2006 Draft: What do the Braves need?

The MLB Amateur Draft is this Tuesday and Wednesday. The Atlanta Braves have seven of the first 100 picks. The Braves Show's Bill Shanks looks at an organizational depth chart to see what the Braves may be looking for in the draft.


The levels of need are graded on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest.


STARTING PITCHERS

Fact is, we're loaded here right now, but that doesn't matter. We could have fifteen top-of-the-rotation starting pitching prospects and our scouts would still want more. That's just what we do: find and develop starting pitchers.

Last year the organization was so strong in this area that we only signed three (Beau Jones, Jeff Lyman, and Mike Broadway). There simply wasn't room in the system to sign many more. Well, the "problem" isn't any better this year. Our Danville rotation is already pretty stacked, so there's a good chance we could sign 3-5 starting pitchers once again and place several more at JUCOs for draft-and-follow candidates. But with four extra picks, it would be a shock if two of those are not starting pitchers.

One thing you have to look at is who is going to be where next season. Of course, injuries and trades and free agent defections can affect these type of projections. But for the 2007 Rome rotation, I think you're already looking at Tommy Hanson, Mike Broadway, Asher Demme, Jonny Venters, James Curtis, Carlos Rivas, and maybe Yeliar Castro being candidates. That's seven already. Again, a lot can change with that, but there are already a number of options. Does it matter? Would it sway the Braves from taking more young starters? Heck no. This will once again be a priority.

Even with the depth, a lot can happen in a short period of time. Look at it like this...

Our top ten starting pitching prospects (in no particular order) above rookie ball right now are: Anthony Lerew, Francisley Bueno, Jo Jo Reyes, Matt Harrison, Jairo Cuevas, Beau Jones, Jeff Lyman, Chris Vines, James Parr, and Sean White. Okay, let's say between July 1st of this year and April 1st of 2007 that three of these ten pitchers get traded, two (God forbid) are injured, and one just does not pan out. Well, that's half of the five. Depth can change really quick.

Look at last year's minor league rotations and see how quickly things can change. Lerew, Jake Stevens, Charlie Morton, and Luis Atilano have struggled. Brady Endl, Matt Coenen, and Jonny Venters have been out all season with injuries. Chuck James has graduated to the big leagues. So that's nine pitchers from 2005 that have impacted the current depth of the starting pitching prospects for one reason or another.

Depth is important, and never, ever think we have too many starting pitching prospects. You can never have enough. I expect the Braves to take at least three starting pitchers in the top seven picks they have in the draft.

LEVEL OF NEED: 10 - Always need starting pitchers


RELIEVERS

The 2005 draft will be remembered as the year the Braves drafted relievers. Joey Devine, Will Startup, Tyler Bullock, Kyle Cofield, Michael Nix, Rudy Qunionez, and David Williams are all relievers from last year's draft. Those seven have drastically improved the Braves' depth at this position.

We all know what Devine has done, and hope that he'll be back later this summer. Startup is close to being ready for the big leagues, and we could easily see him in July if he does well in Richmond. Nix and Quinonez are the closers in Myrtle Beach and Rome, respectively. Bullock could get some save chances in Rome, while Cofield could be Danville's closer when their season starts later this month.

But the relief corp has been strengthened by the emergence of a few other impressive pitchers. Peter Moylan has already been in the big leagues, and as he learns more about pitching, he could continue his development. He's joined in Richmond by Phil Stockman, who is really starting to catch the scout's eyes, and Manny Acosta, who was almost called up last week when Tyler Yates got the call to Atlanta.

Zach Schreiber has had a great season, and if he can harness his control, he could become a solid prospect. Dan Smith, Jose Ascanio, and Arthur Santos are three more in AA that have really developed well.

And Moises Hernandez, acquired in the Leo Mazzone deal last winter, has been outstanding. Some coaches believe Hernandez could be knocking on the door of the big leagues sometime next season.

The depth has never been better, but with the big league bullpen struggling again this season, you wonder if the team will be tempted to take another college reliever in the first three rounds. Some college relievers are slipping in the draft, so the Braves might be able to select a quality college arm in the third or fourth round.

