Final Draft Analysis

Bill Shanks wraps up's week-long draft coverage with a final look at the Braves 2003 Draft. Shanks has quotes from some of the players, coaches, and scouts associated with the Braves and their draftees, as well as some final thoughts of his own.

Sliding High School Players Made This Draft Special

The philosophy was clear: take advantage of the strength of the draft, which happens to fall in place with general organizational beliefs. There was little doubt that high school pitching was going to be the priority for the Atlanta Braves, but you must wonder if Roy Clark could have ever dreamed it could be this good.

Atlanta's 2003 draft may rival the 2000 draft. That may be difficult, but as Clark was leaving the pressbox at Turner Field Tuesday night, he speculated if he had struck gold once again.

Nick Markakis would have been great, but realistically, he was never a possibility to fall all the way to #35. The Braves wanted him, but when it became obvious last weekend the Orioles were serious about making him the 7th overall selection, Atlanta was able to concentrate on more realistic possibilities.

Luis Atilano is not as known as some of the Braves previous first draft choices. But it might not be long before he's a household name. The Braves have been scouting Atilano for a while, and they are most encouraged by his gradual improvement. Many pitchers improve overnight, climbing the charts by zipping radar guns and impressing scouts. But the Braves believe they have found someone who has improved at a steady pace over the past year, and will continue the rate after he gets into the system.

Scouts who follow baseball in Puerto Rico told the Braves Atilano is "another Javier Vazquez." Considering the Braves interest in the Expos righthander last offseason, it should be no surprise that comparison convinced the team on Atilano. He fits the bill as "projectable," and the Braves believe his 92 mph fastball will get into the mid-90 range on a consistent basis.

As told by our own Jason Walker (, "Salty Dog," Jarrod Saltalamacchia is more than pleased to be a Brave. Atlanta just drafted a catcher a year ago, and while Brian McCann is already our top catching prospect, the Braves could not pass up the opportunity to pass on Saltalamacchia. Like McCann, the Braves view him as the best catcher in the draft. In having both Saltalamacchia and McCann, the team now has two excellent prospects at a position that is difficult to develop star talent.

The best thing about "Salty Dog" is his love for the Atlanta Braves. The kid wanted to wear the Tomahawk across his chest. Badly. When the Braves saw his interest and love for the team, it made them even more anxious to draft him. The switch-hitting Saltalamacchia left Friday for the Braves mini-camp in Orlando. He's ready to get started.

Lefthander Jo Jo Reyes was projected to go right where the Braves selected him at pick #43. Reyes reminded the Braves of Horacio Ramirez in his stuff and competitive nature. Reyes has good size and a great idea of how to pitch.

Paul Bacot (pronounced ba-coat) is an Atlanta kid who is overwhelmed about wearing a Braves uniform. Paul has attended about ten games a year at Turner Field, and the prospect of pitching there one day is unbelievable. Bacot is a lanky righthander who has excellent makeup. He outpitched Roswell RHP Jimmy Barthmaier (13th round - Astros) earlier in the season and became the best high school pitching prospect in Georgia.

The Braves were surprised that both of their third round picks were still on the board. Jacob Stevens (#79) was rated as the 6th best LHP in the draft by Baseball America. Some had projected Stevens would be a Supplemental or even a second round pick. The Braves believe Stevens can be a right handed power pitcher with a fastball in the mid-90's. He needs to work on his breaking stuff, but he's coming to the right organization.

Matt Harrison (#97) also could have gone early in the second round but luckily fell to the Braves in the third. The Braves love this kid's mechanics. He has a real nice delivery, and combine that with his 6-foot-3, 190 pound frame, and the Braves believe he can become a solid starting pitcher.

In the fourth round the Braves looked north, and chose Canadian 3B Jamie Romak. Three years ago the Braves made Scott Thorman a first round pick. The native Canadian is now one of the Braves top prospects in Myrtle Beach. Clark believes he has found "the right handed Scott Thorman" in Jamie Romak. The kid came into Turner Field ten days ago and put on a show, nailing multiple pitches into the left field seats. Defensively, he will need some work, but his bat is what could make him a big leaguer.

