We still have a few months before the season begins so in efforts to pass the time, let’s look back at some recent drafts. Rather than start with 2013, let’s go back a year to 2012 in efforts to get some information on these players. I will go over the top ten picks and add in some interesting players beyond the top ten.
1. Lucas Sims, RHP, Brookwood High School (Snellville, Georgia)
Two selections after Michael Wacha joined the Cardinals, the Braves took the young Sims. A few years ago, the Braves made news by mining their home state better than any other team. It seemed like the majority of big time amateur baseball players from Georgia were drafted and came into their own in the Braves system. Atlanta has moved on from that OCD need to keep their players home, but went retro to grab Sims in the first round.
Sims started 2012 in the Gulf Coast League, but quickly made it to Danville, which is pretty impressive for an 18 year-old facing college players. After getting his feet wet in rookie ball, Sims got the call to play in Rome last season and was superb. He struck out 134 in 116.2 ING while giving up just three homers and 46 walks. His fastball can touch north of 95 mph and he throws both a plus slider and slow curveball. I’ve read that he’s working on his changeup. The Braves think enough of him to be deamed untouchable in trade talks. Sims doesn’t turn 20 until May 10th and will likely anchor the Lynchburg Hillcats rotation with the Braves going slow and deliberate with him.
2. Alex Wood, LHP, University of Georgia
While expectations were high for Wood to rise through the minors quickly, it seemed a bit much to expect him to wear an Atlanta uniform less than a year after being selected by the Braves. Wood played an irreplaceable role for the Braves in 2013, both as a starter and a reliever. He appeared in 31 games between a pair of stints with Atlanta, logging 77.2 innings and even got postseason experience. Wood started eleven games and while his control was not pin point (3.1 BB/9), he struck out 77 and gave up just three homers. A lot has been made of his funky delivery and whether it will cause problems for him down the line. That’s still up for debate, but what we do know is that Wood has shown impressive ability incredibly early in his career. A candidate for the fifth starting gig in camp, Wood will likely be in the majors if healthy regardless if he wins the battle to be the fifth starter.
3. Bryan De La Rosa, C, Olymphic Heights High School (Boca Raton, FL)
Over the last couple of years, the Braves have used high selections on catchers. De La Rosa, picked with the 116th overall selection, struggled badly after signing, OPSing just .415 in 29 games in the Gulf Coast League. He improved last year, hitting .261/.328/.306 last season while sharing the catcher duties with Danville. The native of Puerto Rico turns 20 in March and was considered one of the top catchers in the 2012 draft so it wasn’t much of a reach, though at 5’8″, he is undersized. Defensively, there are few questions. Can he hit? He might get a shot at Rome to try that.
4. Justin Black, OF, Billings West High School (Billings, MT)
Black was a surprise pick in 2012. Billings West doesn’t have a baseball team and Black played American Legion ball. Black was a raw talent who the Braves were able to convince to give up a committment to Nebraska so that he would sign. He apparently has tremendous speed and power, but so far, he has not been able to show much of it, hitting .161 in 94 games split at both rookie stops. He has just eight steals to his name, but has been caught seven times. The Braves will be patient with Black because they invested a good deal in him. He might return to Danville again next season.
5. Blake Brown, OF, University of Missouri
A 48th round pick by the Pirates in 2009, Brown signed with Atlanta after getting selected in 2012. After signing, he showed some good on-base skills (.201/.313/.313) to go with a lack of hits. He also stole ten bases out of 14 attempts while with the D-Braves. Brown opened 2013 with the Rome Braves, but struggled to the tune of a .565 OPS. He finished up with Danville and showed little improvement. Before being drafted, Brown was considered a guy who had a strong tool set that if he began to utilize, he would be a solid player. He has yet to begin that, but will be back at Rome this season.
6. Josh Elander, C/OF, Texas Christian University
The Braves were likely very happy to get Elander in the sixth round because many graded him higher than that. Elander was fairly new to catcher and while his bat played best at catcher, there were concerns if he could stay there. After signing, Elander played with Danville and got on base a lot (.366 OBP) to help propel him to an .805 OPS. He added 12 extra-base hits (4 HR) in 145 PA and nearly walked as much as he struck out. He opened 2013 with the Rome Braves and rocketed his way to a wonderful first half in which he slashed .318/.381/.536 with 36 EBH (11 HR). However, unlike 2012 where he stayed behind the plate, he moved to the outfield, playing entirely in left (with the occasional DH assignment). Elander finished the year in Lynchburg and while his numbers were not as sexy, he did on-base .345 in 61 games. I could see Elander starting 2014 in Mississippi. Again, had he remained behind the plate, he would be a fairly big prospect right now. As a LF, he needs to explode offensively. Could be a sleeper.