Plus, the success of last year's relief draft picks might tempt the team to go down that road again once or twice in the top ten rounds. It's obvious, with the success of the picks, that the scouts can identify good relievers, so that might be enough to take one or two early in the first day.

LEVEL OF NEED: 6 - Could they find more immediate help for Atlanta?


CATCHERS

On the surface, you would think we don't need catchers. We've got 22-year-old Brian McCann in his first full season in the big leagues. Brayan Pena is a prospect to be McCann's backup for several years. Then there's 21-year-old Jarrod Saltalamacchia in Double-A Mississippi; he's one of the top prospects in the game. And then there's Clint Sammons and Max Ramirez, two solid prospects in Single-A.

But a scout once told me, "You know they say you can never have enough pitchers, but you can't have enough catchers either. I mean, who is going to catch all those pitchers?"

He was right. You do have to have catchers to catch your pitchers, and since pitchers are such a high priority, it's also important to put them in the hands of capable receivers.

Behind Ramirez in Rome there are only a few marginal prospects (Steve Garcia, Phil Britton, Junior Guerra, and Javier Dominguez). So you can expect a catcher to be taken in the first five or six rounds. Don't be shocked if it's a college catcher.

LEVEL OF NEED: 7 - Need one for Rome next season.


FIRST BASE

This position was helped by the signing of Tyler Flowers, the draft-and-follow signee out of Chipola Community College. Even though he was mainly a catcher at Chipola, the Braves believe Flowers' future is at first base. He'll still catch once in a while, but Flowers will be the primary starter at first in Danville this summer. Expect Flowers to be in Rome in 2007.

The emergence of Isaiah Ka'aihue also helps the depth at first base. Signed last summer, Ka'aihue has had a monster season in Rome so far this year. In spring training, the Braves thought Ka'aihue was only a marginal prospect. But now the scouts are saying that his outrageous numbers are legit and that he is a serious prospect.

Adam LaRoche has two first baseman right behind him in Triple-A Richmond in Scott Thorman and James Jurries. Plus, we have to at least mention the possibility of Jarrod Saltalamacchia seeing some time over there in the future.

Both the short-term and long-term prospects at first base look solid, so this will not be a priority in the draft.

LEVEL OF NEED: 2 - Could see a college first baseman drafted late, but we might not see one drafted at all.


SECOND BASE

Marcus Giles' contract is set to expire after the 2007 season, so this is one area that the team might have to address very soon.

Martin Prado is by far the best prospect at second base in the system. He's now in Richmond, and he's already made an impression on Bobby Cox, who said Prado might be a player that could hit 20 home runs in the big leagues one day.

Behind Prado you've got Myrtle Beach's J.C. Holt, who has yet to turn the corner, and Rome's Brandon Monk, who at this point looks more like a marginal long-term reserve prospect.

So this could be a position the Braves could try and improve in the draft. Drafting a high school infielder may not help as much as looking at someone from the college ranks. If they drafted the right college player, it might provide another option sometime in the next two or three seasons. Adam Davis of Florida, Scott Sizemore of Virginia Commenwealth, and John Shelby of Kentucky are three college second baseman that could be taken in the third of fourth rounds.

LEVEL OF NEED: 8 - Expect a second baseman to be drafted in the first four picks.


SHORTSTOP

There is no position in the Braves' organization deeper than shortstop. Edgar Renteria is signed through 2008, and it's possible he could remain with the Braves even through 2009. Then there's Wilson Betemit, the star without a position. He's a natural shortstop, so we've got to list him there as well.

Tony Pena, Jr. was impressive in his callup to Atlanta in April, and then he went back to Richmond and showed that he can, in fact, hit a little. He and the defensive wiz, Luis Hernandez, are two solid reserve candidates for this club. Don't be surprised if one is traded in the future, since Hernandez needs to go up to Richmond soon and is blocked by Pena.

Then there's Yunel Escobar. He's bounced around from second, to short, and to third in Mississippi this year, but he's still hit. Who knows where Escobar might fit in (maybe as Giles's replacement if he leaves after next season?), but there's no doubt the Cuban infielder is a hitting fool. He just knows what he's doing up at the plate, which is not a bad thing to have from a middle infielder.

