2021 MLB Draft Day 2: Braves Mix Prep Upside, College Underslot Signs

The Braves took a page out of their own draft playbook on Day 2 of the 2021 event Monday.

It’s a strategy that many teams implement. After getting the players you want with your first couple picks, whether it’s at slot or perhaps a bit under, the next few selections are senior signs or low-ceiling/high-floor guys who will likely sign underslot. This allows the org to free up some of the budget pool to sign higher-upside players in later rounds, whether it’s 7-10, 11 and on, or both.

The Braves took those likely underslot guys in rounds 3-6 (some may sign at or close to slot but I’m grouping them together) before popping a couple interesting prep players in the seventh and eighth rounds.

Spencer Schwellenbach was Atlanta’s second-round pick at 59th overall, which is in line with board rankings for him. A right-hander from Nebraska, Schwellenbach fits Atlanta’s eye as a two-way player (they love those) without a lot of mileage on the arm. He seems to have more upside on the mound, and the Braves announced him as a pitcher. He throws upper-90s in short stints and flashes a solid slider and changeup. He will also mix in some cut to the glove-side.

Schwellenbach has to shore up timing and arm slot inconsistencies in the motion, but it’s a straightforward delivery with a high three-quarters slot and quick arm. He seems to get good extension out front and produces some hop to the fastball. The changeup flashes very well with good arm speed and tumble, while the slider’s feel varies and seems to be a little behind. There are starter traits here if the velo and life hold over the course of a pro season.

The Braves picked Southeast Missouri State left-hander Dylan Dodd in the third round. He’s a senior sign who should go underslot and move through A-ball fairly easily. The reason is an advanced changeup from the left side and polish to live in the zone in the low-90s. He will also mix in the occasional breaking ball. Dodd will help provide system depth.

The same applies positionally for picks 4 and 5 in Texas Tech shortstop Cal Conley and Georgia Tech shortstop Luke Waddell. Conley is a switch-hitter who will flash power but is more contact-oriented with speed and instincts. He will probably play around the infield in the system. Waddell is more of the same as a contact-oriented guy who will occasionally pop one to any part of the field. He’s a long-term shortstop with speed and instincts and will be a good org player with a utility ceiling.

The Braves returned to Georgia Tech for the sixth round in third baseman Justyn-Henry Malloy, who represents more upside among these infield college picks. He’s a strong corner athlete who has filled out with some twitch and a quick bat. The hands can turn on velo, but he can also work the field with line drives, and he knows the zone. He’s also a sure-handed defender at third with a good arm. Malloy will be one to keep an eye on to see how the hit plays as a pro.

Seventh-round pick, prep right-hander A.J. Smith-Shawver, is one of the high-upside plays. He’s another low-mileage arm who started receiving attention last summer and was also a three-star quarterback committed to Texas Tech. He’s unsurprisingly a great athlete on the mound with a solid frame and good actions. (The delivery will probably need to be toned down some, but it’s not super crazy.) He gets out front pretty well and utilizes a three-quarters slot to produce run and a little hop on a fastball up to 95. There is potential to morph the curveball into a downward-tilting offering with power tendencies, but it lacks bite at present. The changeup is a project pitch. Smith-Shawver is the definition of a developmental project. He’s a solid athlete with the potential to unlock more velocity and turn the curve into a power pitch. It’ll take time, but there is good potential here.

Eighth-round pick, prep outfielder Tyler Collins, is another upside play from the state of Texas. Collins is very raw and will be a slow burn through the system. Development will probably look to unlock more fluidity in the swing and perhaps add a touch of loft to avoid beating contact into the ground. He also needs to extend through contact and keep his lower half in the box better. But Collins is tooled up with leadoff traits, including big-time speed down the line that he also uses to range center field well. The arm is a bit light and he’s unlikely to grow much more, although he will add muscle and develop what is already good bat speed and quick hands. The framework is there for a quick-twitch, contact-oriented leadoff guy with big speed and center field ability.

I have nothing on ninth-round catcher Liam McGill, who comes from Bryant University and is a senior. I will learn this one as we go along.

Dylan Spain is a throwback scouting pick in the 10th round. Coming from Hawaii, Spain hasn’t thrown a competitive pitch in two years between the pandemic and inflammation, and he opted to sit out 2021 to prepare for the draft. While working out this year, he bumped up his velo to mid-90s with room to add more. An area Braves scout saw that velo and frame, and the Braves went with it. If anything, it makes for an interesting story.

The Braves are expected to sign their first 10 picks with relative ease. We should start seeing them trickle into the spring complex in the next couple weeks.