Braves draft N.C. State closer Devine
Hard-throwing righty breaks with trend of high school pitchers
ATLANTA -- For decades, the Braves became known as the organization most likely to grab a high school pitcher with its top draft pick. But when it came time to make the first selection in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday afternoon, Atlanta turned to a collegiate closer who could provide more immediate assistance.
There aren't any guarantees that Joey Devine will be in Atlanta's bullpen during the 2005 season. But when the Braves used the draft's 27th overall selection to grab him, they were certainly thinking there is a definite chance.
"Realistically, he's such a talent, I thought he'd be long gone before we picked," Braves director of scouting Roy Clark said. "He was just too good to pass up."
Feeling fortunate that the Red Sox hadn't selected him with the draft's 23rd or 26th selections, the Braves weren't going to let Devine slide any further. During his three years at North Carolina State, the 21-year-old right-hander established himself as one of the country's top relievers.
Devine, who was a three-time All-ACC selection, holds the N.C. State career records for saves (36) and appearances (84). Along with possessing a fastball that has been clocked at 96 mph, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound hurler also has outstanding control. He recorded 72 strikeouts and issued just 10 walks in 48 2/3 innings this year.
"He's sort of an unorthodox, almost sidearm delivery," Clark said. "But it's power. It's a power sinker and slider. I wouldn't want to hit off of him. Not too many right-handers are comfortable against him."
Along with grabbing a talented hurler, it appears the Braves have also landed somebody who won't provide them with signability problems. Billy Best, the club's area scout in North Carolina, is a former N.C. State coach, who was going to go across town and visit Devine in his Raleigh, N.C., apartment on Tuesday night.
"Having the chance to play with a great organization like the Atlanta Braves is just unbelievable," Devine said. "There aren't enough words to express how happy I am."
Being just a junior, Devine has some leverage he could use against the Braves. But he feels confident that he'll strike a deal either Tuesday night or on Wednesday, at the latest.
"I really do understand the importance to make some money in the draft," Devine said. "But my ultimate goal is to make money in the big leagues."
There are some scouts who believe Devine could follow in the footsteps of Nationals closer Chad Cordero and A's closer Huston Street, who both made it to the Majors less than one year after being selected out of college.
"If the opportunity presents itself, I'm ready every step of the way," said Devine, who posted a 0.55 ERA while pitching 16 1/3 innings for USA Baseball last summer.
With Dan Kolb having lost his spot as the closer and Chris Reitsma still proving himself in the role, the Braves needed somebody to possibly fill that role in the near future. Ramon Colon, once thought to possibly be that man, has struggled during most of his rookie season at the Major League level.
As for the Minor League system, Kevin Barry and Blaine Boyer seem to be the only possible candidates to one day serve as a closer at the Major League level.
So it would seem that Devine could indeed find himself as one of Atlanta's top relievers in the very near future.
But does that future include this year?
"Stuff wise, he's certainly good enough," said Clark, indicating the club wouldn't be surprised to see Devine make a real quick rise through the Minors.
If Devine would make the rapid rise to the Majors this year, he'd join fellow 21-year-old right-hander Kyle Davies, who he's known for many years.
While Devine spent his youth traveling the country with the Topeka Orioles, Davies was a Georgia Yellow Jacket.
"It seemed like every time we'd get to the championship game we'd be facing the Georgia Yellow Jackets and Kyle Davies would be pitching against me," Devine said.
While Davies is one of the many high school pitchers the Braves have stockpiled over the years, Devine is a bit of a rarity. The club hadn't taken a collegiate player with its first pick since 1991, when it selected Mike Kelly out of Arizona State University.
As for collegiate pitchers, Devine was the first since the Braves took southpaw Derek Lilliquist with their fist selection in the 1987 draft.
"I'm sure in draft rooms all across the country there was a bit of surprise," Clark said. "But we took the best guy and I'm very happy with that. I think it was a good fit for us this year."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.