Diory Hernandez shouldn't be forgetton either. He's hurt right now, but he does have talent. He might be passed by another shortstop soon, but Diory is still a prospect that could develop into another reserve option for the infield.

Last but not least there's Elvis Andrus. Folks, he's as good as advertised. He's seventeen years old and he's simply been outstanding in Rome this year. Elvis is hitting .283 with 30 RBI in 191 at bats - and he hasn't even grown up yet. Yeah, more than likely, here's our long-term shortstop right here. He's an outstanding prospect that could be in the big leagues for a long, long time.

The Braves depth at shortstop is unbelievable. There is really no need for any high pick at shortstop, at least not this year. If you see a shortstop taken, chances are the player may be moved to second base.

LEVEL OF NEED: 0 - Edgar, Wilson, Tony, Luis, Yunel, Diory, and Elvis - 'nuf said.


THIRD BASE

Chipper Jones is under contract for several more years; whether or not he'll stay at third is another question. But the organization has many other options if the Braves should decide to move Jones to another position.

Of course, Wilson Betemit is option number one. It's almost getting to the point where the Braves are going to have to find some room for him somewhere, and there's no doubt he looks most comfortable at third base.

Wes Timmons falls into the category of being yet another solid reserve candidate. Like Pena, Hernandez, and Escobar, he can play third, short, and second.

Van Pope is a decent prospect. He's got a great glove and his power seems to be developing. Van could be a Bill Mueller-type player in a few years. He needs to be more consistent at the plate to turn the corner and become the type of prospect that Eric Campbell has quietly become.

After a monster season in Danville last year, Campbell is putting together another fantastic performance in Rome. He's on pace for about 25 home runs and 100 RBI. If we have to project a long-term potential at third base, it's Eric Campbell.

Along with the tremendous depth, the Braves' signing of draft-and-follw player Willie Cabrera makes third base an even lower priority. It's possible Cabrera could move to another position (second base), but we'll see later this month when he plays for the Danville team.

LEVEL OF NEED: 1 - Too much depth to worry about this now.


OUTFIELD

Okay, so we've got two outfielders that could be in Atlanta for a long time. Yes, Andruw Jones could be a free agent and leave after 2007, but hopefully new ownership will know he's the main priority for the long-term success of this franchise. So let's at least hope Jones and Jeff Francoeur will be two-thirds of the Atlanta outfield for at least the next five seasons.

Ryan Langerhans and Matt Diaz are holding down the third spot now, and there are other marginal players that could move into that position in the next few years. Let's not forget about Kelly Johnson, who should be back next season after having Tommy John surgery last week.

Bill McCarthy, Gregor Blanco, Matt Esquivel, and Barbaro Canizares are four marginal prospects who could help out in some way in the future, but none are thought of as star prospects. Brandon Jones is considered the best starting prospect of our minor league outfielders, and he could knock on the door in 2008.

But compared to the other positions around the diamond, the outfield needs more depth. Jon Mark Owings has not been able to stay healthy, and while he may be a solid long-term prospect, he's got to put together a complete season. And Jordan Schafer, last year's third rounder, is going to take a while to develop. He's got tools, but he's still learning how to hit.

Expect one of the first three picks to be an outfielder, and I would think the team will take another outfielder, perhaps a college outfielder, in the sixth to tenth round area.

LEVEL OF NEED: 9 - This will be a heavy area of need.

***

Overall, this should be a draft where we see the Braves draft pitchers, outfielders, a second baseman or two, and another catcher. But the emphasis on pitchers could be heavy. It won't be like 2003, when the Braves took 12 pitchers in their first 14 picks, but maybe more like last year, when seven of the first ten picks were pitchers.

Expect the Braves to be creative, maybe taking a few players not ranked as high by others but loved by their scouts. From all indications, our scouts are very excited about this draft and the opportunity to have four extra picks, so Tuesday should be a very good day for the Atlanta Braves.


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 thebravesshow@email.com.


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