Monday, January 27, 2014

A Look Back: 2009 Draft

Let's continue to look back at previous drafts.  Not sure how far into the past I'll go, but I like looking back at how many players have contributed to Atlanta's success or soon were found to be a bust.  You can look back at recent drafts already profiled by clicking on one of the following links: 2012, 2011, 2010.

Today, we will look back at the 2009 draft.  Coming off a rough 2008, the Braves had the seventh overall selection.  The last time the Braves had a top ten pick was 1991, when they selected Mike Kelly.  That was the final year of six consecutive top ten picks that yielded guys like Kent Mercker, Steve Avery, and 1990 first overall pick, Chipper Jones.  The last time the Braves had the seventh overall pick was 1968 and their selection, Curtis Moore, was a complete bust who never made it past Richmond.

Like we have seen in other recent drafts, the Braves continued to focus on college players, selecting just two guys in the first 20 rounds who didn't have some college experience.  However, the draft has, so far, provided the Braves with just two major leaguers.  Many draft choices didn't even make it through the 2013 season with Atlanta.  The Braves lost their second round pick to the Dodgers after signing Derek Lowe, though they would later add a second round pick from the draft when they acquired Billy Bullock from the Twins.

1. Mike Minor, LHP, Vanderbilt

A former 13th round selection by the Devil Rays in 2006, Minor stayed in Tennessee to attend Vanderbilt and ranked high on the Braves board before the draft.  The Giants, who picked sixth overall, selected Georgia high school hurler Zack Wheeler, who the Braves were also very high on.  That left Minor as the top player remaining on the Braves board, becoming the fourth pitcher selected and first left-hander.  The pick was lambasted as a low-ceiling, low-risk pick and Minor was likely going to anchor the bottom of the rotation.  He quickly unearthed some more velocity and after four starts with Rome in 2009, Minor conquered both Mississippi and Gwinnett in 2010, earning nine games in the majors (with little success).  Baseball America ranked him the 37th best prospect in the game heading into 2011.  He split the year between Gwinnett and Atlanta, though he looked considerably better in Gwinnett.

Established in a young rotation during 2012, Minor got off to a poor start and his ERA stood at 5.97 through his first 16 starts.  However, from there, he turned it on.  His control was a big reason as he went from a 1.95 K/BB rate to 4.19 K/BB in the final 14 starts of the year.  The better control allowed him to give up 12 fewer HR in the second half while his ERA was a sparkling 2.16.  He continued his strong finish with a wonderful follow-up year in 2013, setting career highs in nearly every category.  He heads into 2014 with a chance to get the opening day assignment.

2. No pick

3. David Hale, RHP, Princeton

While Hale was smart enough to get into the Ivy League, he was still a Georgia boy, born and raised in Marietta.  Still, he had a good fall-back position if baseball didn't work.  He was an operations research and financial engineering major at Princeton and could have put his hat into the ring for an entry-level Wall Street job paying six figures.  Instead of returning to Princeton, Hale signed and began his professional career with Danville and in 2013, graduated from Princeton.

The Braves weren't sure what they had with Hale and he worked as much as a reliever as he did as a starter at Danville, Rome, and Lynchburg over his first three years in the organization.  The results were not great and not bad.  He was transitioned to a full-time starter in 2012 and started to make his name known, posting a 3.77 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 7.7 K/9.  However, a bad walk rate muted his numbers.  He hit Gwinnett the next year and gave up a lot of hits, but improved his control.  With Atlanta needing a starter, Hale was promoted and threw five scoreless innings against the Padres on September 13th while striking out nine.  Nearly two weeks later, he got a second start and picked up his first win, allowing a run in six innings against the Phillies.  Awarded with a postseason roster spot, he appeared in the 13-6 whipping the Braves got in Game 3, though Hale retired Juan Uribe on a grounder that stranded two runners to end the 8th.  Hale will compete with Alex Wood and Freddy Garcia for the fifth starter gig this spring and could still make the team as a reliever if he doesn't win a starter job.

4. Mycal Jones, SS/OF, Miami-Dade South Community College

Jones looked like a possible quick riser after his 2010 campaign here he slashed .262/.327/.421 with 15 HR and 22 steals between three different levels, but he has stagnated since, playing 239 games at AA over the last three years with a demotion to Lynchburg in 2012 mixed in.  In addition, he was moved from shortstop to center field.  He is a great athlete and an hilarious twitter follow, but at 26, he has already lost whatever luster he had back in 2010.

5. Thomas Berryhill, RHP, Newberry College

The Braves love college relievers and believe they can provide quick return on their investment.  Berryhill struggled with control and didn't miss too many bats once he was close to the strikezone.  He made it to Myrtle Beach for ten games in 2010, but after nine forgetful games with Rome in 2011, he was released in early July.  He hooked up with the Blue Jays system, but was cast away after 2011 and hasn't played organized ball since.

6. Ryan Woolley, RHP, University of Alabama

Another reliever option, Woolley would choose to not sign with the Braves and returned to Alabama, where he would be drafted in the 39th round the following season by the Rangers in the 13th round in 2011 by the Tigers.  He finally signed and the only reason I still mention him is because he was released from the Tigers system after 2012.  The Braves came calling and finally signed their former sixth round pick.  He appeared in 15 ugly games with Lynchburg and three uber-ugly games with Mississippi before the Braves were thankful they didn't sink sixth-round money into him and released him. He finished up in the Frontier League last season.

