Skipping back ahead, we’re in an area where the players are still in the minors for the most part, but the decision time on them is coming soon.
At any event, things don’t change all of the sudden for the most part. 2000 is a transition year, in which you can start seeing some changes in the Braves’ drafting philosophy but most things are still the same. What strikes me is that beginning with this draft it seems that the team put a much higher priority on signing their higher draft picks, while apparently not making much of an effort lower in the draft. In the first 30 rounds, the Braves signed all but four players. Only one player after the thirtieth round (Frank Arteaga, who is apparently no longer in the system or professional baseball) is listed as signing. In 1999, they had signed eleven players after the thirtieth round. (I should remind you that in 1996, Marcus Giles was a 53rd round pick. They don’t even draft after 50 rounds anymore.) I am just guessing here, but that may be an attempt to save a little money at the cost of a little system depth. I don’t know how important the tradeoff is.
The Braves were, however, continuing to focus on drafting high schoolers. This was a big draft for the team, which had four first round picks because of the free agent departures of Russ Springer and Jose Hernandez. Yes, they got two first-round picks for Russ Springer. With their first pick, one of the Springer comps, they got Adam Wainwright, since traded to St. Louis in the Drew deal. (Wainwright is pitching well for Memphis; I expect he will get a permanent callup soon, perhaps at the next starter injury for the Cards.)
With their own pick, the Braves took Scott Thorman out of Canada. Thorman’s had some injuries but right now is hitting fairly well at AA. He’s a first baseman now, and it’s hard to see his future with the organization, but I think he’ll eventually have some sort of Major League career, or at least one in Japan.
With the first of the Hernandez picks, the Braves took Kelly Johnson. As I’ve said, I don’t think that Johnson will be a star, but it’s possible he’ll surprise me. Certainly a guy hitting .299/.429/.558 at AAA and who plays multiple positions is a prospect.
With the second Springer pick the Braves took Aaron Herr. Okay, you can’t win them all, and they would do better with a legacy pick later in the draft. Like Wainwright, Herr is now with the Cardinals organization, currently in the Texas League.
That’s just the first round! The next few picks were High School Pitcher City. With a second-round pick, also in exchange for Hernandez, the Braves took Bubba Nelson, sent to Cincinnati in the Reitsma deal. Whether I think that was a good deal depends upon how Reitsma’s last outing went, so I feel pretty good about that now. Nelson is closing in Chattanooga right now and doing okay. Their other second-round pick, Brian Digby, never did much of anything and is now not doing so well as a reliever in Myrtle Beach. Blaine Boyer has appeared on some prospect charts but is pitching poorly in Mississippi and is probably going to be done in the organization soon. Zach Miner has shown some signs of life recently and may survive another year.
But the most interesting part of this draft is the middle rounds. The Braves got three college players who have already made their Major League debuts, including one who is their youngest regular. In the 17th round, they took LSU pitcher Trey Hodges. Hodges moved rapidly through the system, making his Major League debut in 2002; most of you know about him, and that he’s back with the organization now. In the 19th round they took “Chuck Thomas” from Western Carolina. Of course, Thomas was traded to the A’s in the Hudson deal after his fine 2004 and is currently hitting like Raul Mondesi would if you chopped his arm off.
And in the 29th round, just one round before they stopped signing guys, they took a community college first baseman/pitcher. I figure there’s a good chance they only took Adam LaRoche because of who his father was. (A few picks later they took a flyer on Anthony Gwynn but didn’t sign him.) At any event, getting a Major League regular in the 29th round will make any draft look really nice.