I have been looking at recent drafts, starting with 2012 and working my way to 2007 last week. I think this one will be the final “look back” for this series as the focus turns to 2006. The draft was notable for its many misses, especially at the top. The draft produced just one productive major leaguer for the Braves. This was despite getting four compensation picks, including supplemental first round picks and second round picks, for losing Rafael Furcal and Kyle Farnsworth. In fact, with the 100th pick in the draft, the Braves had already selected their seventh player. You expect a big haul with so many top picks, even if the top choice was the #24th overall selection. As such, this draft has to go down as one of the worst in recent years for the Braves.
The draft is also notable for really the last draft that saw a focus on high school players. The first four picks were all out of high school and they would add three more high school picks from rounds 3 to 8. As I have done in the other editions, I will go over the first ten rounds before moving on to notable picks from the remainder of the draft.
1. Cody Johnson, OF, A. Crawford Mosley High School (Lynn Haven, FL)
Of the first 21 picks of the first round, all but two have made it to the majors, which includes a haul of superstars like Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, and Max Scherzer. However, picks 22-to-24 all have failed to make it to the majors, including the Braves first pick in Cody Johnson. An imposing figure at 6’4″ and 240 lbs., the left-hand hitting outfielder had some big years in the minors for the Braves, including 17 homers and a 1.004 OPS with Danville in 2007 and a year where he hit .242/.345/.517 with a Carolina League-leading 32 homers in 2009. He played on that team with Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, but both would be gone long before Johnson moved up. He struggled in 2010, hitting .212 and striking out 151 times while playing just 106 games. It became clear to the Braves that while his power was tempting, the hole in his swing would be a unfixable problem. They sold him off to the Yankees to avoid completely cutting him. He spent parts of three years in the Yankees system, finally making it to AAA last season, but after a .556 OPS and 32 K’s in 18 games, the Yankees cut the former first rounder and he spent time with both York and New Jersey, fixtures in independent baseball.
1s. Cory Rasmus, RHP, Russell County High School (Seale, AL)
Armed with a heavy fastball, expectations were high for Rasmus, the younger brother of Colby Rasmus. However, injuries would limit him to 7 games and 13 innings from the moment he signed and the beginning of the 2009 season. He would pitch just 51.2 ING that year, but the 57 K’s was a hopeful sign. He finally made some headway the following season, posting a 3.18 ERA between Rome ad Myrtle Beach. Injuries again propped up, limiting him to 27.1 ING in 2011 and the Braves moved him to the pen for 2012, where he finally stayed healthy. Control issues continue to plague him with walk rates north of 5 BB/9, but after a 1.72 ERA in 37 games, to go with 14 saves, and a an ugly three game run in the bigs, Rasmus packed his bags for the west coast when the Braves dealt him for Scott Downs last July. He’s played in Salt Lake this season and is still walking too many guys. He got a week in the bigs recently, but was very hittable and headed back to the minors.
1s. Steve Evarts, LHP, T.R. Robinson High School (Tampa, FL)
Drafted while comparisons were made to former Braves southpaw Steve Avery, Evarts pitched well for the Braves. When he pitched. In four seasons with the organization, Evarts threw 98 innings. He was more known for his off-the-field adventures, including using a baseball bat to damage a vehicle after the 2006 season. In 2010, Evarts was arrested (apparently for the fourth time since 2006) on felony battery and marijuana possession. Because of his discipline issues and arm injuries, the Braves cut bait in 2009. After missing all of 2009 and 2010, the Yankees gave Evarts a shot ahead of the 2011 season and he started seven games for their South Atlantic League squad, but that August, he was busted for PED’s and the Yankees had enough. He spent 2012 in independent ball, but didn’t pitch well there either. Ugly, forgetful pick.
2. Jeff Locke, LHP, A Crosby Kennett High School (Conway, NH)
After trying their luck with the southeast, the Braves went up the coast to select Locke. Unlike the two pitchers the Braves selected ahead of him, Locke would remain healthy and after 74 K’s in 61 innings for Danville in 2007, he made his full season debut the following season with Rome to mediocre results. During the 2009 season, after ten struggling starts with Myrtle Beach, Locke was part of the trade that sent Nate McLouth to the Braves and Locke would become a Lynchburg Hillcat for the remainder of the year, helping the Hillcats to the Carolina League title. Of course, a few years later, the Hillcats would become a Braves team. Locke was never a big prospect, but in 2012, he looked to turn the corner, posting a 2.48 ERA and 1.19 WHIP for Indianapolis. The following season, he arrived in the bigs and was a surprising All-Star for the Pirates, though he would fall on his face in the second half with an ugly 6.12 ERA. This season, he has spent most of the season back in the minors, save for an ugly early-May start in Pittsburgh.
2. Dustin Evans, RHP, Georgia Southern University
The Braves went back to Georgia with the other second round selection, picking up Evans who the Reds drafted in the 28th round out of high school in 2003. Evans was likely thrilled to get the call with the Braves and had a nice start to his career in 2006, pitching 51.1 innings, mostly with Rome, to good enough results. Injuries and just bad pitching began to mount from there. He allowed 11 homers in 99.2 ING with the Pelicans in 2007, pitched just 45.1 ING the following season, and was released after that. Nobody came calling for the former second rounder.
2. Chase Fontaine, SS, Daytona Beach Community College
Some players have names that are very forgetful, but when you have a nice that easily could have fit into a 1960’s musical, that was not very possible. Fontaine was a strong hitter for the Braves, but struggled to find a spot as his defense was ugly. The Braves quickly cut bait, trading him tot he Rays organization prior to spring training in 2008, giving up both Fontaine and Willy Aybar for left-hander Jeff Ridgway, who spent one season in the Braves organization before Atlanta let him go. Fontaine spent just one season with the Rays before heading to Kansas City for a season. However, they too sent him packing and Fontaine spent three seasons in independent ball, batting .277. He last played on September 1, 2012.
