It was the summer of 1999, and Braves' legendary scouting director Paul Snyder decided to step back a bit. He had been in the organization for over 40 years, and Snyder believed it was time for someone else to select future Braves.
That someone turned out to be Roy Clark, who nine months later would make his first pick as scouting director.
"Atlanta selects player number 0-9-9-7, Wainwright."
That Wainwright turned out to be Adam Wainwright, who in a few weeks might be named the Cy Young Award winner in the National League with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Wainwright was the first of 519 players selected in ten drafts by Clark, who quickly got a reputation as a tireless worker that pushed his scouts to find talented players for the Braves' organization.
On Tuesday, Clark told the Braves he is leaving to take a new job with the Washington Nationals as the assistant general manager and vice president of player personnel.
And now, someone else will have to select future Braves.
There are two main functions of a farm system in baseball. First, you select talent you believe will make it to the big leagues with your team. And second, you draft players that will be attractive to other teams, so when you are talking about a trade you'll have players to put on the table.
Clark did that about as well as anyone in baseball. He was in the unenviable position of drafting late in the first round in most seasons, which made it a little more difficult to keep the talent in the farm system at a high level.
Clark selected talent that did make it to the big leagues, and he also provided general managers John Schuerholz and Frank Wren with the necessary inventory of talent. When the Braves have needed something over the last decade and had to make a trade, there was always marketable and wanted talent in the farm system.
When the Braves payroll dipped 20% in 2004, they could not re-sign free agent Gary Sheffield. With top prospect Jeff Francoeur still another year away, the Braves had to go find an outfielder.
Schuerholz set his sights on Cardinals' outfielder J.D. Drew, who was a year away from free agency. The price was high: Wainwright, starter Jason Marquis, and reliever Ray King. Wainwright was the key to the deal.
The next spring the Braves were looking for relief help, and again Schuerholz turned to his farm system to use players to get veteran pitchers. Schuerholz traded prospects Andy Pratt and Richard Lewis to get Cubs' reliever Juan Cruz. Then the next day he used starting pitcher Kenny "Bubba" Nelson and Jung Bong to get Reds' reliever Chris Reitsma.
Those trades were possible because of a talent-rich farm system constructed by Clark.
Here is a look at the top talent from each of his ten drafts:
2000: Adam Wainwright (1st round) and Adam LaRoche (29th)
2001: Macay McBride (1st) and Kyle Davies (4th)
2002: Jeff Francoeur (1st), Dan Meyer (1st), Brian McCann (2nd), and Charlie Morton (3rd)
2003: Jarrod Saltalamacchia (1st), Jo Jo Reyes (2nd), and Matt Harrison (3rd)
2004: James Parr (4th), Clint Sammons (6th), and Tyler Flowers (27th)
2005: Joey Devine (1st), Yunel Escobar (2nd), Jordan Schafer (3rd), and Tommy Hanson (22nd)
2006: Cody Johnson (1st) and Kris Medlen (10th)
2007: Jason Heyward (1st) and Freddie Freeman (2nd)
2008: Brett DeVall (1st) and Craig Kimbrel (3rd)
2009: Mike Minor (1st)
Clark can boast about a lot for what he did in his ten years, but probably the most impressive aspect of his work is that Wainwright might win this year's Cy Young, while Tommy Hanson might win this year's Rookie of the Year award, and Jason Heyward has already won the Player of the Year in the minor leagues from Baseball America.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
Clark will now work again with Stan Kasten, the Nationals' president. Kasten held the same position with the Braves when Clark became the scouting director ten years ago. Kasten tried to hire Clark a few years ago, but Clark remained with the Braves.
Clark will also work with general manager Mike Rizzo, who was the interim GM after Kasten fired Jim Bowden in the spring. Clark will oversee amateur scouting, international scouting, and player development.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on
WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
Braves lose Roy Clark to the Nationals
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