Ten rounds into the 40-round 2019 MLB draft, Braves scouting director Dana Brown, searching for a winning lottery ticket, placed a phone call to a high school shortstop. Brown wanted a read on whether the prospect intended to bypass pro ball to play in college. During their conversation, Brown described the unusual play that had stuck with him since his scouting session.
The kid was in the batter's box, Brown recounted to him, and fouled a fastball straight backward, off a support pole. The ricochet bounced right back to him, and he caught it on the fly and flipped it back to the pitcher. Brown loved all that this conveyed about the high schooler: the physical skills; the energy ooze, to be completely locked in and tracking the ball even after his swing; his competitiveness, to effectively challenge the pitcher to throw the same pitch again.
About 20 minutes into their chat, the teenager told Brown, "If you guys take me, I'll sign." And so the Braves chose Vaughn Grissom with their 11th-round pick, starting him on a path that has led to the big leagues earlier this month. In his first 15 games, Grissom is batting .382 with a .424 on-base percentage and a .600 slugging percentage. In most seasons, he'd be an intriguing late entry into the Rookie of the Year discussion, but the Braves are already fielding the runaway front-runners for that award, pitcher Spencer Strider and center fielder Michael Harris II -- two other high-ceiling talents plucked by Brown and his staff well after the first round.
The newcomers have helped to make the Braves a serious threat to become the first team since the 1998-2000 Yankees to repeat as World Series champions. Atlanta's run to last year's title -- crushing great teams, winning 11 of 16 games against the Brewers, Dodgers and Astros -- was a surprise. Since then, the squad has only gotten better. Ronald Acuña Jr. has recovered from an ACL injury, and the trio of rookies drafted by Brown has immediately impacted the big leagues. Since June 1, the Braves have won 55 of 76 games and made up most of the double-digit deficit that the Mets had constructed for Atlanta in the National League East.