Unlike the NBA and NFL draft processes, MLB encounters something of a "challenge" with its draft in that the great majority of players available are virtual unknowns to the general public. College baseball isn't nearly as visible as its counterpart in both basketball and football, and with the MLB Draft open to high school athletes as well, the likelihood of success simply isn't as high for the team making the selections.
That holds true for the Atlanta Braves, and for every "home run" pick in the MLB Draft, the team has several misses on its record. That, of course, is no different for any of the league's 30 teams, but in this space, we will take a brief look at some of the uglier draft misses in team history. It should be noted that only first round picks were "eligible" for this list, and that is due to the incredible uncertainty beyond that point in the process.
Let's get to the names, coming to you in chronological order.
Tim Cole - #4 overall - 1977
There are a couple of candidates prior to 1977, highlighted by Ken Smith (#3 overall in 1976) and Curtis Moore (#7 overall in 1968), but Cole gets the honor of being the "oldest" player on this list. Though every effort has been made to note that the MLB Draft is a perilous process, missing on top-five picks is never fun, and Cole never reached the Major Leagues.
He was selected just one pick after Paul Molitor (ouch) and ahead of players like Terry Kennedy, Bob Welch and Dave Henderson, and Cole held a hideous 5.55 ERA across ten (!) seasons in the minor leagues. Unlike injury flame-outs in other spots, Cole remained available for duty, but his production level never came close to matching the draft slot.
Tyler Houston - #2 overall - 1989
Houston had the longest MLB career of any player on this list, but that won't keep him from scrutiny. The Braves invested the second overall pick in a player that earned 0.3 bWAR in his career, and needless to say, Houston never lived up to the considerable hype.
To make matters worse, Atlanta passed on Frank Thomas (who was born in Columbus, GA before playing at Auburn) in the same class, and even at the catcher position, the team could have chosen Charles Johnson, who enjoyed a fruitful career. Tyler Houston played eight years in the big leagues, and there is a lot to be said for that, but only one of those seasons came in Atlanta, and this remains a missed opportunity.
Mike Kelly - #2 overall - 1991
Kelly received the "benefit" of being in the same draft with Brien Taylor. Taylor was the number one pick in this class by the Yankees, but he never threw a pitch in the majors due to injury, and that took some heat off Kelly as a "bust".
Still, the Braves swung and missed on this pick, with players like Manny Ramirez, Shawn Green, Cliff Floyd and Aaron Sele on the board. Kelly was a relatively nice player during six MLB seasons, posting a career OPS of .721 with 22 home runs in limited duty, but that isn't exactly the return Atlanta was banking on when selecting the talented outfielder.
A.J. Zapp - #27 overall - 1996
Because of the huge success of the big league club, the Braves routinely drafted at the bottom of the first round during the 1990's and 2000's, limiting the "damage" done by missed picks. Still, Zapp was the first of many flame-outs and they should be referenced here.
Zapp was selected as a high school first baseman, but he never reached the big leagues after failing to break out as a hitter. There were certainly bigger disasters in this same draft classes, but a first baseman with a career .770 OPS in the minor leagues isn't going to impress anyone.
Josh Burrus - #29 overall - 2001
Burrus was a local product, playing his high school baseball at Wheeler High School in Marietta before landing in the first round, but things didn't go particularly well. To be frank, he never hit enough to come close to cracking the Major Leagues (.665 OPS in the minor leagues across multiple levels) and Burrus was out of baseball before turning even 27 years old.
To make matters worse, David Wright went to the Mets just a few picks later. Not ideal.
Cody Johnson - #24 overall - 2006
Our friends at Beyond the Box Score put together an in-depth profile of Cody Johnson's wild prospect ride a few years ago, and that is worth a read. In short, the Braves gave Johnson away for virtually nothing after the 2010 season, and while there were some high-level performances in the minors, Johnson is perhaps best known for striking out more than 40% of the time at double-A.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Johnson remains only 27 years old at the time of this post, but he hasn't played baseball since 2013 and the immense power potential that Atlanta saw in him never materialized in a productive way.
Jon Gilmore - #33 overall - 2007
Gilmore was only "technically" a first round selection, as he landed with the Braves as a supplemental pick. Still, the results weren't pretty.
The now 27-year-old corner infielder never ascended above double-A in six seasons, and Gilmore failed to crack a .700 OPS during that time. That is, of course, unplayable given the position that he occupied, and Gilmore was done playing baseball at the age of 23.
To make matters worse, Todd Frazier was the next pick on the board, and just 15 picks later, Josh Donaldson landed with the Oakland A's. Yikes.
Brett DeVall - #40 overall - 2008
Placing a 26-year-old on this list seems perilous, but DeVall hasn't pitched above independent ball since 2010, so it seems as though his "prospect" tenure has evaporated. The left-handed pitcher's career with the Braves was marred by injuries, as he pitched only 170 total innings across three years in Atlanta's system, but the stuff never played in the way that the organization hoped. It's almost unfair to include him here given his status as the 40th overall pick, but while we are leaving players like Matt Lipka off this list (for now), DeVall can't be spared.