The Braves were pleasantly surprised Chris Vines, a right-handed pitcher from Pelham, Alabama, was still on the board in the 5th round. They rated him as the best pitcher in Alabama. Vines is the only top draft pick left unsigned, and the Braves are wanting his signature. He seems to fit the same mold as Bacot: tall righthander with good life on his fastball. Virginia righthander Ashley Demme throws a little harder than some of the other prospects, and the Braves are eager to get their 6th rounder down to Orlando to see his ability.

Seventh rounder Ryan Basner (pronounced Bah-sner) was the first college pitcher selected by the Braves. Ryan's father, Greg, said his son being drafted by the Braves was "a dream come true."

Ryan only started pitching consistently in college. He was mainly a power hitting third baseman in high school, but when his American Legion coaches saw him reach 96 mph on the mound, he was recommended to Western Carolina as a pitcher. Now his fastball averages 91-93 and his slider is considered very nasty. Ryan was 8-3, with an ERA of 2.95 and 91 strikeouts in 125.1 innings. Basner beat Oklahoma State, one of the best college programs in the country, on Western Carolina's trip out west. He spent his junior season as a reliever, and the Braves are undecided if Basner will start or relieve, but they do expect him to rise through the system quickly.

The Braves 8th round draft choice, Sean White, could move into the Danville starting rotation when their season starts in a few weeks. White was the ace of the Washington Huskies pitching staff, going 8-4 with a high ERA of 4.76. But White also had a good H/IP ratio of 88/90.2 and a good strikeout number (70). Clark believes White has improved a lot over the past year.

The Braves 11th round draft pick, Glenn Tucker, is originally from the Florida Keys but played college baseball at East Carolina. Allen Osborne, ECU's Assistant Baseball Coach, said that Tucker is a great pick for the Braves because "he has great makeup and a rubber arm."

Tucker is a sidearmer who can start or relieve, but he started only 5 of 88 games in college. In 197 career innings pitched, Tucker struck out 170 and walked only 54. Osborne said Tucker's fastball peaks at 92 mph, and his slider is his out pitch. He also features a change up. Tucker shut out Georgia Tech in the NCAA Regional a few weeks ago, striking out six and walking only one in 8.1 innings of relief.

The Braves are concerned that Casey Spanish, a senior outfielder from the University of Kansas, may not sign. He turned down the Braves initial offer, upset at slipping in the draft to the 12th round. Spanish hit .383 with 12 home runs and 7 triples. Not sure what Mr. Spanish wants to do, since he was a senior at Kansas last season. Hopefully, Spanish will join he family and the Braves can get him signed soon.

13th round choice Mark Jurich will have a tough decision to make: sign with the Braves or return for his senior season at the University of Louisville. Mark, whose father Tom is the Louisville Athletic Director, broke a bone in his hand in the first game of the 2003 season and missed 26 games. He returned to hit .285 with 5 home runs and 33 RBI in 130 at bats. In his sophomore season a year ago, Jurich hit .365 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI in 203 at bats. He was named third team All-American for his fine 2002 season. He also played on the USA Baseball National Team in Italy and the Netherlands.

Perhaps the surprise of the draft was that Steve Doetsch (pronounced "Deech") was available to the Braves in the 14th round. Doetsch was a draft and follow of the Phillies from a year ago when he was their 8th round draft choice. The Braves discovered him when scouting one of their draft and follows from a year ago, lefthanded pitcher Danny Collins, who was signed last week.

Indian River Community College Head Baseball Coach Mike Easom told that Doetsch has "outstanding range and and excellent arm" in centerfield. Easom believes that Doetsch has great raw power, but that the Braves will need to help him work on some holes in his swing. "He just needs time with some of their instructors. He comes to play everyday and he wants to get better at the plate."