7. Robby Hefflinger, OF, Georgia Perimeter College

Hefflinger has plenty of power, but will he ever hit enough to take advantage of it?  In his first two and a half seasons after signing, Hefflinger belted 21 homers, but couldn't get his OPS out of the .670 range.  He finally broke through in 2012, slashing .284/.362/.483 with Rome before finishing up the year with a month-plus in Lynchburg.  All told, he hit 16 HR and OPS'd .810.  He began 2013 with the Hillcats and destroyed the Carolina League for the first three months, hitting 21 homers with a .917 OPS.  The praise was slow to come because of 49 previous games with Lynchburg and his age of 23.  He finished the year with Mississippi and the hammer fell on his breakthrough season as he slashed .170/.227/.319 in 53 games.  He still finished second in the Carolina League in HR (in nearly 300 less PA than the leader) and finished second to Ernesto Mejia for most homers among Braves farmhands (28-to-27).  The power's there, but barring something magical, Hefflinger is unlikely to knock on the door for a major league promotion anytime soon.

8. Kyle Rose, OF, Northwest-Shoals Community College (Muscle Shoals, AL)

A speedster with some raw talent, Rose hit the prospect radar shortly after signing with the Braves when he hit .293/.397/.354 with 27 steals in 31 attempts while playing all but one game in the Gulf Coast League.  Injuries shortened his 2010 season, but the magic was gone.  He OPS's a miserable .647 and was caught stealing 23 times to just 29 steals.  An even-more-miserable 2011 followed where he OPS'd .522.  Rose received a promotion to Lynchburg and two months with the Hillcats were just as sad as the last two seasons and about three years after joining the system, Rose was sent packing.

9. Matt Weaver, IF, Burlington Community College (Pemberton, NJ)

A year later, in the 12th round, the Braves would select Barrett Kleinknecht, who has became a super utility player for the Braves.  Weaver is in the same mold as well.  He has never OPS'd better than .723 and has played the last two seasons in Lynchburg.  He has also pitched four times, including twice last season.  During the second game of a double header on August 29th, Weaver started in center field, moved to right field, and in the 12th, he got the call to pitch.  The last batter he faced, Todd Hankins, struck out looking (and K'd five times in the game).  In the bottom half, Matt Lipka doubled and scored on a botched double play to give Weaver the win.

10. Aaron Northcraft, Meter Dei High School (Santa Ana, CA)

The first high school selection, Northcraft has made his way up the latter slowly, but effectively.  With the exception of a four game run in Rome during 2010, he has spent an entire year in one minor league stop before moving on to the next.  He gets heavy sink on his pitches, leading to a low of grounders.  During a double-header against the Salem Red Sox on June 22nd, 2012, Northcraft threw seven hitless innings with a pair of walks, a hit batter, and ten K's.  Because double-header games are usually shortened to seven innings, Northcraft got credit for a no-hitter.  With a career 7.9 K/9 and a three-quarters delivery that induces a lot of grounders, Northcraft could become a solid bullpen piece.

Other interesting picks...

-14th rounder Cory Harrilchak out of Elon looked like he would be a good hitter with gap power and enough speed to possibly climb the latter quickly, but after a .737 OPS with Mississippi in 2010, he struggled badly during 2011 and was cut.  He put up good numbers with Southern Illinois in the Frontier League while playing with a fellow Braves 2009 pick, 21st rounder Matt Crim.

-In the 16th round, the Braves selected Riaan Spanjer-Furstenburg out of Nova Southeastern University.  RSF, who was born in Pretoria, South Africa, was a bit of a 2009 cult hero after slashing .359/.411/.543 with 8 HR for Danville.  His Rome numbers were underwhelming and after a month with Lynchburg in 2011, RSF was cut and has been out of organized ball since.

-19th rounder Ty'Relle Harris and 20th rounder Jeffrey Lorick were both used in the 2010 trade that brought over Derrek Lee.  Haris made it AAA with the Cubs in both 2011 and 2012, but never got to the bigs and spent last season in Bridgeport of the Atlantic League.  Lorick, a lefty, has gotten more time, but has yet to make it into AA.

-Selected in the 22nd round, Ryan Weber remains in the system and has great control (career 1.6 BB/9), but has yet to make it to AA.  Amazingly, despite pinpoint control (15 walks in 93.2 ING with Lynchburg last season), he hit 11 batters.

-Finally, 47th round pick, Colby Holmes, is a fun story.  He was drafted out of Conway High Schoool despite a commitment to South Carolina.  As it happens many times in the late rounds, the Braves were not able to sign Holmes, who enrolled at South Carolina.  He was often a starter, including getting one start in the 2011 College World Series, but Holmes was never that great, including just 3.68 career ERA with 69 BB and 211 K's in 247 innings.  With a less-than-amazing college carer behind him, Holmes went undrafted in last June's draft.  The Braves came calling and four years after drafting him, they finally signed him.  He finished the 2013 season with a pair of stops at rookie ball.

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