Thursday, June 9, 2016

Best 5 Braves Drafts Since 2000 - #1

Best/Worst Drafts since 2000
Worst: #5, 2009 | #4, 2004 | #3, 2013 | #2, 2011 | #1, 2001
Best: #5, 2010 | #4, 2015 | #3, 2007 | #2, 2002 | #1, 2000

The  Best Draft Since 2000...The 2000 Draft
By Keith Allison from Kinston, USA (Kelly Johnson)
[CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier today, I went over the 2001 draft, which I labeled the worst since 2000. What made that draft so frustrating was that despite having six of the first 105 overall selections, the Braves got precious little out of it. It might be equally frustrating that it came just a year after a similar case of a plethora of picks. But this time, the Braves turned it into a big haul, which showed just what Atlanta was capable of doing in the draft. You win some, you lose some.

The final Braves' team of the 90's was also their final chance to claim ultimate glory, but a quick four-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees ended that dream. Still, the '99 Braves were a thing of beauty. In his Age-27 year, Chipper Jones had been named MVP. Andruw Jones, five years younger than Chipper, had posted a .365 OBP and his second consecutive 20/20 year. He was already well on his way to being the greatest defensive center fielder in baseball history. The rotation was aging, but had received a boost by a breakout season from Kevin Millwood, who struck out 205 batters. John Rocker replaced an injured Kerry Ligtenberg as closer and dominated. The team was expected to be good for a long, long time.

The minor leagues were stacked with talent from Rafael Furcal to Wilson Betemit to Marcus Giles to Matt Belisle. The Braves looked prime to only add to their already embarrassment of riches. Free agent defections after the 1999 season would give them extra selections to keep cycling through talent. Russ Springer, a good middle reliever, brought back a compensation first rounder (#29th overall) from the Diamondbacks. He also brought a supplemental pick at the end of the first round (#40th). Jose Hernandez, who only spent a couple of months with the Braves, brought the team the #38th overall selection after he signed with the Brewers. The Braves would also receive the Brewers' second rounder, #51st overall. There was literally no penalty for trading prospects for trade deadline talent back then. Atlanta had given the Cubs pitchers Micah Bowie, Joey Nation, and Ruben Quevedo for Hernandez and southpaw Terry Mulholland. They also got #38th and #51st pick. They effectively gave up three pitching prospects for four players. It's no wonder small-market teams hated the compensation system.

The Braves also received an extra fourth rounder, #106, because the Devil Rays signed Gerald Williams. If you ever wonder why the D-Rays needed so much time to be good, 2000 is a good example. Due to signing free agents, the D-Rays picked #6th overall and then took a long nap before their next spot came up - #136th in the fifth round. To compare, between both of Tampa Bay's first two picks, the Braves would draft nine players.

As the first round started, the Braves had a target. Would that target fall to them? They allegedly were spreading news around that Adam Wainwright had some injury concerns related to his right elbow with the hope that it would scare off enough teams to free up the Braves to select the native Georgian. Whatever the truth may be, clearly the Braves were hoping that Wainwright fell to them. The Cardinals passed at #24, the Astros went in another direction at #27, and the Yankees went with the son of Lance Parrish (David) at #28. When the Yankees finished the string of six players who would be drafted ahead of Wainwright, but failed to make it to the majors, the Braves must have been crazy with excitement. They got their guy.

They would also get the next guy on their Big Board because the next pick was theirs. Rather than stick with southeastern prep athletes, they bought into the reports of sick power from north of the border and selected Scott Thorman out of Cambridge, Ontario. Eight picks later, they mined the talent-rich fields of Texas to grab Austin-native Kelly Johnson. After the Rangers made their third pick of the first round (of which, they received just three hitless at-bats out of), the Braves picked shortstop Aaron Herr out of Hempfield High School in Pennsylvania. With their two second-round picks, the Braves picked a pair of righty prep pitchers in Bubba Nelson and Bryan Digby. They stuck with the theme in the next two rounds, selecting a total of three right-handed prep pitchers in Blaine Boyer, Zach Miner, and Brian Montalbo - the latter of which would choose not to sign after being pick out of Alaska and would later be picked in the 7th round by the Brewers out of Cal-Berkeley.