Doetsch hit .387 with 10 home runs and 35 RBI for IRCC this season. Easom compares his body type to Ben Grieve, but say Doetsch is "more athletic than Grieve." Easom says Doetsch will also be a basestealer in pro baseball. "He had about ten stolen bases, but we didn't really run that much. He can probably steal over 20 bases a year if given the green light." Easom was as shocked as the Braves that Doetsch fell to the 14th round. He thought Steve would go even earlier than the 8th round, when the Phillies took him there a year ago.

The final surprise of the first day for the Braves was in the 18th round when Keith Weiser was on the board. Atlanta talked about drafting Weiser in the 5th round, but he didn't fit their financials at that spot. Contact was made again after Weiser fell in the draft, and he gave the Braves an indication he would sign if they drafted him. He has not signed yet, but it looks promising. Again, this is fifth round talent falling into the Braves laps. Weiser was rated as the 25th best LHP in the draft by Baseball America.

Back before the college baseball season, the Braves believed there was no way they could draft Georgia Tech lefthander Kyle Bakker. The 6-9, 250 pound Bakker was projected as a top ten choice, and the Braves were not going to pick until the Supplemental round. Bakker struggled during his junior season, and his velocity dropped into the low-mid 80's causing some to question his health.

The Braves saw no real risk in taking Bakker with the 20th round. If he doesn't sign, Bakker will return to Georgia Tech and the Braves will not lose that much, particularly since so many of the early picks have already signed. There's everything to gain, however. If Bakker does sign, he will go into the best organization in baseball for working with young pitchers. was able to talk with Bakker about being drafted by the Braves in the 20th round. Bakker said he was "a little bit" surprised about dropping so far, but he "had heard it could happen because of my signability." When the Braves called his name on the Internet, Bakker was "excited. I think it would be a great fit. I love the Braves organization and Atlanta is a great baseball town."

Bakker was not pleased with his 2003 season. "It was not the year I was looking to have. I didn't have an awful year but it wasn't great either." Kyle throws a fastball, change up, and slider. He relies on solid command of his pitches. "I know I need to improve mechanically. The Braves could help me."

When told that 20th round selections usually don't get big bonus money, Bakker said he just wanted the Braves to be fair.

"I'm not going to ask for nothing out of this world," Bakker said. "I just want them to be fair. I'll be fair as well."

Two names to watch from the second day could round out the Braves draft.

C.J. Bressoud, the 12th ranked catcher in the draft by Baseball America, fell due to signability questions and was finally drafted by Atlanta in the 26th round. Bressoud is from North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Georgia, just north of Atlanta. Will being drafted by his hometown team entice him to sign?

Also, 43rd round choice Zechry Zinicola is headed to Arizona State on a scholarship. But the Braves hold out some hope they can convince him to sign. Zinicola is a 6-1, 220 pound righthanded pitcher from San Bernadino, California. He was rated as the 72nd best RHP in the draft by Baseball America.

So how good was this draft? On paper, right now, it was tremendous. The Braves had several players rated higher fall into lower rounds. The emphasis many teams are placing on college players also allowed high rated high school talent to fall to the Braves. This specifically allowed Stevens and Harrison to become property of the Braves. To get solid college pitching in the 7-11th rounds will help the minor league bullpen situation. Finally, Romak and Saltalamacchia will be two position player prospects to watch closely.

No draft is successful if a team does not sign its players. So far, the Braves have signed eleven of its first twelve selections. Also, Steve Doetsch, a fifth round value, has already agreed to a deal. If Chris Vines (5th round), Keith Weiser (18th round), Kyle Bakker (20th round), and C.J. Bressoud (26th round) sign, this could be the best draft in Braves history. Right now, it might be second best, behind the 2000 group.

Atilano, Reyes, Bacot, Stevens, Harrison, Demme, Basner, and White all have great potential. It seems we have added to an already strong pitching core in the minor leagues. If that core of pitching strength remains solid, the Braves should continue as a pitching factory for many years to come.


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