3. Chad Rodgers, LHP, Walsh Jesuit High School (Cuyahoga Falls, OH)
Another victim to injuries, Rodgers never pitched 100 innings for the Atlanta Braves and even after moving him to the bullpen, he could not stay healthy. Banished to rookie ball in 2012, he still struggled and Atlanta let Rodgers leave. He spent 2013 in the Twins organization, posting a 1.43 WHIP in high A ball. I don’t see any evidence that he’s currently signed anywhere. Instead, he is a strength and conditioning coach, along with a writer for a website called Show Me Strength.
4. Lee Hyde, LHP, Georgia Tech
Back to Georgia we go with Hyde, a starter through his junior year with the Yellow Jackets. Almost immediately, he was transitioned to the bullpen and climbed all the way to Richmond for a game in 2007, but wouldn’t make it back to AAA until 2010. Injuries played a major role. Since leaving the Braves organization after 2010, Hyde has played in the Nationals and Yankees organization and is currently in his second season with the Reds organization, though he has got lit up this season with their AAA-squad, Louisville.
5. Kevin Gunderson, LHP, Oregon State University
With their third straight left-hander chosen, the Braves got a college reliever who was a productive player early in his career with the organization. In 2007, he posted a 3.02 ERA in 56.2 ING, but walked 33. His control was better the next year when he saved 13 with the Pelicans and Mississippi Braves. After a good season in 2009, mostly with Mississippi, he was cut and hasn’t played professionally since.
6. Steven Figueroa, RHP, Edgewater High School (Orlando, FL)
Like a broken record, injuries claim another. In parts of four seasons, not including a completely missed 2009 campaign, Figueroa pitched 80.2 ING, including just 15.1 above rookie ball. The Braves said goodbye after June of 2010. The two players selected ahead of him, Andrew Bailey and Bud Norris, were productive major league talents. Figueroa – not so much.
7. Adam Coe, 3B, Russell County High (Seale, AL)
A teammate of first rounder Cory Rasmus, Coe hit well in the Gulf Coast League after he was drafted, slashing .269/.343/.474 and finishing fourth in the league in homers with seven. After that, he struggled to produce and to stay healthy showing that position players selected by the Braves in 2006 also can’t stay in the lineup. He last played professionally with Rome in 2009.
8. Casey Black, RHP, San Jacinto College (Houston, TX)
The Braves quickly turned their junior college find into a reliever and he made it to Rome in 2008, but after a 1.63 WHIP, the Braves sent him packing. The Blue Jays called and he posted a 2.84 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 2009 and was solid the next year, too. Injuries got him, too, and he would only pitch 15 innings. This season, he has caught on with Amarillo in the American Association.
9. Tim Gustafson, RHP, Georgia Tech
The Braves took their second Yellow Jacket 150 picks after taking Lee Hyde in the 4th round. Gustafson was a reliever with average grades who suffered some injuries in his junior season and was transitioned into starter by the Braves ahead of the 2007 season. The only thing you could say about Gustafson’s career is that it has continued despite a lack of solid numbers. After the Braves cut him in May of 2011, he caught on with the Reds and stuck with them through 2013. Currently a reliever for Bridgeport in the Atlantic League with former Brave farmhands Winston Abreu, Jaye Chapman, and Ty’Relle Harris.
10. Kris Medlen, RHP, Santa Ana College
Hard to believe that the $85,000 investment into a college closer would produce the only significant pick of the 2006 draft for Atlanta. Meds would dominate Danville after being drafted and saved 11 during 2008 as he climbed from Rome to Mississippi. During the 2008 season, he was transitioned to starter and K’d 120 in in 120.1 ING. It wouldn’t take long for Meds to reach the majors and after eight games in 2009, he arrived in the bigs for a 37 game run where he struck out over a batter an inning and started four games. The following season ended prematurely, but he showed solid signs with a 1.20 WHIP in 107.2 ING. After making it back from Tommy John for two games out of the pen in 2011, Medlen had a remarkable 2012 season that saw him move to the starting rotation for the final two months and dominate the opposition. He entered 2012 with high expectations and despite an average 15-12 record, he posted a good 3.11 ERA and threw 197 innings. However, as we know, he went down in spring training and got his second Tommy John surgery. A free agent after 2015, the Braves could hypothetically non-tender Medlen ahead rather than go to arbitration for the often injured righty. Regardless, as a tenth rounder, he was a tremendous find.
Some other interesting picks…
-The Braves gave up on 11th rounder Mike Mehlich after 2009, but he has been a solid worker in independent ball, appearing in nearly 150 games since 2010 for five different squads.
–Deunte Heath, selected in the 19th round, has had a fairly productive minor league career, though he would never be confused with a big prospect. Twice, he has made it to the bigs and twice he has been lit up. He’s still in the White Sox system after joining them after the Braves cut him before 2010.
-Selected in the 22nd round, Cole Rohrbough garnered some interest among prospect experts after posting a 1.17 ERA and striking out 96 in 61.1 ING during 2007. He followed that up with 104 K’s in 90 innings for Rome and Myrtle Beach. However, after 117 mediocre innings in 2009, he would never throw more than 22.2 ING and the Braves cut bait after 2012. For us Braves fans that paid attention, Rohrbough was always the sleeper capable of breaking out. He just never could stay healthy enough to do so.