The Braves and first-round selection Carter Stewart (No. 8 overall) were unable to reach an agreement before Friday afternoon’s deadline. The organization intended to sign him below slot value, with Stewart’s wrist injury further complicating matters.
The parties’ inability to come to terms likely will ticket the right-hander for Mississippi State, and the Braves could receive another first-round pick, No. 9 overall, next year.
Even gaining such compensation, letting Stewart go was an unexpected shift for the Braves. Neither Stewart nor the organization expected any issues getting a deal done, and despite the collegiate commitment, Stewart expected to go pro.
Stewart is the first Braves first-round pick not to sign since Chad Hutchinson in 1995. Hutchinson, a pitcher and two-sport star, opted to attend Stanford over signing with the Braves.
Hutchinson went on to sign with the Cardinals in 1998 and later make three major-league appearances. He left baseball for football in 2002, playing quarterback for the Cowboys and Bears.
Stewart’s camp appeared unfazed by the Braves’ attempts to sign him under projected value. He will join fellow first-rounder J.T. Ginn with the Bulldogs. The Dodgers selected Ginn 30th, but weren’t able to sign him.
Shortstop Matt McLain was the other first round pick not to sign. He’ll head to UCLA despite Arizona taking him 25th.
The Braves ranked Stewart No. 1 on their board, according to scouting director Brian Bridges. Baseball America ranked Stewart No. 9 overall.
He was lauded for a curveball mature beyond his years, and the Braves had been eyeing him throughout the past year, understanding his value could rise into the early portion of round one.
Stewart’s profile grew during his junior season, when he posted a 0.81 ERA and struck out 104 across 69-1/3 innings.
His encore was equally impressive: Stewart had a 0.91 ERA while striking out 128 in 61-2/3 innings, throwing four complete-game shutouts in the process.
Stewart was commonly regarded as the best high school arm in the 2018 class coming out of Eau Gallie High School (Melbourne, Florida). He was the second prep arm taken following Ryan Weathers at No. 7 (San Diego).
The team’s hope, as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution indicated following the draft, was to sign Stewart below the $4.98 million slot value. Such a move would’ve allowed the Braves to allocate extra money to 34th-round pick Zack Hess, who also went unsigned.
Hess, an LSU power arm who’s been referred to as “wild thing,” was expected to return to school if he wasn’t selected early. The Braves took him with the belief they’d still be able to reach a deal, largely contingent on Stewart’s under-slot agreement.
If the Braves offered Stewart at least 40 percent of his slot value, they’ll receive No. 9 overall in the 2019 draft as a compensatory choice. Indications are that will be the case.
The Braves emphasized signability with the 2018 class, given their lacking funds compared with past years and the restrictions they’ll have in the international market in coming signing periods.
Outfielder Greyson Jenista, the team’s second-round choice, signed below his slot value. Fourth-round pick Tristan Beck, a starter from Stanford who the team has long admired, signed over slot.
The Braves forfeited their third-round choice as a result of MLB’s investigation into the previous regime’s infractions, including offering illegal benefits to 2017 second-round outfielder Drew Waters.
The organization signed 12 of its first 13 picks, seven of whom were pitchers, with a beat-the-clock agreement with high-school hurler Victor Vodnik.