Bradley’s Buzz: The Braves again load up on pitching

Owen Murphy is selected by the Atlanta Braves with the 20th pick of the 2022 MLB baseball draft, Sunday, July 17, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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Owen Murphy is selected by the Atlanta Braves with the 20th pick of the 2022 MLB baseball draft, Sunday, July 17, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Braves traded Drew Waters and two other prospects because they saw the 2022 MLB draft as a reset. They’d gone from having baseball’s best farm system to presiding over one of the worst, which sounds like an indictment but isn’t. The farm system did what it was built to do – form the framework of a World Series winner.

Last week’s deal for the draft’s 35th pick left the Braves with four of the first 76 selections in Sunday’s Rounds 1 and 2. They spent them on three high school pitchers and a college pitcher. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but you can’t have too much pitching.

We saw this club do something similar in 2016. The Braves of John Coppolella made high school pitchers Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller three of that draft’s top 44 picks. Wentz was included in the 2019 deadline trade for Shane Greene. Muller is a Gwinnett Striper. Anderson is one of two starting pitchers in World Series history to exit a game having allowed no hits. (The other: Don Larsen.)

Along with the 35th pick, the Braves also acquired $2 million in slot money from Kansas City, bumping their total to $10M, which is 10th-most in this draft. That’s a major consideration, especially when dealing with high schoolers. They have the option of spurning a professional offer and playing college ball, now featuring above-the-table NIL money.

Slot money can be allocated in creative ways. In 2016, the Braves spent all but $5 of their allotted $13,224,100. (Asked what they did with the surplus fiver, Coppolella said: “We split a hamburger.”) The Braves’ top three picks were Owen Murphy (20th overall), JR Ritchie (35th) and Cole Phillips (57th). They’ve committed to Notre Dame, UCLA and Arkansas. The Braves’ mission is to get all three signed.

Their fourth pick was Blake Burkhalter, an Auburn reliever. Even the rebuilding-around-arms Braves of recent vintage never picked four pitchers in succession. Their first two selections in 2015 were Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka, yes. Their third was Austin Riley, All-Star third baseman.

Phillips just had Tommy John surgery. That makes him a value play. If healthy, he’d surely have gone sooner. As we know, pitchers return from TJ throwing even harder.

As for Murphy: This isn’t to say he’s the next Shohei Ohtani, but his numbers for Riverside-Brookfield (Ill.) High catch the eye. His ERA was 0.12. His batting average was .548. Neither are misprints.

When your first three picks are high school pitchers, you’re not in the market for immediate help. The Braves weren’t and aren’t. Which brings us to …

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About the Braves at the break

They have MLB’s fifth-best record. On the morning of June 1, they were 23-27. They’ve sliced eight games off the Mets’ lead in the National League East and hold a six-game edge over Philadelphia and St. Louis for the NL’s third wild card. FanGraphs assesses the Braves’ playoff odds at 97.7%, the best among non-division-leaders.

They’re third in the majors in runs scored. They’re seventh in ERA. FanGraphs gives them a 13.5% chance of winning the World Series. By way of comparison, it gives the Yankees – on pace to win 113 games – a 13.9% shot.

The Braves are where they need to be. They’re a better team than they were a year ago – the 2021 Braves were 44-45 at the All-Star break – and we know what happened then.

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About the Braves vis-à-vis the Nats

The Braves lost two of three to Washington in the season’s second week. They won the next nine meetings before losing Sunday.

We mention this because these clubs won two of the past three World Series. The Braves again will be playing in October. The Nationals have baseball’s worst record, and Juan Soto just declined a $440 million extension over 15 seasons. The $440M would be the biggest contract ever. The $29M in average annual value would not, which is why Soto didn’t accept.

If you’re asking why folks make a big deal about the draft, here’s your answer. Apart from Soto, almost every contributing Nat from 2019 – Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, Howie Kendrick, Yan Gomes – is gone. Patrick Corbin is still around, but he’s terrible. Stephen Strasburg turns 34 this week and has made one start in 13 months. Reliever Sean Doolittle is 35 and on the 60-day injury list.

In February, ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel ranked the Braves’ farm system baseball’s 27th-best. The Nats were 22nd, which for a team that hasn’t finished above .500 since 2019 is dire. They’d love to rebuild around Soto, who’s 23, but their only way to get halfway decent again might be to trade him before he hits free agency.

Why bother making a trade for the 35th player in a draft? Because, come 2025, you might need that guy. You might need lots of guys.

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About SEC Media Days

The league that hypes itself like no other passed up a dunk. (In Philly, they call that doing a Ben Simmons.) Nick Saban is scheduled to appear Tuesday. His former friend Jimbo Fisher isn’t due at the College Football Hall of Fame until Thursday. We media folks weep bitter tears.