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Re-Evaluating the Atlanta Braves' Top Draft Picks from the Past Decade

Martin GandyFeatured ColumnistMay 28, 2014

Re-Evaluating the Atlanta Braves' Top Draft Picks from the Past Decade

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    The Braves are renowned for building their major league club from within. Half of the players in the current Atlanta lineup—Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons and Evan Gattis—are products of the Braves draft and development system.

    Some members of the current lineup—Justin Upton, Chris Johnson and Tyler Pastornicky—were not drafted by the Braves but were acquired for players and prospects the Braves had drafted.

    Whether it's building the major league team from within or augmenting the team via a trade, the Braves use their minor league system and the draft, which restocks it, as well as any other organization.

    This year's draft will be critical to rebuilding a farm system that has been depleted by several trades in recent years (for Justin Upton and Michael Bourn). The system has also been emptied in recent years by the graduation of prospects to the majors.

    The story of the last decade of top draft picks for the Braves, however, is not all roses. For every success story like Heyward or Mike Minor, there was a bad pick like Cody Johnson or Brett DeVall.

    In the following slides we'll take a look at the Braves' top draft pick from each of the past 10 years, as well as ask which pick each year was actually the best.

     

    Stats and draft order research taken from Baseball-Reference.

Braves 2004 Top Pick: 3B Eric Campbell

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    Doug Benc/Getty Images

    Atlanta did not have a first-round pick in 2004 after signing RHP John Thomson as a free agent from the Rangers. The Braves made Eric Campbell their first pick of the draft in the second round, 71st overall. He was taken out of high school as an 18-year-old and had a good profile as a speed and power guy with some room to grow.

    Baseball America 2005 Prospect Handbook listed Jeff Kent and Matt Williams as possible comps for what Campbell was projected to become, and for a while, it looked like he was well on his way to becoming that kind of player.

    He had a great season in Danville of the Appalachian League in 2005, hitting 18 home runs and slugging .634, and he followed that up with another great season in 2006 at Low-A Rome, where he hit 22 home runs and slugged .517.

    Then he stalled out for the next two years at High-A Myrtle Beach. His power caught up in 2008 with a .479 slugging percentage and 19 home runs, but his 2009 promotion to Double-A saw his power disappear. The Braves released him later that year.

    As an undersized high school hitter, Campbell never filled out physically the way the Braves would have liked. Atlanta seemed to give up on him pretty quickly, but several organizations later, he still never made it above Double-A.

     

    The best pick from the 2004 Braves draft class was actually…

    This was a really bad draft for the Braves. None of their high-round picks worked out at all, and only two of their top 17 picks that year made the majors—pitcher James Parr and catcher Clint Sammons.

    The Braves selected catcher Tyler Flowers in the 27th round, though he didn't sign. They took Flowers the next year in the 33rd round, and he finally signed as a draft-and-follow just before the 2006 draft.

    This was truly one of the worst drafts ever for Atlanta. Luckily, it gets better...

Braves 2005 Top Pick: RHP Joey Devine

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Atlanta used its first pick in 2005, 27th overall, to do some needs-based drafting. This was the year of the Baby Braves, but that parade of 18 rookies was necessitated by a slew of injuries and ineffectiveness, and the team needed help in the majors in any way possible.

    Atlanta selected close-to-the-majors relief pitcher Joey Devine out of NC State. Devine promptly marched through the system in 2005 after signing and made his major league debut that year on August 20th.

    He gave up grand slams in each of his first two games in the majors and was sent back down. He was able to right the ship, returned to Atlanta in September and made the postseason roster.

    Devine had the dubious distinction of being the last pitcher on the mound in the final game of the first round for Atlanta when the Astros' Chris Burke hit an 18th-inning, series-winning homer off of him.

    Devine pitched sparingly in Atlanta the next two years before being traded to Oakland in January 2008 for Mark Kotsay. That year in Oakland, Devine had one of the best seasons ever for a reliever with a 0.59 ERA.

    Then things got less than divine for Joey. He had Tommy John surgery in April of 2009, returned for 26 games in 2011 and then had a second Tommy John surgery in April of 2012.

