Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Look Back: 2007 Draft

We're coming up on the June draft so now was a good time to dust off my series on looking back on recent drafts and seeing what players have made good on the Braves' investment and the many that have not.  So far, I have looked at five different drafts from 2008 to 2012. Today, my focus will be on the 2007 draft, a draft that yielded few major league talents, but the ones that it did were big. The 2007 draft followed a disappointing 2006, the season that ended The Streak as the Braves finished 79-83 and 18 games out of first.

As such, the Braves were picking during the first half of the draft for the first time since 1991. They also gained two picks after the Orioles signed Danys Baez, getting a supplemental first rounder (and 33rd overall) along with a second choice in the second round, the 69th overall pick. The Braves got little from those two picks, including a selection of Josh Fields with the additional second round pick. He did not sign, though. As I've done in previous articles, I will touch on the first ten rounds and any interesting players after that.

1. Jason Heyward, OF, Henry County High School (McDonough, GA)

Heyward was ranked the 9th best prospect by Baseball America heading into the draft and his upside was off the charts. According to the Braves, they had Heyward graded over first overall pick, David Price. So, how did he get to the 14th overall selection? His signing bonus demands were very high and some graded, and this is true, Heyward as a left-fielder/first baseman. Miami was a possible destination, but chose 3B Matt Dominguez. After the draft, the Braves signed Heyward to a $1.7M signing bonus and Heyward breezed through the minors, reaching Gwinnett in 2009 just after his 20th birthday. Before 2010, Baseball Prospectus ranked him the #2 prospect in the minors. Baseball America believed that was incorrect, ranking him the best prospect in baseball before 2010.

Heyward would homer in his first game and on-based .393 while finishing second in the Rookie of the Year race. A disappointing 2011 followed, wrecked by injuries, but Heyward appeared to break out in 2012 while hitting behind Michael Bourn. He slashed .269/.335/.479, hit 27 homers, stole 21 bases, and won his first well-deserved Gold Glove. Freak injuries limited him to 104 games last year and he certainly hasn't got off to a good start this season, but Heyward remains all of 24 years-old. There remains a lot of potential that the Braves need to help Heyward reach.

1s. Jon Gilmore, 3B, Iowa City High School

How many 3B were selected in the 2007 draft? 33rd overall pick, Gilmore, was the fifth of the first round. Two more would go before the end of the first. On the plus side, there was a typical midwestern body type for Gilmore with a lot of potential power. However, he was a very raw talent. He handled rookie-league ball well, hitting .317 in 110 games between the GCL and Appy Leagues, though he walked just 17 times and hit five homers. By the end of 2008, he was in Rome, where he hit .186 in 27 games to finish the year. After the season, he was traded to the White Sox as part of the Javier Vazquez deal. Gilmore stayed in the South Atlantic League for 2009 with Kannapolis and his .274 with a career-best 34 walks, but belted just five homers in 130 games. He spent 2010 int he Carolina League and hit .312 and again walked 34 times, but again hit just five homers. After a pair of injury-shorten seasons at AA where he slashed .242/.312/.341, Gilmore was cut after 2012 and has not played professional ball since. Amazing that a .285 hitter in the minors can't get a call, but a .699 OPS from third isn't desired all that much.

2. Freddie Freeman, 1B, El Modena High School (Orange, CA)

A young power hitter out of Carlifornia, Freeman was already 6'5" and 215 lbs when the Braves selected him and convinced him to sign over staying in-state at Cal State Fullerton. He played third base and pitched in high school, but was quickly moved across the field. Like Heyward, he was a quick riser, jumping onto the scene with a 2008 season at Rome where he slashed .316/.378/.521 with 33 2B and 18 homers. A down power year followed with just eight homers, but he got 18 more in 2010 and was a top-20 prospect heading in 2011 when he joined the major league squad. He spent the next three years progressing from a Rookie of the Year runner-up to placing fifth in the 2013 MVP race. This season, he's off to another good start and began the first year of an eight-year contract.

3. Brandon Hicks, SS, Texas A&M

Undrafted out of high school, Hicks was a junior college trasfer to Texas A&M in 2007 and slashed .338/.419/.536 with 21 doubles, 10 homers, and 28 steals while becoming a draftable prospect. Atlanta took him in the third round and gave him nearly $300K to sign. Expected to be a quick riser, Hicks homered seven times between Danville and Rome after he was drafted, posting an .897 OPS. He showed a three true outcomes profile in 2008 with Myrtle Beach, when he hit .234, walked 45 times, struck out 122 times, and hit 19 homers. His .815 OPS with the Pelicans made him an interesting prospect, but his numbers quickly trailed off and he was waived during spring training in 2012. He struggled to stick with Oakland, hitting .172 with 31 K's in 64 AB. After a year in the Mets system, Hicks caught on with the Giants this season and with injuries to Marco Scutaro, Hicks broke camp as the primary 2B. Again, he's a three true outcomes guy.  In 37 games coming into Monday, he hit just .195, but posted a .321 OBP and .415 SLG with the hlp of seven homers and 20 walks.

4. Cory Gearrin, RHP, Mercer University

The second pitcher and first signed, Gearrin was a college closer who nailed down 13 saves as a junior at Mercer with a 13.2 K/9. He joined Danville after the draft and would climb the line, mostly as a middle reliever (though he saved 17 with the Pelicans in 2009). The sidearmer got to the bigs in 2011 and while he K'd 25 in 18.1 ING, he got hit hard and walked 12. In 2012, Gearrin was much better, posting a 1.80 ERA in 20 innings. However, he struggled in 2013 and was sent to the minors, where he spent the remainder of 2013 on the injury report. Gearrin had a shot to make the roster this season, but Tommy John ended his season prematurly.