What sets this draft apart from others was Atlanta's ability to find value late. Between Chris Waters selection in the fifth round and their 17th round selection, Atlanta failed to add any future major league talent. Keoni De Renne, a shortstop out of the University of Arizona, looked interesting, but ultimately failed like so many of those mid-draft picks. In the 17th round, the Braves added sturdy right-hander Trey Hodges out of LSU. Two rounds later, they picked Western Carolina outfielder Charles Thomas. Hodges would late hold down a middle relief job for the Braves while Thomas had one nice summer in the majors, which the Braves helped turn into Tim Hudson.

The Braves selected ten more players after Thomas who failed to make it to the bigs, but in the 29th round, they picked Seminole State College 1B and sometimes pitcher, Adam LaRoche. It was the third consecutive season LaRoche had been drafted. He had refused to sign with the Marlins in back-to-back years, but the Braves convinced him that his future was in Atlanta just two weeks after drafting him. Just four years later, he would be their regular first baseman. For three years, he blossomed into a steady option at first base before the suddenly penny-pinching Braves traded LaRoche after he became arbitration-eligible and handed the first base job to the guy who was drafted 850 picks before LaRoche in 2000 in Thorman. They later brought LaRoche back during the 2009 deadline to bring stability to their 1B situation, but passed on keeping him. They had their future 1B in the making in the minors (Freddie Freeman) and a long-term deal for LaRoche wasn't in the cards.

LaRoche was the last-of-nine major leaguers the Braves drafted and signed out of the 2000 draft. Waters would leave the organization as a minor league free agent after 2006 and would later pitch in 16 games with the Orioles between 2008-09. Five years after being drafted, the Braves would package Miner with right-hander Roman Colon in a trade with the Tigers to acquire Kyle Farnsworth. Miner pitched in 173 career games, mainly with the Tigers, before retiring. Boyer was a dependable member of the 2005 Baby Braves, but washed out after that. After nearly giving up, he has been a nice story of perseverance since returning to the majors in 2014 with the Padres while posting a 2.70 ERA over 123 games with San Diego, Minnesota, and currently Milwaukee.

Even though this draft would produce some big hits, the trio of Herr, Nelson, and Digby all failed to make it to the majors. Nelson was used as trade bait while Herr and Digby simply washed out. Thorman was handed the 1B job in 2007, but showed that outside of some homers that left the planet, he was not capable of reaching base. His struggles led John Schuerholz to trade for Mark Teixeira. Theoretically, had Thorman been respectable, maybe Schuerholz wouldn't have lost his mind. Maybe.

But regardless, in addition to LaRoche, the Braves had some huge success with the drafting of Wainwright and Johnson. The latter developed into a good second baseman before transitioning into a sought-after utility player. Here is something you should know Kelly Johnson. He is the fourth-best player selected in the first round of 2000 according to rWAR behind just Chase Utley, Adrian Gonzalez, and - of course - Wainwright. Speaking of Waino, Braves fans naturally bemoan his 2003 trade to the Cardinals. While J.D. Drew would help the Braves keep their playoff streak in tact, it was a lot to give up for one year of Drew. However, from a drafting standpoint, the Braves aced this pick. First as a reliever and later as a starter, Wainwright became one of the more dominating pitchers in baseball until this year. The Braves got their man. They didn't keep him, but they got him and he turned out to be everything they thought he could be and more.

Hopefully, tonight's draft yields a solid haul like the Braves got in 2000. Do you agree or disagree with any of my rankings? Let me know! What draft since 2000 should have been named the best? The worst? I'm all ears.

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