Draft Preview - Part One

One of the first things to do when previewing a draft, particularly since there's no exact science in predicting these things, is to look inside the organization and see what you need and don't need.

So that's how we'll start things out.

After the signing of draft and follows Brandon Jones and Mark Jurich, outfield is all of a sudden a strength in the Braves organization. Now that the secret is out, and we all know Chipper Jones might not finish his career in the Atlanta outfield, there's a little more of a need than originally thought. But a closer look reveals several candidates to roam the outfield over the next few years.

Jeff Francoeur is obviously the star of the minor league system. He's having a wonderful season in Myrtle Beach, hitting .284 with 8 home runs and 27 RBI in 194 at bats. Francoeur could be on pace to battle for a job in Atlanta as soon as 2006. You hate to go ahead and project a player for our future using a pen, but I would feel safe using real ink in putting Francoeur's name in right field.

Francoeur is top quality, but quantity seems to be the pattern for the rest of the system. There are a number of players who could be considered "B-level" prospects, ones that have an excellent chance of making the big leagues as at least a role player. Ryan Langerhans has been passed up a few times as the Braves have needed help in Atlanta, but he is quietly putting together a nice full season in AAA at Richmond. "Langy" is hitting .265 with 6 homers and 27 RBI in 166 at bats. If Chipper Jones does well at first base and Mike Hessman continues to struggle at the big league level, it will be interesting to see if the Braves would consider promoting Langerhans to see some action in left field.

All three members of the Greenville outfield are having decent seasons. Kelly Johnson has done well in his transition to the outfield, but needs to get more consistent at the plate. Johnson is hitting .247 in his second go around in AA with 5 home runs and 16 runs batted in. Adam Stern has opened some eyes with a .319 average to go along with 11 stolen bases. Stern is a pesky hitter who makes things happen when he gets on base. And finally Billy McCarthy is having the best season of the Greenville three. He's hitting .305 with 7 home runs and 31 RBI in 164 at bats. McCarthy missed a large part of 2003 with injuries, so now that he's healthy he is putting together a solid season in AA. Any of these three could go to spring training next March and battle for a job in Atlanta.

The Myrtle Beach outfield has two excellent prospects flanking Francoeur. Gregor Blanco is in his second season in the Carolina League. He's hitting .266 with 14 stolen bases in 173 at bats. Onil Joseph, who wowed Bobby Cox in big league spring training, has 15 swipes in 165 at bats. Both Blanco and Joseph have high ceilings and could emerge as potential regulars within the next two years.

Rome's outfield has been impressive. Josh Burrus, a first round pick in 2001, has finally turned the corner after battling injuries the last two years. Burrus has a 17-game hitting streak to go along with his .312 average, 4 home runs, 21 RBI, and 15 stolen bases in 189 at bats. He's also playing solid defense in the outfield. The Braves have always believed Burrus had the potential to do what he's now doing, and he may evolve into the next best outfield prospect behind Francoeur.

Steve Doetsch, a 14th round pick last year, cooled off a bit in May but is having a solid season. Doetsch has 5 homers and 34 RBI in 183 at bats. Matt Esquivel has had his average up over .300 all season and has 7 homers and 25 RBI in 172 at bats. Ardley Jansen, repeating low A this year, has 5 home runs in 138 at bats for the Rome team.

Brandon Jones and Mark Jurich will probably play in Danville in the Appalachian League. Jones is a speedster with power potential who has been compared to White Sox prospect Jeremy Reed. Jurich was recently compared to former Mets player Gregg Jefferies. He has a solid left-handed swing and is an exceptional defensive player.

One player probably headed for the Gulf Coast League that should be mentioned is Rubi Koko, an 18-year old native of Curacao. Koko was signed last year out of Andruw Jones' homeland, and the Braves feel they may have another special player from that area. He's 6'3", but was the fastest base runner in spring training. Koko is very raw, but will be one to watch due to his tremendous athletic ability.

So the numbers are strong in the Braves system. The signings of Jones and Jurich may allow the Braves to slide outfield down on its priority list for the June draft next week. Expect at least one outfielder to be taken in the first ten picks, but the signings of the two draft and follows will allow other areas to be concentrated on next week. Had they not signed, the Braves would be in need of at least three outfielders early in the draft.

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