Braves stock up on more pitchers in draft

Already overflowing with pitching prospects in their farm system, the Braves added more arms with their first three picks in the Major League Baseball amateur draft Thursday.

All three players are high school pitchers: right-hander Ian Anderson (No. 3 overall), left-hander Jason Wentz (No. 40) and left-hander Kyle Muller (No. 44).

“These are the kind of guys we want to add to a system that is deep in pitching,” Braves director of scouting Brian Bridges said. “At the end of the day, when they turn the lights on at SunTrust park, these are the kind of guys that will lead us to the promised land.”

With their final pick of the day, No. 76 overall, the Braves selected University of California catcher Brett Cumberland. He’s a draft-eligible sophomore.

It’s the fifth time in the past six years the Braves selected a pitcher with their first pick. The Braves also have added several pitching prospects via trades since John Hart was hired as president of baseball operations in October 2014.

The Braves had talked about adding hitters in this draft but ended up adding more pitchers after they took 11 among their first 12 picks in last year’s draft.

“There were bats targeted but you can’t control what happens in the draft,” Braves director of scouting Brian Bridges said. “When it comes down to it you take the best player available, the next one that’s on the board.”

Anderson, 18, is finishing his senior season at Shenendehowa High School in Clifton Park, N.Y. Anderson committed to play at Vanderbilt, but said he believes he’ll quickly sign once he’s eligible following his graduation on June 23.

Bridges said the team first targeted Anderson early in the summer of 2015 and had followed him closely since then. Anderson said Bridges and Braves general manager John Coppolella met with him at his home “pretty early” in the scouting process.

“There had always been interest, but it kind of came full circle here before the draft,” Anderson said. “So I had a good idea going in what was going to happen.”

Baseball America rated Anderson as the No. 12 overall player in the draft and the fifth-best pitcher. Bridges said Anderson was the Braves’ top-rated player and called him “very advanced” for his age because of good command on three pitches (fastball, curveball and change-up). Bridges compared Anderson with former Orioles and Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina.

Bridges said the possibility of signing Anderson to a so-called “under slot” deal, in which a player accepts less bonus money for his draft position, wasn’t a consideration in selecting him.

“I took the best pitcher on the board that we felt as an organization, as a scouting department, we feel this guy better fits our organization,” Bridges said.

Anderson suffered setbacks when he came down with pneumonia at the beginning of his senior season and later missed two starts because of an oblique injury. The Braves scouted Anderson during a regional playoff game last weekend and Bridges said “he started looking like himself.”

Bridges said Anderson will have to add weight to his 6-3, 170-pound frame. As Anderson’s body matures Bridges projects that he’ll add velocity to a fastball that already reaches as high as 97 mph.

The Braves selected Wentz out of Shawnee Mission East High in Prairie Village, Kan. The 6-foot-5 lefty, who also is a power-hitting first baseman, committed to play for Virginia.

“If you are drawing them up, this child is what they look like,” Bridges said of Wentz.

Bridges said Muller, a University of Texas signee, measures 6-5 and 260 pounds. He improved his fastball velocity from low-to-mid 80s as a junior to 91-95 mph this season.

“His breaking ball has just got to tighten up a little but he’s an animal,” Bridges said.

Baseball America rated Wentz as the 26th-best player in the draft and had Muller at No. 25.

Cumberland, 20, led the Pac-12 with 16 home runs this season. He’s a switch hitter.

“He’s kind of like a Todd Hundley type,” Bridges said. “The (defense) is just probably going to be average, the arm is going to be average. You are betting on the bet with this guy.”

Pitching has been the focus for the Braves under Coppolella and Hart. The Braves believe in stockpiling pitchers because injuries and other unforeseen developments can thin the position, and also because good pitchers can be traded for needs at other positions.

During the 2015 draft, the first with Hart and Coppolella in charge, the Braves selected pitchers with two of their three first-round picks: left-hander Kolby Allard and right-hander Mike Soroka. The Braves also selected pitchers in each round from the third through the 11th and drafted 24 pitchers overall.