ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves added another big time arm to their stable on Monday, selecting Vanderbilt right-hander Kyle Wright with the No. 5 overall pick in the first round of the 2017 Major League Baseball draft.
The team followed that up with the selection of switch-hitting, high school outfielder Drew Waters, a local product, with the 41st pick.
Wright, 21, is a 6-foot-4, 200-pounder out of Huntsville, Ala. He was a first team All-SEC selection after turning in a 5-6 record with a 3.40 ERA in 103.1 IP as a junior for the Commodores. He finished his college career 19-11 with a 2.79 ERA with 86 walks and 290 strikeouts and just nine home runs allowed in 255 IP.
As far as the scouring report, Wright boasts a low-to-mid-90s fastball that has touched 97 mph and backs that up with a curveball that has received high marks along with a slider and a changeup he continues to develop. Atlanta sees Wright as an arm who could ride a faster track that some of the recent prep picks. It’s worth noting, however, that some of those younger arms have been aggressively promoted and seen success of late, including Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka, who are both just 19 years old and already pitching at Double-A this season.
The Braves have gone pitching heavy at the top of the draft in recent years. Scouting director Brian Bridges said the selection of Wright not only gave the club the player they wanted, but the best player available in the entire draft class.
“We are very fortunate to get Kyle Wright from Vanderbilt,” said Bridges. “He’s a horse and features four pitches, plus-fastball, plus-curveball, plus-slider, has feel for a changeup and great command.”
Wright was seen a potential No. 1 overall pick and rated the No. 2 prospect by Baseball America and the No. 3 draft prospect according to MLB.com.
“We had heard a little talk… that we had a chance of getting him,” said Bridges, who was skeptical up and until the time they selected Wright. “It’s far-fetched when you get the guy who’s still on the board, but shouldn’t be on the board. He’s advanced for his age and he brings everything we want to see. You know, there’s 29 other clubs and dependent upon which way they wanted to go, we felt like he was definitely up there, No. 1 on our board at the time, so we feel really good about where we are.”
Like many draftees before him, Wright admitted his affinity for the Braves growing up, which is not surprising given his Alabama roots.
“Me and my brothers grew up being the biggest fans of the Braves so it really could not be any more of a special or prouder moment for me right now,” said Wright. “I’m just very thankful for everyone who believed in me and proud to be a part of this great organization.”
Before Atlanta’s picked Wright, the Twins opened the night by selecting high school outfielder Royce Lewis with the No. 1 overall pick. The Reds followed by selecting fellow prep star Hunter Greene, a two-way star who will begin his professional career on the mound. The Padres then took prep left-hander MacKenzie Gore at No. 3, setting the Rays up to select Louisville first baseman Brendan McKay with the fourth overall pick.
The first day of the draft was not over for the Braves, who selected Waters out of nearby Etowah HS in Woodstock, Ga. with the No. 41 pick. A switch-hitter with speed, Waters impressed team officials during two private workouts at SunTrust Park, where he flashed some power that piqued the club’s interest.
Waters, 18, is a 6-foot-2, 190-pound switch hitter who batted .510 with 15 home runs in 104 AB for Etowah in his senior season. Those exploits helped the Eagles capture the first 7-A state title in school history. He was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year in Georgia and had committed to the University of Georgia.
“He played on our scout ball team in Jupiter [Fla.] and Fred McGriff had a chance to manage him and really said this kid has some intangibles that some other kids don’t,” said Bridges. “He really believes in his ability, really believes in who he is. He wants to be at the plate in big situations. He has a lot of confidence in himself and a lot of confidence in his ability.”
Bridges added that there was some discussion that Waters could’ve been an option with the No. 5 overall pick. As it turns out, the club got two players it coveted in Wright and Waters.
With its first two selections made, Atlanta has 38 more rounds to complete its 2017 draft class. There has been a focus on arms in the early going over the past few years, but Waters represents a quality position player making an early entry onto the Braves draft board. Rather than simply drafting for perceived needs going forward, the club will stick with the same strategy it has in recent years when it comes to deciding between arms and bats.
“We’re not scripting it out,” said Bridges. “We’re just trying to go with the best available player from here on out.”
The 2017 First-Year Player Draft continues on Tuesday with Rounds 3-10, then concludes on Wednesday with Rounds 11-40.