Draft Preview: Part Two

As we approach today's draft, it is important to review last year's draft to see what Scouting Director Roy Clark and his staff may be after this time. The 2003 draft could go down as the strongest in Clark's four-year tenure, possibly surpassing the tremendous 2000 draft that still dominates our farm system today.

Of the 53 players the Braves drafted last year, 29 signed with the organization, including the 6 draft and follow players signed in the last month. Of those 29, 17 were pitchers, 4 were catchers, 2 were first baseman, 2 were third baseman, and 4 were outfielders. Eleven of the 29 came from the high school ranks, 10 from Junior Colleges, and 8 from D-1 colleges.

Pitching was obviously the story of the Braves 2003 draft. Twelve of the first 14 draft picks were pitchers, with the first 7 of those 12 being high school arms. Luis Atilano, a lanky right-hander from Puerto Rico, was the Braves first pick in the supplemental round. Atilano is slated to begin his 2004 season at Danville after impressing in Extended Spring Training the last eight weeks. Atilano is very raw and will be brought along slowly, but the Braves still believe they have the best young pitching prospect out of Puerto Rico since Javier Vazquez.

Jo Jo Reyes, the second round pick, and Jake Stevens, the third round pick, have been two integral parts of the Rome Braves rotation. Reyes is a lefty who the Braves considered the best high school arm in the States last spring, while Stevens surprised everyone in spring training by winning a job in the Rome rotation. Both pitchers are slightly ahead of the other young arms drafted by the Braves early in the draft.

Paul Bacot, a righty from the Atlanta area who was drafted in the 2nd round, Matt Harrison, a right-hander taken in the third round, and Chris Vines, the Braves 5th round choice last year, are all slated to be apart of the Danville rotation. Adam Stanley, taken in the 9th round, could also be apart of the Danville starting five when their season starts in a few weeks.

The Braves also emphasized college relievers in last year's draft, and the results have already been positive. Ryan Basner, the 7th round pick out of Western Carolina, has been the most consistent reliever in Myrtle Beach. The Braves flirted with the idea of making him a starter, but numbers moved him to the Pelicans' bullpen. Glenn Tucker, a side-armer from East Carolina who was taken in the 11th round, has 7 saves for the Pelicans in joining Basner to form a lethal combination.

Sean White, the 8th round choice from the University of Washington, has been used in long relief in Rome. The Braves would also love to see him get a few starts, but the tremendous work of the 7 starters already in the Rome rotation has White stuck in long relief for now. Brad Nelson, last year's 10th round choice, has saved three games for Rome. Finally, Kyle Bakker, Atlanta's last pick in the 20th round last June, has settled into a nice role in the Rome bullpen.

Under normal circumstances Bakker would get a chance to start, but for now he's getting innings in relief. The Braves hope to continue to work out some mechanical flaws Bakker developed in his last year at Georgia Tech. Jake Blakeney, the 22nd round pick out of Mississippi St., has been solid in the Rome bullpen.

Asher Demme, a hard thrower who struggled with back problems last season, could join recently signed Draft and Follow right-hander Jonny Venters in the Gulf Coast League rotation. Demme was the Braves 6th round choice out of a Virginia high school.

So with so many pitchers and a stacked minor league depth chart, pitcher would not seem to be a priority this year. Rome already has a 7-man rotation, as "piggybacking" has become the word of the year in the Braves system. "Piggybacking" means that one pitcher starts, gets his innings in, and is then replaced by another young starter who then gets his innings in. Greenville recently joined that party by putting Zach Miner and Macay McBride together. Myrtle Beach could soon do it with Chris Waters and Matt Merricks.

But to assume the Braves are going to ignore pitchers is foolish. They pride themselves on having these minor league rotation stacked with quality arms, and if there are young pitchers out there available when they pick, expect it to happen. Roy Clark and Dayton Moore have developed the deepest farm system in baseball, and they know pitching is the primary reason for that distinction.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia was taken with the other supplemental pick early in last year's draft. "Salty Dog" is a lanky 6'4" catcher who is having a fine season in Rome this year. Later in the draft the Braves also grabbed C.J. Bressoud out of the Atlanta area, who fell to the 26th round due to signability questions. Bressoud is slated to be Danville's starting catcher in a few weeks.

Considering Saltalamacchia and Bressoud are two solid prospects, along with the fact that 2002 early selection Brian McCann is already the club's top catching prospect, catching might not be a priority in this year's draft. Some of the Braves international catching prospects (Jose Salas, for instance) have not panned out as had been hoped, so there's still a chance one catcher could be taken in the first ten picks. There are several scouts in the Braves system who believe in taking at least one catcher in the first ten picks every year, especially now that the Javy Lopez era is over in Atlanta. At the least, expect the Braves to take a catcher in the 10-20 round range.

Larry Williams, recently signed as a draft and follow player out of California, and Jamie Romak, the 4th round pick out of Canada last year, should play the corners in the Danville infield. Williams, nicknamed "Sir Lawrence" by the Braves, has excellent offensive potential as a first baseman. Romak has tremendous makeup to go along with an explosive bat. He may eventually play in the outfield, but for now he remains at third base. The Braves love Romak's work ethic and believe he could be a special talent.

Ben Thomas, Atlanta's 15th round pick out of Midland JUCO in Texas, has been one of the pleasant surprises in the system this season. He has played exceptionally well for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans after skipping the Rome Braves altogether. Thomas has played decent at third, and has recently moved over to first base with the promotion of Scott Thorman to Greenville.

Outfield was helped by the recent signings of Brandon Jones and Mark Jurich, two draft and follow players. Both Jones and Jurich will probably join Williams and Romak in Danville later this month. Steve Doetsch was a steal as the 14th round selection. He was a draft and follow not signed by the Phillies prior to last year's draft, so the Braves got him in the 14th round. Jamie Hemingway, a 23rd rounder out of UNC Wilmington, has been decent as a reserve outfielder for Danville.

The Braves did not sign one single middle infielder from last year's draft. Only one second baseman and one shortstop were drafted, but neither signed. Considering the Braves lost out of Tyler Green, an early pick out of South Florida in the 2002 draft who has become one of Georgia Tech's best players, Atlanta is in position to go after a middle infielder early in the draft.

The depth is already there in the system. Obviously, Marcus Giles and Rafael Furcal are two young players in Atlanta. But Furcal can leave as a free agent after the 2005 season, so potential replacements must be at least discussed right now. Wilson Betemit, Tony Pena, Jr., and Luis Hernandez are all three decent prospects that many teams would love to have. But the numbers at shortstop are not as impressive as the other positions. Greenville's Aaron Herr is a decent second base prospect, but has yet to show he may be a potential starter in the big leagues. Rome's Martin Prado is opening some eyes in the Sally League, but he is several years away from possibly making an impact.

So middle infield is definitely an area to watch in next week's June draft. The Braves did not sign any from last year, so it could be a priority this year. But as always, despite the overwhelming numbers selected last year, pitchers will be on the radar screen. They simply always are when Roy Clark makes the selections, and with the depth in place, no one seems to be complaining.

Atlanta Dugout Top Stories