ATLANTA -- Though there was an occasional need to tinker, the Braves navigated their way through this year's MLB Draft in a strategic manner that enabled them to select three of MLB.com's top-25 available players while understanding they must remain within the restrictions of their salary bonus pool.
"We were able to maneuver through the Draft with a plan, and we stuck to the plan," scouting director Brian Bridges said. "Everything worked out well. I think it's outstanding."
The Braves' $13,224,100 salary bonus pool applies only to all signing bonuses given to players selected within the first 10 rounds and any signing bonus greater than $100,000 given to a player selected in the 11th round or later. If the sum of these bonuses is five percent greater than the salary bonus pool, Atlanta would be penalized via a hefty overage tax of at least 75 percent and the loss of next year's first-round pick.
With this in mind, the Braves debated using the third-overall selection on University of Tennessee third baseman Nick Senzel, who likely would not have signed for less than the $6.5 million figure assigned to this slot. But even had the Reds not taken Senzel second, many within the Braves' war room understood the greater value of using their first selection on Ian Anderson, an 18-year-old right-hander from upstate New York.
Had the Braves taken Senzel, they might have been able to select just one more player who ranked among the top-25 best-available prospects. Once they took Anderson with the understanding he would sign for less than that $6.5 million slot figure, they had the opportunity to use their next two picks on two more highly regarded high school pitchers -- southpaws Joey Wentz (40th overall selection) and Kyle Muller (44th).
"We took the long road and the hard road during a season of adversity," general manager John Coppolella said. "It's easy to get frustrated -- and we are -- and we feel for our fans. But we have to be good stewards of the Atlanta Braves' organization. We wouldn't be doing our jobs if we didn't choose the best players with the highest upside."
There was some thought on using the 40th or 44th pick to take Taylor Trammell, an outfielder who recently completed a splendid athletic career at suburban Atlanta's Mount Paran Christian School. But once the Reds selected Trammell with the 35th pick, the Braves jumped at the chance to get Wentz, who may have the most upside of any pitcher taken this year, and Muller, who was recently named Gatorade's National High School Player of the Year.
The Braves would not have had the opportunity to get these three pitchers -- Anderson, Wentz and Muller -- had they used the third-overall selection on a player who demanded a full-slot bonus. Nor would they have been able to target Matt Rowland, a hard-throwing right-hander from suburban Atlanta who will likely receive more than $100,000 after being selected in the 11th round.
If Anderson, Wentz and Muller each sign, the sum of their bonuses will likely sit between $8-9 million. This would leave the Braves approximately $5 million in their bonus pool.
The Braves created some flexibility with some of their earlier selections by drafting college seniors with each of their final five selections. Because these seniors do not have the leverage to stay in school, the sum of their combined signing bonuses will likely be less than $100,000.
Consequently, the Braves will have some wiggle room as they attempt to sign Rowland and the four players -- Brett Cumberland, Drew Harrington, Bryse Wilson and Jeremy Walker -- selected between the high school and college pitchers.
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.