitcher. Probably a lower pick, like fourth round type guy, fifth round as a position player, but we thought he was a first round draft pick. Has been up to 96, big time strike thrower. Really athletic, clean delivery, with the makings of plus secondary stuff, so we we are really excited about him.”
“He loves baseball, first and foremost, but he knew going in, that he was a better pitcher and more of a prospect as a pitcher,” Brown added. “He knew that his path to the big leagues is quicker as a pitcher. So he embraced that and we were excited about it and we feel like we got a good one.”
When Murphy met with the media, he said that he would continue to be a two-way player and said that he was willing to play on the infield or in the outfield. After the completion of the draft, Brown was again asked about Murphy’s two-way status and said that they had spoken with him and his agent and communicated that they see Murphy only as a pitcher.
“So it’s definitely pitcher. We cleared it up with him and his agent,” Brown said. “I know the kid is very excited about being a professional player who felt like he could do both. We made it clear that look, we drafted you as a pitcher. I think maybe some other clubs may have told him that he was going to get a chance to do both, but we were very clear. Look, we want you to pitch. We think you can be a fast track to the big leagues type guy. Whether it’s like Soroka and moving that fast. We really feel that good about him.”
Brown said that they had Murphy ranked ahead of Ritchie, but that they were close on their board. They were ecstatic when Ritchie was still available for the 35th pick.
“We were actually excited that he was still there,” Brown said. “Our local scout, Cody Martin, who pitched in the big leagues with us in the Braves organization. He’s our local scout. He’s seen them through up to 98. So we were very shocked that he was there. We had Murphy higher on the board, more athletic, but we were shocked that Richie made it. They were not that far away on our list. They were pretty close, but we had Murphy a little higher. So we were a little surprised.”
Atlanta used the 57th pick on right-hander Cole Phillips out of Boerne High School in Texas. Phillips is another big arm who is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery.
“Sometimes you have to strategically take some guys with upside,” Brown said on the decision to draft Phillips. “I saw the kid throw up to 99, my scouts have seen them up to 100. It’s a mid 80s slider. Big time athlete, big Texas fire baller and we’re really excited about it. We feel like this is an upside pick. We know he’s got to go through the rehab and Tommy John, but we feel really good about the makeup and him getting over that.”
With its final pick of Day 1, Atlanta took Auburn right-hander Blake Burkhalter. Former Braves pitcher Tim Hudson served as Auburn’s pitching coach and spoke highly of Burkhalter according to Brown. The Braves are planning to try him out as a starter as Brown compared him to Spencer Strider. He is confident that Burkhalter at the least can be a back end guy for the bullpen.
“Anytime you can get the professional instruction, you’re that much better off and it may narrow the curve a little bit when you get the professional baseball,” Brown said of Burkhalter being coached by Hudson. “I know Alex and Tim Hudson have a really good relationship. Tim Hudson raved about him.”
“We’re actually going to start him off and try to start him,” Brown added. “We think he’s got some Strider stuff going on in the delivery, the rising fastball, the hard slider. So there’s some excitement there and worse come to worse, we know we got a big time, end of the game bullpen guy. But we have some plans to try to see if this guy could start and maybe we can kind of flip this into a Strider-type pick where you take this college guy that doesn’t have a ton of innings. He has really good stuff. He’s been up to 98 with a really hard cutter.
Atlanta’s farm system has been depleted recently due to trades and graduations. It isn’t hard to see why they are betting on upside in an effort to restock.
“The plan all along was to try to get upside. The guys that could impact the major league level,” Brown said. “We took some young guys that we really feel good about. We think they can impact the major league level. Not only with their fastball, but these guys have secondary stuff. They are strike throwers. We’ve felt good about the plan of taking upside that could one day impact the major league team.”