We've talked about the Braves needs, now let's talk about some specific names of some prospects that could be future Braves this week after the Amateur Draft on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Braves have six picks out of the first 97 (35, 36, 43, 67, 79, and 97). If you are wondering why those last four picks are a number lower than before, Baltimore was to receive a compensation pick if they did not sign Adam Loewen from last year's draft. But he was signed last week, allowing the picks to move up one slot in the order. With those extra three picks, the Braves are able to take a few more risks, and concentrate on taking advantage of the strength of the draft: pitching.
Roy Clark is now in his fourth year of being in charge of the Braves draft. He and Dayton Moore, Director of Player Personnel, will work closely in choosing the draft picks. Since 2000 (the best draft in franchise history), there are several trends you can see in Roy's draft process. First, he is not afraid to take a college player in the first ten rounds. Critics have said this is more because of budget constraints from AOL, but it is more due to a "best player available" approach by Clark.
Dan Meyer and Richard Lewis were two college players taken early the last two years. James Jurries, Yaron Peters, and Jonathan Schuerholz were three more college players taken in the top ten rounds last season. Jurries and Peters are doing great, making you wonder if the Braves will be tempted to take a few more college hitters in this year's draft. Schuerholz has improved defensively, but is still struggling with the bat. The 2001 draft also had college players Adam Stern, Billy McCarthy, and Willie Collazo taken in the top ten rounds. McCarthy is the only one of the three with a legit shot at being in the majors. Stern has been injured all season, and Collazo is in Myrtle Beach.
The success of Meyer, Lewis, Jurries, Peters, and McCarthy may signal that once again the Braves will look at some college kids. Rumor has it there are several college pitchers they would like to draft. Here are some names to look out for:
COLLEGE PITCHERS(Ranked in order by Baseball America)
1. Nick Markakis - JUCO kid from Georgia. More on him in a minute
2. Scott Baker - Righty from Oklahoma State. May be gone by 35. Very Polished college hurler.
3. Wes Littleton - RHP from Cal St. Fullerton. Called a very polished pitcher. Has makeup questions, which may rule him out.
4. Dennis Dove - RHP from Ga. Southern. A Ga. kid, so that's a plus. Some teams like him early (Oak, Bos).
5. Thomas Pauly - RHP from Princeton. One of the hot names climbing the list. He's more of a reliever.
6. Jason Hirsh - RHP from small college in California. First rounder before season. Potential Reliever. 95+ fastball.
7. Daniel Moore - LHP from UNC. People wonder why he does not dominate at 6-5, 232 pounds.
8. Abe Alvarez - LHP from Long Beach State. Oakland might take him at 33 or he might sneak into the first round.
A few more notes on these eight pitchers. Alvarez is the one who has been rumored to the Braves, but he's moving up the charts the last few weeks and might not be available to the Braves at 35, 36. Baseball America called Alvarez the second closest draftee to the majors. Do the Braves need someone that quickly? Not really. So if he's gone when the Braves draft, there will be others to choose from.
Pauly is an interesting pitcher. His name is rising up the charts the last few weeks. People believe he could become a starter, but he's spent most of his time as a reliever. One reason to keep your eye on him is where he plays: Princeton. Our scout for that area is J.J. Picollo, who handles Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the DC area. J.J. played for Dayton Moore at George Mason University, and the last few years the Braves have obviously listened to who J.J. has recommended. Picollo has scouted and signed Dan Meyer, Billy McCarthy, Anthony Lerew, Kevin Barry, Aaron Herr, and Bubba Nelson.
Since Dove is from Georgia Southern, you know the Braves have scouted him heavily. However, there have not been any rumors the Braves are actively pursuing Dove. Baker seems to be a very polished pitcher that might be too good to pass up when the Braves picks are on the board. Moore's size makes him very tempting, and Hirsh's fastball is special.
Nick Markakis falls into several categories: kid who plays in Georgia, left handed pitcher, polished JUCO pitcher. He turned down $1.5 million from the Reds as a draft and follow prospect from last year's draft. Now, after a terrific season at Young Harris, a JUCO in North Georgia, Markakis is one of the hot names on the list. Baseball America reported rumors of Markakis doing a "Francoeur;" telling other teams he would require a huge bonus only so he can slide down to the Braves at 35.
There is no doubt the Braves are interested and would select Markakis at 35 if he does slip. There was talk the Orioles might even grab him at #7 in the first round. Cleveland (11, 18), Oakland (25, 26), St. Louis (28), and Boston (17, 32) are also interested. If Markakis slips, Boston could be a danger. The Red Sox have scouted Markakis heavily. But the Braves are hoping they'll have good luck two years in a row, and have a player who may be top ten caliber fall in their lap later in the draft. Markakis could be a very special left handed pitcher, and would fit in well with our stable of young, talented arms.
