Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Best 5 Braves Drafts Since 2000 - #2

On this 2016 Draft Eve, here is my pick for the second best draft since 2000.

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

2nd Best Draft Since 2000 - The 2002 Draft

Keith Allison via Flickr (No Changes)
(Creative Commons)
It was a perfect storm for the Braves. Two years before, they had added a lot of talent to the system, but were still short on real prospects. While they would win a NL East Title in 2002, the cracks began to show as they won just 88 games. That would actually help the Braves as it gave them a higher draft choice than they were used to getting during The Streak with the #23rd overall pick. They would add a supplemental first (#34th) and an extra second round pick (#65) after Steve Karsay signed with the Yankees.

The table was set for a big haul and the Braves had their eyes firmly set on one player - Parkview High School two-sport, do-everything, superstud Jeff Francoeur. But would he be there when they selected in the first round for the first time at #23? Previously, I went over how the Braves may have muddied the waters when it came to Jason Heyward. The Braves and especially their scouting director Roy Clark had been tied to some accusations of dirty play beyond that. They were blamed for bad medical reports related to Adam Wainwright before the 2000 draft. They were also possibly responsible for a fax that suggested Francoeur wanted a $4M bonus.

Whether any of that is true, Francoeur made it clear to other teams that he had three options in the draft. Either the Atlanta Braves drafted him or he received a "significant amount of money" to sign with whoever picked him. Or, and this certainly was a possibility, he could head to Clemson University, where he had signed a letter of intent to play defensive back. Francoeur was expected to be a standout as a college safety - something not lost on Bobby Bowden or his son, Tommy Bowden. One story involved the latter being at Francoeur's home on a recruiting trip. The elder Bowden called Francoeur, which prompted Tommy to take the phone and kindly tell his dad to get off the line while he was on a recruiting visit.

Teams ahead of the Braves had Francoeur higher on their Big Boards based on talent, but he dropped due to the demands Francoeur would have to sign. He never did get that $4M, regardless if it ever was one of his demands, but after Atlanta selected the outfielder and convinced him to give up football, he received $2.2M and the Braves' 2002 draft was off.

Up next, with the #34th pick, was James Madison University southpaw, Dan Meyer. A standout college pitcher for the Dukes, he was the first college arm selected by the Braves in the first round since 1987 when the Braves tabbed Derek Lilliquist as the sixth overall selection. Thirty picks later, the Braves again chose a prep star from their own backyard, Duluth High School catcher, Brian McCann. While he lacked Francoeur's infectious smile, he was left-handed catcher with power. McCann had been playing baseball with-and-against Francoeur since the two became teenagers. Now, they would become roommates.

The next pick of the draft was Atlanta's extra second-round pick courtesy of the Yankees. It would ultimately be wasted on shortstop Tyler Greene. An athletic shortstop with power, Greene passed on the Braves, but liked the area enough to attended Georgia Tech. Right-hander Charlie Morton out of a high school in Connecticut, was selected next. Morton, like Meyer, would be used in big trades.

Sad to say, but the rest of the draft produced very little. Long-time followers of the Braves' minor league system might recognize the names of Steve Russell (4th), J.J. Jurries (6th), and Wes Timmons (12th), but the latter two failed to progress beyond Triple-A while Russell was cut after five years in the system. Shortstop Jon Schuerholz out of Auburn would be lambasted as a sign of nepotism after the Braves spent an 8th round selection on him.

The Braves would get a hit on 20th rounder Chuck James out of Chattahoochee Valley Community College. It's difficult to get much value out of the 20th round, so the 64 games and 55 starts they received from James constitutes a hit in my mind. His metrics were never that good and after a fun retelling of Chuck Norris jokes with James in the latter's place, he wore out his welcome with the Braves. Nevertheless, he was the Braves' #3 pitcher in 2006 and '07.

For all of the hype surrounding Francoeur, this draft would ultimately be known as the year the Braves finally picked a catcher in the draft who turned into a star. In the previous ten drafts, Atlanta had spent eleven picks on catchers. Some didn't sign, but those that did gave the Braves precious little. You have to go back to 1989's draft choice of Tyler Houston, which was a bust, to find a catcher the Braves drafted and developed into a major leaguer for more than a cup of coffee. Of course, the Braves had more luck internationally, but catcher was a position that year-after-year was draped in failure. McCann gave the Braves not only success from the draft, but one of the best catchers in baseball for 8.5 years.

While 2002's draft could have certainly been better, grabbing a guy who may have a borderline Hall of Fame career when it's all said and done is a big get.

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