     

    The best pick from the 2005 Braves draft class was actually…

    Second-round pick Yunel Escobar stands out as the best player in this draft for Atlanta, but 22nd-round pick Tommy Hanson might have given Yuney a run for his money if his velocity hadn't fallen off a cliff a couple of years ago.

    Third-rounder Jordan Schafer is still playing for Atlanta, and 33rd-rounder Tyler Flowers was used in a trade to get Javier Vazquez from the White Sox.

Braves 2006 Top Pick: Outfielder Cody Johnson

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    Dave Tulis/Associated Press

    Atlanta drafted power-to-spare, free-swinging prep outfielder Cody Johnson with the 24th overall pick. He liked to swing for the fences, and for a while, his raw power was compared to another prospect with the Marlins, one Giancarlo Stanton.

    Contact was a problem for Cody, and despite the Braves' efforts to get him to cut down on his swing, he just kept swinging for the downs every at-bat. In the process, he racked up some truly eye-popping strikeout numbers.

    He struck out 177 times in 127 games in his first year of full-season ball in 2008 then followed that up with 180 strikeouts in 128 games the next year.

    The Braves ended up giving him to the Yankees after the 2010 season, and New York watched him strike out a lot in the minors for the next two-plus years before releasing him.

     

    The best pick from the 2006 Braves draft class was actually…

    Tenth-round pick Kris Medlen has had the most impact at the major league level. Second-round pick Jeff Locke was used in the trade to get Nate McLouth.

    Atlanta had seven out of the first 100 picks in the draft and selected a lot of high school pitchers with those picks, most of whom succumbed to one type of arm injury or another. If one or two of those prep arms, in addition to Locke, had worked out, this might have been a much better draft than it turned out to be.

Braves 2007 Top Pick: Outfielder Jason Heyward

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    Gregory Smith/Associated Press

    This was a pretty good pick. Heyward's 19.9 rWAR is worth more than all the other top draft picks in this slideshow combined.

    Atlanta knew it had something special in Heyward and even tried to hide his talent from other teams. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Carroll Rogers had a great article about this a few years ago.

     

    The best pick from the 2007 Braves draft class was actually…

    ...Still Heyward, though second-round pick Freddie Freeman is catching up to him (and has already passed him in terms of blockbuster contract). Surprisingly, and unknown to many people, the Braves drafted two players between Heyward and Freeman—third baseman Jon Gilmore and reliever Josh Fields.

    Gilmore was part of the Javier Vazquez trade, and Fields didn't sign, opting to go back to school for another year. The Braves' 11th-round pick, Brandon Belt, also did not sign, nor did their 33rd-round pick, Craig Kimbrel.

Braves 2008 Top Pick: LHP Brett DeVall

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    Craig Kimbrel
    Craig KimbrelAssociated Press

    The Braves used their first pick—a supplemental first-round pick, 40th overall—to select a prep pitcher who was more of a "pitchability" guy than a hard thrower, according to at least one scout.

    Brett DeVall impressed the Braves enough to take a chance on his young lefty arm, but he later succumbed to elbow injuries that derailed his pro career. He had exploratory surgery on his pitching elbow after the 2009 season and then reportedly ended his 2010 season in August with elbow discomfort. Before the start of the 2011 season, DeVall had stopped impressing the Braves and was given his release.

    No other team has been impressed enough with DeVall to attempt a reclamation project. This was a bad pick by the Braves.

     

    The best pick from the 2008 Braves draft class was actually…

    ...Third-round pick Craig Kimbrel, who saves this draft class from being a big disappointment.

    Seventh- and eighth-round picks Paul Clemens and Brett Oberholtzer were a part of the Michael Bourn trade, and second-round pick Zeke Spruill was a part of the Justin Upton trade. Tenth-rounder J.J. Hoover was used to briefly acquire Juan Francisco last year.

Braves 2009 Top Pick: LHP Mike Minor

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    The Braves drafted Mike Minor as a pitcher who could move quickly through their system and begin contributing at the major league level within a couple of years. This was somewhat of a needs-based pick—Atlanta needed starting pitching—as the Braves had the seventh overall selection in the draft and could have chosen a player with a higher ceiling.

