Redrafting this millennium’s Braves’ first round picks
The June draft is a rite of passage in Major League Baseball. It literally ushers in the next wave of talent, with many destined to become the future stars of the game. But for many others, their careers will be just a blip on the radar, a flash in the pan or any of a number of other sporting clichés.
When it comes to the draft, every single club can ask itself, “What if?”
What if they’d selected this player? What if they’d taken that player? It’s a game that executives and fans alike can find themselves caught up in, though ultimately it’s an exercise in futility.
With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to revisit the recent draft history of the Atlanta Braves and ask ourselves, “What if?”
Let’s throw out the 90s and set aside the last three years of the rebuilding process. What I’m proposing is a redrafting the first round from 2000-2014. It’s a 15-year window that saw the Braves’ streak of division titles come to an end, the sale of the team and the inevitable changing of the guard.
That same 15-year period has seen the rise and fall of stars, many of whom were first-round picks in the annual amateur draft. Still others will be second-guessed as their stars never took their rightful place. When it comes to the draft, even the best work is guesswork and subject to change due to the volitility of the MLB draft and the minor league journey that follows.
So, let’s get in our virtual time-traveling Delorean, scroll through the hundreds of players drafted in the last 15 years and revisit baseball drafts past.
Here are the rules:
- I’ll give the Braves’ selection from each year and a brief synopsis.
- Then I’ll reveal the player the club should have taken in hindsight.
- Any player who was off the board in a given year is not available for the hindsight pick.
- I limited the picks to the first 10 rounds. Anything beyond that was truly a shot in the dark.
- Keep in mind, this is done completely for fun and can apply to any of the 30 clubs.
With that said, let’s redraft Atlanta’s first 15 picks of the millennium.
Selected No. 29 – Adam Wainwright, RHP (Glynn Academy HS – Brunswick, GA)
I’m going to say they got this one right, they just didn’t keep him, but Atlanta had back-to-back picks in 2000 and was not so fortunate with the one that followed.
Selected No. 30 – Scott Thorman, 3B (Cambridge HS – Ontario, Canada)
Like many of the picks you’ll find getting the redraft treatment, Thorman failed to mature into a power-hitting corner infielder. He eventually moved to first base where he lost his job to Mark Teixeira.
Hindsight Selection – Grady Sizemore, OF (Cascade HS – Everett, WA)
Sizemore was taken by the Expos in the third round and later traded to the Indians for Bartolo Colon. He became an All-Star center fielder for Cleveland until injuries ultimately derailed his career before he could really get going. Sizemore was a dynamic talent and perfect blend of power, speed and defense.
Selected No. 24 – Macay McBride, LHP (Screven County HS – Sylvania, GA)
A lefty who saw brief time in the majors from 2005-2007, McBride was nothing more than a situational lefty, and not a particularly effective one.
Hindsight Selection – David Wright, 3B (Hickory HS – Chesapeake, VA)
Wright was taken by the Mets No. 38 overall in the first round. It worked out well for New York. Though his career has been derailed by a back injury in his 30s, Wright became the Mets marquee player for more than a decade.
Selected No. 23 – Jeff Francoeur, OF (Parkview HS – Lilburn, GA)
No Braves fan will forget the torrid start to Francoeur’s career, nor the fall from grace that led to a trade to the Mets some four years later.
Hindsight Selection – Joey Votto, C (Richview Collegiate Institute – Toronto, ON)
A high school catcher who has become one of the most selective hitters of this generation, Votto was selected by the Reds in the second round (No. 44 overall). Honorable mention to Jon Lester, who went to the Red Sox at No. 57 and Atlanta’s own Brian McCann, who was selected in the second round (No. 64) as well.
Selected No. 35 – Luis Atilano, RHP (Gabriela Mistral HS – San Juan, Puerto Rico)
Though he would eventually reach the majors in 2010 and make 16 starts for the Nationals, Luis Atilano was traded away in 2006 for pinch-hitter Daryle Ward. Atilano never pitched in the big leagues again after that one stint in Washington and has been playing in the Puerto Rican league since 2012.
Hindsight Selection – Adam Jones, SS (Samuel F. B. Morse HS – San Diego, CA)
Jones was taken 37th overall by the Mariners and later traded to the Orioles where he blossomed into a star center fielder and a big reason for Baltimore’s best years over the last decade.
