The Braves will have their highest pick in 25 years in this year’s draft, in which they pick third overall. Big Time Atlanta Sports was able to catch up with Braves GM John Coppolella at Braves FanFest last Saturday and raised the question about Coppolella’s draft strategy. He said they would take the best player available, but did say that they had a plan.
“All things being equal we went with four high school kids last year,” said Coppolella. “I think we’d like to go college and we’d like to get a bat just because we are so pitching heavy. That being said you go with the best player if there’s really good talent there.”
The Braves GM said that he has met with a handful of players who are in that top-3 mix for the Braves. He said that he has met with scout Brian Bridges and discussed what players they would target and which ones might have their stock rise in the coming months. Coppolella said that they met with them in late-December and a few times in early January. “It’s the highest pick we’ve had in 25 years. It’s a huge pick for us and we have to get it right.”
A reporter then brought up the fact that the Giants had won three World Series in the past six years, but only won four more games during the Braves in that same span. “You try to figure out why is that and they just had better players. Two of their players I would take over any player that we have,” said Coppolella. He then stated that the way that you get good players is either by the draft or by trading for them.
When asked about the plan, Coppolella said that it was to win the World Series.
“I think you saw every trade we made, we got back pitching,” stated Coppolella. He then pointed to Jeff Samardzija, who received a $90M contract and a qualifying offer despite an abysmal 2015 season. “You’re seeing guys that are probably 4th and 5th starters that are getting $14M-$15M per year and it great, but at some point the money runs out.”
The Braves GM then credited the Mets for the work they did. “They have a lot of homegrown pitchers, but some of the guys they got in trades,” said Coppolella, who was referencing the trade of R.A. Dickey, the reigning NL Cy Yong Award winner, that netted the Mets Noah Syndergaard. He said the Mets were in the same spot with Syndergaard as the Braves are with a few players now.
He then reiterated why the Braves are targeting pitching by referencing Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen and Mike Minor, stating that those were “guys that we thought would be here a long time, but got hurt. Even with all the pitching we have, we need more pitching.”
“I think the plan for us is to build with young, homegrown players and try to avoid signing free agents unless they can really finish off your team. For us to go out and spend $200M on a player that’s probably not going to end well. I don’t think it ever has.” He said they are going to try and grow with their own players, but didn’t say that they wouldn’t be pursuing free agents stating that they were talking with Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes.”
“We want to make smart choices so that we’re in a spot where we can be good every year. We want to be a team that when you get to Spring Training, you feel like you have a shot at the World Series. I didn’t really feel that way at any point since I’ve been here (and) I still don’t really feel that way now. The way the Braves felt under John Schuerholz from 1991 through 2005, that’s what we want to get back to. They went to five World Series in nine years. That’s what we want to get back to.”
So if you’re looking for the Braves to completely abandon pitching in the draft this year, you might be disappointed. Sure, the Braves would like to grab a college bat at No. 3, but if a talent like high school lefty Jason Groome is available there, you can bet the Braves will pounce on him.