The Braves are hopeful they have landed a steal from the 2019 draft in 21-year-old slugger Bryce Ball.
The Dallas Baptist product slipped to the 24th round of last June’s draft despite his imposing physical stature. The lefthanded-hitting first baseman is every bit of his listed 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame.
As a junior last year, Ball hit .325 with 18 home runs, 12 doubles and 54 RBIs in 63 games.
There were whispers that signing concerns pushed him down the board, but the Braves had little issue bringing Ball into the fold. Ball himself believes defensive and positional limitations played a role, though again, it’s difficult to peg reasons for a player with such impressive measurables and numbers falling so far.
Ball shined in his pro debut, which he finished with 21 games at low Class A Rome. Overall he hit .329/.395/.628 with 17 homers and 52 RBIs in 62 games, 41 of them at Rookie-level Danville.
Ball attended his first big league camp this spring and collected his first hit on Feb. 26 against the Orioles in Sarasota, Fla., when he blasted a pitch over the center field wall.
“They don’t call him ‘Drago’ for nothing,” Braves manager Brian Snitker joked afterwards. Ball’s nickname is based on the “Rocky” character Ivan Drago, he of similar looks and stature.
If Ball develops into a player with major league potential, the Braves would find themselves in an enviable position. First base is expected to be filled for the foreseeable future by face of the franchise Freddie Freeman, whose contract expires after the 2021 season, though he is expected to remain a Brave for the entirety of his career.
By the time Ball arrives in Atlanta, however, the National League might have adopted the DH, opening up a role for a player who profiles as a potent bat with some defensive shortcomings. Regardless, if Ball continues his current path, the Braves will have a premium offensive asset.
But for now, the focus is on 2020. Ball will attempt to continue outplaying his draft status and pave his way into the Braves’ higher prospect rankings.
— Righthanders Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright, the Braves’ top two pitching prospects, aren’t expected to be on the Opening Day roster, but each could play a role in Atlanta this season. Wright, in particular, is entering an important season as he tries to establish himself as a major league starter.
“I’ve pitched really well in certain bursts, so I feel like for me it’s about being able to do that over the whole season,” Wright said. “You’re going to have bad outings. I’m not saying I’m going to go seven (innings) every time, but being able to manage the bad outings and pushing through five (innings) to give the team a chance to win.
“For me, it’s about being consistent, and that starts with command in general. I think if I can really hone in my command with the fastball first, then base the offspeed pitches off that, I feel like that’ll help me a lot.”
— Lefthander Tucker Davidson drew praise through the first few weeks of big league camp. He unexpectedly emerged last season, when the southpaw posted gaudy strikeout numbers across Double-A and Triple-A.
Davidson’s command can still be erratic, but he’s worth watching over the course of 2020. The Braves’ bullpen is short on lefties and Davidson, who began his career as a reliever, could factor into that group at some point.
“I mean, I was a 19th-rounder, so there wasn’t a lot of buzz about me,” Davidson said, “but I’ve just put my head down, worked hard and tried to make a name for myself.”