In trying to determine who the Atlanta Braves might select with their first pick—No. 32 overall in the 2014 MLB first-year player draft—it’s instructive to look at their major league roster and see what holes might need to be filled. It’s also instructive to ask whether their minor league system currently has the players who could possibly fill those holes.
By now you have likely heard or read that the Braves signed many of their young stars to long-term contracts over the past four months.
Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, Julio Teheran and Chris Johnson are all signed through at least the 2017 season, and outfielder B.J. Upton already had a contract that ran through 2017. Several other key players, like Evan Gattis, Mike Minor and Alex Wood, are under team control through 2017.
That leaves holes at the corner outfield positions, second base and a couple of spots in the rotation.
When taking a look at the Braves' top prospect list (which you can follow every week in the Bleacher Report Braves Prospect Stock Watch), Atlanta’s farm system is still rich with starting pitching and light-hitting second basemen, but there is a glaring hole in outfield prospects.
If the Braves choose to use their first pick this year to begin filling an area of need, then an outfielder who could be ready by 2016—when Jason Heyward and Justin Upton may have departed via free agency—could be the route they choose to go.
Of course, the Braves rarely seem to be able to pass over a talented starting pitching prospect. Five out of the past six years the Braves have selected starting pitchers with their top pick.
Let’s take a look at a handful of mock drafts and find out who the experts think the Braves will take with their first pick.
Baseball America’s John Manuel certainly keeps thinking that the Braves will be unable to pass over a prep pitcher. In all three of his mock drafts (mock one, mock two, mock three) he projects the Braves to select left-handed Orlando high school pitcher Foster Griffin.
They also continue to mention several other prospects from the South who could be linked to the Braves, LHP Mac Marshall and infielder Michael Chavis from Georgia, and high school left-hander Cody Reed from neighboring Alabama.
MLB.com’s Jim Callis thinks the Braves will take Chavis, though he mentions that his defensive position is not yet settled.
Minor League Ball’s Matt Garrioch sees the Braves selecting Mac Marshall.
Chris Crawford of MLB Draft Insider thinks the Braves will stay in Georgia by selecting high school outfielder Michael Gettys.
Adam Wells of Bleacher Report also believes Gettys will go to the Braves.
Scout.com’s Kiley McDaniel continues the theme of draft prognosticators forecasting the Braves to pick a Georgia product. He throws out yet another prep pitcher, this time a right-hander, Spencer Adams.
There is an almost comical theme to these predictions—high school players from the South, primarily Georgia. There is a pretty good chance that could happen, as seven of the past nine years the Braves’ top pick has been from Georgia or a neighboring state.
There certainly appears to be enough talent in the Peach State that the Braves could find an excellent player by drafting close to home.
The team has not stated what their focus will be in this year’s draft, but in previous years the refrain from the front office has often been the same. Here is what Braves scouting director Tony DeMacio told Mark Bowman of MLB.com before last year's draft.
"We're going to go with who we believe is the best available," DeMacio said. "If it's a pitcher, we'll go with a pitcher. If it's a player, we'll go with a player."
On the other hand, there have been several examples of drafts where the team seemed to draft based on the need of the major league club.
The two most notable recent examples are, first, in 2009, when the team needed starting pitching and elected to make a safe pick by selecting LHP Mike Minor. Then, in 2005, Atlanta needed relief help, so they took college closer Joey Devine.
With two obvious holes opening up in the Atlanta outfield in two years, it would not surprise me to see the Braves attempt to draft a player who could be projected to fill one of those spots. This draft is not that deep in college hitters, but there is always a chance that one of the highly-rated bats could fall to the Braves at No. 32.
Baseball America has University of Virginia outfielder Derek Fisher being drafted one pick before the Braves selection in two of their three mock drafts.
The oddsmakers say the Braves will draft a high school starting pitching. I say the team will choose a college outfielder. We’ll see what the Braves do with the 32nd overall pick next Thursday. The draft begins at 7 p.m. on MLB Network.