Braves Draft Day 1


The first round of the 2012  Draft ended sometime after 10 p.m. central time but I stopped watching long before that. Yesterday I looked at our needs and options then made a prediction for the first pick. I was wrong. In fact every mock draft, baseball analyst and column who chanced a prediction prior to the draft was wrong. No one was even in the same ballpark as GM Frank Wren’s draft team.  The question this morning is why?

The First Draft Pick

Lucas Sims is a fine young man with a power arm. Baseball America ranked Sims number 29 in their top 100 picks and Jim Callis projected to go at #31, describes Sims this way.

Sims . . .has been the most consistent high school pitcher in Georgia this spring, pushing him up toward the back of the first round. He has a fairly clean arm action and no obvious or significant mechanical issues. Sims consistently flashed three plus pitches this spring, including a fastball that has touched 97 mph at times and generally sits in the 90-93 mph range. He struggles at times to finish his pitches out front, causing him to leave his stuff up in the zone. Sims throws his slider with power in the low 80s, and at times it has good depth as well. He has the ability to spin a breaking ball, and he’s shown a solid curveball as well that’s about 10 mph slower than his slider. A Clemson recruit, Sims figures to squeeze into the back of the first round thanks to his present stuff and track record.
(Emphasis added)

So at first glance Sims seems to be a young power arm with good stuff and control issues (almost all 18 year old power arms have control issues) who is three years away at least from helping the big team.. That he’s from Georgia is an additional bonus that plays into the stereotypical Braves first round draft pick.  And let me be clear, my question is not about Lucas Sims potential, he obviously has potential. What I want to know is, with the lack of high quality everyday players in the Braves minor league system, why not choose prospects to fill those first?

Why A Pitcher?

Those who read my series on previous drafts might remember from part II that since 2000 the Braves draft went from  just over 50% to about 60% pitching. In that post I referenced an article over at Baseball Prospectus (membership required) by R.J. Anderson  where he discusses the Braves past draft philosophy which has been boiled down to this quote from Scouts Honor.

“[Everybody’s] always looking for pitching and if you have pitching you can get players.”

Looking at that it’s easy to generalize and say that’s obviously correct. The quote is however an incomplete pictures of how the Braves drafted when its originator – former Braves scouting director Paul Snyder – practiced that philosophy.

Exceptions Prove The Rule

Snyder always looked for the best talent including good hitters in the draft as well. David Justice, Jeff Blauser and Chipper Jones were among his notable signings and keys to the Braves long run at the top.  He understood that while players can be obtained, good hitters are rarely as easy to get your hands on.  That is particularly true today, especially when it comes to good right handed hitters. When Looking at the 2012 draft I along with all of the experts I read expected the Braves to take the best talent available to start to replenish the everyday player pool and rebuild the farm system. What we forgot to take into consideration was Frank Wren’s fixation on young pitchers.

When it came the Braves turn to choose last night the draft handed them multiple very good options for high quality hitters that played positions where the Braves have an acknowledged performance gap; outfield and third base or to select more highly rated pitching talent than Sims. My suggested picks were:

Richie Shaffer

  • Last night I said,  “. . .If (others) sleep on him we should grab Shaffer. I figured we could use a 6’3” right handed hitting 3rd baseman who’s shown big power and could be major league ready next year. Guess not; though Tampa Bay snapped him up quickly.

Stephen Piscotty

  • Last night I said,  “Piscotty’s hit well everywhere he’s played; three years at Stanford, the Alaska League and led the Cape Cod League in batting in 2011. The 6’ 3” Picotty is strong with a good arm. . .who projects as a third baseman. The Cards picked him in the supplemental round.

Here’s a look at other players available to the Braves when they were put on the clock.