7. David Starn, LHP, Kent State University
In recent drafts, the Braves have focused on college stars early-and-often and Starn was another example of that approach. A leader of the KSU rotation, Starn didn’t sign until July and immediately joined the Rome Braves. His numbers were nothing to get excited about, especially the 20 walks in 34.1 ING. He was expected to get a second crack at the Rome rotation with fellow 2012 draftee Lucas Sims in 2013, but back troubles kept him out. He never got healthy and missed the entire year. Starn was a former walk-on so he has experience being a long-shot. He was known for control with Jamie Moyer comparisions. Could be more like Trey Hodges, though.
8. David Peterson, RHP, College of Charleston
Peterson was selected twice in the 40 range of the draft before getting into the top ten for the 2012 draft. A college closer with a mid 90’s fastball, the only question was whether or not he could command his stuff. Atlanta has had some real success with college closers recently and Peterson got off to a good start once he signed, pitching for Rome in 2012 with 20 games and 8 saves. He K’d 23 in his 28 innings and walked 11. The Braves decided to switch him to the rotation for 2013 and he lasted a month for the Hillcats rotation before shoulder injuries ended his season. He was looking just as good as a starter, though he was on a pitch limit. Not sure if he will be set for next season, but likely could see him returning to Lynchburg.
9. Steven Schils, RHP, Florida Tech
Another college closer, Schils was a reach in the ninth round and wasn’t considered a big draft prospect. As such, he has spent the last two summers struggling badly in the Gul Coast League. He appeared in three games during the 2012 season after signing and walked nine of the 14 he faced. He spent the rest of the season on the injury list. Last year, he appeared in 17 games, but walked 15 in 18 innings with 19 K’s. Not a promising start to his career.
10. Mike Dodig, 3B, Columbia-Greene Community College (Hudson, NY)
Another reach, Dodig has also struggled through two years. Expected to have plus power, Dodig has hit .176 in 63 professional games with all but 14 of those games coming in the Gulf Coast League. Likely going to get another season at rookie-ball, Dodig is 20 years-old and has a big frame at 6’4″ with a left-handed bat, but Joe Leonard has a similar frame and has 21 homers in over 1500 PA in the minors (and couldn’t even luck into a homer with Gwinnett last season).
Some other interesting picks…
-A trio of Random Prospect of the Day players were part of the 2012 draft. 15th rounder RHP Alex Wilson (see his RPOD profile) out of Wofford College has been decent enough at both Danville and Rome and should get a shot with Lynchburg this year to see if he can get moving quicker. 18th rounder 2B Ross Heffely (see his RPOD profile) out of Western Carolina followed up a nice 2012 season (.757 OPS with Rome) by struggling through a first half with Lynchburg and an even worse second half in Rome. 30th rounder 1B Casey Kalenkosky (see his RPOD profile) out of Texas State posted a .722 OPS with Rome last year. He saw a lot of action at catcher while pitching a third of an inning.
-13th rounder Nate Hyatt out of Appalachain State was used a lot as the closer in Lynchburg last year and saved 12 games while completing 33 of the 43 games he got into. 10.6 K/9 is sweet, but a 5.8 BB/9 takes away from it. His walk rate was a lot better in 2012, though.
-22nd rounder Shae Simmons, who refined his skills at Southeast Missouri State, might be the second player from the 2012 draft to get to the majors. Last season, after a 1.49 ERA and 14 K/9 rate in 39 games with Rome (including 24 saves), Simmons skipped Lynchburg and went to Mississippi for the final month, where he held his own. In 66 games in the minors over two seasons, he has 118 K’s in 78 ING (13.6 K/9) with a 4.4 BB/9. He has not given up a professional homerun. Simmons is a super longshot to get involved in the bullpen battle for the big league team, but he could make his debut before 2014 is over.
-31st-round selection Matt Kimbrel Southern Polytechnic State University has not looked so good through two seasons in rookie ball. At least his brother was happy with the selection.