Part 1: What do the Braves need in the draft?

How many pitchers do the Braves need to draft this year in the draft? In part one of a three-part series, The Braves Show's Bill Shanks looks at the depth in the farm system on the mound and how it could impact the draft.

As we try to examine what the Braves will do in next Thursday's draft, it's best to take a very close look at the farm system to see what the organization has at each position. The scouts have to see where and if potential draft picks will be able to get playing time and, for the pitchers, innings.

So this breakdown will include many suppositions about next season in the farm system. It's also a good chance to see what the Braves have right now, which could be useful in determining which players might be available in potential trades this summer. We start with the most important part of the organization: pitching.


STARTING PITCHING

The Braves always look for good starting pitchers, and this year will not be any different. But a look at the depth chart finds that it could be a tricky situation getting some innings for some of the new starters.

Next year's Rome pitching staff could include Jeff Locke, Steve Evarts, Chad Rodgers, and Cory Rasmus – four top picks from the 2006 draft. They will all be at Danville this summer. Neftali Feliz and Steve Kent, two international pitchers, should also compete for innings in the 2008 Rome rotation.

Cole Rohrbaugh, whom the Braves hope to sign this week as a draft-and-follow player, could also compete for a spot in Rome's rotation. And it'll be interesting if the Braves can get some starting assignments for Mike Broadway, who has some of the best pure stuff in the organization.

The Myrtle Beach rotation next season should include Jeff Lyman, Jamie Richmond, and Kyle Cofield. Tommy Hanson, Tim Gustafson, and Deunte Heath are three older college pitchers who could easily make the jump to AA next year, but it's doubtful all three will skip Myrtle Beach. Then you have Chris Vines, who will be back in a rotation soon. He could be in the Pelicans' rotation as well next season.

It will be interesting to see where the Braves place Eric Cordier, the hard-thrower recovering from Tommy John surgery who was acquired for the Royals in the Tony Pena, Jr. trade this spring. He last pitched in Low-A, so he could go to either Rome or Myrtle Beach.

Next year's rotation in Mississippi should include the guys who are currently in Myrtle Beach: Jake Stevens, Dustin Evans, Jonny Venters, Moises Hernandez, Jairo Cuevas, and probably James Parr, who was just promoted to Double-A on Sunday. That's a pretty stacked staff.

Then you have the pitchers who are currently in Mississippi. Matt Harrison, Jo Jo Reyes, Kelvin Villa, and Francisley Bueno. All four could make the jump to Richmond, and of course, there's even a chance Harrison could be in Atlanta's rotation next season. Reyes could also compete for a job in the majors. Also, Dan Smith, who just made the jump to Richmond after a solid start in Double-A, could be in the mix in both Triple-A and Atlanta.

The potential rotations next season for the top four affiliates look pretty crowded. But do not expect that to mean the Braves will shy away from pitching. Yes, 15 of the 19 draft choices signed from last year were pitchers, but that's why the Braves' system continues to be one of the strongest in the game. They continue to stress pitching.

The Braves have also been really good at keeping high school pitchers in Extended Spring Training after their first spring training. Just look at the four young stud pitchers drafted last spring. All four are headed to Danville this summer, and then next year will have their first full season in Rome. This allows the Braves to not rush high school draft picks, which is better for their development.

So expect the Braves to once again find some good high school talent to bring into the organization to develop. They don't have to rush these kids, which will continue to make the depth chart pretty full. But the Braves do have to make sure they can get their new draft picks quality innings.


RELIEF PITCHERS

In the last two drafts the Braves have focused on drafting college relievers, for the sole purpose of having them develop into potential major league relievers. Joey Devine, Will Startup, Tyler Bullock, Michael Nix, and Rudy Quinonez were drafted in 2005, while last year's draft had Lee Hyde, Kevin Gunderson, Casey Beck, Tim Gustafson, and Kris Medlen join the system.

Expect the Braves to do the same thing again this year: to identify several college relievers that can step right in and be solid pitchers. The bullpen depth in the minors is very strong at every level, but the turnover with these types of pitchers can be regular. The Braves like having several relief prospects available as options every year, and by drafting additional relievers in this draft, they can keep that assembly line running.

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Don't expect the Braves to have a pitching-heavy draft like last season. But remember, the rules have changed a bit. There will be no draft picks selected to follow at a junior college next spring. So the Braves could take a number of pitchers that want to sign and simply let them remain in Orlando at Extended Spring Training for most of next season and develop them there.

There will be more position players brought into the system, compared to last year. But that does not mean the Braves are going to not focus on pitching. That remains a very important part of the overall philosophy of this club. It's what's made this organization what it is today, so it will always be a main priority.

Could the Braves find a Tim Lincecum at number fourteen? Well, it's doubtful. Don't expect the Braves to necessarily fix the Atlanta rotation with this draft pick. It will be interesting, however, to see if this first pick, Atlanta's highest in years, will be spent on a pitcher. Could it be one of the top high school pitchers, one that could be brought along slowly with the other top young arms? Or could the Braves be tempted by one of the college starters, who might be on a faster track?

Either way, the new pitchers from this year's draft will be joining a very deep farm system of arms that could well keep the big league club very competitive for many years to come.


Wednesday: Catchers, First Base, and Second Base



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. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.



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