Bradley’s Buzz: Under new management, the Braves’ draft is still producing

070722 Atlanta: Atlanta Braves center fielder Michael Harris (23) celebrates his solo home run with third base coach Ron Washington during the seventh inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Truist Park Thursday, July 7, 2022, in Atlanta. The Cardinals won 3-2. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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070722 Atlanta: Atlanta Braves center fielder Michael Harris (23) celebrates his solo home run with third base coach Ron Washington during the seventh inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Truist Park Thursday, July 7, 2022, in Atlanta. The Cardinals won 3-2. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

The Braves have executed two top-10 draft picks under Alex Anthopoulos. In 2018, they took Carter Stewart, a high school pitcher from Florida, No. 8 overall. He declined the Braves’ offer, which was believed to have been half of slot value. The Braves were said to have balked at a post-draft wrist X-ray.

Stewart could have been re-drafted in 2019. He chose instead to sign with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Japan’s Nippon Professional League for $7 million over six seasons. He’s still there. In his fourth season, he has worked 24 innings; his ERA is 1.50.

That wasn’t an auspicious start by AA’s Braves, working mostly under new management after general manager John Coppolella was forced to resign because of violations regarding international players. Brian Bridges, the scouting director under Coppolella, presided over the 2018 draft. Bridges was fired in January 2019. He was replaced by Dana Brown.

In 2019, the Braves took Shea Langeliers, a college catcher, with the ninth pick of Round 1. In Round 3, they spent the 98th pick on Michael Harris, an outfielder from Stockbridge High. In the 2020 draft, which was shortened to five rounds because of COVID-19, they took pitcher Spencer Strider of Clemson in Round 4, 126th overall.

On Thursday, Strider started against St. Louis and recorded the first nine outs via strikeout. He’s fifth among National League pitchers in strikeouts. Had he worked enough innings to qualify, his ERA of 2.60 would be eighth-best.

Also Thursday: Harris hit his sixth home run as a big-leaguer. He has an OPS of .824. He’s playing center field as if he invented the position. His WAR (wins above replacement) is 1.4, ninth-best among Braves. Strider’s WAR is 2.1, fifth-best. Vegas Insider assigns Harris the second-best odds of winning NL rookie of the year; Strider’s odds are third-best.

During Coppolella’s rebuild, the Braves lived for the draft. Mike Soroka went in Round 1 in 2015; Ian Anderson was taken No. 3 overall in 2016, Kyle Wright No. 5 in 2017. Because the Braves have won the National League East every season under Anthopoulos, they’re not picking in the top 10. They need to be surgical in their sagacity.

When your annual target is winning the World Series, you’re not dealing in volume. You’re look for help in spots, as opposed to help everywhere. You’re also looking to use minor-leaguers to acquire major-leaguers at a specific position. The Braves traded Langeliers, Cristian Pache and Ryan Cusick, last year’s No. 1, for Matt Olson.

We’ve said this before. We’re saying it again. This has become one slick organization.

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A bit more about the ACC

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Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney listens to a question during press conference at the Atlantic Coast Conference media days Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (Nell Redmond/AP)

Credit: AP

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney listens to a question during press conference at the Atlantic Coast Conference media days Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (Nell Redmond/AP)

Credit: AP

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Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney listens to a question during press conference at the Atlantic Coast Conference media days Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (Nell Redmond/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Take a spin around the internet and you’ll see all manner of rumors regarding the ACC. Will it merge with the Pac-12? With the Pac-12 AND the Big 12? Will the ACC seek to add teams? (Name two the ACC would want, and I’ll spot you Notre Dame.)

You’ll also come across speculation that the SEC is seeking to raid ACC teams including Clemson, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia. We know from recent history that nothing is off any conference’s table, but it’s worth noting the SEC’s longstanding position is that it wants only flagship schools – it made an exception with Texas A&M – and isn’t interested in schools based in states where the SEC has a member – though it made an exception for Texas.

ExploreWith college football in flux, where can the ACC turn?

FSU and Miami are based in Florida. The SEC has a team in Florida. Clemson is based in South Carolina. Ditto. As much as the SEC might see FSU and Clemson as natural fits, football-wise, North Carolina and Virginia might be more inviting targets. Their addition would give the SEC access to two more states, and it wouldn’t hurt SEC basketball.

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About Dansby Swanson

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062522 Atlanta: Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson reacts after hitting a two-run home run during the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Truist Park Saturday, June 25, 2022, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

062522 Atlanta: Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson reacts after hitting a two-run home run during the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Truist Park Saturday, June 25, 2022, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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062522 Atlanta: Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson reacts after hitting a two-run home run during the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Truist Park Saturday, June 25, 2022, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

He ranks fifth among NL position players in WAR. He’ll be an All-Star. At this moment, he’s the Braves’ MVP. He’s also about to become a free agent, and he has the same representation – Excel Sports Management – as Freddie Freeman had.

The fear among fans is that Swanson will be tough to re-up, given that Excel’s Casey Close has accused the Braves of spinning a “false narrative” about the Freeman negotiations. Close also has hinted of legal action, which might be tough given that the Braves, so far as I know, have made no public statements re: Excel.

The Braves are a professional organization. Professionals do business with other professionals. The Braves of old couldn’t stand Scott Boras, but we note that Derek Lowe, a Boras client, signed with the Braves in 2009 and helped them to the playoffs in 2010. If the Braves are interested in keeping Swanson – I’m certain they are – they’ll be required to speak with whomever his agent happens to be.

Excel Sports has done fine work for other clients – Close was Jason Heyward’s agent when he signed with the Cubs for $184 million over eight seasons – and I’m reasonably sure a professional can put aside personal feelings. I know Anthopoulos can. I’d be shocked if Swanson goes anywhere.

(But now you ask: Were you shocked by Freeman’s leaving? Yes, I was.)

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A bit more about Kevin Durant

He’s still with the Nets, though he has asked to be traded. There was no pilgrimage to the Hamptons over the Fourth of July in the effort to sway KD. (The Warriors famously made one in 2016.) The reason: Durant isn’t a free agent this time. He’s under a contract that has three seasons to run and is set to bring him $148 million.

The Nets must agree to trade him. The early belief is that no offer has been even modestly appealing. Rudy Gobert cost Minnesota five players and five draft picks. Durant turns 34 in September.