Selected No. 71 (2nd round) – Eric Campbell, 3B (Gibson Southern HS – Fort Branch, IN)
Atlanta did not make a first round selection but had the final pick in the second round. They used it on Campbell, who stalled out in Double-A and never made it to the majors.
Hindsight Selection – Ben Zobrist, 2B (Dallas Baptist University – Dallas, TX)
Plenty of clubs missed on Zobrist. He was selected in the sixth round, 184th overall. He’s gone to a standout career as a versatile pieces of some very good clubs. The Astros may have drafted him, but they traded him away to Tampa Bay, where he became a two-time All-Star.
Selected No. 27 – Joey Devine, RHP (North Carolina State University – Raleigh, NC)
While Devine would have a limited amount of big league success, arm injuries ultimately cut his career short. Rushed to the majors, Devine’s time in Atlanta was forever tainted by giving up grand slams in each of his first two major league outings. He also surrendered a game-winning homer to Chris Burke in the 18th inning of Game 5 of the 2005 NLDS.
Hindsight Selection – Brett Gardner, OF (College of Charleston – Charleston, SC)
A speedy outfielder who’s spent a decade in pinstripes, Gardner was selected by the Yankees in the third round, 109th overall. Gardner has been a fixture in the New York outfield while the cast around him has continually changed.
Selected No. 24 – Cody Johnson, OF (A. Crawford Mosley HS – Lynn Haven, FL)
There are plenty of bad picks to go around, but the selection of Cody Johnson is among the worst. A raw power prospect, his strikeout totals were a deterrent to consistent success and he was out of the organization some four years after being selected by Atlanta.
Hindsight Selection – Chris Archer, RHP (Clayton HS – Clayton, NC)
How different Atlanta’s current situation could be if it was Archer who’d been taken as a high school pitcher in that 2006 draft. Cleveland spent a fifth round pick on Archer, but he was traded to the Cubs not two full seasons into his minor league career. Archer was dealt to Tampa Bay in 2011 and has enjoyed some fine seasons as the No. 1 starter for the Rays
Selected No. 33 – Jon Gilmore, 3B (Iowa City HS – Iowa City, IA)
Forgive me for burying the lead here, but 2007 was a mixed bag in the first round. The Braves stayed close to home when they drafted the talented Heyward at No. 14. He grew up just south of Atlanta and was a solid first round selection. Heyward had his moments with the Braves but was ultimately traded away before he reached free agency. Though he found a big pay day in Chicago, Heyward has never truly become the star player that so many thought he was destined to be. I’m actually going to give this selection a pass.
Hindsight Selection – Josh Donaldson, C (Auburn University – Auburn, AL)
Though the Heyward pick can be debated, the pick that can’t for Atlanta was taking third baseman Jon Gilmore at No. 33. Not only did the Reds immediately follow that pick by taking Todd Frazier, but it only gets worse from there. Josh Donaldson slipped to the supplemental picks where he was selected by the Cubs at No. 48 overall. Two trades and one major position switch later, Donaldson became an MVP-caliber slugger with Toronto. You know, the kind of third baseman any club would love to have. Gilmore
Selected No. 40 – Brett DeVall, LHP (Niceville HS – Niceville, FL)
Atlanta surrendered the No. 18 pick in the draft to the Mets as compensation for re-signing Tom Glavine, who’d bolted for New York after the 2002 season. Thus, the Braves waited out 22 more picks and went with a high school lefty in DeVall, who was beset by injuries and out of the organization by 2010.
Hindsight Selection – Charlie Blackmon, OF (Georgia Institute of Technology – Atlanta, GA)
Blackmon was right in Atlanta’s backyard at Georgia Tech, but lasted until the 72nd-overall pick, late in the second round. Blackmon has evolved into one of the better outfielders in the National League with the Rockies. Atlanta was able to recoup in 2008 and grab Craig Kimbrel in the third round.
Selected No. 7 – Mike Minor, LHP (Vanderbilt University – Nashville, TN)
The Braves drafted a Mike in the first round of the 2009 draft. Unfortunately, it was not the right one. Minor was a polished college arm who made it to the majors quickly and became a contributor in the Atlanta rotation. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury robbed him and the Braves of the chance to see Minor find consistent success for a prolonged period of time.
