Braves’ first three picks in MLB draft: high school pitchers

The Braves selected high school pitchers with their first three picks in the MLB draft Sunday night.

They took Owen Murphy of Riverside, Ill., with their first-round pick, No. 20 overall, and followed with JR Ritchie of Bainbridge Island, Wash., and Cole Phillips of Boerne, Texas, on their next two selections, Nos. 35 and 57 overall, respectively.

All three are hard-throwing right-handers.

At Riverside Brookfield High School, Murphy pitched four no-hitters this year and reportedly posted a 0.12 ERA to go with a 9-0 record. His fastball velocity sat in the low 90s and reached as high as 96 mph.

He also thrived as a hitter, playing shortstop when not on the mound. He had a .548 batting average with 18 home runs during his senior season.

In a Zoom interview with Atlanta reporters after his selection, Murphy said he expected to get an opportunity in the minor leagues to be both a pitcher and a hitter. But Braves vice president of scouting Dana Brown said later that misunderstanding had been cleared up and Murphy would be exclusively a pitcher in the Atlanta organization.

Earlier, Murphy had said: “I’m really excited for that opportunity to try to do the two-way thing for a little bit. One of the biggest parts of my ‘ask’ was just to be a two-way guy and have that opportunity.

“I love swinging it, and I love throwing, and I want to do both as long as I can.”

But Brown, in a post-midnight Zoom session with reporters, said: “It’s definitely pitcher. We cleared it up with him and his agent. The kid is very excited about being a professional player. He felt like he could do both. We made it clear that, look, ‘we drafted you as a pitcher.’ ... We think (he) can be a fast-track-to-the-big-leagues type guy.”

A Notre Dame commit, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Murphy was ranked the No. 48 prospect entering the draft by He was seen as a first- or second-round talent as a pitcher and perhaps a fourth- or fifth-round talent as a hitter.

“I knew that the Braves had some interest in me (entering the draft,)” Murphy said. “I knew that they liked me, but I didn’t expect to be taken that early. It caught me by surprise and caught my family by surprise, but I’m really happy about it. I’ve loved the Braves’ organization. I kept up with their World Series run last year. It’s so exciting to just be a part of this. It’s just surreal.”

With their second selection, a competitive-balance-round pick they acquired in a trade with Kansas City last week, the Braves stuck with high school pitching by selecting Ritchie, whose fastball has reached 98 mph. The combination of that velocity and Ritchie’s strike-throwing ability impressed the Braves.

“We were absolutely excited that he was still there (at the 35th pick),” Brown said. “We had Murphy higher on the board, more athletic, but we were shocked that Ritchie made it (to 35) because they were not far (apart) on our list. They were pretty close.”

With their third pick, coming in the second round, the Braves chose a pitcher, Phillips, who underwent “Tommy John” elbow surgery in April. Before the injury, Phillips’ fastball had reached 100 mph.

“We feel like this is an upside pick,” Brown said of Phillips. “We know he’s got to go through the rehab from ‘Tommy John,’ but we feel really good about the makeup and him getting over that.”

The Braves went to the college ranks for their final selection Sunday night, taking Auburn pitcher Blake Burkhalter with the No. 76 overall pick (a compensation pick for losing Freddie Freeman as a free agent).

Although Burkhalter was a relief pitcher in college, Brown said the Braves intend to try him as a starter.

The draft, which is being held in Los Angeles as part of the buildup to the All-Star game, will continue with rounds 3 through 10 on Monday and rounds 11-20 on Tuesday.