It's funny, really. Walk around the Braves' spring training complex in Orlando every March and ask the players which draft over the last six years has been the best. You will get six different answers and the vote will be split evenly every time.
No big surprise, huh? Perhaps that just acknowledges more than anything how good Roy Clark's drafts have been in his six plus years as Scouting Director. It all started in 2000, a draft that will always be hard to top. And each year since Clark and his crew have been cranking out draft classes that continue to make the Braves' system the best in the game.
The 2005 draft could easily be looked at upon first glance and create skepticism about Clark's magic continuing. The Braves signed only 16 of the 52 players drafted during the 2006 calendar year. So far, six additional players have been inked as draft and follow players.
The reason for the few numbers of signees is simple: the organization's depth did not allow for a high number of new players to be added into the system. If the Braves had signed many more of the players, particularly the pitchers, it would have been difficult to get those players adequate playing time or innings pitched.
Therefore, the preference and strategy was to allow a number of the draftees to attend junior college, where they could continue their development under the Braves' watchful eye. Most of the junior colleges allow teams to monitor the progress of their drafted players, unlike a four-year college that will have the team's best interest at heart.
So considering those circumstances, how good was the 2005 draft - at least with the players currently in the system? Let's not grade the entire draft for another year, until we see how the draft and follow players perform over the next twelve months. Here‘s our first of two parts looking back on last year‘s draft.
JOEY DEVINE - 1st round - His arrival to the big leagues will be debated and discussed for years. Many fans will always believe he was rushed, but I say that is just ludicrous. I watched Devine pitch the last game before he was called up in mid-August. Even though he gave up a grand slam (all four runs were unearned as Mississippi made three errors in the inning), his fastball was at 96 mph and his stuff was lethal. There was nothing more for him to do in the minor leagues. Then he got called up, and after displaying that 96 mph fastball in his first inning of work against the Padres, he strained his oblique muscle. You knew something was up when his fastball was around 90 mph in that second inning. Then, of course, he gave up a grand slam in the second inning against San Diego and another one four days later in Wrigley Field. Okay, so he rehabbed that oblique strain and once again showed that 96 mph fastball in the final week of the regular season, convincing Bobby Cox to place him on the postseason roster. There's no reason to blame Devine for giving up the winning home run in the Houston marathon. After a fantastic spring training, the Braves sent him to Richmond, only to call him up in the first week of the season. Then Devine injured his back, and is still down in Orlando rehabbing the injury. When healthy, there is no question Devine is an outstanding pitcher. But he's got to stay healthy and prove he can be a durable reliever. The Braves hope he can re-join Richmond in a few weeks, and if he's effective in June and July there, he might be back in Atlanta before the first of August. This kid has had some bad luck and trouble staying healthy, but the Braves still believe his potential is tremendous. If he can develop into a productive reliever, this could be a fantastic draft pick.
BEAU JONES - Supplemental 1st Round - The Braves believed he was the top prep left-hander in the draft, and there's no reason to doubt that now. Jones had an outstanding start to his career last summer in the Gulf Coast League, going 3-2 with a 3.86 ERA in 35 innings. He struck out 41 and walked only 16. Now in Rome, Jones missed a few starts with a strained oblique, but overall he's been effective. Jones is 1-0 with a 3.68 ERA in his first seven starts. He's struck out 32 in 29.1 innings. There will be no reason to rush Jones, who will finish out this season in Rome and then move up to the Carolina League next season. He's got great potential, perhaps as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. With the depth in the system, the Braves can allow him to fully develop. Jones could be this team's best prospect in two years, and you have to wonder if he'll be apart of the Atlanta rotation in this century's second decade.
YUNEL ESCOBAR - 2nd round - A Cuban defector compared to Edgar Renteria, Escobar showed he was a hitter right off the bat last season. He hit .325 between Danville (.400 in 30 at bats) and Rome (.313 in 198 at bats). Escobar had a great spring training and convinced the Braves to allow him to skip Myrtle Beach and go straight to Double-A to start the season. Escobar is hitting right around .280 and getting on base 38% of the time. His defense has been a bit disappointing, as he has committed 12 errors in his first 40 games. But the Braves are moving him around, from shortstop to third base to even second base. Escobar is becoming more versatile, which will improve his chances of making the Atlanta roster. Expect him to head to spring training as a non-roster player next year, and if there is a competition for the reserve infielder spot, he may have a solid chance. Could he become a starter in the big leagues? Certainly, but with Renteria under contract for two more years after this season, and with Elvis Andrus behind him, Escobar might instead be a candidate to start at second base should Marcus Giles leave after next season as a free agent. That's why the Braves are giving him a chance to play the three infield positions, and as always, it expands their options. Escobar could be a steal of a draft pick, particularly if he becomes a starter for the Braves in the future.