5. Dennis Dixon, OF/QB, University of Oregon

Before Dixon became a Heisman candidate at Oregon, he was a 20th round pick by the Reds in 2003. He ultimately did not sign and went to Oregon to play football. And not baseball. However, that didn't stop the Braves from wasting using a fifth round selection on Dixon, who hadn't played baseball since high school. Or when he was a 20th round selection. As part of his contract, Dixon would return to Oregon after his summer playing baseball. He hit just .176 in 28 games with two extra base hits. After returning to college, he had a great year with the Ducks, helping them to a 9-4 season. He was again a fifth round pick, this time by the Steelers, and he left baseball behind. In addition to Pittsburgh, Dixon has spent time with the Ravens and Bills. For funsies, other fifth round picks of the 2007 draft after Dixon...3B Will Middlebrooks and P's Marc Rzepczynski and Nate Jones. Not huge loses, but better than one year of rookie ball from Dixon.

6. Michael Fisher, SS, Georgia Tech

Another QB, Fisher stayed with baseball in college rather than play QB (and amazingly, no NFL team took him in the draft). Fisher was an athlete, though, and could switch-hit. However, his arm strength was in question on deep throws in short so his bat would have be tremendous. He hit .289 with a .361 OBP over 63 games split between Danville and Myrtle Beahc in 2007. Surprisingly, he went down to Rome and struggled to a .645 OPS in 2008 before hitting poorly for the Pelicans in 2009. Fisher was cut before 2010 and went home to study real estate, but the Mets eventually came calling. He would spent the next three seasons in the Mets systems, reaching AAA for 96 games, but Fisher never hit. He did pick up a save as a member of the St. Lucie Mets in 2010 so that's something.

7. Travis Jones, 2B, University of South Carolina

Another JuCo transfer, Jones started his post-high school career at Lake City Community College, where he was a 40th round pick by the Phillies in 2005. Instead, he eventually transferred to South Carolina and became a promising prospect at 2B. After signing, it did not take long for Jones to show plus power and on-base skills, slashing .259/.390/.472 at Danville and Rome with most of his time coming with the latter after signing with the team. He blasted 12 homers and hit 16 for Myrtle Beach the following season while adding 17 steals. However, his power bat was short-lived and he hit .249/.350/.355 with 5 HR the following season in 2009. More struggles followed and the Braves cut him in 2010. He hooked up on with New Jersey in the Canadian-American Association, but has been out of professional ball since.

8. Colby Shreve, RHP, College of Southern Nevada

The Braves selected Shreve with a high pick, but he never signed. He went in the sixth round for the Phillies, though Tommy John surgery kept him out of action until 2010. Shreve was finally cut after last season, having never made it to AAA.

9. Tim Ladd, LHP, Georgia Tech

At Tech, Ladd was a left-hand reliever, but not a closer. He did start six games as a junior, but generally was a set-up reliever and not a particularly good one for Georgia Tech. In 64.1 ING, Ladd gave up 83 hits, walked 25, and struck out 43 while ending his career with a 4.62 ERA. He would only pitch in 26 professional games after the Braves took him, starting three, and posting a 1.69 WHIP to go with his 5.00 ERA. All but four games were in a Danville uniform with a few weeks at Rome to close 2008. He hasn't played since.

10. Tommy Palica, LHP, Golden West College (Huntington Beach, CA)

A year after the Yankees spent a 32 rounder on Palica, the Braves came calling in the tenth round. Palica became a bit of a sleeper after a pair of seasons in 2008-2009 where he conquered A-ball while posting WHIP's of 1.14 and 1.30. However, he struggled in AA in 2010 and was cut before the 2011 season. He caught on with the Lincoln Saltdogs of the American Association and a month later, the Phillies came calling. He was awful for Clearwater after signing and after he was once again cut, Palica went back to Lincoln. His luck didn't improve, posting a 7.68 ERA in 2012 and retiring after the season.

Notable picks...

-The Braves nearly had another great 1B from this draft. They took Brandon Belt in the 11th round, but he did not sign. It was the second consecutive year Belt was picked in the 11th round after the Boston Red Sox selected him in 2006. He finally signed after the Giants picked him in the 5th round in 2009.

-24th round selection, right-hand pitcher Mitchell Harris, is an interesting case. Though he didn't sign and was selected in the 13th round by the Cardinals in 2008, he didn't make his debut until last season. Why? He was headed to the Navy after graduating from the Academy. He was denied release in 2012, but was finally released from the military last season and debuted in A ball. He's now in AA and you have to hope he produces.

-A few picks didn't sign, but were re-drafted the following year and joined the system. 27th round selection Adam Milligan finally signed after being a 2008 sixth rounder.  33rd-rounder Craig Kimbrel also signed the following year. Luckily enough.

-Righty Ryan Chaffee, a 43rd round pick, didn't sign and was a 3rd rounder by the Angels in 2008. He's still plugging along in the Angels system, currently with the Salt Lake Bees as a teammate of former Brave Cory Rasmus.

-Finally, one of the most interesting players from the 2007 draft is Benino Pruneda. A diminutive left-hander out of San Jacinto College, Pruneda went in the 31st round and was a potential fast-rising reliever. He struck out 73 in 57.1 ING with the 2008 Rome Braves and K'd 93 in 64.2 ING between the 2010 Myrtle Beach Pelicans and Mississippi Braves. He repeated Mississippi in 2011, striking out 71, but walking a career-worst 40 in 64.1 ING. He was a Baseball America Top 30 prospect entering 2012, but Tommy John surgery killed his 2012 and the following season. Before the injury, his fastball reached 103 mph. He just made it back, making his return on May 1st with Lynchburg and has appeared in six games, striking out 13 and walking five in 9.1 ING. Someone to follow and believe in.

For more reviews on the draft, click any of the following links. 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008

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