36. Drew Lugbauer, 1B/3B/C
Age: 21 | Bats: L
.261/.352/.514 | 136 wRC+ | 13 HR | 0 SB | 10.7% BB | 26.9% K
Final 2017 Assignment: Class A Rome
Acquired: Drafted, 11th Round — 2017
Midseason 2017 OFR Ranking: NA
History: A catcher all through high school, Lugbauer went to the University of Michigan and played mostly third base for the Wolverines, who felt that Harrison Wenson (who is now an Angels farmhand after getting drafted in the 24th round) was a better defensive option behind the plate. This did not discourage the Braves from drafting the All-Big Ten First Team slugger in the 11th round of the draft as a catcher.
In his first taste of pro ball, Lugbauer made an impression with Danville as he swatted 10 homers in only 29 games with the club before being promoted up to class-A Rome. Lugbauer continued to hit well, though some of that home run power became doubles power. He launched 3 home runs with Rome and also collected 11 doubles for a healthy .277/.338/.462 slash line. With Danville, Lugbauer alternated between playing catcher, first base, and third base in almost equal measure as Lugbauer was having to share time behind the dish with prospect William Contreras and fellow 2017 draftee Hagen Owenby.
Hitting: Lugbauer has a classic left-handed slugger’s swing, with a short stride and quick hands that go directly to the ball. Like most lefties, he seems to prefer to drop the head of the bat to golf the ball for distance, but he has the ability to adjust to the inside pitch as well. He’s most vulnerable to high heat, but has so far demonstrated good enough plate discipline that it’s not a constant problem. Lugbauer has some of the best raw power in the Braves system and enough of a hit tool to get it into games. Listed at 6′-3″ and 220 pounds, Lugbauer nevertheless looks like there still could be some projection left, and he will need to maintain his conditioning, something that doesn’t seem to be a problem now.
Defense: When Lugbauer was moved to Rome, he primarily played first base, with only five appearances at catcher and four at third base. This seems to have been more driven by the requirements of the team than anything else. Rome was getting steady production from Lucas Herbert at catcher and Jordan Rodgers at third base, while first base had been an unproductive position for Rome all season. The Braves insists however that they still view Lugbauer long-term as a catcher.
Behind the plate, Lugbauer showed some rust, but also displayed tools that could come together to make him an average defensive catcher. Despite his size, Lugbauer showed solid blocking and receiving skills and has an above average arm. The Braves will work with him on his footwork to help his pop time, as well the subtler arts of game calling and pitch framing. At third base, Lugbauer shows good hands and his arm plays well there, though he has limited range. The same can be said at first base, but if his bat continues to play up, Lugbauer will still be employed even if he doesn’t progress as a catcher.
What’s Next: Lugbauer will likely be paired with defensive wiz Lucas Herbert as the Florida Fire Frogs catching tandem after reportedly showing out well in the instructional league. With early returns promising, Lugbauer joins Alex Jackson and Brett Cumberland as exciting offense-first catching options in the Braves system.
35. Tucker Davidson, LHP
Age: 22 | Throws: L
2.60 ERA | 2.97 FIP | 31 G, 12 GS | 103.2 IP | 2.60 BB/9 | 8.77 K/9
Final 2017 Assignment: Class A Rome
Acquired: Draft – 2016 – 19th Round
Midseason 2017 OFR Ranking : 89
History: Davidson was a junior college guy out of Midland, Texas with a commitment to play for NC State as a junior when the Braves took him in the 19th round of the 2016 draft. Out of Tascosa High School in Amarillo, Davidson demonstrated solid control but had a fastball that topped out in the low-80s. By his sophomore year at Midland the fastball was popping into the mid-90s and his slider had developed into a plus pitch. After being drafted, Davidson worked on his mechanics in the GCL, pitching in 11 games and working to a 1.52 ERA and striking out 32 in 29.2 innings against younger competition.
Davidson showed out enough in the spring to get placed at Rome to start the 2017 season and was arguably the best of several outstanding relievers for the team in the first half, pitching to a 2.38 ERA as a reliever with a 10.2 strikeout-per-9 innings ratio. Many of his fellow relievers moved up to class high-A Florida around midseason, but Davidson instead was moved into the rotation after lefty Ryan Lawlor was injured. Davidson barely skipped a beat, and gave the Braves a 2.76 ERA and 62 innings in 12 starts.
Pitching: Davidson has several things going for him. He has a clean, easy delivery that he repeats well, which translates to plus command. His fastball sits around 92 in games but he can run it up to over 96 in short relief outings. His strikeout pitch is a slider than shows as an above average offering. He typically is able to pitch with purpose up and down in the strikezone, changing the batter’s eye level, which helped generate an excellent 53.8% groundball rate.
Davidson can get into trouble getting too much of the plate , and if he isn’t hitting the bottom of the zone with the slider and hitters are able to lay off of it, his other secondary pitches — a change-up and a curveball — are typically not competitive enough to bail him out of trouble. Davidson is stocky and has a solid base to work from, but at 6′-3″ he doesn’t have much projection left so it will be the development of those secondary pitches that determine how far he can go.
What’s Next: Davidson’s splendid season with Rome will likely have him moving up to high-A Florida for Opening Day 2018. Davidson should continue to get looks as a starting pitcher, but should be able to transition to the bullpen if development or organizational need arise.