JEFF LYMAN - 2nd round - A tall, right-handed prep pitcher from California, Lyman didn't wow the Braves until the Instructional League. He was so-so in the Gulf Coast League, going 0-3 with a 4.24 ERA in eight games (seven starts). But then when he went to Instructs after the season, he showed the Braves a lot of promise. He really made the Rome roster based on that Instructional League performance. Lyman didn't have a great spring, but he had showed enough last Fall to convince the Braves he was ready for a full season in the Sally League. And boy, were they right. Lyman has been outstanding thus far, going 4-0 with a 2.20 ERA in his first nine games. He's allowed only 35 hits in his first 41 innings, walking 15 and striking out 35. Like Jones, there is no reason to rush Lyman. He and Jones could be on the same timetable. You can almost pencil them in now for Myrtle Beach in 2007, Mississippi in 2008, and Richmond in 2009. To have two outstanding prep pitchers, a lefty and a righty, in the first four picks is tremendous.
JORDAN SCHAFER - 3rd round - Many teams wanted Jordan Schafer as a pitcher out of high school, but the Braves believed he could develop into a Mark Kotsay-type outfielder. He's a lanky kid, with a sweet left-handed swing that is still pretty raw. You can tell by watching Schafer that he still needs a lot of development, but the tools are there. This was, in many ways, a tools pick. He's got a great arm and can cover a lot of ground in the outfield. The Braves just hope he can develop offensively to be a nice offensive player. Schafer hit only .203 in the GCL last summer, but a great spring training convinced the Braves he was ready for the South Atlantic League. So far, his average (.208 in 125 at bats) only makes you know that he's going to take a while to develop. But in this organization, that's just fine. There is no reason to rush this kid, and with more coaching, the talent is definitely there for him to develop into a solid prospect. Some prospects do not need to be judged so early in their careers, and Schafer is a player you do not need to worry about right now. Remember, he was a pitcher who also played the outfield in high school, so there's a lot he's got to learn about hitting and about playing defense. Schafer's a player that might even need more time in Rome next season, but again, that might not be a bad thing. Let's see how he develops the next few years. If his skills improve, eventually so will his statistics.
MIKE BROADWAY - 4th round - A late signee last summer, Broadway joined the GCL Braves and pitched in only seven games (three starts). The tall right-hander from Illinois didn't overwhelm anyone, posting a 5.40 ERA. But in spring training this past March, the Braves got real excited about his future. Broadway displayed a blazing fastball, which hovered in the mid-90s all of March. The Braves were tempted to send him to Rome, but with the numbers, it was better to keep him in Extended Spring Training and allow him to continue developing there. Now he'll head to Danville in a few weeks, and it will be interesting to see how well Broadway does in the Appalachian League. This is a kid from a non-baseball area with outstanding potential. You just wonder if that professional Braves coaching is helping a kid with raw potential become something special. We'll see in a few weeks when he plays for Danville. But for long-range potential, you've got to like having a six-foot-five, 200-pound flamethrower.
WILL STARTUP - 5th round - So if Startup had been drafted after his sophomore season in 2004, he might have been a first or second rounder. He was that impressive. But instead, he was not as dominant in his junior season and it caused him to slip in the draft. Well, looking at Startup right now, he looks like a first-round talent. Check out his total stats (2005 and this season) through May 24th: 7-2, 1.69 ERA in 41 games, 9 saves, 49 hits allowed in 64 innings pitched, 15 runs allowed, 12 earned runs allowed, 13 walks, and 60 strikeouts. Startup has been unbelievably good. Now he's in Double-A, breezing through the Southern League. His stuff seems so average on paper: a fastball in the 89-92 range, along with a slider and change. But he knows how to pitch, and his high leg kick obviously makes it tough for hitters to pick up the ball. There's a solid chance that Startup is going to be an option for the Atlanta bullpen if he keeps up this great pitching. Yes, with talk of rushing Devine last season, the Braves may be more careful with Startup. But so far, he's found the minor leagues to be rather easy. If his numbers are still spectacular in mid-July, you have to wonder if he'll be the reliever the Braves will want to add to the bullpen, instead of spending money and talent on acquiring a veteran arm. There are going to be a lot of teams that are probably regretting passing on Will Startup, and again, makeup won out. Stuff-wise and talent-wise, there's no doubt this kid can make it to the majors. But he's off the charts with his makeup, and now no one more than Startup wants to be an Atlanta Brave. With Devine from the right side and Startup from the left side, the Braves could have two outstanding relievers for many, many years.
Tomorrow: Part Two - the rest of the 2005 draft
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2005 Draft Review - Part One
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