With just five rounds and 160 players selected, this MLB draft has a very different look in the era of the Coronavirus pandemic. While the aftermath will be a free-for-all to sign undrafted players at $20,000 each, there’s the reality that with fewer guaranteed opportunities to add to systems, this draft itself is akin to mining for gems while barely breaking the surface.
The Braves have found some major contributors from the sixth round-on, with multiple All-Stars among them. While some of those undrafted signees are bound to make an impact somewhere, the late picks are the kinds of hidden gems we’ll be lacking from the 2020 draft.
This week’s Starting Nine is a look at those players, and keep in mind while Atlanta has taken the likes of Jay Buhner in the ninth round in 1983, Tim Salmon in the 18th round in 1986, Brandon Belt in the 11th round in 2007 and Anthony Rendon in the 27th round in 2008, they wouldn’t sign any of them. We’re focusing on those who signed and those who made their first impact in the big leagues for Atlanta.
1. Kevin Millwood, RHP
Picked: 11th round, 1993 (320th overall)
Career bWAR: 29.8
Chris Carpenter at 34.2 bWAR — who went 15th overall — is the only pitcher taken in the 1993 draft who would end their career with a higher bWAR than Millwood, taken out of Bessemer City High School in North Carolina. The right-hander would go on to play six of his 16 seasons with the Braves, becoming an All-Star and finishing third in the National League Cy Young voting in 1999, when he led the majors with a 0.996 WHIP. The first 10 players the Braves selected in 1993 never made it to the majors, and the eight that did don’t have a combined bWAR that is 6.5 behind Millwood.
2. Dusty Baker, OF
Picked: 26th round, 1967 (504th overall)
Career bWAR: 37.0
The Braves took a slick-fielding shortstop out of Ole Miss in the 43rd round (779th overall) in 1967, but Archie Manning passed on signing en route to a Hall of Fame NFL career. But 17 rounds before that, they grabbed a key cog for four seasons in Baker, who broke out in 1972 with 142 OPS+, 4.8 fWAR and earned MVP votes. He’d become a multi-time All-Star — and be part of one of the believed origins of the high-five — during his eight seasons with the Dodgers, but in Baker’s four full seasons, he was no lower than fourth on the team in WAR, including leading the Braves in ‘72. Davey Lopes, who the Giants took with the 18th overall pick, is the lone outfielder taken that season who can top Baker’s bWAR.
3. Marcus Giles, 2B
Picked: 53rd round, 1996 (1,512th overall)
Career bWAR: 16.7 bWAR
In a draft in which the Braves took a player in the first round — A.J. Zapp at No. 27 — that would never get past the majors, they delivered arguably their hidden gem of hidden gems. Giles is the lowest-picked player the franchise has ever taken who reached the majors and from 2003-06, he produced a 15.9 WAR that was second to Chase Utley (16.1) at the position. An All-Star in 2003, his first full season as a starter, when he hit .316/.390/.526 with a 136 OPS+ and a 6.7 WAR that was seventh overall in the majors that season. Giles’ 49 doubles that season are the most since the team moved to Georgia in 1966 and with his 45 in ‘05 — a 5.2-WAR year — he has the two highest single-season totals for any Braves second baseman. While he’s 0.2 behind the next player on this list in terms of bWAR for the Braves at second, that comes despite playing 520 fewer games in Atlanta.
4. Glenn Hubbard, 2B
Picked: 20th round, 1975 (473rd overall)
Career bWAR: 19.2
The Braves’ 1975 draft was a in totality, a disaster. Of their 23 picks, Hubbard is one of just two would put together a career bWAR of 2.1 or higher, but let’s be real: the 1984 Fleer card alone gets Hubbard on this list, and any other list for that matter. He’s draped by an eight-foot boa constrictor, the second baseman sporting a glorious beard, a moment in time the Lexington Legends would pay tribute to with a bobblehead that was touted to have “lifelike beard and hair,” stressing those were features on Hubbard, not the snake. Also, the Braves’ former first-base coach, Hubbard spent 10 seasons with the Braves, highlighted by an All-Star season in 1983, when he slashed .263/.334/.402 with a career-high 12 homers. With a 7.4 defensive WAR in Atlanta, Hubbard ranks second in franchise history at the position, behind Mark Lemke (9.5).