Hindsight Selection – Mike Trout, OF (Millville Senior HS – Millville, NJ)
To be fair, 21 teams passed on Mike Trout. The Nationals and Diamondbacks passed not once, but twice. Even the Angels selected Randal Grichuk with the 24th selections before tabbing Trout with pick No. 25. Reliving the first round of the 2009 draft is an annual exercise, and the Angels always end up looking like quite a few million bucks for getting Trout in the latter stages.
Selected No. 35 – Matt Lipka, SS (McKinney HS – McKinney, TX)
Another pick that has been scrutinized in recent years, Lipka offered a speed dynamic that Atlanta very much coveted but little else. He did not stick at short, moved to the outfield and ultimately failed to develop as a hitter. Lipka elected free agency after 2016 and has played for two other organizations. The Braves didn’t exactly manage their first round assets too well in 2010.
Hindsight Selection – J.T. Realmuto, SS (Carl Albert HS – Midwest City, OK)
What if I told you the Braves had an outside chance at drafting both Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto? It was one of a myriad of possibilities. Atlanta sacrificed the No. 20 pick to Boston as compensation for signing free agent Billy Wagner. That precluded the team from taking Yelich, who went No. 23 to Miami. Realmuto, a shortstop who’d move to catcher, went much later. The Marlins nabbed him in the third round (104th overall). In the wake of the Marlins’ latest teardown, it’s even more fascinating to think what Yelich and Realmuto would look like in a Braves uniform.
Selected No. 28 – Sean Gilmartin, LHP (Florida State University – Tallahassee, FL)
The Braves took another college arm, hoping Gilmartin could reach the big leagues expeditiously and contribute to the rotation. Of course, that did not happen. Gilmartin stalled out in Triple-A and was a Rule 5 pick by the Twins in the winter of 2013. He’s pitched in three organizations since and reached the big leagues as a reliever with the Mets.
Hindsight Selection – Mookie Betts, SS (John Overton HS – Brentwood, TN)
Considering Betts lasted until Boston’s fifth-round selection (172nd overall), many clubs missed time and again on adding one of the game’s true young superstars. Betts moved to the outfield and has become one of the best all-around talents in baseball. That’s some serious fifth round value for the Red Sox.
Selected No. 21 – Lucas Sims, RHP (Brookwood HS – Snellville, GA)
Sims reached the majors last season, but has yet to carve out a fulltime spot in the rotation or the bullpen. He has a good fastball, but has not be able to find the consistency
Hindsight Selection – Marcus Stroman, RHP (Duke University – Durham, NC)
Toronto took Stroman immediately after the Braves selected Sims. The college righty joined the big league rotation in 2014 and has been Toronto’s most reliable pitcher over the past few seasons. Though he’s hit some rough sledding in 2018, Stroman was an excellent draft choice by the Jays.
Selected No. 31 – Jason Hursh, RHP (Oklahoma State University – Stillwater, OK)
This may well be the pick that inspired this entire retrospective. Jason Hursh was another college arm, which the Braves dabbled in quite a few times with their early picks during the Frank Wren administration. Hursh, while still on the 40-man roster as of this writing, transitioned to reliever and has yet to find any major league success to speak of.
Hindsight Selection – Aaron Judge, OF (California State University Fresno – Fresno, CA)
There’s no way around the hindsight that’s built into the Hursh pick when you consider who the Yankees selected immediately afterward. New York took slugging outfielder Aaron Judge with the 32nd overall pick in the draft. College bats have never been Atlanta’s preference, so there’s virtually no chance that Judge was on Atlanta’s short list, but the fact that he’s gone on to post MVP level production as one of the biggest sluggers both literally and figuratively in the game makes Judge the one that got away.
Selected No. 32 – Braxton Davidson, OF (T. C. Roberson HS – Asheville, NC)
The Braves were hoping they’d found a selective prep hitter who’d grow into some power as he developed in the minor leagues. Unfortunately, Davidson’s development has stalled as he spends a third season in High-A and his strikeout rate continues to climb. Davidson’s days in the organization appear numbered if he’s unable to turn things around soon.
Hindsight Selection – Rhys Hoskins, 1B (California State University Sacramento – Sacramento, CA)
The majority of the 2014 draft class is still in the minor leagues, but Hoskins exploded onto the scene with a historic home run barrage for the Phillies last season. He was a fifth round selection (142nd overall), but advanced through the minors quickly to become a force in the Philadelphia lineup.