Marcus Stroman

It’s hard to understand why the pitching fixated Braves passed on Marcus Stroman. Baseball America describes him as

. . .  one of the most electric arms in the country . . .He was 5-4, 2.36 with 119 strikeouts and 22 walks in 84 innings this spring for a bad Duke team. He (pitches at) 92-94 mph as a starter and can touch 95-96. His best secondary offering is a nasty slider with depth. He has also mixed in a good changeup and a cutter that sits 88-90 mph. . .  hold(s) his velocity deep into games, but most scouts say he could be the first 2012 draftee to reach the big leagues if he goes to the bullpen. He worked as the closer for Team USA last summer and was 93-96 mph consistently, pitching 8 1/3 innings without giving up a hit while striking out 17 and walking one.

That’s pretty impressive and he’s nearly big league ready. With the way our starters have stumbled around this year and considering that Stroman might well become our number one or two prospect as soon as he signed, passing on him is almost inexplicable.

James Ramsey

Ramsey is a switch hitting outfielder from FSU who didn’t sign last year when drafted by the Twins. Baseball America describes him as”

Scouts have called Ramsey the Tim Tebow of Florida State baseball, referring to his leadership, strong Christian faith and big-play ability. . . first player under 33-year head coach Mike Martin to . . .(be named) team captain . . moved from right to center field as a senior and got off to a blistering start, and he was batting .401/.536/.731 to lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in all three categories. Scouts see Ramsey . . .with average to above-average tools but no true plus tool. He’s an above-average runner who might be able to stick in center field. . .an average, accurate arm sufficient for right field. . . average power but may not have corner (OF )power. . a safe bet to be a big leaguer. . .(though perhaps at another position)

Gee a switch hitting center fielder, team leader and big play man who stands on principle rather than lunging for the first $500,000 offered to him. Obviously not something we need. . .hmmm. He wasn’t on my radar that high up the draft either but the Twins last year and the Cards this year like him and those are two pretty good talent judging organizations.

How Important Is The First Round?

In Drafts from 2000 through 2009 the Braves:

  • Drafted 521
  • Signed 337
  • 20 were first round picks
  • 18 were second round picks
  • 11 were third round picks
  • 11 were fourth round picks

Of that 337 43 made it to the big leagues with any team (13%) and 63% of those reaching the majors were drafted in rounds 1 through 4.

  • 11 of the 43 were first round picks (26%)
  • 5 of the 43 were second round picks (12%)
  • 7 of the 43 were third round picks (16%)
  • 4 of the 43 were 4th round picks (9%)

Being right in the first round significantly increased your chances of getting a major league caliber player.

Braves Tuesday Morning Draft

This morning the Braves continued to ignore everyday players when they drafted Alex Wood, a right handed pitcher from. . .yep Georgia,  Here’s a quickie on Wood.

  • He has an odd delivery.  he lands on his right (lead) leg then hops backward.
  • Excellent velocity on his fastball for a lefthander, touching 95-96 and sitting in the 89-94
  • He throws a lot of strikes with his heater and shows  the ability to locate it to both sides of the plate.
  • When his fastball is working he’s able to set up his changeup, his favorite pitch
  • His slider is a below-average pitch
  • He did well in the Southeastern Conference (6-1, 2.64, 82 IP, 81-19 SO-BB)
  • He already had Tommy John surgery and between that and his delivery health questions arise

That’s a Wrap

I think the Braves made a mistake last night by not taking the best available player – heck he wasn’t even the best available pitcher.  Whether that was because of the money involved or just a tunnel vision fixation on pitching – particularly Georgia pitching – we’ll never know. Once again I remind you that Lucas Sims is a nice prospect and this says nothing about him other than I believe we drafted the wrong position and the second best at his position. Time will decide which choice was the best.  Oh yea and no crow for me thanks, I’ll save the mea culpa for something I’m sorry for, not their error in judgement.

They continued to ignore the other 8 positions in round two and as I pointed out above the higher the round the lower the likelihood of getting a future star. It does happen of course but finding Mike Piazza or Albert Pujols is like winning the lottery.  Do you feel lucky Braves fans? Well, do ya?