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Recapping the Braves 2008 Draft: Day 1

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The Braves returned to their tried and true draft strategy in this year’s First-Year Player Draft. With the first three picks you will see a definite pattern emerge with three distinct characteristics:

  1. High school pitchers
  2. From the South
  3. Higher valued players than the selection they were picked at

The first three pitchers drafted may be a better group than the 2006 draft troika of Evarts, Rasmus, and Locke. Here is a rundown of each of today’s draft picks:

Brett DeVall (1S), LHP – A high school left-hander from Florida, he has played in the Braves’ back yard in the East Cobb League as well as on the Team USA Junior Olympic team. He’s a tall big-framed lefty who has a lot of projection and room to fill out. We picked him with the 40th pick, while Baseball America ranked him as the 33rd best prospect in the draft, Keith Law ranked him as the 36th best prospect, Kevin Goldstein ranked him as the 38th best prospect, and Scout.com ranked him at number 26. He’s considered by most to be a very safe high school arm, so the Braves were certainly looking for value and ROI with their first pick. He reminds some of a young Tom Glavine. DeVall has a no-hitter on his resume from March 6th of this year in which he struck out 14 batters.

Tyler Stovall (2), LHP – The 64th selection over all he was ranked as the 55th best prospect by Baseball America and as the 66th best overall by Scout.com, but unranked by Keith Law in his top-75 or by Kevin Goldstein in his top-50, Stovall is nonetheless considered the top high school pitching prospect in Alabama. Some feel he suffers from an over reliance on his plus curveball and advanced change-up, but if the Braves can convince him to throw his fastball with more confidence then he could project as a mid to top of the rotation starter.

Zeke Spruill (2S), RHP
– This is the high school pitcher many people thought the Braves might take with their first selection in the draft at number 40. He ends up falling to the Braves with their third pick at number 70 overall. Spruill was rated by Baseball America as the 66th best prospect in the draft, by Keith Law as the 38th best prospect, and the 65th best prospect by Scout.com, but Kevin Goldstein did not rank him in his top-50; though like many, KG thought the Braves would take him with their first selection at 40. From the disparity of these rankings, there’s a lot of disagreement as to what his true ceiling will be, but I think we can safely infer that the Braves got a bargain by taking him at number 70. Spruill is another tall pitcher with a lot of room to fill out. It’s said that he has three plus pitches that he throws from a fluid and clean delivery, and might have the best velocity of any of the top-three pitchers the Braves drafted this year.

Craig Kimbrel (3), RHP – This pick elicited a “who’s that guy” response from Kevin Goldstein in his live draft coverage at Baseball Prospectus, who eventually found out he is a short, but hard thrower. He was not ranked by any of the major prospect outlets in their top-lists, though Baseball America did rate him as the 4th-best prospect in Alabama; this is probably how the Braves must know him, as he is another Southern boy out of Wallace State Community College just north of Birmingham, Alabama. Atlanta also drafted him in last year's draft with their pick in the 33rd round. He throws his fastball in the mid to upper 90’s and complements it with a developing slider and projects as a reliever or closer in the pros. This continues the trend the last few years of the Braves taking a reliever with one of their top five or six picks.

Braeden Schlehuber (4), C – The Braves satisfied their need for more organizational catching depth with this Southern Nevada Community College prospect. We apparently thought higher of him than Adrian Nieto, who I thought they would draft and who was ranked appropriately for this pick (he instead went to Washington at #151 overall at the beginning of the fifth round). Schlehuber went 130th overall despite not being ranked on the Baseball America top-200. (Nieto, on the other hand, was ranked 73rd by BA.) Schlehuber was ranked as the 7th-best prospect in Nevada by Baseball America, which said of him, “one coach compared him to A.J. Pierzynski for his ability to get under opponents' skin.” Schlehuber has power as well as speed to go with his overall athletic makeup.

Jacob Thompson (5), RHP
– His draft stock has fallen in the past year as he struggled some at the University of Virginia, but he could be a good sleeper pick if the Braves can get him straightened out. The Braves took him 160th overall, almost exactly where Baseball America had him ranked at 161. He may be a tough sign since he was considered by many to be first-round material as late as last year, and may choose to return to college for his Senior season to regain his upper draft status.

Adam Milligan (6), OF – Another Community College pick, this time from Walters State in North-Eastern Tennessee; the Braves seemed to have fallen in love with JuCo players in the middle rounds the last few years. This year, the JuCo players seem to be going higher than normal. And indeed this player in particular has been of continuing interest to the Braves as they drafted him in the 27th round in last year’s draft and also drafted him in the 2006 draft in the 28th round (maybe third time is a charm). Milligan is a left-handed power bat with decent defensive skills and was rated as the 10th best prospect in the state of Tennessee.

That’s the last pick of Day 1 of the draft. Tomorrow will start with the seventh round and continue until the last player is picked or the end of the 50th round.

Overall my impression of the top seven picks the Braves have drafted so far is very positive. For not having a first round pick, I think the Braves got first round talent out of at least two of their top-three picks. I really like the top three pitchers the team drafted – I think they’re all very signable and seem very projectable. I feel the team may have wasted a pick in this top group on Thompson, though perhaps they have an inside track into signing him. There was also what seemed to be a much larger focus on JuCo players who may also be more difficult to sign. If we can get this entire first-day group signed, then this draft will rank right up there with the last two strong drafts the Braves have had.