Draft Needs

What do the Braves need from the 2003 amateur draft? Catchers? Outfielders? More pitching? Bill Shanks takes a look at the Braves needs at each position and names some possible draft targets.

Braves Look To Add Depth To Balanced Organization

Tuesday's Major League Baseball Draft is a chance for every franchise to increase depth and fill holes. It's always possible to find a special player that can make an impact after only a short time in the minor leagues, but mostly it's a chance to get long term prospects.

The Atlanta Braves are in an enviable position. They do not have a huge glaring need on the major league team or in its minor league system. Instead, the Braves will use Tuesday's draft to further strengthen its pitching depth and add position players that may help fill out future minor league teams.

If you looked at the Braves minor league rosters, you would not believe pitching would be a huge priority on Tuesday. All four top minor league teams are well stocked with significant pitching prospects. But the Braves success over the past decade has been because of pitching, and another draft simply presents another opportunity to get more young kids who will one day be future Atlanta hurlers. The Braves see no reason to change the philosophy of pitching first.

Here now is a look at how the positions in the organization stack up and what the Braves might be looking for on Tuesday and Wednesday in the Baseball Draft.

PITCHING - Again, it's not a huge need. But you can bet that there will be a number of young pitchers on the draft list on Wednesday night. Roy Clark, the Braves Director of Scouting, says this draft is strong on pitching and "you can't go against the strength of the draft." Even if pitching was not the strength of this draft, it would be a priority for the Braves.

The Braves have more pitching depth than ever before in its farm system. You wonder how an advanced, maybe a college pitcher could even fit into a Myrtle Beach roster in 2004. But with the great pitching depth, the Braves do not have to rush any of its draftees, which can only help their development. So like Dan Meyer, drafted out of James Madison in the supplemental round last season, any college draftee would more than likely start out at Rome in 2004 no matter how talented.

Clark would like to add some additional left handed starting pitchers to the organization. Andy Pratt, Chris Waters, Macay McBride, and Meyer are all lefthanded, but more is needed. Nick Markakis of Young Harris College is the main priority, but he may be gone midway through the first round. Scott Maine, JoJo Reyes, Ryan Feierbend, and Abe Alvarez are four names to remember. Alvarez is from Long Beach State, and could be this year's equivalent of Dan Meyer.

CATCHER - Brian McCann, a second round pick last season, has developed into the Braves top catching prospect. He is leading Rome with 7 home runs and is developing nicely behind the plate. But the Braves would like to add another catcher, particularly since two from last year's draft (Kris Harvey and J.P. Lowen) did not sign. While there are two catchers on the Rome roster with McCann (Alonzo Ruelas and Kyle Roat), there is not much behind that ready to go to Danville. Miguel Bernard is the only serious catcher still at Extended Spring Training who could go to Danville.

Therefore, you can look for a catcher to be taken in the first few rounds. A lot of speculation has centered around college catchers Mitch Maier (University of Toledo) and Landon Powell (University of South Carolina). Maier would be a possibility for the pick at #44, while Powell may stil be available at #68 or even #80. You can also expect the Braves to go after a younger high school catcher in a later round.

FIRST BASE - Well this could be the deepest position in the organization. Mike Hessman, Adam LaRoche, Scott Thorman, and Yaron Peters are all solid prospects. LaRoche may be setting himself up for a chance at the starting job in Atlanta in 2004. Also, it's possible that James Jurries could be moved to first base next season in Richmond. However, the Braves will probably select another first baseman in the first ten rounds. There is not a great first base prospect down at Extended right now who could go to Danville, so some help is still needed.

SECOND BASE - Again, another position of strength. Nick Green, Richard Lewis, Tony Pena, and Jonathan Schuerholz are all decent prospects. Lewis might be the best of the bunch, but with Marcus Giles establishing himself as the starter in Atlanta, there may not be a huge need at the big league level for a while.Mike Grasso, an 11th round pick last season, is probably going to start at second in Danville. The Braves will take a player at every position, but second base does not look like a huge priority.

SHORTSTOP - The presence of potential MVP candidate Rafael Furcal in Atlanta makes you believe this position is wrapped up for the future, but you can never have too many shortstops. The Braves already have a good amount, with Kelly Johnson being the best of the bunch. Tony Pena is having a solid season in Myrtle Beach, and while he can't hit a lick, Luis Hernandez is a defensive wiz in Rome. Like second base, there is always a need for good athletes who can play shortstop. So you can expect the Braves to look into a middle infielder with a top 10 pick.

THIRD BASE - If first base is not the deepest position in the Braves organization, third base might be. Wilson Betemit has moved to third in Richmond and adjusted very well. He could be the leading candidate to replace Vinny Castilla in Atlanta in 2004. James Jurries plays third for Greenville, but he is not solid defensively there and could be moved to first base next season. Andy Marte is the Braves top position player prospect. He started off slow in Myrtle Beach, but has rebounded nicely and is now hitting .286. Wes Timmons is at third in Rome, but is considered a fringe prospect. Cole Barthel and Dean White are two young players who are long range prospects. It would be a surprise if the Braves spend a high pick on a third baseman. With Betemit and Marte, there are two potential major leaguers to choose from over the next three years.

OUTFIELD - The last two years, the Braves have drafted a number of quality outfielders (Jeff Francoeur, Josh Burrus, Adam Stern, Matt Esquivel, Billy McCarthy). McCarthy is already up to AA and performing very well, while Francoeur is the Braves top outfield prospect. Stern has battled injuries this season, and Burrus and Esquivel are probably headed to Danville.

Ryan Langerhans and Cory Aldridge could battle for a spot on Atlanta's roster in 2004. Several International players (Gregor Blanco, Carlos Duran, Onil Joseph, Carlos Guzman, and Ardley Jansen) give Atlanta great depth in the outfield. Since Francouer was the only outfielder selected in last season's draft, it's possible that an outfielder could be selected in the first ten rounds. But with all the depth, made possible by the development of the International players, outfield will not be a high priority in the 2004 draft.

------- With the Braves great depth in its minor league system, the team is in position to select the "best player available." That is a philosophy many teams use no matter what, with filling in holes in its farm system. But the Braves have the flexibility to strengthen its pitching even more and get the best position players who might fall to them.

The Braves have 6 out of the first 98 picks. This gives them leeway to get more pitching in the system. With pitching the strength of the draft, expect it to be the main story on Tuesday night after the first day is completed.

BILL SHANKS CAN BE REACHED ON THE MESSAGE BOARDS ON www.bravescenter.com and at thebravesshow@email.com.

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