The Atlanta Braves love to draft high-upside, sometimes high-risk, high school players with their first pick in the draft. In the last 20 years, the Braves have drafted a high school player with their first pick in all but three of those years. Though those three years have come in the past seven drafts, in which the Braves have broken rank and drafted a college closer (Joey Devine in '05) and college starting pitchers (Mike Minor in '09 and Sean Gilmartin in '11).
From the time they drafted Mike Kelly in 1991 out of Arizona State until they drafted Devine in 2005, the Braves top pick in each draft was always a high school player. Now, many of these players didn't really work out. Guys like A.J. Zapp, Jacob Shumate, Jason Marquis, Adam Wainwright, and Jeff Francoeur., and haven't exactly become household names, but that strategy has worked out with guys like
Still, the high school players that didn't pan out for the Braves far outnumber the ones that did. But that's the crap-shoot that is the draft. There's no telling which players will succeed years down the road. The Braves seemed mostly undeterred throughout their draft history and continued to take high-upside, high-risk, high schoolers, flinching only in recent years. This year the experts are split on who the Braves will take.
After the jump, we'll take a look at a few of the names that keep popping up in mock drafts as players the Braves might select with the 21st pick in the 2012 MLB First Year Player Draft.
Tanner Rahier, SS, Palm Desert HS, California
Rahier is one of those highly athletic high school bats that the Braves love. He's actually currently playing in a wood bat league this spring. Indications are that he's eager to sign, and the Braves like players who are easy to sign. He apparently fits well as a back of the first round kind of selection. Rahier's mental approach and aggressiveness might remind some of Jeff Francoeur, but Rahier brings more to the table as a guy who can and will hit to all fields, though with less power potential. He generates a lot of mixed reviews from scouts, some liking him close to this pick, some liking him down a few rounds.
Tyler Naquin, OF, Texas A&M
Billed as the best pure hitter in the entire draft by Baseball America, Naquin has led the Big 12 in hitting two of the past three years. The Braves could benefit from a prospect who is a hit-for-average type of player, though one of the big knocks on Naquin, and the thing that may push him down further in the draft is his lack of home run power. He has a terrific outfield arm, but may be limited to the outfield corners defensively.
D.J. Davis, OF, Stone HS, Mississippi
Davis is a raw but toolsy and talented high school outfielder from Mississippi. His main tool is his speed, which may rank at the very top among all the prep talent in this draft. If there's one thing we've learned in the past couple of years about the Braves system and drafting philosophy, it is that they have made a concerted effort to add players with speed to their system. Davis fits the bill as the type of high school athlete the Braves can take and mold into their style of play.
Brian Johnson, LHP/1B, Univ. of Florida
If the Braves continue their trend of selecting a college lefty, then Johnson could be their guy. He's currently a two-way player, but most scouts like him better as a pitcher. Still, his ceiling there is not that high, as his fastball only touches the low 90s, but he can throw four pitches for strikes with good command, something the Braves have sought in their recently drafted college pitchers.
Pierce Johnson, RHP, Missouri State
The right-handed Johnson might have more upside than the lefty Brian. A harder thrower, he can run his fastball into the mid-90s, and has some developing secondary pitches to complement his fastball. His control is spotty at times, but a bigger concern could be the string of minor nagging injuries that seem to follow him around. Still, he's a strikeout pitcher with good upside, something the Braves don't have a lot of in their system.
Matt Smoral, LHP, Solon HS, Ohio
He did not pitch much this spring due to a broken bone in his foot and blisters on his pitching hand, but when he did he sat in the mid-90s on his fastball with several additional plus pitches. He's a tall 6-foot-7 kid who throws from a low three-quarters angle, which makes it tough for hitters to pick up. Despite the injury setbacks he still projects to go in the first round, and should be signable.
The first round of the 2012 draft will be televised this coming Monday, on the MLB Network, at 7pm.