    Minor was what the Braves ordered, as he made his major league debut just over a year after being drafted. He shuttled between the majors and the minors in 2011 but was a fixture in the Atlanta rotation by the end of the year.

    Minor was a safe pick in the draft, a guy with a moderate ceiling but a high floor. The Braves have been rewarded with a good, reliable pitcher—better than many experts thought he would be.

     

    The best pick from the 2009 Braves draft class was actually…

    Minor is easily the best pitcher in this class. The Braves' second pick (in the third round), David Hale, is the only other player signed by Atlanta in 2009 to make the majors.

    Tenth-round pick Aaron Northcraft is a top-15 prospect for Atlanta and could be close to making his major league debut.

Braves 2010 Top Pick: SS Matt Lipka

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The Braves used the 35th overall pick to take speedy prep shortstop Matt Lipka. This was a questionable pick due to Lipka only having one tool that was considered plus—his speed. A year later, they moved him to center field, making this pick look even worse.

    After four very mediocre seasons, Lipka is still just a one-tool player. He's currently on the disabled list at Double-A, but even before that, he looked to be overmatched.

    This was a bad pick by the Braves, if for no other reason that the lack of projectable tools that Lipka offered.

     

    The best pick from the 2010 Braves draft class was actually…

    The Braves second-round pick makes this class look pretty good. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who the Braves actually drafted to be a pitcher, turned out to be a real steal as the 70th overall selection. His 10.4 career rWAR is more than first overall pick Bryce Harper's 8.8.

    Atlanta also found a gem in 23rd-round pick Evan Gattis. The class could also bear more fruit if outfielders Joey Terdoslavich and Todd Cunningham get a chance to play everyday in the majors.

Braves 2011 Top Pick: LHP Sean Gilmartin

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Atlanta tried to repeat the success of 2009's Mike Minor selection by taking advanced college lefty Sean Gilmartin with the 28th overall selection in 2011. It didn't work out quite the same.

    While Gilmartin raced through the minors much like Mike Minor, he stalled at Triple-A. Atlanta may have been a bit too bullish on him and pushed him too fast.

    He was traded this past offseason to the Twins in exchange for Ryan Doumit, and Minnesota sent Gilmartin back to Double-A. The results have been much better, especially in the strikeout department.

     

    The best pick from the 2011 Braves draft class was actually…

    This is such a recent class that only one player has made the majors—reliever Gus Schlosser, a 17th-round pick who opened this season with Atlanta before being sent down as the Braves staff got healthy again.

    There are a couple of top prospects in this class. Fourth-rounder J.R. Graham and seventh-rounder Cody Martin are both among the Braves' top-10 prospects, as is second baseman-in-waiting Tommy La Stella, an eighth-rounder.

Braves 2012 Top Pick: RHP Lucas Sims

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    Dave Tulis/Associated Press

    The Braves returned to their tried and true strategy of drafting prep pitchers with their first pick. Lucas Sims was selected with the 21st overall pick and has thus far lived up to all expectations.

    He is the Braves' top prospect and one of the top 100 prospects in baseball. He's experiencing some growing pains this year in High-A, but he's already at a very advanced level for his age, and he is getting better with every start.

     

    The best pick from the 2012 Braves draft class was actually…

    Second-round pick Alex Wood has been better than most people imagined and has moved fast enough through the system to make his major league debut less than a year after being drafted—faster than Mike Minor.

    Wood had the stuff to be a first-round selection but slipped to the second round and the 85th overall pick because of his funky, over-the-top delivery. The Braves were not scared off by his delivery, and since he was playing for the University of Georgia, they knew him better than other teams.

Braves 2013 Top Pick: RHP Jason Hursh

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    Dave Tulis/Associated Press

    The Braves went with a big college arm when they selected Jason Hursh with the 31st overall pick last year.

    So far, he's exceeded most expectations, reaching Double-A in just his first full season. The Braves may want to learn from the Gilmartin failure and not rush Hursh too much, but he has responded well so far to the challenge at Double-A.

     

    The best pick from the 2013 Braves draft class was actually…

    It's way too early to tell, but Hursh has reached the highest level of any pick in this class.

    Second-round pick, catcher Victor Caratini, looks like he could be a good one and is already among the Braves' top-10 prospects.

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