Braves grab plenty of pitchers
Atlanta uses 35 of its 52 2005 draft picks on hurlers
ATLANTA -- By the time Braves director of scouting Roy Clark and his staff had all of their selections in this year's First-Year Player Draft, they had replenished the organization's crop of young pitchers with some that could provide some help in the very near future.
Shortly after the two-day event concluded on Wednesday, Clark emerged from the war room wearing a smile and feeling good about the work he and his staff had done. With their 52 selections, they grabbed 35 pitchers, including hard-throwing right-handed reliever Joey Devine with their first pick.
"We figured out we'd traded 10 or 11 pitchers in the past three years, so it was time to reload. And [pitching] was the strength of this year's draft," Clark said. "Well, the strength was with power pitchers, and I think we added some depth in that department."
Along the way, they also grabbed a Yunel Escobar, a 22-year-old shortstop who could be close to being Major League ready and prove to be the steal of the draft. Just as importantly, by the time Wednesday had concluded, each of the club's top five selections, and seven of their top 10, had been signed.
The Braves utilized 14 of their 20 first-day selections to grab pitchers. While that might not have come as a surprise, the fact that seven of them were collegiate pitchers somewhat went against the Braves' long-standing tradition of stockpiling high school pitchers.
During the draft's second day, the Braves went once again tried to get as many arms as possible. With their 32 selections on Wednesday, they grabbed 21 more pitchers. All but one of the second-day selections will be a draft-and-follow selection, which is a player who plays one more year at the college ranks and is possibly signed before the next year's draft.
With their first pick and the 27th overall selection on Tuesday, the Braves grabbed right-handed reliever Devine out of North Carolina State University. The 21-year-old was regarded as one of the finest relievers at the collegiate level. There is some belief that he could make a very quick rise to the Majors, following in the footsteps of Nationals closer Chad Cordero and A's closer Huston Street.
"We believe he's going to be a real good one," said Clark, who doesn't dispute the claims that Devine could be in Atlanta later this year.
When the Braves lost Jaret Wright to the Yankees via free agency, they acquired a sandwich pick and an additional second-round selection. With those picks they took a couple of 17-year-old high school pitchers named Beau Jones and Jeff Lyman.
Jones, a 17-year-old southpaw from Destrehan High School in Louisiana, is a talented young hurler that Clark compares to Andy Pettitte. His curveball is advanced and his fastball has been clocked at 93 mph. The youngster, who had committed to LSU, threw a no-hitter and had a 15-strikeout performance during the state playoffs this year.
"I thought he was the best left-handed [high school] pitcher in the country," Clark said. "He's just a heck of a competitor."
As for Lyman, he is another power pitcher, whose fastball has been clocked in the mid-90s. Some scouts believe he needs to further develop his curveball, which has occasionally been mistaken for a slurve.
In between their selections of Lyman and Jones, the Braves took Escobar, a 22-year-old shortstop who defected from Cuba in October.
"I can't tell you if he'll stay at shortstop, move to third base or be a utility infielder," Clark said. "But I can tell you he has the tools to be in the Majors and be very successful."
Some clubs likely shied away from him because there wasn't a lot of background information available regarding him. But Clark, who got a second look at Escobar last weekend in Miami, had a slight advantage. Braves catcher Brayan Pena grew up two houses away from the shortstop in Cuba, and spent countless years playing with him.
"Having someone who knew him personally growing up and what kind of player he was, it meant a lot to us, because there was only so much you can find out," Clark said. "We've done as much research as we can, but the fact of the matter is that we think we've got a real player. He's going to be fun to watch."
With their fifth selection, the Braves took outfielder Jordan Schafer out of Winter Haven High School in Winter Haven, Fla. Schafer, once considered the top 13-year-old in the country by Baseball America, has been described as having a great work ethic and passion for the game.
"He was just too good to pass up," Clark said. "Everybody knew we were going to pound the pitching this year. He's a strong left-handed power hitter, and he's an athlete."
In the past, the Braves have taken a number of the top players from their native state. But their first such selection didn't come until the fifth round, when they took University of Georgia closer Will Startup, who Clark compares to current Braves reliever John Foster. Two picks later, they took second baseman Brandon Monk out of LaGrange High School in LaGrange, Ga.
Startup and Monk were two of the five players with a Georgia connection selected by the Braves. But in actuality, a trend continued in that Clark and his scouts simply went wherever necessary to find talent.
"We want the guy who has the best upside and the guy who can help the Atlanta Braves win championships," Clark said. "We'll take him whether he's high school, college, junior college or Cuban defector."
Now that a couple of the selections have been signed, Clark can at least take one breath before looking ahead at some of the talent he and his staff might be grabbing in next year's draft.
"I feel pretty good about this draft," Clark said. "But I always feel pretty good, because the harder you work, the luckier you get. Our scouting department has that philosophy."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.