It’s always good to take stock in how the major league team is doing in the draft, because it is truly the lifeblood of most organizations, especially those with strict budgets. Since Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz turned around the organization in the early 1990s to now, the Braves’ drafting and subsequent player development has been its staple.
It has produced two future Hall of Famers in Chipper Jones and Tom Glavine, key contributors in Brian McCann, Mike Minor, Andrelton Simmons, Kris Medlen and Craig Kimbrel and stars — including Adam Wainwright and Elvis Andrus — that were used to trade for missing pieces on the big-league club. So, yes, it’s crucial to draft well.
Atlanta’s first pick this year was hard-throwing Oklahoma State righthander Jason Hursh at 31st overall.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Hursh missed the 2012 season recovering from Tommy John surgery but posted a 6-5 record with a 2.79 ERA in 16 starts for Oklahoma State this past season. What intrigues the Braves the most about Hursh is his fastball, which Baseball America says is heavy with late-moving action and considered “one of the most devastating pitches in the draft.” Hursh routinely hits 98 with his four-seam fastball, which he complements with a two-seamer in the low 90s. His changeup is considered to be a good pitch while his curve ball needs some work.
Hursh, a third-year sophomore, will likely start in Class A, possibly at Rome, after he is signed. The deadline for teams to sign draft picks is July 12, except for those who are graduating seniors. Side note: Braves scout Gerald Turner signed Hursh. Turner also signed Andrelton Simmons and Evan Gattis.
Atlanta’s second-round selection was catcher Victor Caratini from Miami-Dade Community College. Caratini, the 65th overall pick, is the highest the Braves have drafted a backstop since 2002 when they drafted McCann.
Caratini is a switch hitter with offensive potential. The 19-year-old will need to work on his defense. He has played some third base, but the Braves drafted him as a catcher.
The Braves drafted Kerman, Calif., high school righthander Carlos Salazar in the third round. Salazar throws hard (97 mph) and scouts like his sharp breaking ball and the potential of his changeup. Atlanta loves these power arms, and it intends to stock its system with as many as possible.
What about some of the previous years’ early picks? How are they doing and where are they now? Let’s take a look.
Lucas Sims, a righthanded pitcher from Brookwood High School in Georgia, was Atlanta’s first round pick, the 21st overall. Sims, who projects to be a starter, is at Class A Rome where he has appeared in 13 games, starting three, and posted a 2-2 record. He has a 3.25 ERA and is striking out 10 batters per nine innings. Sims is right on target in his development and is one of the top — if not the top — pitching prospects in the organization. The earliest he could arrive in Atlanta is late 2015, with 2016 more realistic. The Braves will not rush Sims, who could be a No. 1 starter and rotation workhorse.
Lefthander Alex Wood was Atlanta’s second round pick out of Georgia last year. He made his major league debut two weeks ago as a reliever. Long term, the Braves would love for Wood to start, where he projects as a mid-rotation starter. But season-ending injuries to key bullpen personnel forced Atlanta to begin his major league career as a reliever. The Braves are easing him into the role, but don’t be surprised if he winds up a key cog in the late innings as the season wears on.
Lefthander Sean Gilmartin from Florida State was Atlanta’s first pick, 28th overall. Gilmartin is 3-5 with a 4.43 ERA in 11 starts at Triple-A Gwinnett this season. He is considered a potential middle- to back-of-the-rotation starter, but he could see time in Atlanta’s bullpen later this summer.
Nick Ahmed, a shortstop from Connecticut, was Atlanta’s second pick. He was traded this past offseason to Arizona in the Justin Upton deal and has struggled at Double-A Mobile, hitting .152 with one home run in 178 at bats.
Other notables from this draft include fourth-round righthander J.R. Graham and eighth-round second baseman Thomas La Stella. Graham, considered by many to be Atlanta’s top prospect, was the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2012. Graham left after two innings of his eighth start at Mississippi this season with a right shoulder strain. Graham was 12-2 wit ha 2.80 ERA last year and has posted a 1-3 record with a 4.04 ERA this year.
La Stella is batting .318 for Double-A Mississippi with more walks than strikeouts in 88 at bats.
Shortstop Matt Lipka of McKinney High School in Texas was the Braves first pick at 35th overall. Lipka was moved to centerfield in 2012, and while his defense has been good, his offense has yet to take off. He’s hitting .270 with a .317 on base percentage this year at Lynchburg. Lipka is still only 21, but his days as a prospect are quickly closing.
Jacksonville’s Todd Cunningham was selected in the second round, 53rd overall, and the organization’s 2012 Minor League Player of the Year is continuing his march to the big leagues. Cunningham, an outfielder, is batting .256 this year after posting a .309 average in 2012, but his on-base percentage is .357 — just seven points below last year’s .364 OBP. He has eight doubles, three triples and two home runs among his 51 hits, and he has nine stolen bases in 13 attempts. Cunningham should see some time in September when rosters expand, and an injury to any of the Braves outfielders could bring him up much sooner.
Other notes from 2010: Simmons was selected in the third round (70th overall). Gattis was taken in the 23rd round (704th overall).