Another trend since Roy Clark took over in 2000 is the tremendous influence of Georgia kids drafted by the Braves. Again, critics say this is another way to cut corners: select kids who have grown up Braves fans and will take less to play for their home state team. But the fact is the quality of play in Georgia has increased dramatically over the past decade. Clark attributes the improvement in the summer leagues, traveling teams, and recreation departments to the popularity of the Braves since 1991. Other franchises are coming into Georgia and learning how many quality players are in the state.
In all three of Clark's drafts, a Georgia kid has been the top selection: Jeff Francoeur in 2002, Macay McBride in 2001, and Adam Wainwright in 2000. So it is entirely possible that once again a Georgia player could be the Braves first pick on Tuesday. There have also been a number of players from Georgia drafted in the top ten rounds over the past three years: Brian McCann and Pat Clayton in 2002; Josh Burrus and Kyle Davies in 2001; and Bryan Digby and Blaine Boyer in 2000.
So despite whatever happens in the first few picks, you can expect some Georgia kids in the top ten rounds Tuesday.
Jimmy Barthmaier, a 6-4, 210 pound righthander from Roswell, is the most popular prediction for one of the Braves picks in the Supplemental Round. Surely the Braves have scouted him, but it's not known if they are as high on him as the rumors predict. It may simply be that people are putting two and two together, thinking the Braves will draft the highest Georgia kid on the board no matter what. Barthmaier could well be the Braves top pick. He has a fastball in the low 90's and a slider clocked at 80-83. Barthmaier is projected as the 16th best right hander in the draft and should be available at 35.
There are some other Georgia pitchers to keep an eye on Tuesday. The Braves have been linked with Paul Bacot, a 6-6, 200 pound righthander from Lakeside High School in Atlanta. Baseball America's Jim Callis called Bacot the "sleeper of the draft" on Friday afternoon. Bacot could be a candidate for the pick at 67 or 79. Tim Gustafson is a 6-3, 185 pound righthander from Parkview High School in Lilburn, Georgia. Parkview is the same high school Jeff Francoeur attended. Gustafson has four pitches (fastball, slider, curve, change) and has good mechanics. He might be available in the 4th round for Atlanta.
Here are four more pitchers from Georgia: Dustin Evans, Billy Buckner, Brooks Brown, and Kevin Culpepper. Evans is 6-3, 200 pounds. He is from Adairsville High School. Buckner, a 6-2 righthander, is a teammate of Markakis at Young Harris in the Georgia mountains. Brown is a lanky righthander from Portal, Georgia. Culpepper is a 6-5, 190 pound lefty from Georgia Southern, and a teammate of Dennis Dove.
There was speculation early on that the Braves would select Georgia Tech lefthander Kyle Bakker. However, Bakker's disappointing season for the Yellow Jackets has all but killed that possibility. Bakker was projected as a top 15 pick before the season, but his fastball has leveled out in the mid-80s. Since he's 6-foot-9, there should be more life in the fastball. If Bakker falls past the 5th round, it's possible the Braves will take a flyer on him and see if they can straighten him out. But do not count on it.
The other hot name from Georgia that is a possibility for the Braves is Tim Battle, a 6-1, 185 pound outfielder from McIntosh High School in Peachtree City. Battle could be gone by the time the Braves pick. Los Angeles (24) and Kansas City (30) have both been mentioned as interested in Battle. Baseball America has Battle rated as the best high school athlete in the draft, along with the fourth best outfielder. If Battle reminds you of Josh Burrus and George Lombard, you are not alone. Burrus has struggled with the bat and in the field (bounced around from 3B to LF), and Lombard could never conquer the breaking ball. Battle is considered the same type of "high reward, high risk" selection. With the Braves having great depth in the outfield, mainly due to talented international players, there may not be a huge need for an outfielder this high in the draft. Battle would have to be picked with one of the first two picks, and with the amount of pitching that could be available, it seems unlikely the Braves will take Battle or any outfielder.
Roy Clark says that pitching is the strength of this draft, and there's no reason to go against the strength of any draft. So you can expect that pitching will be the priority on Tuesday, regardless of where they may be from. It may be smart, however, to concentrate on the Southeast, since a lot of the top hurlers who could be available from 35-97 are southerners. Here's a look at some high school pitchers from the south who could be available to the Braves:
1. Adam Miller - A righthander from Texas who is climbing up the charts. He is projected to be a first rounder, but with so many teams going after college kids, he might be a high schooler who could fall to the Braves in the mid-30's. Miller may be like Matt Belisle, taken in the second round from Texas in 1998. Miller is 6-4, 180 pounds. He's being compared to Bret Saberhagen, which is quite a compliment. Adam has a hard slider, changeup, and his fastball is in the low 90's with the possibility of getting into the mid-90's. If Miller falls, the Braves could be all over him at 35. Markakis and Miller could give the Braves a tremendous lefty-righty tandem from this draft.
