5 early picks play into Braves' Draft strategy

5 early picks play into Braves' Draft strategy

ATLANTA -- Though the Braves are set to make their earliest selection since they took Chipper Jones with the top overall selection in the 1990 MLB Draft, the fact that they own the No. 3 pick this year is trumped by the reality that they own five of the first 80 selections in a Draft that will not feature a once-in-a-generation talent like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.

"Depth is paramount in this Draft," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. "This is a Draft that is short on star power, but is long on talent. I think there is very little difference between the player you're going to be getting with any of the first three picks or the player you'd be getting with picks 11 through 13."

The 2016 Draft will take place from Thursday through June 11, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 77 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of Day 2 begins with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, with exclusive coverage of Day 3 beginning at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

2016 MLB Draft: June 9-11 on MLB Network, MLB.com

MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 200 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of over 1,500 Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

Despite not having a top 10 selection in last year's Draft, the Braves ended up with two of the elite players -- top overall pick Dansby Swanson and left-handed pitcher Kolby Allard. Swanson was acquired from the D-backs in December, and concerns about a back ailment led Allard to still be available when Atlanta made its first pick -- the 14th overall selection.

Now the Braves will have an opportunity to further enrich their significantly improved farm system. They have evaluated Kyle Lewis, A.J. Puk, Jason Groome, Nick Senzel, Corey Ray, Riley Pint and Ian Anderson as potential targets to be selected with the Draft's third pick. But at the same time, Atlanta has placed a strong focus on making the most of its other top 100 picks -- Nos. 40, 44, 76 and 80.

The Padres are the only other Major League team to have five picks within this year's first 80 selections.

Coppolella's foresight and creativity allowed the Braves to gain the 40th pick from the Marlins via the blockbuster three-team trade that brought Hector Olivera to Atlanta from the Dodgers in July. The 76th selection and the additional bonus pool money it brought was acquired on May 23 from the Orioles, along with Brian Matusz, who was released Wednesday. Thus far, these are the only two trades made by any team involving selections in this year's Draft.

The two picks acquired via trades before the 2015 Draft netted the Braves third baseman Austin Riley (41st overall selection) and right-handed reliever A.J. Minter (80th). Riley has quickly established himself as one of the organization's top prospects, and Minter has positioned himself to soon join Atlanta's bullpen, possibly before the end of this season.

Top Prospects: Riley, ATL

Along with gaining additional selections via trades, the Braves have also added to their salary bonus pool, which at $13,224,100 stands as MLB's third-highest total, trailing only the Reds and Phillies The additional funds could allow Atlanta to have some flexibility. If the Braves were to sign a player under an assigned slot value, some of the money saved could be used to go over slot on a player who has slipped past the first round, most likely because of signability issues.

"We think we're going to get five players we really like," Coppolella said. "We think there's going to be good talent and values throughout the Draft. But if you look at it historically, the top 100 picks are critical, and to be able to have five in the top 80 is huge for us."

The top six WAR totals produced by players drafted by Atlanta dating back to 2006 are owned by Jason Heyward (31.7), Andrelton Simmons (17.5), Freddie Freeman (16.3), Craig Kimbrel (14.3), Kris Medlen (9.3) and Alex Wood (7.1). Heyward, the 14th pick in 2007, is the only member of this group who was taken before the 70th overall selection.

Thus, while the players taken with the earliest selections might draw the most pre-Draft hype, great value can be found beyond the first round.

Though the Braves want to quickly turn things around and become legit postseason contenders again by at least the start of the 2018 season, Coppolella said he will not necessarily be influenced to focus solely on college players, who could reach the big league level sooner than a high school player with more upside.

"We're trying to build a foundation around talented young players," Coppolella said. "It would be easy if we wanted to simply go with college players. We'd see the results sooner and they could help more immediately. But that is part of what got us into this problem in that we stayed away from impactful high school players. [Taking impactful high school players] is what had made the Braves who they were throughout the 1990s and early 2000s."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.