5. Rick Camp, RHP
Picked: 7th round, 1974 (149th overall)
Career bWAR: 12.1
His lone career homer coming at around 3:30 a.m. as part of the latest ending to a major league game in history — and which was followed by promised fireworks at Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium — is certainly at the top of Camp’s resume. A career .060 hitter, Camp came in relief in the top of the 17th on July 4, 1985, but with Atlanta out of position players, and to hit for himself. He’d deliver a two-out, two-strike, game-tying home run in the 18th, only to see the Mets jump on him for four runs in the 19th. He had a chance for another career moment in the bottom of the inning with the Braves rallying, but Camp struck out just before 4 a.m. That moment doesn’t do justice to sum up the career of Camp, who, if you took the combined bWAR of every seventh-round pick the Braves have ever taken, they wouldn’t equal the righty’s career output. Camp, selected the same year Atlanta took Dale Murphy at No. 5 overall, spent nine seasons with the Braves, including a 1981 campaign in which he earned some MVP love in saving 17 games with a 1.78 ERA over 76 innings.
6. Adam LaRoche, 1B
Picked: 29th round, 2000 (880th overall)
Career bWAR: 14.2
LaRoche wasn’t alone in gems to come out of the 29th round in 2000, as he was picked just one spot after the Diamondbacks grabbed Ian Kinsler, and he was part of a strong draft as Atlanta took Adam Wainwright at 29th overall and grabbed Kelly Johnson at 38th. LaRoche’s best season came with the Nationals in 2012 when he had a 3.4 WAR, won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger behind a career-high 33 home runs, but he did do two stints in Atlanta (from 2004-06 until he was traded to the Pirates with Jamie Romak for Mike Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge and again in ‘09 when he was acquired from the Red Sox for Casey Kotchman). The best of those years was a 2.2-WAR 2006 that included a .285/.354/.562 slash line, 32 homers and 129 WRC+.
7. Brett Butler, CF
Picked: 23rd round, 1979 (573rd overall)
Career bWAR: 49.7
The Braves’ 1979 draft was full of misses, with only three players taken appearing in more than three major league games, but the big hit would be Butler, even if his best years came outside of Atlanta. He’d go on to rack up 2,375 hits and steal 558 bases, but the best of Butler’s career didn’t come until the Braves traded him away in 1983 — with Brook Jacoby and Rick Behenna, as the players to be named later in a deal with the Indians for Len Barker — topped by a 5.8-WAR year with the Giants in 1988 and an All-Star 1991 that saw him finish seventh in the MVP voting. But the last of his three seasons in Atlanta saw him lead the majors with 13 triples in 1983 in posting a 2.7 WAR.
8. Mark Wohlers, RHP
Picked: 8th round, 1988 (190th overall)
Career bWAR: 3.98
On the mound for the final out of the Braves’ 1995 World Series win, the height of Wohlers’ nine seasons in Atlanta included him saving a combined 97 games from 1995-97 and the best FIP of any closer during that stretch at 2.54 and the highest strikeout total of 282. In ‘95, Wohlers had a 204 ERA+ and a miniscule 1.160 WHIP and a year later he was an All-Star with a 2.09 ERA and 39 saves. That 1988 draft proved key for the Braves pitching staff as they took Wohlers in the eighth around and Steve Avery with the third overall pick. In terms of the flame-throwing closer to lock things down behind Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz and Avery, Wohlers proved a deft find out of Massachusetts’ Holyoke High.
9. Kris Medlen, RHP
Picked: 10th round, 2006 (310th overall)
Career bWAR: 8.4
Medlen would prove the crown jewel in a draft in which the Braves had three first-rounders and whiffed on all of them, taking Cory Rasmus and compensation picks Cody Johnson and Steve Evarts. The right-hander set a major league record in 2012, with the Braves winning 23 consecutive games in which he started — surpassing the record of HOFer Whitey Ford set from 1950-53 — and registered in the MVP voting that season. That season’s line of a 1.57 ERA over 138 innings pitched and a 256 ERA+ were a performance Medlen couldn’t replicate, and a year later he’d start 31 games and got the ball opposite Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 of the Division Series vs. the Dodgers. Medlen’s first run with the Braves came to a screeching halt when he left a spring training game in 2014 and would need another Tommy John surgery, and while he’d try a comeback with Atlanta in 2017, his career would end with the Diamondbacks in 2018.
Honorable mentions: Jason Schmidt (eighth round, 1991; 29.5 bWAR); Jermaine Dye (17th round, 1993; 20.3 bWAR); Mark DeRosa (seventh round, 1996; 10.6 bWAR); Tyler Flowers (27th round, 2004; 7.7 bWAR), Tommy Hanson (22nd round, 2005; 4.9 bWAR); John Rocker (18th round, 1993; 3.5 bWAR).