2. Daniel Bard - RHP from North Carolina who stands 6 foot 4, 185 pounds. Bard is considered a tough sign. He's committed to UNC and is from a wealthy family. It may take a $2 million dollar signing bonus to get him away from college. If Markakis falls to the Braves, they will have to pay him close to $2 million, so Bard would be out. But he would probably be considered a no-brainer first rounder if there was not a question about his signability. His fastball has already hit 96 and could get faster.
3. Scott Maine - LHP from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Maine is from the same area as Zach Miner, who was a 4th round pick in 2000. Scott is 6-3, 175 pounds and has three decent pitches (fastball in the low 90's, curve, and change). He's rated as the 5th best lefthander in the draft.
4. Jacob Stevens - LHP from Cape Coral, Florida and is rated right behind Maine as the 6th best lefthander. Stevens has been compared to Sterling Hitchcock. He's a bit bigger than Maine, weighing 220 pounds at the same height.
5. Stuart Pomeranz - RHP from Collierville, Tennessee who is a giant at 6-7, 220 pounds. Pomeranz is climbing the charts since he is considered very signable. The Braves like tall pitchers, so this one could be a possibility.
6. Matt Harrison - LHP from Creedmoor, North Carolina who is rated higher than Bard by some. He might last until the third round, but he is considered signable. His makeup is said to be excellent, which is always important.
There have been a few other pitchers from other areas of the country who have been linked to the Braves. Here are just a few:
1. JoJo Reyes - A 6-2, 215 pound lefty from California has been scouted heavily by Atlanta. There are some concerns about his size, which could scare the Braves off. Another kid who is climbing some charts.
2. Ryan Feierbend - The state of Ohio has a couple of talented lefties. Feierbend could get into the second round and is a possibility at 43. He is a 6-3, 190 pound lefty who has great makeup. Scouts say he has a very high ceiling.
3. Greg Moviel - The other top lefty from Ohio stands at 6 foot 7, 225 pounds. Cleveland is interested, and if Moviel is not drafted high, he might honor his commitment to Vanderbilt.
4. Aaron Laffey - You must keep an eye on Laffey because of his father, who played in the minors with Leo Mazzone. Laffey is a 6 foot, 180 pound lefty who has great makeup.
5. Anthony Whittington - A tall lefty with terrific makeup and simply sounds like a Braves prospect. His 6-5, 225 pound frame reminds some of Steve Carlton when they see him pitch. Anthony has a chance to be a third rounder.
When you look past the pitching (and it's hard to do so), there are several areas the Braves could look to improve. Since Kris Harvey (5) and J.P. Lowen (15) did not sign last season, the Braves could be looking for a couple of catchers. There have been reports the Braves have scouted Mitch Maier, rated the best catcher in the draft out of the University of Toledo. Maier might be gone by the time the Braves draft. Oakland, a college oriented team with three picks ahead of the Braves, are said to be heavily interested in Maier. If Maier falls, don't be shocked if he's taken with one of the first two picks.
The other catcher to keep an eye on is Landon Powell, who has had a very decent career at the University of South Carolina. Powell is represented by Scott Boras, which might scare some teams off. But one thing to remember is the Braves have selected a player from USC two years in a row (Bryan Jeffcoat in 2001 and Yaron Peters in 2002). The Braves have scouted Powell, so he could be a possibility at 67 or 79.
One player who could be tempting is Clemson first baseman Michael Johnson. He is under control of the Padres until Tuesday, but if he does not sign could be a second rounder. Johnson is a tall, lefthanded hitting first baseman who can generate power. But the Braves are full of first baseman, and might move Johnson to left field if selected.
You can expect the Braves to use the term "best player available" a lot on Tuesday. This franchise has no huge need, except for a few catchers and strengthening the already deep pitching corps. Pitching has been the priority over the past decade, and that will not change Tuesday. That is why this list has a high number of pitchers listed. "You can never have enough pitching." Don't you love that phrase?
The Braves sure do.
BILL SHANKS CAN BE REACHED ON THE MESSAGE BOARDS ON www.bravescenter.com and at email@example.com.
Draft Preview: WHO WILL THE BRAVES DRAFT?
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